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The industry as seen by top designers.

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How Does a Designer Continue To Be Successful?

Seven key but simple steps.

by Pattiewack, also known as Pattie Donham (December 3, 2007)

(Note: Pattie invents products, writes books, appears on television, has a series of videos on LifetimeTV.com and ... the list goes on. When you visit her site, www.pattiewack.com you'll see she is one designer who has adapted to the consumer's changing tastes and whims.)

There are many things that talented designers can do to be successful, and here is what I've learned in this business we call the crafts industry.

Be Flexible.

When I look back on the last 15 to 20 years of my design experience in the crafts industry, I am amazed at the many phases I have worked through. My first business reached great success as we all rode the 90's wave of embellished sweatshirts, and I was selling oodles of iron-on lame appliqués. My hand still has a twitch every now and then when I squeeze a tube of paint.

The embellished wearables era was good for us, but we found out this industry moves in cycles, and we have to be flexible. In order to continue my success in the crafts industry I had to move on to finding new ways other than painted sweatshirts, to sell myself as a designer. My commitment evolved into how to enhance the consumer's experience with the unlimited array of products that were available, and then eventually to invent new tools and designs that would improve that experience.

As a designer we must continue to understand what the public wants and how we can supply the right product at the right time.

Be Smart.

Intuition and being informed is second nature to a talented designer. Supplying the right crafts for the consumer has both intuitive as well as pragmatic elements. Crafts are a product of many factors including culture, geography, and cycles that turn at an ever-increasing speed. Designers must keep their eyes wide open and keep a daily tab on what is happening world-wide, and be smart with that knowledge.

Someone told me that the way their large manufacturing company does trend spotting is to go on field trips to the nearby discount store and purchase everything they can find that seems trendy. What are they thinking? More than likely by the time that product hits the shelf, it already had a one-year birthday since the day of conception on someone's draft table. It was probably shipped from China, stored in a warehouse, and then finally made it to the shelf where that poor dear purchased it, thinking they were going to jump on a trend train that was another six months to a year out for them, by the time they knocked it off and shipped it to a craft store! It is no wonder craft products are sometimes one or two years behind when compared to the other merchandise in the consumer's shopping cart. That's not smart.

So, how do you get smart? Look for design clues by reading the newspaper and industry publications, not only in the crafts but in housewares, gifts, and fashion, too. As you know, in the last few years crafts have been propelled into a new phase that compares to the fashion industry trends, which are inspired by highly marketed, celebrity-driven luxury brands.

I read recently in Future Fashion, by Julie Gilhart, Senior Vice President of Barneys, "…this trend is beginning to feel out-dated. The consumer is developing a taste for great product with ethical principles."

Sure, America seems riveted to the tube by the trashy reality shows, and which dancers will be voted off, but hopefully we are beginning to see a shift of conscience with emerging networks such as Current TV and Ovation TV. If we interpret the television and fashion world into "craft-speak," then we can understand when our industry begins to turn its marketing head towards re-crafts, eco-friendly crafts and television how-to shows that are crafting with recycled objects, vintage clothing, and even bringing back embroidery and shrink plastic. The craft industry is a mirror of the current lifestyle of America.


Be a craft designer who is willing to explore the mainstream for a path to creating products and styles that echo consumerism. For example, if you see that every time you open a fashion magazine there is a buzz about huge belt buckles, see it as an opportunity to use over-sized buckles in a design for a tote bag, a polymer clay frame, a gift card, or wearable art. Or when you read in a housewares trade magazine that they are beginning to make felt pillows with mod designs and embroidered placemats with a vintage style, it just might be a cue for you to whip out the old embroidery floss and some felt for the next line of textile trims or craft kits.


This so-called craft revolution makes me smile. Is it a revolution or is it evolution? I admit the first time I went to a craft site that claimed to be a "mafia" for the craft movement, I was a completely intrigued. The craft industry has not had much of a history with tattoos, blue hair, and piercings. But the "mafia" crafts are a resurgence of the crafts our mothers grew up teaching the now baby boomers. It is not new, but simply the old crafts making the eternal circle with a more naive attitude and raw acceptance by this new breed of crafters. What should a designer do with this information? I say, we should embrace this group as it is; one more demographic that we can learn from and develop products for, along with the rest of our consumers.

Know Your Target.

Demographics are one of the most important pieces of information in a designer's toolbox. If you don't know your target, how can you hit it? Is your product aimed at the "mafia" crafter who is planning to re-craft something for little or no money? Is your product for the majority of crafters who are 40 to 50 years old and spend on an average of $35 when they go to a craft store? Is your product geared for the senior who is on a limited income? Or is your product targeting the working mom who will buy anything that is almost finished, but cute enough to brag that she "made it herself"? Without demographic targeting, even the most perfect product will miss the point.

Market Yourself.

This might be the hardest thing of all for the talented designer, but it is the most important. After all, if you are a designer you have the talent part figured out. But, you not only have to sell your designs, you also have to sell the designer. Fortunately, the craft industry is beginning to understand and embrace the fact that good designs sell good products. Without both, manufacturers better hope their products are something everyone needs, versus products that everyone will want.

Marketing as a designer is getting easier though. My blog is getting thousands of daily hits from over 100 countries, and my newsletter is electronically sent monthly to thousands of opt-in crafters with a push of a button. I can write instructions, receive email, sell products on my website, be seen in a magazine article, demonstrate crafts 24/7 in nearly 50 videos online, and sell books at stores across the globe and in e-stores, simultaneously while sitting in my chair in front of my computer.

Go ahead, "Google" yourself and find out what your marketing DNA is. You might be surprised.

However, I still must show up at the trade shows, create new ideas, do the drawings, pay the lawyers, make dozens of projects, produce TV segments, do the paperwork, attend seminars, sign up for the charity events, and talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. Don't forget that being available and dependable never goes out of style, and these habits are the best marketing tools of all.

Lighten Up.

I learned a long time ago not to take myself too seriously. I love what I do, and I never dreamed that I would evolve from a gal selling bags of appliqués, to a designer who invents products and gets paid to demonstrate them in front of millions of viewers for LifetimeTV.com. The craft industry changes so quickly that consumers must purchase almost constantly in order to keep up with it. That means that we will never run out of opportunities to create more craft projects, ideas, books, techniques, tools, videos, and more products. Isn't that great? Our job as designers is to be the "glue" between the product and the consumer, and I intend to have fun with it!

(Note: To read previous entries in Designing Perspectives, click on the titles in the right-hand column. Email your thoughts to CLN at mike@clnonline.com.)



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