What to Wear, What to Wear?

by Donald Clark

Courtesy of Handmade Business

What's a typical dress code at shows and fairs? Is it different for different types of venues? I've mostly done fairs in my area but am interested in working up to other types of shows, and I don't want to look out of place. My usual attire has been shorts or jeans with a T-shirt, which fits my craft (hand-painted clothes, bags, and accessories) and the casual fairs I do. What should I wear if I do higher-end shows?

- Kacie Letchner

Dress for success is the simple answer to your question! Whether a high-end or low-end show, in my book, the rules are the same. Remember you're not a guest at the shows or there to just to have a good time--you're working and your goal is to sell your work. So what does one wear to best accomplish this? I'm always happy to deal with thoughtfully and appropriately dressed craftspeople who use their appearance to enhance their brand. Certainly I would expect handmade apparel makers to wear their creations. You should be dressed for reasonable comfort, taking into consideration the climate, terrain, and amount of movement you'll need to navigate your booth and sell your wearables. Unless you make painted shorts and/or jeans, I suggest you leave them at home. Here's how you might consider dressing: Start with a top from your line (and, if applicable, a bottom), then throw one of your bags over your shoulder and drape a scarf around your neck. If you don't make pieces for the lower half, pair the ensemble with a pair of dark, well-fitting trousers or a dark, modest (also well-fitting) skirt.

When dressing for shows, jewelry and accessory makers can think of themselves as a blank canvas. Consider wearing all black with special attention to the neckline of your top so it can enhance any necklace you model. Keep changing out the handmade pieces you wear, and carefully monitor the response to the various items. This is an opportunity to do great market research! For men who make wearables and jewelry, I'd again suggest simple, dark clothes that won't distract buyers from your line. If you will be bringing an assistant and primarily make jewelry for women, consider hiring a woman who can also wear your work and enhance sales.

So what about craftspeople working in other media? Long pants or a modest skirt and a collared shirt is always appropriate. Whatever you make, consider wearing items made by other exhibitors--this is a great opportunity to cross-market in a way that helps both parties. You get to show your support for other makers by wearing their beautiful handmade items, and the maker gets extra promotion.

I may sound a bit (or a lot) old-fashioned about this, but in the end, dressing like you are successful is a positive selling tool.

How long should I wait before bringing back a discontinued item? I've tried to keep my jewelry line fresh by occasionally discontinuing some items and replacing them with new pieces. However, I've read advice about bringing back older styles and increasing sales by marketing them as "back by popular demand" or something similar. I still use the same materials to make some of my discontinued styles, so it wouldn't really cost anything extra. Or is it best to just keep moving forward and not worry about reintroducing past designs?

- Ruth Hardell

Keeping a jewelry line fresh is always a difficult task. The most powerful forces at play are seasonal changes and new fashion directions. These considerations influence color, scale, and material choices. Then there's the drive to incorporate the new designs the maker is excited about.

So where to start? Let's think about the predictable, recurring seasonal changes. Apparel and jewelry makers need to rework their lines at least twice a year. But what does this mean? The tricky part is how deep can and should the changes be. The decision about what to keep and what to discard should be based on the sales records of each piece. You certainly don't want to eliminate styles that are doing well, but at the same time the buyers will want to see new ideas. The practical decision would take into consideration the number of total pieces you can manage, factor in the number of pieces you feel should stay in the line, and then begin to conceptualize the pieces that you'll add to the line. You want the new pieces to complement the existing ones, allowing buyers to see a tight line. Buyers make repeat purchases because they liked and, perhaps most important, got compliments about their choices. You'll want to be sure they'll find old favorites in the revised collection.

It sounds like you are aware of the need to change and at the same time stay the same and are now confronted with that nagging "Shall I bring back the past?" question. Assuming you've kept sales records and can create a file or pen and paper list ranking them in order of sales, start there. You certainly don't want to bring "back by popular demand" a piece that wasn't popular when first introduced. Take a closer look at your historical top 10. Do they work with the look you're showing now? If so, why not just reintroduce some of them as part of your current line? They could be displayed together with signage indicating they are classics. If they are too different for this approach, again display them as a group and go the "back by popular demand" route.

Finally, let's address your last question: "Or is it best to just keep moving forward and not worry about reintroducing past designs?" To me, this could be the most important part of your question and suggests you understand the importance of moving on and continually feeding your creative self. Are you making the income you want and need from your line? If so, why not just keep going forward, making new designs, and feeding that creative place that led you into this business in the first place? Let the past be just that. Perhaps when you're an old master in your field, you'll produce a retrospective collection and bring the past back with great fanfare.

Donald Clark is the author of Making a Living in Crafts and was a partner in Ferrin Gallery for 25 years. In addition to writing, he is currently a consultant to artists, a personal property appraiser, and a collection manager. He also continues to create constructions that have been shown extensively and collected internationally.