content questions

Tommy Ton photo by Kurt Geiger

Women’s Wear Daily recently published an interesting article by Cate T. Corcoran about the blossoming relationship between clothing brands and influential fashion bloggers. The story suggests that these popular (and formerly DIY) sites now provide increasingly hospitable territory for big budget advertisers.

Companies such as Coach, Gap, Barneys New York, Urban Outfitters and JCPenney are testing new connections — and the idea of customer-brand “conversations” — with fashion bloggers that can include product references, design collaborations, videos, giveaways and contests.

– Is this smart business or corporations invading what were formerly organic online spaces and communities?

– Are fashion bloggers independent self-publishers or simply small-scale fashion magazines (which have always been supported by advertising)?

– How do you draw appropriate lines between editorial content and advertising? And who does the drawing?

The article raises these and other questions that apply not just to fashion scribblers, but also to anyone who’s developing content — and hoping to earn a paycheck from their work. Take a look and let me know what you think.

posted 8 Sep 10 in: business, fashion, media, retail. This post currently has no responses.

six items or less

Here’s a fun New York Times story as we head into the weekend.

Think you could wear just six different items of clothing for an entire month (not including underwear, shoes, accessories, swimsuits or workout gear)? There’s a growing movement of creatives, de-clutterers and anti-consumptionists doing just that.

What’s amazing is that most people don’t even notice when their friends, co-workers and even spouses take part in the experiment. They’re completely oblivious to the fact that someone is wearing the same dress or pair of pants — day after day after day. Makes you think differently about that bulging closet…

Be sure to watch the video, too.

Happy Friday!

posted 30 Jul 10 in: fashion, media. This post currently has 2 responses.

back to school

photo by Michael Nagle

My beloved New York Times recently did a story about business education for artists. Okay, so the NYT is definitely not “mine,” but I do spend an obscene amount of time trolling its online pages. Procrastination or research? A good dose of both.

Where was I? Right. Art in the classroom.

A June 18th story, “Creative Types, Learning to Be Business Minded,” by Kate Taylor, describes a City of New York-funded program (run by the New York Foundation for the Arts) that teaches business skills to artists. School’s in session for 55 students on five consecutive Saturdays. They’re painters, sculptors, photographers, filmmakers, creative writers, actors, directors, dancers, musicians and others who can’t be slotted into single-word titles, and they’re learning to make money from their creative talents.

The program is a terrific idea and a great public service. It’s also smart thinking for a city that prides itself as North America’s top creative hub, underscored by the fact that the New York City Economic Development Corporation is footing the $50,000 tab. A similar series is also being run by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council.

One of my favorite quotes comes from a “lanky puppeteer” and program participant, Eric Wright, who tells reporter Kate Taylor: “People think that art and business are at odds, but you can create great art and have it also be a business.”

Amen to that.

posted 28 Jun 10 in: art, business, media. This post currently has no responses.

break it down: hussein chalayan

Still think you can’t honour your creative vision and find success? Clearly you haven’t met fashion designer Hussein Chalayan (well, neither have I, but that won’t stop us from analyzing his playbook).

Born in Nicosia, Cyprus, in 1970, Chalayan moved with his family to England in 1978 and studied design at London’s famed Central Saint Martins. He immediately raised eyebrows with his 1993 graduate collection, called “The Tangent Flows,” which included clothes that he buried in his backyard and later dug up to exhibit. Struck by the strange beauty of his vision, luxury London retailer Browns snapped up the whole collection and displayed it in-house.

The publicity spree continued when Chalayan won a fashion competition sponsored by design-forward liquor brand Absolut. The win meant that at age 25, Chalayan was given approximately £28,000 in financial backing to develop a collection for the 1995 London Fashion Week.

spring 2009 ready-to-wear

His reputation for avant-garde, intellectual, rigorous designs grew and Chalayn soon connected with the famously eclectic Icelandic singer Björk, who wore a Chalayan jacket on the cover of her 1995 album, Post, and donned several of his pieces throughout her Post tour.

For the next three years, Chalayan was a design consultant for New York knitwear label TSE. He also designed for Marks and Spencer, worked with Italian clothing manufacturer Gibo, and served as fashion director for Asprey, the British jewellery and luxury goods company, all while designing and showing his own label. He was also named British Designer of the Year for 1999 and 2000, and in 2006, Chalayan was awarded a Member of the Order of the British Empire.

fall 2008 ready-to-wear

What’s most impressive is that Chalayan has had serious low points to match all those career highlights. When TSE terminated his contract in 2001, it forced Chalayan into voluntary financial liquidation. He refused to go down without a fight, however, and restructured his company to design a comeback collection later that year. In the following seasons, Chalayan had to move his studio three times and at one point, he worked from home with his entire team before relocating to Paris.

Collaboration has always been a key part of Chalayan’s creative ethos. He’s designed laser LED dresses with Swarovski and in 2008, he was named the creative director for sports lifestyle brand Puma — just to name a few of his more famous match-ups. He’s now partnering with Susie Crippen of J Brand Jeans. And if you’re after more highbrow credentials, Chalayan’s work has been exhibited at London’s Design Museum, The Tate Modern, The Contemporary Art Museum in Tokyo, the Musée de la Mode in Paris, New York’s F.I.T., and at the 51st International Venice Biennale, among others.

spring 2007 ready-to-wear

The position

Chalayan’s name is synonomous with experimentation. He’s the futuristic designer who has sent models down the runway in self-undressing clothes and repeatedly pulls from world politics, science, culture and technology to produce creations that blur the lines between art, fashion, performance and culture.

The math

Talent and audacity

After spreading himself — and his finances — too thin in the early 2000s, Chalayan stripped his business (if not his designs) back to basics and refocused his brand. He continues to produce collections that challenge and inspire. You never know what to expect from Chalayn, and everyone from well-heeled fashion houses to sneaker companies are eager to leverage his modern, in-your-face creative attitude and technical skill to boost their own cool quotient.

Will he go too far with the commercial collaborations? That’s a matter of time and opinion. For now, Chalayn provides a terrific model of how to stick to your creative guns and still build a career that works. And if you fall down, return to your original vision and think hard about what really matters. Then get right back up again.

spring 2007 ready-to-wear

posted 5 May 10 in: business, fashion, inspiration, media, retail. This post currently has 2 responses.

TED strikes again

photo of Mary N. Crawford / Smithsonian Institute

Here’s another intriguing TED lecture, this time from Sir Ken Robinson, filmed back in 2006. And yes, that’s “Sir Ken” to you.

Robinson is a professor, leader, speaker and author who has been decorated with more awards than he can juggle, and in 2003, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his service to the arts. An underachiever, really.

The TED archive is an endless vault of inspiration. Such amazing people and ideas. But back to the talk…

Robinson (funny and perfectly self-deprecating) believes we educate children out of their creative capacities. To paraphrase Picasso, we’re all born artists, but the challenge is to remain one as you grow up.

The highlights:

– “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”

– We stigmatize mistakes and our schools reinforce the notion that errors are the worst thing a child can produce.

– Global education systems prioritize math and languages, then humanities. Arts sit at the bottom — if there’s any money left.

– Many brilliant, creative people think they’re deficient. They’re often tagged as unfocused, learning disabled, dreamers, and now, given meds for ADHD.

– Intelligence is diverse, dynamic and distinct. It doesn’t fit a mold.

– We need to educate kids as complete beings — not just floating heads run by left-brain logic.

This summary doesn’t do justice to Robinson’s well-woven argument. But I wanted to pull these points out and chew them over a bit.

My friends and I often discuss the idea that as you get older, it feels tougher to get out of your own way and create something truly new. We’ve debated the possible reasons: cynicism, financial struggles, life and family responsibilities, disappointments, becoming more set in your ways, losing a sense of “freshness” about the world and its possibilities, and on and on.

At the same time, all those opposing forces don’t eliminate the desire to push and stretch and surprise yourself. Robinson makes me feel better about actively protecting creativity. If it’s something you want (both for yourself and a new generation), you’ve got to fight for it.

posted 29 Apr 10 in: art, inspiration, media. This post currently has 4 responses.

food & finance

photos by Chiot’s Run

Even farmers and foodmakers are realizing that today’s market demands new revenue models. A recent Globe & Mail story titled, “Cash-strapped artisans turn to foodies for financing,” explored how savvy food producers are revamping their fee structures.

The highlights:

– Faced with an expired lease, artisanal cheese maker Ruth Klahsen is offering subscriptions to her Monforte Dairy. Cheese fans give $500 upfront to help her build a new dairy. She pays them back in five annual cheese deliveries worth $150 each.

In the last year, she’s sold 810 subscriptions and raised a total of $364,000 (some subscriptions were worth more than $500, some less) toward her $500,000 target.

– Ontario farmers Vicki Emlaw and Tim Noxon are battling the winter cash-flow crunch by selling Vicki’s Veggie Bucks. These are coupons that customers can trade for vegetables during the harvest season. They also offer a 10-to-15% discount for every $100 purchased.

Hungry buyers can use their bucks at the couple’s own farmstand or at the farmers’ markets they attend — eliminating the need to deliver boxes during the busy summer season and guaranteeing them a predictable income.

– Quebec microbrewery Boquébière creates beers infused with local maple syrup and honey. The company has started paying some of its suppliers in beer, rather than cold, inedible cash.

– Southern Ontario’s Creemore 100 Mile Store was launched with a funding party. Owners Jacquie Durnford and Sandra Lackie invited women they thought would be interested in a grocery store that sold locally produced food and shared their business plan at the soirée. That night, 17 women gave $1,000 each, which the owners have promised to repay (with annual interest) in five years.

The pair evenutally raised $47,000 and opened the store just one month after the party.

These examples are brilliant because they represent more than just creative financing; they’re also giving customers an invitation to participate in the business and a good story to share (i.e. “You have a chèvre subscription? They’re paying you in honey ale?”).

There are so many ways to earn money — and no rules that you have to follow tired revenue models. Think through your best attributes. If you’re offering something amazing and the demand is real, people will want to help. Get your customers or clients involved (and even invested) in your success.

$150 in cheese? Yes, please.

posted 22 Apr 10 in: food, media, retail. This post currently has 2 responses.

brief encounters

aerialist Keely Sills

What happens when you cross a marketing executive with a theatrical dance artist? How about a floral designer and an African drummer? If you’re lucky, you get Brief Encounters — the ultimate live mashup created by Vancouver’s Tomorrow Collective.

Produced by Katy Harris-McLeod and Mara Branscombe, each installment matches 12 artists in six unexpected pairings. The partners meet just two weeks before the show to create a 10-minute live performance. The results are strange, unpredictable and sometimes even breathtaking.

I had been meaning for months to check out Brief Encounters (they’re on installment #14), and a well-timed text finally got me in the audience on Saturday. Two high points of the night included a moving collaboration between hip hop dancer Yoshi Hisanaga and visual artist Yun Lam Li, and the partnership between aerialist Keely Sills and acclaimed storyteller Ivan Coyote.

producers Mara Branscombe and Katy Harris-McLeod

It all comes down to chemistry. Hisanaga and Li joked about their generation gap in an intro video, but blended video, music and masterful live dancing into an experience that stunned the silent crowd. Then, suspended high above the stage, Sills effortlessly flipped and stretched her body through the silks while Coyote wove a restrained tale of love, loss and family. Magic.

There will always be bigger hits and a few near-misses, but I love the spirit of this series. It made me think more deeply about collaboration — and breaking boundaries. What could give your work new colour? And why not impose a two-week timeline on an ambitious project? It’s an effective way to stop procrastinating and second-guessing yourself. There simply isn’t time.

Creativity is always pulsing below the surface, but sometimes it takes an impossible deadline (and flat-out panic) to push past what feels like a barrier. We’ve all had 11th hour triumphs. This show demonstrated that time and collaboration are ingredients — elements you can mix at will to create something surprising.

posted 19 Apr 10 in: art, dance, media, performance. This post currently has no responses.

gen x & y on the radio

I did a fun radio interview yesterday with BCIT Broadcast Journalism student Vanessa Ybarra. We talked about the book I co-authored with Lisa Johnson, Mind Your X’s and Y’s, and the Free Agent Formula — the multi-media toolkit for entrepreneurs that we developed with our good friend and collaborator, Cassie Pruett.

Vanessa’s set to graduate in the next couple weeks and already sounds like a pro.

You can listen to our chat here.


We’re gearing up to re-launch the Free Agent Formula (more affectionately known as the FAF) in the next couple weeks, so watch for more news about this one-of-a-kind program. It’s a six-step modern business plan designed for freelancers, consultants, solopreneurs and creatives of every kind. We’ve road tested it with many of our friends and colleagues — and it works!

posted 14 Apr 10 in: business, interviews, media. This post currently has no responses.

break it down: jamie oliver

all photos courtesy Jamie Oliver

I just watched Jamie’s 2010 TEDPrize talk. Whatever your take on Mr. Oliver and his cooking, the man is plying his fame to tackle a critical problem. Even better, he’s proposing a simple, grassroots plan to stem the greasy tide of fast food and rampant obesity. Cheers to that.

Creative outsider, he’s not. But back in the late ’90s, Jamie was just a cocky Essexer working in London’s River Café. The charming, scruffy-haired lad who could talk almost as fast as he could chop intrigued BBC crews filming a documentary on the trendy dining spot. The TV segment aired and Jamie’s phone started ringing. Next came his own television series, The Naked Chef, and a growing audience dominated by women with a sudden interest in Pasta Puttanesca.

From that first series, Jamie built his name into a global brand expressed through television, best-selling cookbooks, an eponymous magazine, cookware and kitchen products, restaurants, and now a U.K. multi-level marketing program (think Tupperware). I realize that few creatives want to ply their wares in the style of sex toy and candle parties, but we can still rip a page from Jamie’s playbook. Let’s break it down:

The position

Jamie can cook and simultaneously charm the camera. That’s his thing. Flustered in the kitchen? Grab a stool and crack open a beer. He’ll show you how to grill up some fish with one eye on the football match. Simple. Easy.

The math

Choice and content

From a position of choice and expert status, Jamie had the leverage he needed to address issues close to his heart: The Fifteen restaurants built to train under-privileged young chefs, unhealthy school lunches and now, the bloated business of Big Food.

In 2004, sharing and creating content outpaced straight communication (i.e. email) as the top online activity. It was a huge cultural shift and technological shift. Jamie built his career by translating two basic talents into compelling content. That content built an audience, which in turn, enabled him to create more content, grow his profile, and leverage that profile to build his earnings, attract new opportunities and ultimately, control his own fate. That’s how the cheeky chef from Clavering has found himself onstage at TED. And isn’t independence — mixed with straight-up passion –– really the Holy Grail?

When creative skill is expressed through the right content (appropriate medium, format, distribution, tone), it builds an audience for the core work. We can’t all talk cricket and chop onions without severing a finger or two. But, every creative pro can develop engaging content. Take the best of who you are and what you do, match it with a fitting medium and create content that leads you to choice.

posted 9 Mar 10 in: business, food, media. This post currently has no responses.

the look of creativity

Where is the lightning to lick you with its tongue? Where is the madness with which you should be cleansed? Behold, I show you the Superman. He is this lightning, he is this madness.

Friedrich Nietzsche (from Thus Spoke Zarathustra)

Here’s another interesting thread from Psychology Today (a magazine I’ve been surprised to find myself reading with increasing frequency).

In a post titled, “What Do Creative People Look Like?” psychologist and resident blogger Mark Batey writes about the intellectual and personality markers that often define highly creative people — traits such as divergent thinking, curiousity, extroversion vs. introversion, and comfort with disagreement. Then he moves on to tackle motivation. Batey writes:

“There are two major strands to thinking about motivation and creativity. The first concerns general motivation. Creative people tend to be highly driven, hard working, persistent and possessive of a ‘never say die’ attitude. Coming up with new ideas that challenge existing paradigms is never an easy task. Armed with indefatigability — the creator ploughs a lonely, but steady furrow.

The second strand involves motivational orientation. In simple terms, we find that creative people have a tendency towards intrinsic motivation. That is, they are driven from within — by a sense of challenge, curiosity, desire to explore and to meet internal expectations. However, the picture is not so clear cut… Extrinsic motives (external facing motives like – respect, reward, remuneration, etc.,) can also be high priorities for creative people. The challenge lies in balancing the desire to listen to internal drives whilst maintaining enough external focus to see how the creative idea, process or product will be welcomed (or not!) by the outside world.”

Sounds true to me. I like Batey’s assessment of general motivation, which fights a cartoonish, Hollywood image of the artist struck with sudden genius, eschewing sleep and sustenance to channel overnight genius. That happens, clearly, and it’s a pretty fantastic high. But creativity is a daily business that can sometimes feel like drudgery, and, when it does, that doesn’t mean the outcome will be any less innovative.

I also appreciate the grey fabric of internal motivation. Is it inauthentic to feel driven by creative excitement AND a solid paycheck? Does it have to be a lonely path littered with empty bottles? Obviously not. Batey’s post highlights the slippery median between creativity and commerce. It acknowledges that feeding an internal fire can co-exist with paying the mortgage, and that it’s human to consider intangibles like respect and reward. Creativity is never a simple beast. Like all of us, it’s complicated, murky, and fascinating — especially when fully engaged.

posted 4 Mar 10 in: art, media. This post currently has one response.

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