Lian Sawires recently started a small business as a fiber artist. ABI caught up with her to talk about her experience and strategies.
ABI: What made you feel ready to become a new exhibitor at the Buyer’s Market this year?
LS: The Arts Business Institute workshop made a difference for me last year, with lots of practical information and developing a comfort level with what the show is actually like. This gave me a framework and confidence. I then began seeking out galleries and developed my first wholesale relationships.
Several contacts were eager to work with me on pricing to see where my prices should be. It was great to see an item go from $100 to $240 retail and sell well. Each relationship gave me confidence for the next. Some suggested I make a new item and I listened. The idea for silk scrap table runners came from a buyer. I also didn’t take no for an answer. When a contact loved my work online and didn’t like the samples I sent, I begged them to tell me why and took that advice to heart.
ABI: How do you use upcycled materials in your line?
LS: All of my silk scraps and teaching samples are made into handbags and table runners, even accents on vests and coats. Nothing is wasted.
ABI: How does your business background help you build relationships with your buyers?
LS: Having been in business myself enabled me to understand their needs and express that. I also felt comfortable with them as people. We’re all just people doing what we do. Not all potential customers are a good fit, but every relationship builds confidence and goodwill. I also joined a co-op gallery, which gave me access to other artists. I’ve got three pieces in June’s Collaborative Show and an Art Handbag show scheduled for November. This is great publicity and a good relationship and confidence builder.
ABI: What was the biggest influence in making your business grow?
LS: I knew early on that I wanted to teach silk dyeing to others, so while building my business I also contacted as many schools as I could about workshops and dyeing intensives. I started teaching and developing a following. This led to building a base for myself as an expert in what I do, a wonderful support in working with buyers.
I also recognized and respected the fact that I like always doing new work, and found ways to work with buyers that honors that: I make one of a kind, one of a series original art, and my buyers know this about me, so we’re all happy and know what to expect. Growing a business is not easy, but keeping at it, keeping my website and Pinterest current and email blasts going leads to consistent results.