Explore Your Audience
This can all seem a little overwhelming and intimidating, especially because everybody will be at a different place. So maybe, Emily, as a student, you might think, oh, this is a long time down the road and I don't have to think about that yet, or it just seems too big. But it's a really key thing to do, or at least to pose these questions to yourself. So that it becomes not about the answers to these questions, because the answers are gonna change. As you grow as a designer and as you develop, the answers might change, but it's about posing this question so that you're thinking about it and asking yourself how I'm thinking about it. How do I solve these problems? Because, or I shouldn't say problems. How do I solve these challenges? And that process is good for you wherever you are in the process, and that goes for everything. That goes for the creation, finding the inspiration, that goes for the actual making of garments, but very important here because this all feels like it's after...
, it feels like the end of a cycle. But I had a great feedback from a student once, we have this professional development class that's all about this, and we usually offer it to seniors. You know, where they're about to graduate, and we're getting them ready for the industry. And we had one sort of freshman take the class, and she was so excited about it, because she suggested that every student take it at the beginning of their academic career so that they have a framework. So it's almost like you're building shelves, and you're putting in volumes of your work as you go along, but you're doing it within the context of something. So think about these questions, don't let them feel like they don't apply to you. Try to think about, give it a little fantasy. Give it about who you'd want to have, because that's at the heart of who you're gonna go after anyway. So it's good to start thinking about that early. So now let's get to the questions, so I'm gonna pose to you guys. Who do you think is the audience for your work? And I'm going to, after you answer, I'm gonna kind of sort of tease out maybe more information in terms of expanding that definition. So Emily, do you wanna start?
Just real quick, I wanna say thank you for that last comment, 'cause I know for me personally it's so easy to get hung up on one issue and say, well, I don't have an answer for that right now, so I'll just save it all until I figure that one out. And I think what you're saying is like, having your answer be, it should be evolving as you're growing as a designer, so that's super helpful. That's gonna stick with me. But anyways, as far as audience for my work goes, I kind of hope to have a fairly large audience, a fairly wide group of people. Like I was saying yesterday, the attendance for conventions is just expanding every year now, even at our local convention, Emerald City Comic Con, they sold out for the first time, like, last year or the year before. And they're expanding it to four days now and trying to get more people in, so you know, I'm hoping to have, people are getting started with their children, bringing them to conventions, having them in costume, and there's people even who are more elderly who are still passionate about their hobbies. So I know that's really ambitious, but I don't want to be in a position where I turn anyone away, I guess.
I think that's really good, because you're open to a lot of stuff, and I think in the beginning it's really important to be open so that you can kind of narrow it down and find your niche of who you want to share your talents with. I would ask you, just kind of as a little followup, when you're thinking about this audience, you definitely narrowed it down to an audience who has a particular interest. But maybe, I guess at what level do you think you would have the most fun? Because you could definitely be serving a broad audience, but you know, at what place in the process of someone who is doing this do you think you'd have the most fun, in terms of, is it that new person who's doing a costume for the first time and they're nervous, is it the die-hard who has to have everything absolutely perfect, representing whatever the theme is? Where in that process are you most excited, right now?
Probably with the die-hard. 'cause like, when I'm making stuff for myself, I'm finding a ton of reference photos and just scoping around on the internet trying to find this one little clasp to see what does that look like, how does that attach? So definitely that kind of audience. And one other thing I really love about this community is that everyone is so helpful to each other and there's so much information that is just freely given, so I think what could be really cool would be to sell my finished patterns for people who still want to do stuff at home on their own, but don't exactly know where to start or to be making one or two key accessories for a certain character that is hard to do on your own and maybe just specialize in that and make it easily accessible to people.
Those two things are incredible strategies. I mean, in terms of thinking about your customer and serving your customer, because you're thinking about your production, right, but then you've extended the whole experience in figuring out a way to connect with another customer who may not be able to take advantage of your resources, and designers do that all the time. Think about all the levels of stores for the big designers. You know, you have Giorgio Armani, and then you have Emporio Armani. And it's that doorway into the process. So you're cultivating a whole new audience by saying, I'm gonna make some of my patterns available. So that's, and you're making money off the patterns as well, because you're selling those, but you're giving that entry level, and we're gonna talk a little bit more about that later today. So okay. So Margo, who do you think is your customer?
My area of focus basically is costuming for the theater, and even perhaps some movies or television shows that are done in Seattle. Pretty much local. And my passion for these costumes is, I like things that I can create. I'm not, I would do it, but I'm not particularly interested in contemporary costuming.
So more period?
Yeah, I mean, I would be happy to do the contemporary, but that's not really where my interest lies. So it would be theater, you know, small productions, well, even some larger productions. But that would be my area of focus.
I heard two things in there that I think are really key about your customer. Again, we're open to work as it comes, 'cause we know how fleeting that can be sometimes. But thinking about your customer in terms of you being the go-to person locally, and I mean, that would serve not only local productions but productions coming in, and you wanna position yourself as that go-to person. So that customer is that person who's looking for the local connection. So playing up your local-ness, you know, is one way to attract a customer that's looking for that. The other thing is, that's a real specialty, is, again, you would take on any project in terms of whether it's contemporary or not, but that your niche is maybe period and fantasy and things like that where there may be a sense of less representational, like what's happening today, but you're sharing with this customer, they're gonna appreciate your research, your flair, these special things that are about interpreting history or interpreting fantasy. So right then, that kinda helps you narrow it down. And again, we're not talking about not taking work, saying, okay, I'm going to turn that down. But I think the best way to look at it is age ranges. If you're looking for a customer, looking to serve a customer, and yes, I wanna dress a whole age range of women, you wanna have a single target sort of in the middle of the zone that you wanna go for. So instead of saying I wanna dress women from 20 to 60, you're gonna say, I wanna dress women in, like, 25 to 35. They are sort of building their careers at that point, let's say. They're starting to get a little bit higher positions. That is a certain point in a person's life, and you want to do that very, very well. The nice thing about that, if you focus on just that target, is that you're gonna get the aspirational customer, the customer who is aspiring to that. The one who's going, oh, I'm not there yet, but I'm getting there, so I wanna start dressing the part. And then you're gonna get a client who maybe has passed through that, who maybe wants to recapture some of the energy of that. But you have to do that very well rather than saying I wanna please all three groups.
So how would you translate that into a theater type setting or a film?
'cause I can't go in there and say, I'm only gonna dress people between 25 and 35.
Well, I think it comes from your specialty. Like, what you like to do. So maybe, and this doesn't have to be a whole career thing, it could be in times, like, it could be that you're known for, right now I'm really into the 1800s, and I'm going to be doing things that will attract customers, because that's my passion at the moment. But a lot of people also feel, after a while, you can feel stuck, because, oh, I've committed to this. But I'm a big advocate of thinking in terms of project, project-based careers, where a project could last a month or it could last three years. And you want to block off time and say, you know what, I'm gonna give this a few months, because it's just kind of a fun little thing. Or I'm gonna think about, I'm gonna invest five years in this process and really delve into it, and then maybe I'm gonna move on to another idea. So that's kind of a way to create a focus, because you'll get other people who go, well, I'm not doing something in that period, but I like the approach or I like how focused and how thorough and all those kinds of things, they're gonna respond to you in those different ways.
Well, I like the suggestion about kind of offering a service that nobody else can do. And prior to you saying that, I was thinking, oh, I don't know what that is. But you know, I'm very knowledgeable in the history of costuming and fabrics and that kind of thing, so I could use that as part of my portfolio.
Right, yeah. And again, it's speaking to that particular customer, that's really key, 'cause you need to imagine them, just like when we do a sketch, we wanna interpret our customer. Even when we're creating a pattern, we want to think about how she feels, is she comfortable, is there a lot of ease, or is it, does she want to feel very contained? All those things are about your customer. So that's why this is so important, because it's at the very beginning, and as I've mentioned before, it's less of a monologue and more of a dialogue when it comes to fashion design. So who do you think is your customer?
So I'm a little torn, 'cause I think it kinda depends on what I'm doing, like, if I'm helping out with a fine art shoot or something like that, I think it's definitely more pushing the limits on like the ethereal and a little more out there and just pushing people outside of their comfort zone a little bit. But as far as like, when it comes to more daily clothing or like styling, helping style people, I don't know if it's a cliche answer or not but I kinda think it's someone pretty similar to me just as far as like, liking to push the fashion aspect of it and have it be a little bit more unique, but definitely more doable for a day to day whatever.
Well I heard, in a big way, the whole idea of push, and I like that. It's someone who's almost challenging themselves to try new things, so you as a a designer are gonna be creating things that you're almost like exploring things and bringing them back and saying, I'm gonna go figure out what the latest adventure is gonna be in fashion, or the latest thing, so that people have these choices that are not the ordinary choices. They're going to be able to, again, push themselves out of their comfort zone and express themselves in a really unique way. So this is going to be about the spark, that you want a customer who's looking, they're hungry for that spark. So when we talk about all the ways to engage with them, we're going to need to figure out what that means, like how, what are you gonna do for them that's going to attract them and then keep them.
Yeah, 'cause I think I've definitely seen that tricky little balance in I realize that sometimes pushing the boundaries for something I would wear seems a lot less extreme to me than it would be to someone else that I'm helping with. So incorporating their style a little bit, but still having it be mine.
I think this speaks to the zone thing, like where we talk about targets, and I think maybe you wanna think about volume of your idea. Like when you're thinking about, okay, I'm gonna push people out of their comfort zone, where is the volume on that? So is it really low, where you're doing it in a soft gentle way to kind of cultivate a customer, kind of like with the patterns? You're cultivating a customer by giving them, maybe you focus on accessories with people who are kinda new to your world. And then you pump up the volume a little bit and you incorporate clothing and then you move on to the drama, the theater of fashion, where people can experience it and adopt some pieces and really have a lot of flair with it. So I think, again, targeting the customer, knowing that that's the ideal customer, that person who wants to be pushed out of their comfort zone, but at different places, at different levels, so that's good.
So my target customer has been in the past mothers of the bride, mothers of the groom, and brides, and I've found that women who like fashion and are engaged with fashion don't lose that engagement over their years as they age, but they have a very difficult time increasingly finding age-appropriate clothing that fits their body that's not the body that was when they were 25 years old. So the fit, for me the fit of the garment is always the most important thing, and it's the need that I've been meeting to this point. But I'm starting to see that one of the passions that I've really had the whole time I've been doing this kind of work has been with the textiles, the fabrics. And I'm really interested in repurposing, bringing back all the textiles that are out there lying around in people's linen closets and in their stash, their fabric stash. A lot of people have traveled, have collected fabric that just sits there and never gets used, because somehow they're saving it for something, but I'm not sure what. They don't know what either. So I like to bring a whole new level of engagement with using textiles that already exist in new ways and inventive ways and creative ways. Everything from embroidered pillowcases that are just, again, lying around and people save them and save them and save them, to Mom's wedding dress that's been under the bed for 50 years and is lovely fabric, and if I can bring it back in a new way, I'd like to do that. And I've done some of it, and really, really, I find that's what I'm bringing passion to.
There's some great things in there. I think the first thing that I would say is that that experience of the fit and the fabric is key, because it's very, it's very physical. It's about that experience of the wearer. They wanted to feel a certain way, they want to be able to touch what they're wearing and feel that it's special or see this great pattern on their body. So it almost seems like it's really about their body in terms of how they want to experience things, but then that's at the core, I think that's a core value for your customer in terms of she's not gonna go out there and be in an ill-fitting dress or something that doesn't have something special about it. But then on the creative side, I think the flair, where it narrows down that customer a little bit, is from your idea of repurposing fabrics. Of hunting for fabrics, that could be a whole other process, and then I think, because you have a lot of experience, much in the way that you would share your patterns, maybe like ideas, I could see you promoting yourself to that customer by offering them ways to do similar things, to do similar things with the fabrics that they have at home, so you wonder, what are you saving it for? So give them a reason to, and then all of a sudden you become the answer to their question, or you give them a sense of purpose for something that they're already engaged with because they already love the fabrics and they're saving them. They may not know why, but they're special, so you're making that special thing come to life for them. So both in your designing, but maybe giving them some skills or some tips or whatever it is, it can take a lot of forms. So you guys all have a really clear definition of your customer, yeah.
I just wanted to chime in with one from online.
Oh, wonderful, yes.
Great, great, so we have Candy J, and Candy is starting a streetwear brand with a demographic of 18 to 30. Her group of people are into live music, art, or at least are open-minded to it. They cater to the downtown scene, but most importantly are a generation of people who identify as an equal humanity, no matter what you identify as, just catering to people, whether it's LGBTQ, straight, pansexual, the clothing will be unisex sizes.
So sounds like Candy has a pretty good--
That sounds like it's very, I mean, I felt as you were reading that it was just very powerful. It's about that message, it's about community, but it has a cause feeling to it. The couture with a cause, sort of like that has a real feel and that person, I mean, that customer seems to me just from hearing that like they know how to have fun, they love the music scene and want to be involved with it, but they're not just out there partying. They believe in things, and I think that's a very definite customer and a growing customer, too. I think more and more people are becoming aware of whatever it is, whether it be the environment or causes, so I think that's really well-described.
And Candy lives in New York City, so that makes it easier. But has also collected images of what they look like and just engaging in that community as well, so. Thank you for sharing, Candy and everybody else. Please keep joining us in those chat rooms.
So let's move on to these, and these will be a little easier, and I think after we spent a good amount of time with your customer we can kind of maybe each take a turn with these. So what is one way you can collect information about your customer? Like the customer that you want to approach, can anybody think of one way they can connect with them, or to get information? Any ideas? Yeah.
Well, the way I would do it is, I would start out by talking to people who know people.
And what would that mean in the case of the theater or film, like, would it be people in the design process or just in any area around theater or film?
Well, I've had the experience of, I know several people that are in various positions in the art community where I've reached out to them over the years and when I've wanted to get into doing costumes and said hey, do you know of anything that's going on right now? I mean, this is a little bit vague, but anything that's going on right now, let me know if you know of anybody that needs help in their production, and so forth. And it's actually paid off a couple of times, where I've gotten names and I've gotten contacts and so it's worked out well. I mean, for me, that's where I would begin.
I mean, I think that is definitely the most direct approach, and especially if you've built up some time in the industry where you have at least a baseline of people you've worked with that you can share it with, because it may not be the producer or the director, it might be the makeup person, and they're brought in, I know that theater and film are very team-based, like a team comes together for a special project. So thinking about who's out there doing the kind of makeup that you like, reaching out to them, building a relationship, and sort of keeping in touch and being on people's radar is half the battle sometimes.
Well, and the thing, too, is that some of these people I went directly to in terms of saying, do you know anybody who's doing costumes or whatever. But I guess this would apply to the makeup person too. I've also talked to people that are not directly involved in that field, but know people who are in that field, so it was kind of a bit of the roundabout route there. But it's just like a big circle.
But just knowing that is really key.
Even just knowing those people, knowing that those people are connected, and that just means keeping informed and keeping connected with the community.
And I have found that most people are, you know, they won't kill themselves looking for you, but they're very happy to pass on a name or a suggestion or whatever. So that's just one of the things that I've done.
And so I'm gonna, does anybody have any strong feelings about how they might outreach?
Well, it's not directly reaching out to a specific person, but I find when you're like, when you find someone who's kind of in your demographic, I think it's interesting to, you can't do this with everyone, but picking through their closet, if you can, or even seeing Pinterest boards, a lot of people are on things like that, and just, usually you can find some sort of theme or something that piques interest in them, and I guess even if it doesn't specifically translate into something that you would make, it's just interesting to know, like you were saying, keeping up with trends and just seeing what else is out there and pulling ideas from it and how to incorporate that.
And that's a great point, and I think just short of cyberstalking, you want to, there is so much information that's being freely shared. So to follow someone on Pinterest is a great tool for exploring what their interests are and how they're looking at the world, because they may have a board that says Modern Fashion, what does that mean to them? That can go in a lot of different ways. And then also just even social media, what do they tweet, what do they post on Facebook, what are the things that interest them? And I think that works really well in terms of knowing your single customer, or a customer who may be representative of a community, sort of a leader and an influencer in the community. So targeting those people and sort of seeing, following them in a really nice way where you have an active interest in them, just the way we would with a celebrity.
I think it's also nice because I feel like in those settings a lot of times, people put things out there that they're interested in but maybe don't know how to incorporate into whatever, for me, with trying to push people, that's worked nicely.
And just one little tip before we move on to the next one, a really simple tool, especially because of social media. You can post something that's a call to action that will help you not just identify those people, like have them actually pop up and respond, but get very useful information. And that is to think, oh, sort of the oldschool focus groups, except you're not gonna convene a focus group, probably, in your design studio. But online, if you're thinking, I'm going to be working on pants, right? You're focusing on a pant, and you want to go, what challenges have you found when you're shopping for pants? 'cause I know there are issues with pants. Long-waisted, short-waisted, all these kinds of different issues. But then also, asking them what brands are solving those problems, because you want to figure out who your competition is and who you can learn from. Yes?
So how would you approach these people? Would you do it on your Facebook page?
Yeah, it can be very passive. 'cause sometimes, surveys and focus groups can be, you really have to have an audience that's already engaged. But to tweet out a question, almost like we're doing here with our online audience to just put something out there and see who gives you feedback. And I find that when you do that, you get really unexpected feedback sometimes, but as you start to build your audience you can get some very useful information, not just for marketing to these people but even for your design process. Yes?
I think this would apply here, but one of the things that I had found over the years to be really very successful if you're in a position to be able to do it is I have actually gotten some opportunities through volunteering.
I started out by volunteering, and volunteering making costumes, and then I got some other leads because people saw what I did.
Volunteering is a really great tool for showing people two things. Your skills, you know, because you're volunteering, you're providing a value to the experience. But then also your personality, because we all know that that plays a big part in it. And it doesn't mean changing your personality, but it's saying, finding kindred spirits. People who approach a problem the same way.
That's also a great entree to people who are maybe a little bit timid about going out and, for lack of a better word, pushing or promoting their product, and this is kind of a nice little segue in there with no pressure. No monetary pressure there. Anyway, I just found that to be very useful.
So this week, we kind of referenced a little bit earlier, how would you boil down your bio into 140 characters? So if you had to just do one tweet that said everything that's important to you about you, it's a big challenge, but it also cleans things up, because a lot of times you're in a situation where you might be at a party or at a meeting and how do you tell people what you do? People call it an elevator pitch or things like that, but I think it shouldn't feel like it's too staged. It should be these bullet points that you can riff on in a different way depending on the setting, and you can contract them and make them very short and brief or making them very large. And I won't challenge you all to do that right now, 'cause that's hard work. But it's also, it could be a simple, people have a hard time writing their own bios. If you create a list and think about bullet points about your life that are the key points, then that can be a starting point for that.
I also think we have the opportunity, because we're working in the medium of clothing, that what we wear, how we put ourselves together, is the strongest statement we can make, almost above anything that we would say, because we're saying a lot about ourselves in how we present ourselves.
I can use myself as an example. I am probably not what you think about when you think fashionable. I wear a work shirt, I wear jeans, I wear sneakers, on all different combinations. And I love my shirts, I try to pick cool colors and cool sneakers, but that's kind of how I can convey to people that when I'm in the room, we're gonna be at ease. We don't have to be all gussied up. We can if we want to, but it's a comfortable environment, whether I'm teaching or presenting or even during fashion shows. I wanna make myself as approachable as possible, so that's a great point. Okay, what makes you feel like there is a connection between you and someone you follow on social media? A little bit wordy question, but the idea is why do you follow certain people online? Does anybody follow a celebrity that they just are very faithful to on social media, nobody? Or just somebody in your field? I have a feeling you might, yes?
A lot of people. (laughing) Oh man, it's my first day on set.
Who would be like, if you thought fashion, who's the first person in mind that you follow?
Fashion would probably be Karl Lagerfeld, yeah.
Okay, so tell me why, because I mean, people can connect with Karl Lagerfeld in a lot of different ways. If you had to use one word, what would be the one that describes why? Is he this, is he that?
Um, I think just real, or honest. One of those.
Yeah, sometimes brutally, yes.
Brutally honest, if we could fit in two words.
And that's a really important thing. You want to understand who you respond to and why you respond to them, because I, for instance, I'll follow someone, and if I'm not getting this vibe off of what they're sharing, I kind of will unfollow or stop following that person, because it's just not doing it for me. And I don't want to follow someone just because they're a big celebrity or a big fashion designer. So you want to find the ones that really speak to you and that can help, because it'll help you define, again, with your customer, you'll find kindred spirits. Someone who wants that dry wit, his boldness, he'll say sometimes rude things, and they're okay, because they're coming from Karl. So okay, and finally, in terms of what we talked about, the pivot, if you couldn't do this, with the skills you have right now, and you still wanted to use your skills, what could you do? And it's a hard question, because sometimes we get very focused and we say, okay, this is what I do, I make dresses or I make suits or I make costumes, but ask yourself and explore what are other industries, areas, that you can apply these skills? Where do they need someone who can sew? Where do they need someone who can conceive of a pattern? All these kind of things are very important, and we'll talk a little bit more about it as we go through.