stories from my red thread life
What’s it really like to run a handmade business? Five things makers want you to know
Three years ago this week, as I was preparing for Toronto’s One of a Kind Show, I wrote my most popular article ever: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Craftspeople (but were afraid to ask). I received dozens of emails from artisans I didn’t know, telling me that they felt I had expressed what they wanted to say to their customers. So even though I can only share my own perspective, I hope that this article will also represent my fellow makers. We’re a diverse group, but we share a lot. And this time of year is an intense time for us. As we dive into the winter craft show season, meeting the public and sharing our work, here are a few more things that we’d like you to know: Yasmine Louis hard at work in her silkscreen printing studio in Toronto (shared with permission of the artist) 1. We put a lot of thought and work into designing and making our products. This may seem obvious, but when you ask us “How long does it take you to make one bowl/ dress/ guitar/ bracelet?” the answer (if we answered the way we would like to) might be something [...]
Why are Americans going crazy for Lilly Pulitzer at Target?
Shopping for Lilly Pulitzer at Target? Definitely not this relaxing. (photo: Lilly Pulitzer for Target) Do you remember the Cabbage Patch riots of 1983? For some still unfathomable reason, Cabbage Patch Kids were the must-have doll of the moment, but demand exceeded supply; customers lined up by the hundreds and surged into stores, causing chaos and injury. It was munchkin mayhem. Yesterday, April 19 2015, Target launched a collection by designer Lilly Pulitzer. Not designed by Pulitzer herself of course, as she is no longer with us, but created by her eponymous company. Target has done very well with its many designer collaborations, and it seems reasonable that this one would be no different. This strategy, of having a high-end designer create a collection for a lower-end store, with a very limited release (selling out very quickly), is a recipe for retail frenzy. Cue the stampede! Lilly Pulitzer is the line that Red Thread is most often compared to, as it is also known for its vibrant floral prints in juicy colours. I appreciate this comparison because the celebration of colour and pattern is central to everything Red Thread. But Lilly Pulitzer is a prestige lifestyle brand, perhaps best [...]
Living in the best place on Earth
Toronto skyline: photo by John Davidson Photography © Two weeks ago The Economist declared Toronto, my home, to be the best city in which to live, based on a detailed analysis of 50 cities. This wonderful news was announced just as we were receiving a dump of about 25 cm of snow on the cusp of February, the coldest month. This February has been particularly chilly (it’s -14° as I write this, with a wind chill of -23°). Canada is often near the top of these lists. But is it true? In my humble opinion, yes, even in February. Okay, maybe not in February. My sweetheart lives in Lyon, France, a beautiful city. But don’t take my word for it: Lyon is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Even the rooftops are beautiful. Sometimes when I visit (not often enough), we travel around France to soak up even more beauty. On a recent flight home from Paris (my first time there in 25 years), I found myself wondering how I would feel this time, arriving home in Toronto. Would it seem drab compared to Paris? As I sat in the airport bus (a long-overdue rail link is finally in the works), [...]
Is handmade dead?
The heading for a Toronto Star article about my mother. I still remember how excited I was to miss school for a whole day to meet with the reporter. When I was a child, my mother made hand-painted silk scarves for a living. She made them in our house, spreading them out to paint them and then sprinkling them with salt, which shifted as the brightly-coloured dyes dried, creating mesmerizing patterns. She worked late into the night, especially before Christmastime. The production process from start to finish was visible to me and my two sisters, and we often helped out with simple tasks like ironing and packaging. She sold the scarves at craft shows that were full of eager buyers, and I spent a lot of time exploring those shows, meeting other craftspeople and admiring their work. Now I am older than she was then, I have three children, and I’m a designer/maker too. Sometimes when I’m exhibiting my work at craft shows, as I often do, I meet people who have been doing this since I was a child, and I wonder how they’ve managed to turn handmade production into their life’s work. Is it still possible to support [...]
Everything you always wanted to know about craftspeople (but were afraid to ask)
As I prepare for the opening of the One of a Kind Show & Sale*, which begins next week in Toronto, I’m looking forward to seeing the work of hundreds of other craftspeople, or more broadly, makers; artists, designers, cooks, small-scale entrepreneurs. It’s energizing being in a room with so many people who have similar aspirations and challenges. Some people work alone and others have partners or staff who contribute to certain aspects. Some approach this work as art, and others as business, but even though our products and goals vary we have a lot in common. Potter Sandra Silberman (right) and jeweler Danielle O’Connor enjoying a light moment with Sandra’s porcelain necklaces at the One of a Kind Show Many people who appreciate handmade goods wonder about the lives of the people who make them. For those wonderful people who support us and are genuinely curious about this unusual way of making a living, here are my completely subjective top ten facts about career craftspeople: 1. It’s a tough way to make a living. Sometimes the price tags on handmade goods seem high, but when you factor in the labour and skill, and the material and overhead costs involved [...]