When its time for your brand to grow up

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I should have seen it coming. This past year has been a fantastic one for Manic Trout, the growth so far having exceeded all expectations and I am both in awe and proud of it. So it really comes as no surprise that in order to keep growing and to reach the next “level” (because what entrepreneur is ever happy with where they are?) would not be all easy breezy. Truthfully, it kind of feels like a senior feeling all mighty and then starting all over at the bottom of the totem pole as a freshmen in college. But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s start at the beginning…

Throughout all of this growing there has been an underlying disconnect going on that has been holding the brand back from taking the next steps. Something was not quite sitting right but I couldn’t put my finger on it. As successful as I have been since the rebranding in 2010 at moving from the random releasing of jewelry to four well thought out collections a year (designed and ready 3 months before release for press) there was something still amiss. Deep down, I knew that well designed jewelry alone does not make a successful brand and would only get me so far, and I feared that I was reaching the top of “so far”. This was all made crystal clear a month or so ago, when I was contacted by a trend analysis who wanted to introduce me to one of her clients, a large and very well know name in fashionable stores. I was reviewed by the board and given notes about how they saw Manic Trout as a brand. The missing component was exactly what I been feeling as well, that my brand identity was not visible if even there at all. They recommend that I find myself an imaging consultant asap.

It was a pretty amazing moment when the exact problem I was having suddenly had both a definition AND a solution. There was just one problem…these people are not found via google. I suspect that they are to brands what the secret people are to celebs that make them go from mid western nobodies to the likes of Reese Witherspoon in a few short months. Just like in that world, I quickly discovered that you need to know someone to get an introduction with a secret person who is worth anything and then pray to everything that they can fit you in because these people have wait lists of months and years. Thankfully, after a week or so of emails and phone calls, I was introduced to the exact secret person I needed and she not only felt I was worthy of working with her but had a last minute opening if I jumped right in. Also thankfully, my checking account was currently in good standing because I was about to empty it. And then as soon as it started to fill up again, empty it. And then repeat that a few more times. As you can imagine, secret people are very, very expensive to work with. They are however, worth every penny.

The past month has been a whirlwind, and a very stressful one. There was such a high volume of work being accomplished each day that I would fall into bed exhausted from thinking so much. It was a crash course in a new genre (to me) of branding, business and marketing and one that required a lot of answers from my end on how I saw Manic Trout, where I want to go with the brand, who I design for and many, many other facets of the business, much of it that were completely foreign concepts to me. There were times that I had no idea if what I said was right or wrong or what the hell was going on, but that’s where my secret person was the most amazing, as she would guide me back on track and turn all of my ramblings about my designs into something resembling an actual brand. After all of the hours of questions and writing novel long emails back and forth we moved on to the next stage. This included model cards and deciding between stunning women who had modeled for brand such as Versace, Vera Wang, Zac Posen, Cartier, Marc Jacobs, Valentino, Carolina Herrera and other designers who made my head spin. Then a few speed sessions deciding on concepts and clothes and details that had me questioning myself at every turn. The entire time I was constantly feeling both overwhelmed and in over my head but thrilled all at the same time. In hind site, I’m actually surprised I didn’t have a few melt downs throughout the whole process. I came close when Adam’s dad died and I was up to my eyeballs in all of this, but it all worked out, as life always does.

I am still, two weeks after this intense period is behind me, a bit dazed by it all. I am absolutely still processing everything and wrapping my head around the grown up version of Manic Trout. Because that’s what this was all really about. Taking the baby that I have been nurturing and raising for the past almost 12 years, patting it on the head and telling it that it’s time to be a lady now.

If you have not been over to manictrout.com for awhile, take a peek if you’re so inclined. See the grown up lady version. This is a huge work in progress with a veritable team to make it happen, so there a few details still in the works, but to quote one of my favorite movies…”its all happening!”

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A few of my favorite things from this week

Manic Trout FW14 Collection
Ahhhhhh, Friday. Really, there is no meaning in the last day of the week for me as I tend to work on weekends too but whateves, its a good day to share what excited me around the web this week!

1. Exciting news for those of us in South Austin, a Pizza and Bake Shop by the group who brought Uchi and Uchiko to Austin is opening soon, and next to it is a new Craft Beer and Coffee Shop…Stouthaus Coffee. Yay for us!!

2. Speaking of awesome things in Austin, this fall both Weezer AND The Black Keys (my favorite!) are coming!!!

3. This quote makes me happy as there is so much truth in it: “Inspiration usually comes during work, rather than before it.” – Madeline L’Engle

4. The FW14 Collection from Manic Trout is now available, and from what I hear, pretty great. What?

 

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Panning for gold

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The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready; it goes on because it’s 11:30…What I learned about bombing as a writer at Saturday Night is that you can’t be too worried about your “permanent record.” Yes, you’re going to write some sketches that you love and are proud of forever—your golden nuggets. But you’re also going to write some real shit nuggets. And unfortunately, sometimes the shit nuggets will make it onto the air. You can’t worry about it. As long as you know the difference, you can go back to panning for gold on Monday.
—Tina Fey

I read this again yesterday and just sat there for a few moments afterwards in a sort of stunned silence. Thinking about how much this rings true in the world of every creative person who creates for a living. I cringe when I think back on some of the pieces, and in fact, an entire collection that I have released that were not my best or anything close to it. It’s impossible to hit gold every time you try, especially if this is your career. The secret is to just keep aiming for it and never stop striving.

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Being a guest on a TV show

Sierra Bailey of Manic Trout on Studio 512, kxan
Photo of the TV while watching myself on it…how could I not do that?

Friday was an exciting day, I was invited to be a guest on studio 512, a lifestyle show here in Austin on KXAN (NBC) hosted by Amanda Tatom. It was for an episode of favorite things, and my jewelry was Amanda’s favorite things, so I thought the best thing to do was to debut the FW14 Collection right there on TV, it was so much fun! I’ll admit that one of the highlights was that John Lewis, who’s barbecue I recently gushed about was also on the show. This meant that I not only ate La Barbecue after filming, but was taking celeb crush selfies with him in the green room before we started taping.

Sierra Bailey of Manic Trout on Studio 512, kxan
Waiting off camera and watching John dish barbecue secrets with Amanda.

 The show is taped live to tape, which meant that I would be able to watch the show when it aired not long after we wrapped up. I was in the last segment and was off to lunch with my friend Michele. I made it to her house just in time to see the show which included a once in a lifetime moment when her husband walked in and saw me on the tv, while sitting on the couch in the same thing I was wearing while on tv and had a look of complete confusion for a few moments, it was great…but maybe you had to be there.

Sierra Bailey of Manic Trout on Studio 512, kxan
During the show, taken off set.

Two things should be noted here. One, that I finally realized I need to wear heels when standing next to women in important photos/on tv, because they will be wearing heels. Two that I’m wearing 4″ heels with a stacked toe here and am still a foot shorter than Amanda.

Sierra Bailey of Manic Trout on Studio 512, kxan
Goofing around on the kxan set, just because we can.

Cisco and the rest of the crew for the show were wonderful to work with and really made it a delight to be on the show. We were encouraged to pose on the news set and have our photos taken just for fun. I texted Adam this photo and he sent to people telling them I had a new job, and they believed him, ha!!

Back at home after all the fun, requisite selfie as I loved what I wore. It was Faye approved.
Back at home after all the fun, requisite selfie as I loved what I wore. It was Faye approved.

As I was asked a few times, outfit details: Kate Spade New York dress from Nordstrom (I love that they tailor on site, which they did for me super fast), Gucci shoes from Neiman Marcus, Manic Trout necklace, earrings and ring (not shown) from www.manictrout.com.

You can watch the video below (or if its not working correctly, watch it on the Studio512 site.)

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I can tell you, but then I’d have to kill you

 

How Faye is wearing Manic Trout today
One of the things that I can share with you are photos of my dog in Manic Trout jewelry. Standing in a tree.

I joke around with friends of mine who have related businesses that kids these days have it so easy to start a handmade business. There are shelves of books, hundreds of blogs, dozens of groups and even droves of websites on which to sell that are all dedicated to specifically guide you as a maker of handmade goods, to start your business. It is, at the heart of it, still a business though, and it is not all sunshine and roses to build one. Just ask the spouse of an entrepreneur what thats like. So you have all of this info out there to get going, and if you work really hard, you find your little niche in the world and settle in. Well, not really. The reality is that you need to then reach the next level and then the level after that and the level after that, and so on. By this point, everyone is at different levels in business, so its tough to find books geared towards you besides those about very specific topics, which can be horribly addictive by the way, especially if you have an interest in marketing. Free advice is also uncommon as you progress. There is information available, but you’ll have to pay for it, be it by taking a class, paying for a membership to a site or hiring a consultant. If you’ve made it the mid level, you’re making money and nothing is free. This past year I joked that I reached a point that anytime I needed to do anything, I had to pay $1000. But seriously, the more that comes in, the more that goes out.

When you’re on the inside, it feels alarming lonely at this point as there was so much information and sharing going on and then bam, no one talks about anything anymore. Sadly, I have found that I have joined the silence and now understand why it happens. I began this blog in 2006 and would share all sorts of things that were going on with Manic Trout and it was all very exciting. Fast forward to 2014 and the three very exciting and big things I have going on right now all have confidentiality agreements. I’m legally forbidden to discuss anything about them. This can be seen a lot with the big bloggers when they start getting super vague or post a great deal of random things for a few months and then are all “OMG, here is the huge thing I was just working on!!”. Usually they have been working on a book or something for a magazine, or designing something for target (none of these are happening to me fyi) or something and they are not allowed to share any info until its a done deal. Sometimes though, its not even that exciting with a big announcement at the end. Sometimes its just internal excitement that no one but you would really think is all that exciting anyway, but something that has thousands of dollars invested in it and endless hours of time but is unfortunately a really big deal to only you.

Anyway, the point of all of this is that if you are wondering why I no longer post a lot of the behind the scenes, its because I either am legally not allowed to, or its boring (i.e. a lot of market analysis and spreadsheets). This is the main reason that I made the separation between this blog and Manic Trout this year, I however still want to share what I can, like this post, so you can peek into the life of a designer. If there’s ever anything you are curious about or wish I wold go back to showing on the blog, please let me know!

 

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A few of my favorite things from this week

From the Elie Saab Fall 2015 Couture Runways
From the Elie Saab Fall 2015 Couture Runways

It’s the Friday at the end of a short week, why do those always seem the most painful? As I am in a vortex of procrastination this morning, it seems the perfect time to share my favorite things from the internet this week. Enjoy!

1. People, there is a butter shortage coming your way. Now you know. Read Article.

2. Have you seen the most recently discovered dinosaur? He weighed 65 tons at death and was still growing. Woah. Aptly named after a WWI battleship, Dreadnoughtus now takes the spot of largest land animal that has a confirmed size. Ross Geller would be SO excited about this! Read Article.

3. Along with the launch of New York Fashion Week yesterday came the Pantone Spring 2015 color report! Besides the gorgeous colors for the forthcoming season, Pantone has included fantastic other bits with the report, like photos from designers studios. You could spend at least 20 minutes over there without even realizing it! Go forth and procrastinate.

4. Speaking of Fashion Week, for those of us not in NY this week, fret not. You can see both stills and videos of the shows at Style.com. I have a dozen or so designers that I always make sure to check out, like Elie Saab above because dresses, always amazing dresses!! Once posted, the shows are viewable for years, so you can go back though any Fashion Week as well. Pretty awesome to be able to look through the style evolution of designers! Visit Style.com.

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Laboring on labor day

La Canzone Del Mare: Nadja Bender, Dalianah Akerion And Kinga Rajzak By Boo George For Vogue Japan October 2014
La Canzone Del Mare: Nadja Bender, Dalianah Akerion And Kinga Rajzak By Boo George For Vogue Japan October 2014

I’m spending most of the day in the studio today…what? Did you really think I would have it any other way? I’m actually really enjoying the quiet that comes from a holiday on a Monday. The lack of emails, calls and things that come up that have to be dealt with right this very minute!! is amazing During the last few weeks of August, when the internet is a sleepy place as everyone fits in one last vacation and gets ready for the hustle of fall, be it back to school or to a regular work schedule, I had a crazy idea to get some major behind the scenes work done. It is coming to close just in time for early noise of the holidays but there are still a few loose ends to tie up. A quiet weekend was exactly what I needed to sweep up the last tasks and get myself ready for the months ahead. Speaking of planning for the busy season, it seems my sub conscious has also decided that preparing means buying endless notebooks, pads of paper and the like because I have been hoarding these things like crazy! Does anyone else do that?

The weekend has not been all work though, I spent the afternoon visiting with cousins on Sunday, had girls nights both Thursday and Sunday nights and went for a wonderful run on Friday evening. But mostly I have been treating this weekend like I too am heading back to school tomorrow. Which it seems is exactly what I needed as I feel calmer than I have in weeks. Hope you had exactly the Labor Day you wanted and enjoyed every minute of it as much as I did!

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Having work friends when you work from home

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One of the hardest parts of working from home is that you don’t have colleagues. Besides the inability to delegate, ask for help and share the work of a big project, the issue is really the loneliness. Granted social media helps this a great deal as you are now able to at least easily interact with people in real time, but there is no one there to relate to. When you work with a group of people, there is always someone to feel your pain of a crazy deadline, celebrate big wins and bounce ideas off of. That is what I miss the most when I am in my studio. However, the awesome thing about life is that there are always other people going through exactly what you are, you just have to find them. I have found such a group and we meet once a month on Wednesday nights at my house and over delicious snacks and gummi kabobs, we talk. The idea is to talk about business…share what we’re going though, ask for advice, be held accountable for goals, be pushed further along in what we do by people who know and care about us. But who am I kidding, there is much more than just that going on! We chat about our lives as much about work and are equally as helpful to one another with dealing with personal issues as we are with business.

Gummi Kabobs

I crave these monthly get togethers and sometimes I don’t know how I’d get through the month without knowing that as soon as I let them all know whats going on, it will already start to feel better. Well, that and Gummi Kabobs.

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Finding my voice

A few months ago I wrote a post about trying to figure out what I want to happen here. I spent a great deal of time thinking about this and confusing myself a little more. Then I stopped blogging for about a month. Which made me sad every day that I didn’t write anything. Then a pretty cool thing happened at Manic Trout that I can’t talk about but was only a brief behind the scenes moment anyway, but it was the catalyst for a lot more behind the scenes conversations. Most of these were with a new friend who is a hand bag designer and our new friendship, which is a direct result from what I can’t talk about, actually led to another new contact, who I also can’t talk about. See, this is why it’s so hard to blog…because I can’t talk about anything!! But seriously, as a result of the third thing I can’t talk about, I have decided to give Manic Trout it’s own blog. A place where all of the very specific jewelry news can go. This also means that this blog, which started in 2006 as the Manic Trout blog, is no longer linked to Manic Trout and free to do whatever it wants. This is both liberating and kind of scary, as being untethered often is. I don’t think much will change here, besides my actually writing and posting things. Both those things might actually happen now. Well, that’s the goal anyway.

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All I want is to be able to catch my breath…

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It may look like I’m living the life…but the reality involves more crying

All month I have struggled with if I should blog about the behind the scenes of the last few weeks, if I should write about how overwhelmed I am feeling with work and life or if it would just be obnoxious whining. Everyday I look at the blog and decided not to write about it and then decided that I have nothing other then this to say though so I walk away. Then I reread this post about where I want the blog to go and realized that the bloggers I admire the most would be talking about it. Also that if I never wrote all this down, there was a chance I would never blog again. So here I am. Part of the reason of why I have not written anything is that some of what has been going on is not my story. I feel ok with talking about anything that is my own tale to tell, but parts may be vague as they creep into someone else’s story, please understand that.

July which is usually filled with slow days and ample downtime to prepare for the busy season has been the opposite this year. I am crossing my fingers that August gives me a week of idle time so I can catch my breath because right now I am in need of it. We just returned from an unplanned, last minute 3 day trip which involved 2 days of driving with one very squished span of time in the middle where I was trying to simultaneously spend time with a sick family member and work. I never even washed my face that middle day and was still texting apologies to the printers at 11pm that I needed everything that sent to them that evening pretty much rushed because in the chaos of what has been going on, I got the deadline wrong by a week so everything had to done asap. This was our second last minute 3 day trip this month and even though there were little pockets of watching the sun set over the water or even getting to walk on the beach for 20 minutes once, I have come home exhausted, behind in work and stressed out to the point of random bursts of crying at random times. There are good and bad parts about being opposites of your spouse in many ways. In my marriage, the good parts always outweigh the bad, but the bad sometimes can be horrible such as when one spouse has emotional spontaneity impulses that win out over the must plan in advance because I own a business spouse when the health of a loved one is in play. Its been a tough summer.

In the two weeks in between these excursions, work took an unexpected twist and I found myself in major crunch time for a monster wholesale order. A bit of back story there, I am one of the top five sellers out of over a hundred designers with one of my wholesalers. When we began working together, they would send me a weekly purchase order of what they sold the prior week and I would ship everything off to them. This however meant that all of the people ordering from us designers (as opposed to what the wholesaler manufactures themselves) had to wait for four weeks to get their orders. A few months ago, the company decided that in order to sell a higher volume of the top sellers, they needed to reduce the ship time. So we switched to traditional drop shipping…which I hated as it meant a great deal more day to day work in the studio and filling all of the orders each day was taking up a huge chunk of time. Luckily the company decided after few months of this that they wanted the ship time to become even faster (this will be key in maximizing sales, especially around the holiday shopping time, which I am all for) so about month ago, another change was decided on and new contracts were drawn up. They would now send a purchase order every ten weeks for ten weeks worth of jewelry and if anything ran out, send mini purchase orders during that time. Sounded awesome, I was thrilled. I assured them that no problem, of course I could fill these orders within two weeks. Then I received the first purchase order for 1300 pieces of jewelry. 957 of these being rings which are made to order and which also happen to be the only jewelry I design that I have to make myself for the wire wrapping to be consistent. So yeah, crutch time.

Fortunately, after the Real Simple gift guide chaos of 2008, I basically began to rebuild Manic Trout with this level of volume in mind so I was ready. I spent two days planning it all out, assessing what I had in my inventory, what materials I already had, what I needed, ordering materials (which required phone calls to suppliers figuring out how to get everything here fast, but not so fast that it would cost a fortune), printing the specific labels all of the jewelry would need to have on it and so forth. I calculated what had to be made each day and then got started on making what had to be made. Renee thankfully spent a few evenings and one very long night offering up her skills and accomplishing the very lengthy preparation of all of the paperwork that had to accompany this order. That alone was such a huge life saver (and why she os one of my favorite people)! It was an intense amount of work as I was still running the normal day to day business as well but thankfully it was July so not as bad as it could have been…well or as it will be when the next ten week order comes in. I think the smartest thing I did in those two weeks though was still fit in a run three days a week. Every time I went for a run, I came back feeling so much better and instantly thought OMG, I’m learning! You’ll be happy to know that I not only survived the order but I actually shipped it off ahead of schedule.

There were however a great deal of big projects that were sidelined while I was doing the order. One being that my Canadian showroom had sent me the prep list for the Toronto Gift Show in August and I needed to prep all of the line sheets, post cards etc. I had created the US version of the line sheets already, but all of the prices needed to be changed to CAD and it all had to go off to the printer and be back in time to ship. So immediatly following the shipping of the big order, I caught up on day to day orders and got started on this. Then I realized that I was at the deadline for a great deal of big magazine pitches, so I had to drop everything and get to those and well, I basically jumped right into 50 things like this without taking a breath. Which brings us back to this weekend when I was finally getting caught up and I was given 12 hours notice that we were going. I feel so lucky to have a great deal of opportunity and wonderful things going on with work, but I am really crossing my fingers that next week I can finally catch my breath. I have started to dream about a vacation planned months in advance where I go some where alone, there is no cell service and I don’t have to talk to anybody. I think I may have just described a monastery, that’s where I am…dreaming of monasteries.

So apologies on not checking in this July although usually I am complaining that its so slow and how much I detest the slow time of summer on the blog everyday. So perhaps it was nice to be spared of all of that? Anyway, here’s to August and a chance for us all to catch our breath!

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