On Thursday, myself and the jewellery girls went along to The DCA to interview James Donald about his business Concrete Wardrobe.
If you’ve been following my posts about this, you’ll know Concrete Wardrobe is a small independent business retailer based on Edinburgh’s Broughton Street, specialising in showcasing Scottish design and craft. For our Design and the Market module we have been researching into this business to gain an insight into the world of business as a whole, and what are the things we should be working on in regards to our own business future.
We met James in The DCA and after a bit of friendly conversation we headed in the direction of the interview.
To introduce our conversation we gave James a gift that we had made ourselves as an invitation to “fill us in” on his world at Concrete Wardrobe:
This got us off to a great start and we were soon chatting away with James, scribbling down all the great advice we was giving us about setting up and maintaining a business.
The initial part of the interview went over where Concrete Wardrobe came from, and we discovered it evolved out of Concrete Butterfly, a furniture design shop, that both James and Fiona worked in.
At the time they were both finding it difficult to get their own textile based design work into shops and galleries and James told us that textiles are generally seen as “the poor cousins of craft” and that they didn’t sell, but both he and Fiona were determined to prove them wrong and thus Concrete Wardrobe was born. Initially it was an experiment, set up as a pop-up shop in the storage closet of Concrete Butterfly during the 2000 Edinburgh festival. It was so successful that it spawned into a permanent business.
I love the idea of this organically growing business, something that isn’t overly planned or structured and just happens. Although James mentioned that there was constant communication between himself and Fiona, which in itself is a form of important business planning, there was no formal plan or set of strict rules they had to stick to.
For myself, this point is key. In my own work and development i like to let it grow organically and just let it build itself, but i will stick to constant communication as a form of business planning, even if it is just communicating with myself!
Another interesting point from my perspective as a maker was how the pick out the work to sell in the shop. James and Fiona like everything in the shop, he said that this was key to selling. If you don’t like something that you’re trying to sell to somebody else how are you ever going to sell anything at all? I think this is a key point, not just as a retailer but as a designer/maker as well. In the future i hope to be selling my work, and i know that to be able to sell it and market and create its image as a desirable product i will have to believe IT IS a desirable product.
Also, Concrete Wardrobe has a unique style and feel to it’s image, as well as deep roots in Scottish culture, as all the work has to have a Scottish connection.
Keeping a clear image of who you are and what your brand is is important for any business. Concrete Wardrobe uses a bold black and white “shouty” typeface to get themselves noticed (as James said “the shy bairns’ dinnae get the sweeties”) which is utilized in the shop aesthetics and website to allow the products in the shop to stand out for themselves and get noticed.
Having this clear-cut definition of what their business looks like is a good base to formulate their unique standing within the retail world of design and craft. Something i’ll need to start doing myself!
Now you’ve got your brand… what now? Marketing. Marketing. Marketing. Of course! Facebook, twitter, blogging, pinterst, etc. etc. etc. Concrete Wardrobe and myself are on them all! And the occasional press release is a good idea too!
After that you’ve got to get creative. Start your own unique marketing strategies, as well as creating fun and interesting add-ons to your business. For example Concrete Wardrobe have Top Tunes to Shop to on their blog and obviously within the shop you can’t help but want to boogie a wee bit! Also, and exciting development in Concrete Wardrobe is their Maker of the Month where they promote one designer’s work for a month online and within the shop. Having these little niches expands the business and maintains it’s flow. Taking risks and trying out new things is what makes Concrete Wardrobe the success that it is.
The most important piece of advice James gave us was to diversify as a designer. Be adaptable. Above all, know your strengths and weaknesses and really believe that you can do anything.
Thank you James, your insight was wonderful and i have learned a lot from this interview about how to continue creating my own business.