When I first started down the road of professional fashion design, I had a hell of a time figuring out how to get into stores. This was back in the olden days (2003), when store websites just weren’t that common (speaking of old internet, do you remember back then, when the internet was still new enough that you’d google something and actually couldn’t find a result? I’m not talking about nonsense-hand-mashed-against-keyboard googling, I mean a legit search, like finding this Crass song that was stuck in my head last week, just by typing in a half line of lyrics. Technology is a grand grand thing).
So because I didn’t have the luxury of modern-day internet, I had to store-hunt the old-fashioned way. Damn, I used to go door-to-door with a little suitcase, like some kind of old-timey jerk. And it was excruciating. Getting rejected online is far preferable to getting rejected in the flesh.
There was this one tiny store, run by some art chick with a bunch of her art friends milling about. And she had me standing there for like 20 minutes while she debated, soliloquy-style, about whether or not she was offended by some of my accessories (they were these weird armbands with felt cat cut-outs on them, and they reminded her of WWII Germany). And then her twit friends started chiming in with their opinions on my work. And I had to keep my mouth shut, and stay professional, and not tell these chicks to eat shit. And there wasn’t any air-conditioning. And it was just fucking hell. And then she agreed to take my stuff, which totally blind-sided her friends, which was cool to see. So I left some product, and decided to never return, until nine months later to collect my money and stock when she shut down the store.
Other stores weren’t that painful, although I did get rejected in embarrassing ways. One retailer told me my stuff was too unrefined, another accused my pieces of inciting camel-toe. You know, the usual.
Anyhoodle, I’m going to save you the torture, and just give you a rundown on how I store-hunt now.
1) Figure out your target market. Are your biggest buyers male/female? Lower/middle/upper class? City folk? Country folk? Suburbanites? Which age group? Are they buying your products for themselves or for others? Are you eco-friendly? If you don’t yet know who your target market is, because your work is brand-spanking-new, do some local craft shows. Cheap ones, in busy locations. See who talks to you and who buys your stuff.
2) Once you’ve sorted out who you are, take a look at other craftspeople in your field. Check out their websites, see where they sell. Open up all the links to all the stores they sell in (because a proper craftsperson will have easily accessible links to all the places they sell – think of your craft community, people! Don’t be greedy or lazy with your information! It’s not a competition!) and get to work. Figure out if you’d be a good match for these stores. And if so, contact the stores!
2.5) The bestbestbest database that I like to use for researching craftspeople and their websites is the One of a Kind Show. You can also use whatever local enormous craft show you have nearby (such as One of a Kind Show Chicago, Salon des Metiers d’Art in Montreal, and the Renegade Craft Fairs, in various locations in the US). They often have their exhibitors categorized by medium, and you can just go to town on that motherfucker. Go to the artisan page, find your chosen category, right-click, open-new-tab on each vendor until you have millions of tiny tabs open on your computer. Open each of their websites, find their stockists/retailers page, and right-click open-new-tabs for the retail links. Oh – before you do all that, sign in to Facebook, because a lot of people use their Facebook page as a website, and you’ll want to be signed in to properly view their pages.
3) Bookmark every store that you think might take your product (and that has contact info. Some places don’t want to be contacted by potential vendors, so they don’t offer an email address). Take your time contacting them. Just do one or two at a time. You don’t need an onslaught of rejections. Or way too many orders to fill all at once – most of these stores, if they take your work, will do so on consignment, which means that you won’t see any money until your stuff sells. If you miscalculated how popular your product will be, you’ll end up with a bunch of returned stock in about three months and nowhere new to sell it! Pace yourself!
4) Send a well-written email, much like a cover letter (no spelling mistakes; understand the difference between your/you’re, there/their/they’re, then/than; don’t ever try to use the word “ironic” because you’ll probably fuck it up; etc). Mention who you are, what you make, what the retail price is for your work (retail price is how much you want for it, plus the cost of materials, times two. Retailers take about 50% of the sale, so price your work accordingly), and any related awards or achievements. Include links to your website/blog/Etsy, and don’t forget to attach pictures of your work! It’s a lot easier to dismiss your email when you don’t include pictures. In fact, if you have a Gmail account, you can rig it up so that the pictures are actually included in the body of the email. That way you can get all up in their business, and they can’t help but be wowed by your super talents!
5) And that’s pretty much it. If they turn you down, just understand that they probably get dozens of vendor requests every day, especially if their store is in a big city. If they don’t bother to even respond to your email, see the previous sentence, and privately mock their bad manners (my go-to pep talk for retailers who ignore me is: What’s up, Your Majesty? Too important to send me a single damn sentence? You aren’t better than me!). And graciously move on to the next retailer.
And remember: don’t let the rejections get to you. Maybe you’re contacting the wrong places (trust that a retailer also knows their target audience, and can judge for themselves what will and will not sell in their environment), or maybe you need to do a bit more work on your product. Or maybe you’re just attracted to jerk stores. No matter what, if you enjoy making your crafts, don’t give up! There’s a place for you somewhere.