Monday, May 15, 2017

Ask Alicia: Making stuff

Email from Jaai V:

Good morning Alicia

Thank you so much for the reply. I went through your blog and all the questions. Yet I have a few more questions and I think only you can answer them. 
1. How did you get your first order for designer merchandise? I am very much interested in starting my own online store business and selling designer merchandise and accessories but I don't know how to start and whom to approach. I make Illustrations but I don't know how to earn a living out of it.
2. How do you collaborate with big brands like Lenovo, Tinder, etc. I have no idea about how to approach well known companies. Do they get in touch with you or you contact them?
3. Do you manufacture the cute illustrated products or do you get them printed? Whom to contact and how to collaborate with manufacturers of products? 
4. Where do you store all your products before shipping? What is the process when you get an order? For example, you get an order for a designer bag then is it ready to be shipped before hand or you get your artwork printed on the bag later? Can you please guide on how to approach manufacturers and collaborate with them?

Your inputs will be of great help as I am very much interested in designer merchandise.

Thank you so much for your guidance and help. You are an inspiration.
Jaai Vernekar. 

Hello Jaai
Thank you soooo much for your mail!
So let me reply in order of your questions, so I don't miss anything out:)

1) I think I was a bit lucky on that front. I had a few people ask for merchandise before I even considered it. But I took a risk, thanks to the help of a friend, of making a few products for a flea market event (the Sunday Soul Sante) and we ended up selling out and having people mail with queries for months after. That was when I realised there was a need; though it was a long time later that I started the online store, stopped and started again!
When it comes to merchandise, I think the thing to realise is that it’s an entire different ballgame. Handling the manufacturing, stocking, logistics and then sales is a full time job (depending on how profitable you want it to be). But getting your products manufactured is as simple as going to the nearest/ biggest print shop around and getting your work printed on the merchandise that’s easily available to be customised. This could include t-shirts, mugs, badges, prints etc. Basically things you can make small quantities without worrying that you’ll be stuck with a whole lot of stock. I would say look at it as a testing project first and then go guns banging after doing the math of the business. It’s a little less risky and grey-hair-starting.

2) I think I’ve been lucky enough to be contacted by every client who I’ve ever worked with. It’s also because I’m rather public with my work (though I rarely actually showcase client work). I would recommend getting a portfolio of your work online first, because when you approach a potential client, you want to show them your capabilities. Then, go ahead and approach them! We live in such a beautiful age wherein most people are just an email away! And that too, an email address that can be scouted with just a bit of research! Mail and mail some more. Showcase your work. Also pitch some ideas! The sky is the limit!

3) Yes, we manufacture each product. We work with manufacturers (sometimes two and even three on a single product). I started off, as I mentioned, at the local print shop. That worked for a while, and then I took a break because running a product business meant that I had to be doing it full time. Which also meant that if I was single-handedly doing the packaging and shipping, I had to be in town almost all the time, which is not possible with my schedule. It wasn’t until I met Saurabh, my current partner, that we started the online store on full swing.
Finding manufacturers is a task in itself, and to be honest, I don’t have a knack for it, nor do I enjoy it. Figuring out cost prices along with follow ups for timelines and MOQs (minimum order quantities) is something that can take more time than I have to offer. So my partner handles that side of the business while I do what I love, i.e., the drawing bit!
Back to my beginnings, I think the local print shop should do just fine initially and if it’s something you want to pursue after the first few lots, then I would suggest getting someone to help with the business side of things, including finding manufacturers (this is sometimes asking current manufacturers and just plain ol’ google searches!).

4) When I started, I only stocked smaller products under my bed in boxes. Also under my housemates bed. It was a mess. Every time there was an order, I’d had to pull them out, pack them and call the courier guy who would send it across. It took a LOT of time in my day even if the number of orders weren’t too many. At this point, we have a little office with a store room for all our products. I still recommend going through the hassle of the home storage before investing in a storage room because the number of orders will dictate if the business is worth growing and investing your time and money. Almost every order is pre-manufactured, which means we have stock of products. But we do have a few products (like our custom stamps) that we manufacture on demand. That’s only something we’ve been able to do with a team and process in place, because it takes longer and also involves working with a manufacturer every time an order comes in. Custom orders tend to be a lot more expensive (depending on the product) because you manufacture single units, which means it’s a lot more effort from the manufacturers side and a lot of time from yours too! So unless it’s a high value product, like say a bag as opposed to a badge, I wouldn’t think it would be worth getting into.

A shirt I mocked when I was in university. I used to draw more skulls back then haha!

Lastly, you should also start mocking your illustrations onto products. I did this from my university days, which was when I knew I would love to see my work on merchandise. Mocking is still something we do because I cannot get everything I envision manufactured, so I mock it instead!

Hope this helps! All the best and don’t be afraid to take a risk!

PS: Take everything I say with a pinch of salt! I took one direction and got to where I was, but walking in a completely different path may get you ahead of me! So don’t be afraid to do what you think works. I don’t take the most riskiest paths but maybe you would like to! Go ahead! Your life, your path :)


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