It was a packed house last week at the D&D Building in New York where attendees gathered in the Ebanista showroom to hear from interior designer Vicente Wolf, licensing expert Kate Verner, Ebanista creative director Lee Poole, and marketing professional Kate Premo all about the process of creating your own line—where to begin and how to make it a success.
From left: Kate Premo, Kate Verner, Vicente Wolf, Lee Poole
Wolf, who owns a successful design firm as well as a product line, said that he always works by his gut. “I’m a firm believe in trusting your gut and your instincts,” he said. “If it feels right, go for it.”
The panelists agreed that deciding to do your own line can be stressful and overwhelming and there are so many routes to go that it’s sometimes hard to choose.
Verner, who has worked at all ends of the spectrum from representing Laura Kirar to the Rockwell Group, explained the differences between creating a licensed collection, a private label and custom pieces.
“Custom pieces are a great place to start,” said Verner. “They are one-offs that a designer creates for a client and over time they will build a look book of great custom sofas, or whatever it may be, and your ‘brand’ will kind of just form itself.”
According to Verner, designing a licensed collection or a private label is completely different. When designing a licensed collection, the designer creates the design and a manufacturer produces, markets and advertises it.
When creating a private label, designers must undertake the expense of manufacturing, getting samples made, and doing all of the marketing and advertising—and it can be extremely expensive.
So, what is the best option? “It depends on how you’ve developed your brand,” she said. “Most manufactures are looking for an active and established designer. And, you want to make sure that you partner with a company that has a similar vision.”
“When you design a line, it’s like creating a child,” said Wolf. “A lot of love goes into it, and it can be devastating if you fail.”
Wolf described some of the beginning mistakes he’s seen designers make: wanting it too much, expecting to make a lot of money, giving up control of the vision, and collaborating with companies that don’t fit your brand.
“Just because you’re approached by a company to do a collection, doesn’t mean it’s the right fit,” said Verner.
“It’s like a marriage,” said Poole. “You have to find someone you’re comfortable with.” Wolf added that it takes a few times of getting “burned” to realize your mistakes.
Pool noted that many times designers don’t realize how much goes into designing a collection. “When we were designing Collection 10 (for Ebanista), the time, energy and financial resources were far more than what we had expected,” he said. “It can go into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, so designers need to be aware of that.”
Once the designer has chosen the route he or she wants to go and the production is complete, the next big issue is the marketing, advertising and of course selling of the product.
“Marketing and advertising is always the hardest part,” said Verner. “It’s really expensive and you must negotiate this part in your contract correctly. The money for this should never come out of your percentage.”
Another key piece to the puzzle is to understand the customer and to whom the product will be marketed. “I’ve had clients who want to do Baker and want to do Target, and that doesn’t make sense,” said Verner. “If you go too low it’s hard to come back up.”
“Really believe in your brand,” said Poole in closing. “Remember that you can’t please everyone and you need to stay true to your brand and your vision."
In the end, Verner’s biggest piece of advice was to hire a licensing expert who will handle the contracts and be on your side. “They know what to ask for, what the company does in numbers, what the distribution is and how much you can make from it,” she said.
“Licensing is all about growing your brand and developing it so you have options down the road,” said Verner. “It isn’t a way to get rich quick.”