Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Foray Into Fabric - Artist Tamara Kate Serrao & the International Quilt Market

This past week I just published the schedule of the Trade Shows we will attend this year - The Moon from My Attic will report on these markets and exhibitions as Press. We welcome interviews with artists, agents, manufacturers and retailers from around the globe!

One trade show I really wanted to attend this year but couldn't was the International Quilt Market in Portland this past May. Unfortunately, it overlapped with Surtex. But one of my favorite artists, Tamara Kate Serrao, had her debut at the show and she has graciously agreed to share her exciting experience with us.

The Moon from My Attic: What new ventures have come about for you in licensing since our last blog post? I had just started licensing when we last chatted. Over that year I licensed six fabric collections to Jelly the Pug, an American children's clothing designer.

They even produced some swimsuits with the latest line.

And I licensed a few designs for medical scrubs.

The most exciting step for me has been signing a two-year contract with Michael Miller Fabrics. After we last spoke I designed a watercolor and pen-and-ink collection, Flight Patterns, for the 2012 (Fabric8) contest on Spoonflower.

While I didn't win the contest, that collection got me noticed by Michael Miller and within a few months I had my first two professional lines in the works: Flight Patterns and Les Monsieurs are shipping to stores as we speak.

TMFMA: Tell us about your debut at the quilt market! The International Quilt Market happens twice a year in the US. This past Spring it was in Portland, OR. If you love fabric like I do, this show is a must see! There is booth after booth after booth of fabrics, ranging from traditional to modern and everything in between. As it is a professional trade show geared toward the quilting market, independent fabric stores and manufacturers - bedding, children's clothing, etc, the emphasis is definitely on printed cotton fabrics. With a few exceptions, you won't find dressmaking or upholstery fabrics there.

There are also booths offering sewing patterns and kits and other related items. It was wonderful to be in such a creative environment with others who share my passion. Basically it's a place that international brick-and-mortar and online shops come to order fabrics for coming seasons. They are not shopping for designs, but rather finished goods.

Clockwise from top left: Mo Bedell, Skip Stone, Penguin & Fish, Amy Butler, Heather Bailey, Anna Maria Horner, Leah Duncan

TMFMA: What did you learn from it?  Meeting individuals in the industry was one of the most important aspects of attending the show for me. There was a steep learning curve involved in understanding the different roles (buyers, manufacturers, media, distributors, sales reps, designers) of attendees. I spent quite a bit of time talking with other designers, some industry veterans, some new to the field like I was, to better understand how everyone works. There is a range:

  • There are some designers (like me) who have an exclusive contract. This eliminates any other printed fabric licensing opportunities but the upside is regular work without having to constantly be a salesperson … though you still have to pitch new ideas that can obviously be declined if they don't fit with what the fabric house wants at the time. Some designers shoot for one collection a year, some do one per quilt market (Spring and Fall) and some do more than that. You need to think of diversity if this is the route you choose. Your work will lose its impact if your style is pretty constant, and a fabric house won't want too many repetitive collections in a row.

  • There are the designers who remain independent. They sign contracts for one, or perhaps two collections, but are not limited to working with one company. Attending Market would be important in this role, as one could shop around for a future fabric company with which to work. They also have the opportunity to pick up other licensing jobs in the fabric field, say a bedding line or a childrens clothing line.

  • Then there are designers that don't attend the show. Just because one has a collection debuting at Quilt Market does not mean one has to be present. For some the expense is too great (factor in booth space, shipping costs, flights, hotels, etc). There isn't necessarily a monetary benefit to attending. After all, if one has a collection showing, the licensing deal has already been accomplished. For others who also exhibit at Surtex, the Spring market is not a possibility as they happen at the same time. Then there is the factor of when a designer gets their hands on fabric. Due to production times, sometimes (very often) the first few yards of fabric are couriered to a designer mere days or weeks before the show, leaving little time to prepare. There are some companies that encourage designers to be there (like Michael Miller) and there are others who do not. They prefer that their reps do all the selling and PR work.

I also learned that many designers in the field also have other business ventures. Some, like I mentioned, exhibit at Surtex looking for other diversified licensing opportunities. Many who want to focus on the fabric end of things also have lines of sewing patterns (clothing, quilts, accessories) with international distribution or embroidery patterns and kits. Some better known designers also make affiliate deals with major manufacturers (sewing machines, thread, etc). There are also those that have had related books published. One could also venture into woven items (rugs, ribbons, etc). I actually recently licensed some designs to a European ribbon manufacturer.

Overall I would say that Quilt Market is a place to make connections and hopefully make an impact (promoting your collection and/or being noticed by a manufacturer, distributor, publisher …).

TMFMA: How did you make your decision to attend? Whether to attend the show or not was a tough decision. I wanted to better understand the market. I wanted to meet people in the industry and get an idea of how other designers make a living doing this. While I knew the sales reps would all show my fabrics to the buyers, I felt that having my own booth showcasing my collections, exhibiting specific items sewn with them, basically demonstrating my vision of how the fabrics could be used would be a plus and hopefully result in increased sales. The cost and logistics of sending a booth and larger pieces across the border (I am in Montreal) almost made me bow out, though. One has to factor all this into a decision and as I am new to the game, I still cannot gauge the cost effectiveness of my decision. I do feel, however, that I made an impact and I had numerous buyers stop at my booth that then made a b-line toward the reps to place an order.

TMFMA: What tips can you give to textile designers who want to follow their passion in the quilt industry? The most important things in my mind are:
  1. Find your voice: design the world through your own eyes. Don't try to imitate. Be original.
  2. Do the work. Unless you are really lucky, opportunities come most readily when you keep at something. I designed on Spoonflower solidly for over a year, entering almost every weekly contest, and bit-by-bit I started to get noticed. One thing led to another, and I am truly happy with where it has brought me.
  3. Enter contests. There are more and more great contests coming about, from Fabric8, to Repeated by Printed Bolt to Connecting Threads to name just a few, that give designers wonderful opportunities to make their mark in the fabric world.
  4. When you feel your work is strong enough and you have a few great collections to show, just do it. Be confident in your work and start contacting fabric companies (most have specific guidelines for submissions on their websites, so that takes out the guesswork). And finally – should you sign a fabric contract and plan to attend Quilt Market, have a plan in mind of an additional venture you could take there with you. You will already be in front of buyers and other important industry members, so pack your bags and go make the most of it!

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