Everyone has their own interpretation of the word “start” and I can’t wait to see how designers and artists, from San Francisco to Paris, examine it.
To recap, my first interview was with Paula Pfotenhauer, designer and patternmaker out of Oakland, CA. Her examination of the word came out artist-fully abstract, yet it surprisingly helped me make concrete changes to my daily routine and have an understanding of “the how” of getting my writing done. Who knew that interpretation would have had those kinds of results? What's around the next corner?
Today I have the opportunity to have a dialogue with online retailer turned digital marketer, Miracle Wanzo of Vallejo, CA. I wanted to interview her because when we met back in 2002, she was juggling family, retailing and also in the midst of making lingerie for her site Hip Undies. She gave such valuable insight about her process then, I was curious about how she might be able to help us “see”.
As I reflect on my interviews so far, I notice one person manipulates scraps of fabric into a product, the other uses bits of code to development a product. One uses charted analysis to attract customers; the other, drapes jacquard jersey. Each has their own way of converting a customer.
With over 25 years of experience, Miracle shares openly. After her lingerie e-store was firmly established, Miracle started producing her own pieces for the store. Dealing with sizing issues and fabric frustrations, she decided to solely focus on how to best market the store and convert shoppers.
“Miracle, you’ve dabbled in apparel manufacturing, been featured on podcasts about creating fashion brands, presented as a panelist talking about smart traffic and spotlighted on the blog, My Wife Quit Her Job, explaining how people can run profitable facebook ads to sell physical products online. What should we say your title is?”
“Yeah, that’s true. I do a lot of things.” I hear the clicking of the keys on her keyword. It’s 11pm in California. “I’m actually a product developer.”
Interesting choice of two words forming her specialty. I met Miracle after I returned to the Bay Area, in 2003, from teaching in France. I didn’t have a clear direction of what I wanted to do. I only knew I wanted to create products and develop them in a way they would make me money. I admitted that to a friend and she suggested I speak to her.
“What does the word 'start' mean to you as a product developer?”
Miracle gives me three words,“to-take-action." Starting (an apparel line) now is different than when we took that ‘how to make a handbag’ class (after you returned from France). It used to mean making patterns and going to market*. The focus was all about finding sewing contractors and connecting with factories. The barriers to entry were a lot lower. Now, suppliers are easier to find.” I know she could go on forever. She used to write for Fashion Business Incubator.
“Yep, (starting) is different these days with the onset of digital patternmaking and even more so with cut and sew sublimation. You’ll be 80% ready (to produce your own collection) with just a couple of modifications of your patterns.”
I enjoy talking 'shop' with Miracle. What she means is that after you figure out your design and the print you might want to create, garment panels are cut and printed before they are sewn together. "There were a lot of other steps to this process in the past. You’d have to find a wide format printer and a rolling heat press among other things, even before elements of the garment were put together. Now you just have to choose the right company and you will be production ready in no time. The minimums are lower and (that makes everyone happy).”
Miracle was getting down to the nitty gritty of fashion. I almost forget to stay on topic. I come back around to one of the three words she used above to describe 'start.'
“Tell me more about that word “action.”
“ummmm…” She has a soft voice, her umms and ohhhh are sing-songy and she fits a lot into a sentence so I have to listen carefully.
“Sorry...what was that...executive?”
“...taking stuff from your head to reality."
“If you are starting with a product, or at least have a general idea of it, then you take the idea (from your head) to a supplier - try sourcing it directly from them. If it's aesthetically close to yours, you can ask quick questions about it's production time, pricing, etc. Then you use those details to complete or make the final touches to your own design.”
I see what Miracle is talking about. She suggests that you could stumble into a profitable design without the problems of well...designing. Take the pricing of the fabric and production costs they have already packaged for someone else and back into the margins or a starting point to negotiate landing cost with another factory, for example. This is very interesting and reminds me I'm talking to a product developer. It’s interesting how our path of analyzing the word start turned into ‘action’, then ‘executive’, and into creating profitable designs.
Miracle fills me in on some recent work with designers she’s been doing through her agency called Discover Marketing.
“It’s hard to market for them when they are caught up in their brand vision.”
“Most designers concentrate on their fashion brand - it's personal - it’s about their voice - their concept. That’s fine but they forget that brands are driven by the market. We need to talk about methodology, I don't care what the product is.” I write in my notes, “brand vision vs fashion brand."
“Miracle, if you could market brands or create products for designers, which one would you do?”
“Oh that’s a good question. If the brand needs a lot of help with marketing, yes, I might. If I don’t need to fiddle with (the product) a lot...if it's a fun project...cool product...no drama...no egos….their good at their craft….” She trails off into her ideal client and I hear more keystrokes, like that was her finishing thought.
I can’t wait to dive in deeper with her and continue our chat. This is part one of my conversation. She’ll talk more about Instashop Vs Amazon Vs Your own e-Shop in our second interview later in the series.
*Going to Market: seasonal industry trade shows and meetings bringing retailers customers and designers, buyers.