“I can’t sell my dresses online.” This was the answer I would give over and over again when asked if I had a website. My dresses sold like crazy at local boutiques and craft fairs, but when I thought about selling them on the web, my mind drew a blank. How would it work if my customers couldn’t try them on or feel the fabric? No, I thought, I’d love to, but it just won’t work.
Then I found Etsy. Everything changed, but not all at once.
I began by taking dim pictures in my backyard. Now, this may work for you if you are a good photographer. Sadly, I am not. Even our family photos look like my two year old snapped them.
One of Rubypearl’s original attempts, at right, was a bit blurry.
I began to make friends with photographers and stylists who helped me out. As my photographs improved, my store took off like a rocket.
Photos below by talented Austin-based photographer Holly Brunkow.
Here are some things that I’ve learned.
Even very well known photographers need designers who will loan clothes for their clients to model, and they are very often willing to burn a disc of pictures for you for free or trade.
Attend local photography shows at galleries and coffee shops.
Find mid-level singers and songwriters and send them photos of your work. Target musicians who are well known enough to give your clothes some cachet and whose style fits what you’re doing. Clearly, you will probably never get a call back from Beyonce no matter how much free stuff you send her, unless you know her stylist or her best friend. If so, why are you reading this? You should be emailing me; I have some dresses that would look great on her!
Carol Young in rubypearl designs.
Offer musicians clothes for free or at a discount to wear on stage. Ask who their favorite photographers are; musicians often have other clients who could give your work celebrity exposure.
Post flyers at the local colleges. A beginning photographer may have a brilliant eye but also need to build their portfolio.
Connecting with your local community of photographers is great marketing. Portrait photographers make their living by networking with people. They shoot weddings, children, musicians and professional models — all of whom could be your potential customers. By enlisting their help with your Etsy photography you are exposing your work to everyone who walks into their studios.
Start small and attend every event with a positive attitude. You never know who you’ll meet or where little events will lead you. A few months after I started my company I set a booth up at an art fair hosted by a tiny coffee shop. It was raining. No more than ten people passed through that day. One of them was Patty Griffin’s photographer. She loved what I was doings and set up a meeting with me. I ended up designing a dress for her album cover. If I hadn’t been at that coffee shop, I never would have met her.
Musician Patti Griffin, at right, in a rubypearl dress. Photo by Tracy Goudie.
Musicians always need unique clothing to wear on stage, and there is no better advertisement than someone singing in front of hundreds of people in your creation. Make sure you snap some photos of them in your designs before they leave your studio. Give them special treatment and they will keep coming back to you.
When I met Erykah Badu she was sitting Indian style on the floor of my booth, digging through a box of squirrel-themed skirts to find her size. She had just finished her set at the Austin City Limits festival and wandered into my booth to do some shopping. Glowing and five months pregnant, she laughed at me when I suggested that I could find it for her.
“I can do it! I gotta find me a squirrel skirt. I love squirrels! Whenever I sing a song at home and it has the word girl I always substitute squirrel.”
She assembled a large heap of my best dresses and paid with cash. I was so dazzled I didn’t get her stylist’s email or any pictures other than one with her standing next to me.
Learn from my mistakes — even if you have to give celebrities samples of your clothing for free — and make sure to snap that picture. Do whatever it takes. Then send it out with your press kit when you alert the local media about your amazing new design business. Celebrities will understand — they had to be marketing geniuses to get where they are now.
By working with photographers you can expand your client base, entice celebrities to model your creations and present beautiful photos to your Etsy customers. Since your customers are unable to try your clothing on, you must capture their imaginations through photography. If you are camera-challenged like me, find someone brilliant to help you.
Your pictures will tell a story that inspires them to envision wearing your creation. It won’t matter that they can’t feel the fabric: they will feel beautiful imagining themselves in what you’ve made.
Join rubpearl for her follow up talk in the Virtual Labs at 4pm today, Monday January 19, 2009!
Post in the comments below if you’ve had any luck collaborating with photographers or celebrities. Link us to your photos! We want to see! Check out the Etsy Shop Makeover Flickr pool here.