15–17 Backfields Lane
Stokes Croft,
Bristol, BS2 8QW

Calling all Designer-Makers!

Posted by Cat How, January 8, 2018

One of the best things I found about running our previous online design shop Howkapow was all the new content and creativity I saw every day. A large part of my job was hunting out new and emerging illustrators and designers who might not have products available for retail but whose style I could see working on a product or print and who I could then commission to do exclusive pieces for the shop.

Of course, it was always amazing when I was approached by someone who not only has a unique yet commercial style and great products all made up and ready to go; but also someone who has a clear idea of their wholesale and retail price, lead times and great photography. It made my job a lot easier, and, most importantly, saved me time which was one of the most important thing of all!

First impressions are key. Oscar Wilde once said that ‘only superficial people don’t judge by appearances’ and I’m afraid this is very much the case with the daily submissions we used to get. It agonised me that I couldn’t get back to everyone who sent us an email (I used to, but found I was spending hours a day on it!), as I believe anyone doing anything creative deserves a humungous high five; so we found we were only able to get back to people whose emails and pitch really stood out from the crowd. Here are a few pointers of what we looked out for, and what used to put us off.

  • Email. Going against most advice that calling people up is the best approach, I would actually say a well written email with all the right information in it is the best way to get anywhere when submitting work to a shop. Phone calls can seem a little full-on, especially when I wasn’t sure a designers’ work would actually sit well on the shop, so I would recommend going for the softly softly approach at first.
  • Size: Make sure your email is no more than 5MB — ever! If your work is of interest to a shop, you can always send higher resolution pictures to them later via WeTransfer or Dropbox, but there is nothing more frustrating than getting a 20MB email from someone you don’t know that crashes your inbox 🙁
  • Make it personal: Make sure your email is personalised and tells a shop a little bit about yourself, how you heard about them and why you think your work would suit them. A generic round-robin mail out with ’hello there’ can be spotted a mile off and gives the impression that you haven’t been selective about the shops you are targeting so always try the personal approach — it goes a long way!
  • What to Include: Make sure your email is not too long, but gives all the right information about you. This should include the inspirations behind your work and links to your online shop or website. If you don’t have an online presence, then a selection of small images should be attached to give a flavour of your style. Every email should have a line sheet or wholesale price list with all your products listed in order with pictures of them and their corresponding RRP (recommended retail price), wholesale price and lead times. A catalogue too with nice lifestyle as well as cut out shots of your products is always a nice addition and gives a flavour of how your work would fit in the prospective shop of the buyer.
  • Be everywhere: The best way of increasing your chances with a shop is to be in all the places that they might happen upon you in the first place. Then you don’t have to worry about any of the above! Job done. I used to find a lot of my illustrators and designers by trawling websites such as Folksy and Etsy. Funnily enough, I always prefered Folksy as an option because we were a UK-based shop, and it made a lot more sense for me to buy from UK designers. I am also a little scared sometimes by the monster that is Etsy! It’s always a minefield having to find out whether someone will ship internationally, let alone navigating tens of thousands of pages of products. I also find a lot of people on PinterestTwitterFacebook, graduate fairs, local and national exhibitions and design shows so make sure you are linked in with as many of those as you can.
  • Things to be mindful of: The most obvious is email size, but other things to look out for are not putting any images at all in an email. If you are pitching your work, always make sure that you have pictures of this work included — quite a lot of people forget this. As a buyer it is also great to have a price for your products to work with from the start, so always include a wholesale and retail price (taking into account a 2.4 mark up) no matter what. Never subscribe people to your mailing list without their permission either, that can be a real turn off!
  • Most importantly: be friendly, concise and professional and don’t take it personally if you don’t get a reply. It’s good to develop a bit of a thick skin when submitting your work (even though it can be upsetting putting yourself out on show creatively and not getting any response — I know, I’ve been there myself!). But even if you do, and it is a rejection, then take it on the chin and remember to email back an acknowledgement — perhaps asking if the shop could keep you on their radar so that you can keep a good professional relationship going. Most often it is not your work that is necessarily bad, it just might be that it doesn’t quite fit the ethos or brand of the shop so never take rejection as failure — you are doing a great job!

(picture credit: Tom Pigeon)

Cat How is a Creative Director and Co-Founder of Pollen Place — a unique workspace and event space based in central Bristol designed to nurture creativity and spark productivity. She is also Creative Director of branding and graphic design agency, Polleni. Cat studied at the University of Bristol and Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design. She has worked as a journalist and graphic designer for newspapers such as MetroThe Guardian and The Observer. Most recently, she was creative director of the e-commerce design business, Howkapow, she founded and ran with her husband Rog How. Howkapow was sold in February 2017. In that time Cat and Rog were running it, Howkapow was given accolades such as the “Best Online Shop for Stylish Homewares” (The Guardian); one of the “Top Ten Online Design Shops” (The Sunday Times) and their pop-up “The Best Shop To Visit In Bristol” (The Guardian).

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