It was early in the pandemic when textile designers Brook Perdigon, Paige Cleveland of Rule of Three and Alexis Hartman of Lake August began meeting for coffee in Cleveland’s garden, leaning on each other for support in the face of looming uncertainty. They were initially connected through shared business advisers, and harbored many of the same concerns surrounding slowdowns in home-sector production, lead times and sales—and whether anyone would even need fabrics and wallpaper in the midst of a global pandemic. In the end, their response to an industry shake-up was to come up with one of their own.
“We were trying to prepare for what a future looked like with a small business—are people concerned with decorative things, [or] does this feel silly in the bigger picture of what’s going on?” Cleveland tells host Dennis Scully on the latest episode of The Business of Home Podcast. “And then we were like, This is art, we’re artists, we need to stay inspired. We’re expressing something, and together we have a lot to say—and a lot of knowledge and resources. If we pool them together, I was confident we couldn’t lose.”
The group came away from the garden discussions with a new game plan for doing business in their home state: They’d pull their products out of showrooms in California and instead sell directly to designers through a shared sales representative. Along the way, they would provide each other with research and support, forming a unique business partnership they called the California Collective.
All three designers continue to work with showrooms out of state and recognize the value in doing business this way. Still, their idea for a new model came from a curiosity about the customers they couldn’t reach through traditional avenues. As the Collective, they’re putting a greater focus on outreach, exploring new markets and setting themselves apart from the pack—an asset for smaller lines, which don’t always thrive when shelved next to big-name brands.
In this episode, they share a few lessons from the early days of switching up their business operations, and explain how the new approach suits a constantly changing industry.
Getting to know you
When the designers realized the onus was now largely on them to spread the word about their work, they channeled new efforts into the task—and realized that working alongside each other was the motivator they needed to venture into unfamiliar territory. The shared perspective and research has helped the designers move out of their comfort zone to access more clients. “Brook and Alexis have introduced me to designers that I never even imagined would work with me, or could see my work in their project,” says Cleveland. “They see my line through a different lens than I do. Brook will send me something, and she’s like, ‘You need to be in this library, you need to get in with this person,’ and she’s right! It’s a really impressive support, which is only going to help sales.”
Standing out in the boutique boom
In the boutique textile industry, there’s no shortage of competition. As Perdigon says, that’s largely because the barriers to entry in the manufacturing world have lowered—it’s easier to access information about the business and set up production, and newer methods like screen and digital printing are more attainable. For the trio, having a direct channel to designers boosts their brands above the noise, allowing them to focus on producing top-quality products. “Where you can set yourself apart, and where we do, is quality and authenticity—we’re putting a lot of thought into what we create, and none of our processes are simple,” says Cleveland.
From one artist to another
All three designers agree that community is central to the California Collective’s ethos. In the showroom model, the connection between textile designer and interior designer is often severed—and according to Perdigon, that’s a scenario where all parties lose out. As clients become increasingly involved in the design process, it’s an asset for designers to have more information about (or even a relationship with) the person who creates the products used in their designs. “The connection of these two independent artists, [even if] they’re in different fields, creates a stronger home for the end user, and a [mutual] appreciation,” she says. “It’s a stronger connection when the doors are open. It makes the market a much more interesting place than when [they’re] closed.”
Homepage photo: Lake August, Brook Perdigon and Rule of Three textiles styled together | Andrew Stewart