I gave a talk about my work to a group of small business owners yesterday. Preparing the presentation was interesting: it focused my attention on ways I’ve grown in the understanding of my work life.
Many people, myself included, find it difficult to come up with language describing what they do and how it’s different. I’ve always struggled with it in the past. Somehow though, a shift has occurred, and this time I was able to better articulate what my business is about and why I do, or don’t do, certain things.
here’s a replay of how it went:
- slow fashion
- handmade & made here
- organic + sustainable
- the look: clean with unusual details, curves, sculptural fabric use, colors
- the values: individualism, practicality, present-moment
I started sewing when I was a child, and I’ve been sewing 18 years at this point. My mom got me 1960s patterns when I was twelve, and showed me how to cut and assemble the dresses. As a teenager I was obsessed with sewing, and read every book I could find on the subject. I learned most of the basics of sewing and design from books, and then refined them through extensive trial, error, and practice.
In college, I began selling one-of-a-kind pieces, first at Joseph’s and Amaryllis in the old port, and then at a store in Cambridge (Mass). I was in art school, which greatly inspired and influenced my approach to business. Being young and intimidated, I pretended it was a game, and piece of performance, which helped to remain detached and playful.
I left fashion for a few years to work at DeLorme (my father’s company). The experience of working in a real corporate environment was invaluable, and gave me a confidence that I lacked before; the understanding of so many elements of a business that I would have struggled to learn alone. Plus, I learned a number of skills that now save me money- photoshop, illustrator, html, css, php…
I started brook there in 2006. When I had designed in college it was under my name (brook delorme.) Now, often people think my name is brook there. which is entertaining and somehow pleasing.
The retail store/ studio space on Wharf Street was opened in august of 2009.
favorite pieces and techniques
tangled dress, from the fall 08 collection
pockets (preview of spring 2010, my new favorite dress.) I’m crazy about pockets.
organic wool asymmetrical shirt, in store now.
one-of-a-kind pieces (and more pockets.)
what I do now:
- design and pattern-make
- run retail store and website
- run gallery at 37A day to day
- website making
- blog, a little social media
things I don’t do
- custom work
- alterations and tailoring for garments I didn’t make
tactics I have tried and abandoned (at least for now)
I’ve tried a lot of things. I’ve done a number of things that I thought would be profitable, but were absolutely not. When I started this business, I tried to analyze the way a ‘typical’ mid-to-high end small fashion company did business, and emulate it. That usually means sales reps, pr reps, wholesale, tradeshows, and contract sewing.
here’s what I found- those strategies didn’t work for me. it’s not to say they never will, but right now, the way I managed them, they didn’t.
this is where the bit about authenticity comes in.
my personality & moods walk the line between artist & entrepreneur. I’ve got the moodiness of an artist, but a drive to run a business, promote my work, and receive recognition and money for it.
to have authenticity in my life, I’ve got to work as an artist and sell as an entrepreneur.
this combined retail-studio space, with its connectedness between the experiences of client and designer, and the performative aspect of creating in full view…this works. for me. at this point in time.
- finalizing to photograph spring 2010
- sewing new winter inventory, holiday dresses
- keeping the store open
- writing blog posts consistently
- building other websites (for our gallery, etc)
- designing fall 2010
I spoke a little about the 37A gallery, which is a business in partnership with Daniel Pepice. We’re going to show contemporary, challenging, and emerging art, focusing on installation work and other types of pieces that many commercial galleries in the area might not take on. We’ll have monthly shows of national and international artists, with first friday parties from 5-10pm. The gallery actually opens as 37A in December of this year, with a show by Hannah Barnes.
This street, to people familiar with Portland, has undergone a transformation in the past few years. It was formerly heavy with a bar & party scene, but with a couple bars closing, and the new infusion of art & design, Wharf street is re-emerging as a street with local appeal. With cobblestones and historic appeal, it’s one of those streets that look quintessentially Portland.
and that was it.