business

meet pierre lamielle

photos & illustrations courtesy Pierre Lamielle

Talk about a Renaissance man. Pierre Lamielle is a Calgary-based author, illustrator, cooking instructor, graphic designer, blogger, and chef. His fabulously quirky illustrated cookbook, Kitchen Scraps, was published in October and will represent Canada in the Best Cookbook Illustration category at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards on Feb. 11th.

Pierre graduated from the Capilano University graphic design and illustration program and worked for three years as a graphic designer at the Vancouver Sun and Province newspapers before accepting a design and illustration position at the Calgary Herald. When the Herald’s critically acclaimed SWERVE magazine was born, Pierre and editor Shelley Youngblut dreamed up a column that combined Pierre’s lively illustrations with original recipes for gems such as the “stud muffin,” “Adam’s apple ribs” and “hot under the collard greens.”

A couple years later, Pierre left the Herald nest to attend the famed French Culinary Institute in New York City, while continuing to write and illustrate his popular SWERVE column. When he returned to Calgary, he successfully pitched Kitchen Scraps to Vancouver’s Whitecap Books (after several rejections that claimed the book was “too wacky and weird”) and launched his new, multi-faceted, freelance food-and-art career.

I chatted with Pierre just before he jetted off to Paris for the Gourmand Awards ceremony – and an envy-inducing itinerary of exploring, tasting, shopping and “getting jazzed up” for his next book. While he’s certainly hoping to bring home top honours in Paris, Pierre says he’s “totally fine” losing to Chocolate: A Love Story by Max Brenner. “The other two… I don’t know.”

Good luck!

1. What fuels your work?

Organized chaos is pretty helpful – especially when you’re trying to be creative. But everything around you needs to be organized in a way that doesn’t make you crazy. That means going to the library, looking in different sections that you’re not used to and exploring things that you’re not familiar with. Researching – that’s the chaos side of things. The organized side means that you need to have a system that you can feel comfortable in and make slightly repetitive. It’s important to create habits, but also when you’re in the creative process, it’s good to go elsewhere to find new ideas.

2. What are some of your habits?

I find that dangling carrots is effective. For example, I’ll tell myself that I can’t have a cup of tea until something is finished. And when I’m doing illustrations, I use a specific pencil, I use a specific pen, and I have a set way of doing things. Writing is a little bit more free form, but I try to keep a consistent format.

3. How do you organize your life so you still have time, energy and focus to practice your craft?

I don’t keep it all that well organized. My mom’s in Vancouver, and she has an accountant that helps me with my taxes. I give her a shoebox, she takes a look at it, then gives it to her accountant. I’m sure it’s riddled with mistakes, and I miss lots of things and I don’t write off everything I should.

Day-to-day life can get bogged down, but luckily I’m not very important, so I don’t get very many emails. I keep a low profile. I don’t have anyone I need to talk to on a regular basis. But it does get interesting, because I juggle a few small jobs. I do the column, I teach cooking classes and I try to work on my new book. I also live with my girlfriend and we have her two small kids with us every other week, so it’s hard to keep things consistent. It’s a day-to-day juggle.

4. How many revenue streams do you have?

I teach cooking classes and write the column for SWERVE. And then to supplement, I do illustrations for clients. I don’t solicit, because I find that you just don’t get anywhere. It’s a real struggle to approach art directors. So, I wait for them to come to me, and basically, I’ll say yes to anything that’s about food. Then I do some small catering jobs on the side. Oh, and there’s also the book. It’s an income stream, but I would say it’s the most work I’ve ever done for the least financial payoff.

5. What is your bread-and-butter income source?

It’s a combination of the cooking classes and the column. I teach at The Cookbook Co. Cooks in Calgary, which has two demo kitchens, a wine shop, and a book and food emporium. I teach both public and private classes. So, it’s either group of accountants from an oil and gas company who come down and cook themselves a five-course meal – and I just make sure it tastes good. Or it’s the public class, where couples or singles or little groups of people come in and mingle and make a five-course meal.

6. Do you have a passive income stream?

No. I wasn’t organized enough to think of anything that I really wanted to merchandise for the last book, Kitchen Scraps. I didn’t want to do illustrated prints, and I didn’t want to do mugs or anything like that. For the next one I’ll probably be more organized and now that I’ve got the process of a book down, I might be able to figure something out.

7. What has brought the most opportunities and attention to your work?

The book and maintaining a blog along with it. I think those two, hand-in-hand, have helped each other out. But that being said, I’m kind of sick and tired of doing a blog, because there’s no revenue stream, and it’s an awful lot of work. You either have to have some really good bread and butter work and be passionate about the blog, or be marketing a product and use the blog as a small marketing tool.

8. What is the best investment you’ve made in your career?

Education. That’s pretty safe to say. Going to graphic design and illustration school was huge and got me on that career path. But then going to cooking school was phenomenal, too, because as much as I loved cooking and I’d always cooked, there’s something about the structure of a learning environment that catapults you way beyond anything that you can self-teach. There are aspects of being self-taught that are phenomenal and invaluable, but it’s also invaluable to get the foundation for learning.

What has had the least financial or professional payoff?

It’s hard to say. I’ve done this blog for about a year and I don’t really know the cash value of it. I suppose I’ve expanded the book’s reach, but I also don’t think it has really catapulted the cookbook anywhere.

9. Where do you stand on the “selling out?” debate?

I think you could quite easily sell out. I certainly wouldn’t want to do anything for fast food. Basically, wherever your personal ethics lie, if you feel strongly about something and you go against that grain, that’s selling out.

10. Is there anything else you’ve learned and want to share?

When you work at home, it’s really easy to wear pajamas. Your other pants will quickly become outdated. In fact, I just bought five pairs of pants the other day, because I realized that I had no pants – just one pair of jeans.

Thanks, Pierre!

posted 9 Feb 10 in: art, business, design, food, interviews, media. This post currently has 2 responses.

meet jason matlo

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photos courtesy Jason Matlo

Jason Matlo makes clothes that make women look good – and not just in a day-at-the-office kind of way (unless you work for a certain Condé Nast publication, perhaps). We’re talking slinky, shiny, drapey dresses, sleek cigarette pants and sharp jackets. The Vancouver-based fashion designer sells his creations in select locations from Edmonton to Boston to San Juan, but everything is designed and manufactured in Canada.

Born in Calgary, the 39-year-old, self-described “blackaholic” usually wears darker tones than the women he dresses – witness his Jet Set Barbie resort collection for spring / summer 2009 – but he’s got a famously sparkly personality and a dead-serious work ethic.

Jason made his first splash in the fashion industry when, fresh out of school, he won the 1998 Smirnoff Designer of the Year Award. Since then, high-powered clients have worn his dresses on red carpets at the Academy Awards, Gemini Awards, JUNO Awards and Leo Awards. He also appeared in an episode of the Life Network / Oxygen reality TV series, Making it Big, winning the opportunity to display his designs in the chic windows of Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City.

The Jason Matlo brand currently includes his main ready-to-wear collection, a bridal collection and a new line, Babe, which retails at about half the price of his ready-to-wear pieces. His style is a mash-up of cultural, aesthetic and historical influences, with a special eye on the modern femininity of the 1930s. But the women who wear Jason’s clothes are not exactly fanning themselves in the back garden. These are bold, confident creatures who are writing their own rules – much like the designer himself.

1. What fuels your work?

There are so many variables and components that fuel my creative process. I think the process seems insane to people who look into my world, but there is an order and structure to the chaotic madness.

First, there are timelines and deadlines. It is not easy to be creative on a deadline, but I am energized and fuelled by deadlines and a fashion market with a voracious appetite. I’m very inspired by the women I dress: my private clients who are very strong, successful, confident women; my mother, who has always had an amazing sense of style; Edie Bouvier Beale and the Grey Gardens documentary.

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I’m a bit of a cultural voyeur. My eye is fed by movies, architecture, books, magazines, drag queens, senior citizens, Starbucks and my friends. It is all a massive tapestry of eclectic inspiration that somehow results in a collection each season.

2. How do you organize the less creative parts of your business so you still have time, energy and focus to practice your craft?

Running a successful fashion design house today — and I qualify that statement with “today,” because the industry has changed so much over the last decade — can be illustrated as follows: 98% perspiration and 2% inspiration. There is very little creativity about what I do, so I have to be really creative to do it. I’m required to create a constant balance between fashion ideas that make a cohesive collection that also flatter the body with razor sharp price points. Creating a collection with design and commercial value is the Golden Ticket!  To answer the question on time and energy to focus on my craft; between midnight and dawn, the eleventh hour, time is my most precious resource. I’m always in a race against time!

3. Is there another creative pro whose business model you admire? Why?

This is such a cliché but here we go: Madonna.

I don’t think the majority of people would see Madonna as a creative pro or a business model. I DO! I so admire her drive, tenacity, bold naked ambition, and unrelenting determination. I believe she is a business person who knew where she wanted to go. She is a visionary.

She is a master of disguises, the media, and promotion. She has created a product that is important and contemporary over a 30-year time span and until recently, was totally relevant and modern. She is a cultural zeitgeist.

4. How many revenue streams do you have in your business?

I’m streaming. I have as many ways to make money as there are days in the week. Ready to Wear collection, Babe diffusion and Bridal are all streams coming from the same body of water, and there are also my private couture clients. I’m not afraid to work hard, so I’ve always been able to earn money.

5. What is your bread-and-butter income source?

Private couture clients. I have a group of fashionable ladies in Vancouver that have supported my work even before I received any critical acclaim. They are true devotees of fashion. They have never faltered in their loyalty to me. They still support me, even now that the clothes are available in stores. I love them!

6. Do you have a passive income stream?

NO!  Everything I do involves a lot of hard work!

7. What tools or money-making opportunities & ideas do you think most artists don’t fully exploit?

Frankly there are not enough tools or funding available for creative people in Canada. I’ve looked, I assure you. There is so little support for the arts in Canada, with exception of Montreal, which very much supports the arts. It is actually disgraceful how the arts and creative people are under-funded by our government in this country. It is why we lack the rich creative history of other countries.  If you want to do anything creative in Canada, good luck to you!

8. What has brought the most opportunities and attention to your work?

This is a hard thing for me to pinpoint. I think I’ve always operated from a critical mass perspective. So my process has always been more revolutionary than evolutionary. By this I mean I would accept several opportunities at the same time. So when you introduce many variables at the same time, it’s hard to track which one or ones are the crucial components. The reality TV show [Making it Big] was probably a big help, or was it the Academy Awards gown? Who could speculate? Maybe it was a combination of it all. Getting attention seems to be the only thing that has not been hard work.

9. What is the best investment you’ve made in your career? What has been the biggest waste of time and / or money?

The best investment that I have ever made in my career was in building my team. I have a group of people who work with me and are the backbone of what I do. I have invested in them, trained them, and taught them tricks of the trade such as sewing, draping, pattern drafting, you name it. They have been loyal and have stood by me when times were tough and the money was lean. You cannot undervalue your support staff and you cannot be heard as a single voice!

I’ve been very good about time management and money. Time is money and I don’t like to waste either!

10. Where do you stand on the “selling out?” debate?

Sell Sell Sell!!!

Thanks, Jason!

posted 18 Jan 10 in: business, design, fashion, interviews, retail. This post currently has one response.

meet alex witko & courtney hunt

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photos courtesy Organelle Design

While Alex and Courtney of Organelle Design are not the first to transform waste into design objects, they may be the first to actually make these objects cool — to create something you’d be proud to feature in your home. Just take a peek at their lovely hangeliers, which turn lowly closet hangers and discarded bike rims into a series of inspired lighting fixtures. But that’s not all you can expect from this talented duo. They’ve got serious technical pedigrees and have built a practice that moves seamlessly between architecture and both interior and industrial design.

Courtney earned an honors degree in environmental design from the University of British Columbia, while Alex holds architectural degrees from the University of Maryland and UBC and has studied, practiced, and taught architecture for the past 10 years. They launched their partnership in 2006 and have quickly built both buzz and respect (not an easy combination) within the creative community.

When they’re not salvaging scrap materials (such as colanders and ironing boards) to create innovative pieces, Courtney and Alex work on architectural commissions, offer design and educational consulting, and provide contract building work. They’ve also got a strong social conscience and often collaborate on projects with non-profit groups in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, including a custom bench design and hangelier installation at Lu’s: A Pharmacy for Women.

When asked how they handle the not-so-creative side of running a business (think paperwork, accounting, development and other less-than-glam tasks), Alex and Courtney gamely argue that business IS creative. I couldn’t agree more — and I do stand corrected. Read on for some great insights on design, marketing, and the challenges of creativity from the principals of Organelle Design.

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1. What fuels your work?

Our work is fueled by a simple ethos – waste is the most abundant local resource our cities have to offer.  This provides not only a limitless and ever-changing surplus of material possibilities but also a well of creative inspiration.  We often say that one piece of waste is usually just that – garbage, but once you start to have multiples of one thing, potential uses can be unlocked.  We also work from different positions simultaneously.  On one end creatively testing uses for found materials, and on the other hand, sourcing materials for current projects.  We apply this way of thinking to all scales of work, from buildings to furniture.

2. How do you organize the less creative parts of your business so you still have time, energy and focus to practice your craft?

While we agree that it’s time consuming, we would disagree that running a business isn’t creative.  Design and business are both based on problem solving and you can be creative about it or take a cookie cutter approach.  It isn’t always our favorite topic, but we have been more successful because of integrating it into our design methodology.  As a nascent design firm you can’t afford not to.  The minute you see [business] as part of the design parameters, it becomes an inspirational challenge rather than a nuisance.

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3. Is there another artist or creative pro whose business model you admire?

We have been inspired by some really successful social enterprise non-profits.  We recently worked with one who had shifted to this model and increased their income by tenfold.  This is inspiring because while technically a non-profit, they aren’t at the mercy of donations and are in a much better position to actually help others.  Our work is helped by a lot of people in our community but you can’t overstep your bounds.  We have seen that people are more likely jump on board with something if you have a solid base.

Can you tell us more about the social enterprise non-profit model?

The idea of a social enterprise is somewhere between non-profit and for-profit in that it follows the rules of a non-profit (having a board, donation and tax requirements, etc.) but it is focused on making a profit through some kind of enterprise.  That profit is then put back in or redirected to internal projects without funding.

An inspiring social enterprise is Vancouver’s Potluck Cafe and Catering. They are now 90% self sufficient with catering/cafe sales, all while employing a variety of people within the Downtown Eastside. Any external funding allows them to do special projects (renovate or expand, for instance) and a lot of their donations come in the form of food from local stores who need to get rid of, say, 50 pumpkins because they have no capacity to use them on short notice.  Potluck, in turn, made a bunch of pumpkin- and squash-based goods for the holidays at little cost to them and then were able to pass savings on and turn a profit.

That profit goes back into the business to keep it going and doing more great things for the community.  The cafe, being a relatively small group, also teams up with others with similar interests and models to share and provide better purchasing power in the market — something that has also been working for us.  It’s not design per se, but it is an interesting and well-thought out model and I think there is design in that.

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4. How many revenue streams do you have in your business?

Five.  Fixed-fee contract design work, fixed fee contract build work, hourly consultant work, educational consultant work, and retail sales.  There might be more… diverse incomes have kept us afloat and allowed for exploration and experimentation.

5. What is your bread-and-butter income source?

Contract architecture work.  This pays the bills.  But if we did this all the time we couldn’t explore other avenues, so the other sources of income go back into our business.

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6. Do you have a passive income stream?

We have some found objects — furniture and lighting that bring in some retail sales.  Some small investments as well.

7. What tools or money-making opportunities & ideas do you think most artists don’t fully exploit?

It’s always amazing to us the number of young design entrepreneurs who don’t have business cards and websites.  This combo will bring you the most bang for your buck, even if you’re just starting out.  As far as physical tools go, try to share and exchange services and overhead as much as possible.  Good relationships will come out of this.  Most importantly, you have to allow for some experimentation and exploration with your own time and money.  Clients aren’t always willing to give you so much flexibility, but you don’t procure commissions without having a built body of work.  Most designers can’t get by on a resume — even if it’s spectacular.  You have to put a lot of time upfront to show that you’re capable and so the early processes of making is extremely important.  We believe strongly in compensated work, but you have to put yourself out there first — then the opportunities will open up.

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8. What has brought the most opportunities and attention to your work?

Though diverse in practice, our approach and ethos is very clear and distinct — we have set ourselves apart and this has been the best thing for us. It brings us closer to those who share similar passions, while providing a guiding light for our work.  It’s a lot better than some marketing strategy, because the branding is built-in.  People see it for what it is.  Some may decide it’s not for them, but those that do will seek you out rather than just say “oh, that’s kind of nice.”

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9. What is the best investment you’ve made in your career? What has been the biggest waste of time and / or money?

Making things has been the best investment.  You have to be creating — constantly.  Ideas are great, but we’ve found that people really relate to things in a more visceral way.  This may be the crux of a young architect’s struggles, because it’s hard to build a lot in your young career and even if you do, it’s probably not a prominent structure with lots of exposure.  Our secret may be that the small scale stuff has led to larger scale commissions because it is relatable, accessible and conveys our larger vision.

The biggest waste of time is directly related — not making things.  If you spend too much time in your head or even in a computer design program, then you’re missing key opportunities to move forward.  We find that it’s always different in reality, so to speak.  Those differences are not barriers, but will expedite the process by providing key sparks of inspiration and information you couldn’t possibly foresee without the materials in hand.

10. Where do you stand on the “selling out?” debate? Do you believe it’s possible to sell out?

Because we believe business and design are quite intimately linked, I’m not sure one could truly sell out. Some might think that being true to your craft means you aren’t making money, but for us, being true to our vision has brought us income and business.  We think that (reasonable) profit is in part a sign of a well designed business.  It’s more like “selling-in” and believing that your craft is worth something — to you and to others.

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Thanks, Alex & Courtney!

posted 8 Dec 09 in: business, design, interviews. This post currently has 2 responses.

stores that survive

photos by Deidre Schoo for the New York Times

photos by Deidre Schoo for the New York Times

In Wednesday’s New York Times, Cathy Horyn wrore a story called “Yes, We’re Open” about five new fashion retailers that are swimming upstream against the recession. It’s an appropriate topic after Black Friday in the U.S. and the newly-minted Cyber Monday, which offers online retailers the chance to cash in on the holiday binge.

It seems the bruised North American economy has created a predictable pattern where stores close or lay off workers and strip down their inventories. “But nothing quite conveys the confusion and sense of retail sclerosis as the high-end ladies boutique, lights on and empty, its owner selling the same six fabulous designers as everyone else, the same droopy China-made knit that shouldn’t cost $600 but somehow does, and not a chance, barely a glimmer of hope, that enough customers will care to buy something,” writes Horyn.

At the same time, lower rents and longer leases can also help newcomers to open the doors and turn their visions into reality. In New York and its burroughs, stores like Against Nature, JF & Son, Metal and Thread, Self Edge and Victor Osborne are attracting loyal new customers — often with a carefully curated mix of handcrafted, bespoke, vintage and forward-thinking items. It’s small-scale shopping without escalators or loyalty cards.

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Certainly that’s nothing new, and the shift toward actually meeting the man or woman who stitches up your skirt has been gaining momentum for at least half a decade. But it’s still encouraging to read these retail profiles. According to Horyn, “beyond favorable rents, beyond an interest in traditional things, the new stores say a lot about the fashion world. That there is a disconnect between the customer and the people making clothes. That men have replaced women as informed, upward-moving shoppers. That designers will have to take control of how their clothes are produced.”

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Here in Vancouver, those words also ring true. Every day, I walk past a pair of gorgeous-but-empty boutiques that opened in the last calendar year. I’m waiting to see which one shuts down first — even though they’re a beautiful addition to the neighborhood. At the same time, some retailers struggle with crowd control on a busy Saturday afternoon. Stores like Gravity Pope and Plenty come to mind. They can’t keep people out if they try. So what’s the difference? In my opinion, the survivors have these attributes on their side:

scale — small is beautiful. We’re sick of big box, big budgets and overblown, anonymous corporate retailers. Stores like H&M and Topshop are still getting a pass on this rule, but even they’re capitalizing on collaborations with designers such as Sonia Rykiel, Comme des Garçons, Matthew Williamson and Viktor & Rolf.

relative value — buyers will shell out more cash for the cashmere scarf if it’s a lovingly hand-knit, one-of-a-kind piece of fashionable art. Then the extra cost makes sense.

service — the owner who remembers your size and calls when something perfect arrives? That’s always been good business, but somehow it feels more meaningful today. Connections matter. Supporting small business is a social and political statement.

craftsmanship — who isn’t sick of hems that wait for the most inconvenient possible moment to unravel? Well-made products make sense. We’re seeing a long-overdue return to repairing things that were made right in the first place, and spending money on something that won’t be tossed in a month.

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posted 30 Nov 09 in: business, fashion, media, retail. This post currently has no responses.

anton the great

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Ready for a treat on a dreary fall afternoon? Steer yourself over here and dive into the moody, gloomy, dirty glamour of Anton Corbijn. He’s the legendary Dutch-born photographer and film director who has shot some of the world’s most iconic musical acts, including U2, Depeche Mode, Joy Division, Iggy Pop, Bjork, David Bowie, Miles Davis, Nirvana and R.E.M.

Depeche Mode was my first major band crush. Their edgy electro-synth sounds offered the perfect soundtrack for my teenage angst. But even then, I was awestruck by Corbijn’s videos for singles including Strangelove, Never Let Me Down Again, Behind the Wheel, and World in My Eyes. Music videos were just emerging as an art form, and MTV was almost garishly colourful — reflecting the bouncy, mainstream pop of the era. But Corbijn created fantasy worlds that were gritty, grainy and dark. His camera captured beauty edged with ugliness and more than a hint of subversion

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The men in Corbijn’s viewfinder are rock outlaws, all distressed leather and louche attitude. The women walk dogs in stilettos and skintight dresses with Eurotrash indifference. They function as props — lounging in lingerie on couches and pouting in doorways, nonchalantly aware that they’re being filmed right into history.

Corbijn’s images were a massive departure from the fresh-scrubbed acts of the ’80s, and he continues to produce some of the most breathtaking photography around. If you haven’t seen his 2007 film, Control, about Ian Curtis and the rise of Joy Division, you need to book the night off right now. I mean now.

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More than anything, the man is seriously prolific. Corbijn shot Echo and the Bunnymen in 1984 and still found time to tart up The Killers in 2008. He’s done stacks of books, major gallery exhibits, and I can only imgaine what new projects are rattling around in his creative mind.

Surfing through his website, I’m reminded that a creative life piles up day by day, project by project. When you stay on course, stay true to your influences, and work hard to hone your craft, the results can be extraordinary.

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posted 19 Nov 09 in: art, business, music. This post currently has 3 responses.

meet teresa smed

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If you’ve attended a fashion or handmade gift show in Vancouver, you always know when Teresa Smed is in the house. Women swarm her Dotted Loop booth five deep – making it nearly impossible to glimpse the deliciously tangled pieces she crafts from ribbons, charms, chains, pearls, feathers and found objects.

Fashion runs fast in Smed’s veins. As a student in Athens, Georgia, she developed a line of bags and clothing made from recycled vintage fabrics. She returned to the creative drawing board, however, after a house fire destroyed her collection and life as a single mom of two brought her back to Canada in 2003.

She took a jewellery class and quickly fell in love with the medium. On a road trip to Calgary, Smed stopped at an antique store that was shutting its doors. She glimpsed the shelves of glittering antique baubles and suddenly, Dotted Loop was born. “Instantly, my whole world came together,” says Smed. “I just knew that’s what I was meant to do. I bought the entire collection, came home and started taking it apart and making new stuff.”

That collection is long gone (save a few key pieces that adorn her home studio), and Smed has since burned through piles and piles of remixed and recycled treasures. Her work has been featured in Elle Canada, Fashion, Flare, the Georgia Straight, and sells at retail stores across Western Canada. Then there are those insatiably fashionable women (and men) who snap up her pieces at shows like Portobello West and One of a Kind. As Smed sums it up, “beauty does come from ashes and old can be made new again.”

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1. What fuels your work?

Antique and vintage jewellery. It’s unbelievable how inspirational it is. I’m also totally inspired by rock and roll. I just designed an entire collection around Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced album and the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I’m also really inspired by Gucci, Coco Chanel, and couture. Runway fashion is huge. I read Vogue religiously.

2. How do you organize the administrative parts of your business so you still have the time, energy and focus to practice your craft?

It’s really, really, really challenging. I spend so much time developing the business and building it and doing everything it takes. Little by little, I’m hiring people to help out, but I still do a lot of it myself. I have come to realize that I can’t make the same things more than once. Everything is one-of-a-kind, but the Glam Vintage Remix collection uses the same designs with different materials. So, outsourcing and having those re-created is a very good thing. It also helps me to stay focused on the more higher-end, wearable art pieces.

3. Is there an artist or creative pro whose business model you admire?

I pick and choose, and lots of different people definitely inspire me. I’ve worked closely with Wardell Professional Development and gotten tons of advice – things like putting systems in place and outsourcing where you need to do so, plus organizing a business in a way that’s sustainable.

I often think about the woman who created Robeez shoes, Sandra Wilson. She’s a mom and she grew her business, but not too quickly. I also talk to lots of local artisans and I like to take a lot of people’s opinions into consideration. To me, that’s how you learn. I never want to have the perspective that I’ve got it all figured out. I always want to learn more.

4. How many revenue streams do you have?

I sell wholesale to boutiques across Canada, I sell directly to consumers at markets and tradeshows, and I sell pieces directly from my website. I also donate to silent auctions and charities. Technically, I’m giving those pieces away, but I really feel it puts my name out there and brings in business.

I chose not to go on sites like Etsy. There’s some unique, amazing stuff, but there are also lots of people ripping each other off. I feel you can put yourself in a really vulnerable position, because there’s so much copycatting going on.

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5. What is your bread-and-butter income source?

It’s split about 50 / 50 between wholesale and retail. I’m currently working to find ways to improve my online sales and I’m working with web developers to enhance search engine potential. That’s an area I’d like to maximize, but I need to get comfortable with updating the site all the time. It takes lots of work.

Press also brings a lot of traffic to my website. Whenever I’m featured in a magazine, my website sales usually spike for about two weeks.

6. Do you have a passive income stream?

The wholesale side requires a lot less time and energy. You do need to follow up, but you just fill the wholesale order, people re-order again in 2-3 months, then you package it up and send it out. It’s not the same as having to be physically present at the shows, having a killer booth and chatting with people for four days straight. It also leverages the power of outsourcing those repeated designs.

7. What tools, money-making opportunities and ideas do you think most artists don’t fully exploit?

I invest a lot of time and energy and resources into marketing, and I think it really pays off. It’s so important. I have a graphic designer who has worked for me from the beginning and I have a publicist who does quarterly press releases. I have a professional photographer doing the photo shoots. I really want that area to be polished. I’m all about bootstrapping and pulling together friends and family to make things happen, but when it comes to marketing, I firmly believe in spending the time, the energy and the money it takes to make it super polished and to communicate what you’re doing.

Also, I don’t consider myself on the playing field with all the local jewellery designers in Vancouver. I consider myself on the playing field with Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint Laurent and Gucci. I want to be considered a high-end, fashion-forward jewllery designer. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think I’m Gucci – but I’m setting my goals and my bar at the highest possible level, not somewhere in the middle. I want to push myself to attain my goals.

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8. What has brought the most opportunities and attention to your work?

Having a publicist. And nobody really cares who you are until you’ve been featured in a magazine. For example, with one magazine, I had to overnight product samples, pay huge FedEx fees and send jewellery on at least 15 separate occasions. It didn’t go to print 15 times, but on the 16th time it went to print and it changed the face of my whole business.

9. What has been the biggest waste of time and / or money?

There are many things that I have done that one might consider “mistakes,” but sometimes mistakes are the most valuable thing a person can do. The ability to learn from your mistakes makes them all worth the while.

10. Where do you stand on the “selling out?” debate? Do you believe it’s possible to sell out?

Good question. It is very possible to sell out. I almost think I am selling out by selling anything at all.  However, I believe it is important to stay true to my values of honesty, growing organically, buying and producing locally, waste reduction, and prioritizing community and family sustainability.  If I remain true to these fundamentals, then I won’t be selling out.

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Thanks, Teresa!

posted 6 Nov 09 in: art, business, fashion, interviews. This post currently has 5 responses.

mixing it up

Last Thursday, I attended Vancouver’s CREATIVEMIX conference. In addition to some excellent catering (a true rarity at these kind of events), standouts included speakers Terry McBride of Nettwerk Music Group, Cowie & Fox ad agency director Noel Fox, and Steven Cox of design and consulting studio Cause+Affect.

I wanted to focus on Steven Cox for a moment, because I was struck by one key point from his talk. As a former architect, Cox launched his career in the UK with Alison Brooks Architects and SOFTROOM. He’s worked on housing developments, retail interiors and brand campaigns for clients like Virgin Atlantic Airways, Volkswagen, Selfridges and Volkswagen. He had a rising career in a wildly vibrant international city.

But when Cox and his equally accomplished partner (in life and work), Jane Cox, returned to Vancouver and launched Cause+Affect in 2004, they were struck by how many people complained about life in Lotusland. From the tired “no-fun city” tag to an apparent obsession with polar fleece and strumming Jack Johnson riffs by the sea, Vancouver had a bad rap as a no-go destination for edgy fun. As Steven told the crowd of creatives last Thursday, the pair decided to “make Vancouver their project.”

I love this attitude. Unhappy with the cultural and artistic climate in your city? Change it. Stretch your creativity to enrich your community and develop new ways to talk, think, share and celebrate.

Cause+Affect certainly has. In just five years, their cultural resume now includes Pecha Kucha nights, the hugely popular Fuse events at the Vancouver Art Gallery (just try to snag a spot to watch zombies dance the Thriller), the Movers & Shapers exhibit, the Cheaper Show (cheap! art!), and the EPIC sustainable living exhibition. If it’s fun and buzzy in Vancouver, Jane and Steven Cox have probably had their hands in it. They’re making this city a more interesting place to live, while building a stronger brand for their own business.

The lesson for entrepreneurs of every stripe: Tackle something close to your heart. Figure out how to excite people and cause a stir. Do it because you see a need and you’ll naturally attract the clients, customers and artistic collaborators who speak your language.

photo by kimli

photo by kimli

posted 28 Oct 09 in: art, business, media. This post currently has no responses.

in good company

neri

I’m a longtime reader of Fast Company magazine. I love its engaging, entrepreneurial take on business — and how it breaks down those old boys’ club notions of success.

Part of my inspiration to launch this blog came from the June 2009 issue, featuring “The 100 Most Creative People in Business.” It’s a diverse list, from fashion designers Stella McCartney, Hussein Chalayan and Marc Jacobs, to artist Damien Hirst and music mogul Pharrell Williams, through to execs from Twitter, Red Bull, Target, Apple, Elephant Design and beyond. The gorgeous cover girl, Neri Oxman of MIT’s Media Lab, is #43.  You can see the full list here.

The  profiles provide some serious creative motivation, but I couldn’t help thinking about what lies beyond the mainstream radar. There are thousands and thousands of people who are doing amazing work, while still making their lives work. I want to learn from all the artists and innovators who don’t have the backing of big corporations or major studios.

But then again, even the Fast Company editors admit that selecting their top 100 was a risky task:

“We looked for dazzling new thinkers, rising stars, and boldface names who couldn’t be ignored. We avoided people we’ve profiled in the recent past. We emphasized those whose creativity addresses a larger issue — from the future of our energy infrastructure to the evolution of philanthropy to next-generation media.”

Inspired Outsiders is on a similar mission  — minus the boldface-only names.

Who’s on your top 100?

posted 21 Oct 09 in: business, media. This post currently has no responses.

welcome to inspired outsiders

Johnny_Marr

Johnny Marr in 2007

“…all the greats did it from the outside. And that’s a very, very inspiring thing.”

In a 2008 article for the Independent, Johnny Marr explored the roots of his illustrious music career – first as a hungry Manchester teenager queuing up in the snow to hear Slaughter and the Dogs and T-Rex, then as the guitarist and driving creative force behind The Smiths. In subsequent years, he’s refused to be pinned down, working as a sessional musician and collaborator for top acts including The Pretenders, Billy Bragg, Talking Heads, The The, Modest Mouse and The Cribs.

Marr explained how the most innovative music always bursts in from the edges – from talented outsiders who are utterly driven to tell their stories and make new sounds. They write and perform for their tribe, and for the sheer thrill of it.

“The Beatles are the most obvious example – rejected by Decca for their four-piece guitar line-up. No one invented Bob Marley, no one invented the Sex Pistols or Kurt Cobain or Jay-Z – they all invented themselves and were rejected. They were outsiders and they were necessary.”

Marr’s philosophy isn’t new, but it might be the most compelling argument for pure, unfettered creativity that I’ve heard in a long while. He’s also one of my most revered musical icons, so I could be a little biased on that front.

Marr is no longer an outsider. Any industry exec would take his calls in a heartbeat. But, that’s not the point. Art, writing, fashion, design, cooking and music that shakes your very core will always originate at the periphery. It’s brave and different. It might be driven by ideas or emotions or just sheer beauty. It doesn’t matter.

But what happens when the show is over, the manuscript is finished or the dishes are cleared? How do creative people pay the bills? Where do you draw the line between selling your work and selling out – or is that a retro, rusty dilemma?

Inspired Outsiders digs down into the business of creativity. The Internet has spawned a wealth of online resources, tools and markets that have changed the game for artists of every stripe. Punk bands from Winnipeg can now make a decent living without major label backing. Photographers can sell limited edition prints online while accepting only the assignments that make them sweat.

It’s now possible to remain independent without getting stuck. And even when outsiders become insiders – attracting fans, opportunities, and maybe some serious money – they can still stay hungry and, most importantly, inspired.

How? That’s what this blog is all about. Thanks for reading along.

posted 20 Oct 09 in: business, essential posts, music. This post currently has 4 responses.

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