paradigm shift ...
I’m bringing everything home … and as I type that I begin to tear up and feel the deep significance this has for me. I’m embarking on a new adventure, severing the business model tethers I’ve been clinging to for the better part of the last 20 years.
I’m closing out my consignment accounts and will no longer actively pursue galleries or boutiques or trade shows or wholesale. All things Kathy Van Kleeck will be on this website alone. I may consider doing some sort of special events to keep up my social skills, but time will tell.
To get an idea of how big a deal this is for me, I’ll share some of my history …
All the way back to when I was 7 or 8 years old, sketching and designing and making clothes for my Barbi doll, I’ve always thought in terms of creating “collections” of work. Later, probably mid-1960’s around age 10 or 11 and fueled by Vogue and Glamour magazines, I dreamed of becoming a fashion designer and having my clothes in fancy boutiques and department stores. Years passed and after seeing all those ads in Glamour for fashion schools (mainly Bauder in Atlanta), that dream shifted to working in buying and merchandising. But an association with fashion and retail was always at the core of my dreams.
Then life happened and I never went off to college, but I did work in retail and did become a department store buyer. At the wise and ever so mature age of 20, I got sent off to the Atlanta Merchandise Mart with a modest budget as the Junior Dress Buyer for a local department store … a dream come true. For some forgotten reason, my stint as a buyer was short lived. I stayed in retail for a couple more years, lastly as an assistant manager of Casual Corner. And then I hit maximum overload and quit … probably too much mall chaos in combination with a fairly raucous, late 70’s partying lifestyle. Amazing to think I had burned out on my retail dreams by 22.
At 23, I met Dave, fell madly in love, got married and in ’82, we began our jaunt around the country choosing postcard locations to live and work. For the next 14 years, I went through a novella’s worth of assorted clerical and retail jobs, no direction or path, just whatever fit the need at the time.
Somewhere in the mid 90’s, I started playing around with making and then selling jewelry. In those days, options for selling one’s work meant either selling in galleries and boutiques or doing shows and I did both. I hooked up with a couple different sales reps that got my work out to a wider audience and got into some nice little juried craft shows. Craft shows did provide one-on-one connections with my growing clientele, but I was always looking to “the powers that be”, the reps, buyers and show jurors, for validation.
That m.o. has continued to this day … well until last Thursday.
Having my work in big name locations is pretty much ego driven and the pursuit is addictive. These days it’s an enormous challenge to connect with buyers and get work into all those upscale boutiques and high-end galleries. It was easy-peasy for the few years that I worked with a team of fancy sales reps. After we parted ways, it got hard, really hard.
Internet shopping was taking off, niche trade shows were challenging the established big markets, gallery and boutique owners were deciding whether the “economic crisis” was for real or just a media fabrication, craft shows were struggling … the whole landscape of retail had begun to shift into new and uncharted territory.
I joined Etsy and did quite well, a blessing as I let my wholesale business take a rest. I continued to hold the belief that maintaining the wholesale side of my business was essential. But after that rest, diving back into wholesale became something of a challenge … the landscape had indeed shifted. I looked into doing a trade show on my own, but which one … a niche market or the newly branded NY Now or one of the big accessories shows? The investment alone was a major road block … probably a minimum of $10,000 between show fees, booth construction and travel. Then there was the question of whether I wanted that much business. With my reps, I had grown to where I had close to 50 wholesale accounts. Managing that much business as a one person operation was borderline insane … did I want to do that again or would I consider hiring an assistant? I went to NY and walked one of the niche shows and actually got accepted to NY Now New Exhibitor section earlier this year, but I didn't pursue it.
In lieu of attending trade shows, I've focused on direct marketing. Over the years I’ve invested countless hours and massive amounts of energy into designing lines and collections, creating catalogs and line sheets and compelling cover letters, researching potential shops, prowling around social media, looking for insights, honing my pitch for each, all for very little response … as I said before, the landscape had shifted.
My tipping point came just over a week ago. Late in the afternoon, I got an email that the NY Now Handmade Designer/Maker deadline had been extended and I still had time to put together an application. I went into something of a panic … could I pull my application together in time, was my current CORE collection up to snuff, would adding in the new concrete pieces be enough of an attention grabber, could I refine my booth rendering, what sort of inspired, but speedy packaging could I put together … and on and on and on.
The next morning I called an online friend and jewelry designer that does NY Now Lifestyle. We talked for about 45 minutes and I got a major reality check. I already knew the D/M section is highly curated, only 350 makers, and probably thousands of applicants. What I hadn’t considered, the makers go to great lengths and big expense creating eye-catching, compelling applications … much grander than anything I had considered. I had less than one week to pull my application out of my creative hat. I was getting ready to dive in and figure everything else out later. But just how much sense did it make to work myself into a tizzy to throw together what, at best, would probably be an average application? Not much …
The saying, “how you do anything is how you do everything” kept coming up. I did not want my name and brand being associated with a mediocre effort, so I let it go. But that letting go reminded me of my question of “how big did I want to get?” And I finally accepted that I do not want to be that big. Okay, so I don’t want to do a trade show and I don't really want to continue the direct marketing thing … what do I want to do?
For the next few days, I continued to ask myself, what do I REALLY want to do?
And finally, last Thursday, October 20th, it hit me and I descended into a major meltdown. I could see how much of a negative effect all the questing and pining had on me. For almost 20 years I’ve been looking outside for acceptance, but what I REALLY want is to stop and, yes, bring it all home. I spent the better part of the day in tears, my brain working overtime and driving me right round the bend. I had errands to run and could barely get in and out of the grocery store without bursting into tears yet again. By the time I picked Dave up from work at 4, I was a basket case.
After we got home, I calmed down enough to talk and talk we did (one reason we’ve been together for 37 years). Ditching my wholesale business needed to be a joint decision. Dave’s been strongly in favor of keeping it going, but my meltdown helped him see my newly gained perspective … by fretting over trying to connect with galleries and boutiques, I always felt like those little kids in Mexico “mister, would you please by my chiclets?” … for me, egocentric, negative and energy draining. Lord knows, there's a zillion artists and makers out there that do a bang-up job and thrive in the wholesale sector, turns out I'm no longer one of them.
As of today, my consignment accounts have been contacted and notice given. All work will be coming home January 1st. What an amazing way to start the new year!
I’m going to let things evolve slowly and not be in a rush. Now I can surf the interweb and not worry about looking for potential shops and no more cold calls. I can follow my creative urges and not feel guilty that I’m not producing work for my accounts. I’ve got a new iPhone on the way (replacing my mediocre and outdated Galaxy S3) which will allow me to take high quality pictures and video on the fly and share inspirations and cool finds the way I’ve been dreaming.
What this means for followers of this website … look for a major restructuring of the shop section. As of right now, I plan to stock my shop with ready to ship, one-of-a-kind work and I’ll let the social media platforms act as my archive of past work. I’m busting with ideas for new and varied projects, a couple are already in the works.
What this means is I’m finally cutting the line to the dock and pushing off shore.
What this means is I’m free!
stay tuned … it’s gonna be grand!
with deep gratitude - kvk