TIP THREE - Start a chain reaction
Down to the nitty-gritty: you’ll need to find the right materials – whether blank T-shirts or the perfect type of Perspex – help with making the product, and a way of selling it. Getting great suppliers, craftspeople and distributors takes serious legwork.
Contact potential distributors early: speak to design boutiques, online independent design stores, independent galleries and so on. They know what sells, and their input could be crucial in helping refine your product. They may be able to recommend manufacturers or suppliers who specialise in illustration-led projects. Some companies, such as Clickforart, even handle the process for you, taking artists designs and producing them as limited-edition cushions, screen-prints, cup-and-saucer sets, and more.
Henrietta Swift says that for her sticker sets, some research led her to the right manufacturer. “I found a great company, Diginate (diginate.com) who produce one-off contour-cut stickers: they’re who I used for my first batch. I then contacted them when we were considering a larger run and they gave a reasonable production price, so we stuck with them.”
If your product is complex then getting the right materials can be challenging: Boreal found that it took days of trekking around fabric shops and markets and scouring the internet to request samples from digital printers. “We needed a fabric which could not only cope with day-to-day usage, but could show off highly colourful and detailed artwork,” says Stephen Gibbs.
Fashion designer Sally Smallwood spent weeks testing different threads and ways of sewing them, says Chris Barter. “A lot of the materials were ruled out straightaway due to the edges fraying, or us not having the machinery to cope.”
Finding the right fabric took the Boreal team months, but perseverance and effort saw them through.
TIP FOUR - Be rare
There’s nothing wrong with not achieving world domination, particularly at first: go for small editions of your products when you’re starting out. “[Your product] has to be producible as one-offs or small editions to keep the risk to a bare minimum while finding out whether there is any demand for it,” says Tomi Vollauschek, who runs online design boutique Stereohype (stereohype.com), as well as design studio FL@33. “If demand is indeed high then bigger editions should be possible.”
Darren Riley of Clickforart (clickforart.com) says that “being bold and quickly learning from mistakes” is a good skill for creatives to pick up – and again, this is easier to accomplish if you’re not stuck with a mountain of stock to distribute.
Plus, of course, if your creation is very limited-edition, this means that it will be even more collectible – and valuable – when you’re rich and famous in 20 years’ time.
TIP FIVE - Aim wide
“A lot of products designed, produced and directly sold by graphic designers and illustrators themselves tend to have their peers in mind as potential customers,” says Vollauschek. “To reach out of this limited market must of course be the ultimate aim – how many products can you possibly sell to your potential competitors?”
He has a point: while a mug with a typographic in-joke might garner attention in design blogs and magazines, and win the approval of your mates and colleagues, its appeal won’t stretch significantly further.
This doesn’t mean aiming for focus group-style sterility or mass audiences, and it doesn’t mean giving up that lovingly created, quirky feel that many illustrator-led products have. But some careful thought about who your ideal customer is will stand you in good stead, as will some lateral thinking about what possible gaps there are in the market. For example, if you’re spotting customised laptop bags just like the one you’ve created all over the place, but friends who’ve just had a baby are complaining that all the baby-related stuff they can find is far too chintzy, then you may well have found a niche.
This is how Boreal wallets came about. Stephen Gibbs explains: “I found myself frustrated with the lack of variety in the fashion industry for men, and in particular the lack of imagination and ingenuity. I was always on the lookout for something a little bit different that was unique. It was from this lack and gap in the market that Boreal came about.”
TIP SIX - Shout about it
The good news is that there are more ways to get your product into customers’ hands than ever before. There are traditional routes such as design fairs and events such as the Designers Marketplace (designersmarketplace.com), gift shops, art galleries, and design boutiques. Now creatives can also sell goods through online portals such as Etsy, which hosts the work of thousands of creatives internationally, from jewellery to papercrafts, or Bouf, which is UK-based – and even eBay. Many also sell their products through their own sites.
The bad news is that there are other kooky vinyl toys, T-shirts, cushions, postcard sets and wall decals out there: you have to shout to get your product noticed.
The biggest favour you can do yourself is getting very good high-res photos of your product: you’ll need general photos of the product against a plain background, showing exactly what it looks like, and more imaginative close-ups focusing on details, or showing the product in use. A good set of images will help capture the attention of potential stockists and buyers alike – and boost your chances of getting into magazines and blogs.
You’ll also need to contact all the blogs and magazines you can think of with a clear outline of what your product is and why it’s brilliant (along with the price, where people can buy it, and those lush photos).
Get in touch with both design shops and local independent shops of all kinds. So if your work has kid-friendly animals then children’s shops might be interested; if you’re making hip T-shirts then try skatewear or record shops. Pitching your work takes tenacity and thick skin: don’t let a couple of rejections get you down.
There’s even more work to be done online, and for this you’ll need a little help from your friends. Set up a Facebook fan page, a Twitter account, give it pride of place on your blog, and email every relevant contact you have letting them know about it.