Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Special Interview with Anne McFarland Brown, Director of Product Development for Magnet Works, Ltd. (Part I)


Where did November go?! It's already December, the last month of the year, and 2013 is getting ready to burst upon the scene. I love the beginning of the year, as it is like a fresh breath of promise and adventure!

And in the spirit of celebrating new opportunities, today we're so, so excited to feature another interview with a manufacturer we really really like - Anne McFarland Brown, Director of Product Development with the wonderful Magnet Works, Ltd. - who is launching a whole new enterprise today! Studio M is their new endeavor to bring the indoors outside with a whole new line of outdoor products and an incredibly interesting and unique approach to partnering with artists to do so.

The first part of this editorial with be about the launch of Studio M and we are so honored to feature this exclusive interview:

Anne McFarland Brown
The Moon from My Attic: Hello, Anne - could you share a little background on yourself and how you got into product development?

Anne McFarland Brown: I fell into product development by chance, actually. I received a B.F.A. in textile design at the University of Kansas in Lawrence and ended up getting a job right out of college with Seabrook Wall Coverings, a family-owned and operated business in Memphis, Tennessee. I started out with them as a colorist and gained a lot of experience in the surface pattern world. After 7 years, I ended up moving to Kansas City and started working with DEMDACO, where I started in their table top division and expanded into home decor, wall art, and other home products.


Sue Todd, Owner and Anne Brown at Surtex
Art Pole by Stephanie Burgess
About a year ago, after 7 years with them, I took on a position as Director of Product Development with Magnet Works, focusing initially on their line of core garden products. Over the course of my career so far, I've been fortunate to get a lot of experience with a range of different products, from wall paper to tabletop to home decor to wall art to gifts to garden. Equally important, I've been really lucky in my employers, as all three companies have been family-owned and operated and have provided great working environments.

TMFMA: You mentioned that you're a big part of this new endeavor at Magnet Works - what can you tell us about it?

AB: Well, now that the official press releases are out, I can tell you everything! Our new division, called Studio M, is a category we call "Artful Home and Garden" which will contain products for the outdoor living space. All of those products are built into collections that are truly a partnership with an artist.

Bloom by Jennifer Brinley | Studio M
TMFMA:  So are you looking at this as part of the movement to bring the indoors outside?

AB:  That's correct, you've nailed it! Outdoor living is a growing trend, complete with outdoor hearths and bringing the colors and inspirations from indoor spaces into the outdoors. It's such an important part of our living today. I personally think that part of what is driving this is our desire for community, so oftentimes in our neighborhoods we want to get to know the neighbors, entertain the neighbors and be outside as much as possible with our kids. That calls for products that are expressive of your personality or your vision and which work well in an outdoors setting.

TFMFA:  How will your artists be involved in this new endeavor?

AB:  This is another exciting aspect of Studio M. Essentially, we'll choose an artist and sit down with them to create their own lifestyle collection. We have two situations where this has happened so far - we sat down with Susan Winget, who has already done a number of designs for our core products, and explored what is important to her regarding nature and being outside. The collection that has resulted is built around her own personal garden space. We did something similar with Jennifer Brinley, who also is a part of our core products, and her Studio M collection is very different and fun.

Gypsy Garden Collection by artist Genevieve Gail |  Studio M
We also have two concept-driven collections, meaning that they are more of an idea for a product that an artist wanted to create as a critical mass statement of an individual product. Stephanie Burgess has done an entire collection of art poles, like sculptures for the garden. Another artist, Genevieve Gail, did a collection of miniature gardens. So whether it's lifestyle or concept, it's really truly working with the artist and cultivating what it is that they see as their vision for this space.

TMFMA: Wow - it looks like you're not only looking at an artist's work and how it can play into your products, but you also are bringing artists in via your new Studio M to start brainstorming and determining what products could actually go into that outdoor space. Is that how it's working?

AB:  Absolutely. It just depends, as we'll sit down with an artist and figure out how they live in the outdoors, determine how does their garden grow, and what is their outdoor space like. Certainly many of our artists are in different regions of the country so that is reflected in their work or in the types of products they want to create. If one artist says they have a true love of birding and watching birds, we'll want to create an entire line of bird houses, bird feeders and anything related to birding. If another artist has the worst green thumb ever and uses their outdoor space differently, or likes growing vegetables instead of flowers, it is really just a clean slate that we can jointly build upon.

DrinkBlots Art Coasters | Studio M
TMFMA:  That's fantastic! I think building a whole line is the dream of many if not most artists and designers.

AB:  It's the dream of a developer, too. I worked that way for so many years. It has been instilled in me in my experiences with my former companies the importance of maintaining the integrity of the art as being at the root of it all.

TMFMA:  We've also been seeing a move towards having a personalized aspect of products and you were describing having more of the background of the artists and what it means for them to be outdoors. Are you also seeing this as an evolution in the marketplace from the consumer side?

AB: Definitely. Certainly the owners of Magnet Works saw this and brought me on as a result. They saw this as an important trend and wanted to speak into it. That's exactly how we started Studio M.

TMFMA:  That's great to have that as part of the driving purpose for Studio M. Does the "M" stand for something?

Magnet Works | Studio M - Artist Community 
AB:  We wanted to keep a relationship with Magnet Works and we went back and forth for several months around various names but kept coming back to the idea of a studio. We felt the studio part of it reflected the thumbprint of the artists. So many of the products will truly be created by hand in conjunction with the artists themselves and then mass produced from there. Thus, the name came into being to represent a comfortable, casual vision that is also homey, authentic, and livable.

TMFMA:  What a great opportunity for a deep collaboration with your artists and designers.

Anne Brown and artist Kelly Rae Roberts
AB: I know so many artists and designers who I've worked with in this way, and oftentimes it makes for great success for both the artist and the company developing the product. I've just found in my experience that it's the best way to approach product lines.

TMFMA: Well, this has been a fabulous interview, Anne - it is so encouraging to have a manufacturer's view to share with licensing artists and so encouraging that you seek out partnerships that are that tight with your artists - it's really inspirational.

AB:  Well, I hope that artists realize that certainly we're not the only company that has that philosophy. Unfortunately, there are those few companies who don't who lead people to believe that licensing can be this cold, unsafe world, and it's really not. You know, if you're engaged in it it can be such an amazing experience and such a great thing for everybody. The greatest success I've had in my career thus far has been when I partner with artists in this way.

Anne Brown, artist Stephanie Ryan and Sue Todd, Owner
TMFMA:  It's great to hear you say this. I believe very much when I do my art that I could license to a lot of different people, but what I'm really looking for is that long-term partnership because that's what drives me. It's just fun and rewarding to collaborate. As a designer, I've done so many projects from beginning to end and it's just such a pleasure to do that with other positive people around you who are engaged in the same effort with a shared goal for everyone to succeed - and I think that's the same dynamic at the core of successful licensing.

AB: Absolutely!

TMFMA: Thanks again for sharing your story with us - I'm so happy to have met you and been able to chat, and wish you all the best success with Studio M!

NOTE: Part II of this interview will be published on Monday, December 10th, 2012. Anne will share with us how she goes about finding new artists to collaborate with Magnet Works as well as other helpful insights about her company and the world of licensing. Don't miss it!

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