I know from the feedback I had to the post about Miralla Bruno's work that a lot of you are interested in print for fashion. So recently I caught up with the exuberant Lesley from Hunt + Gather, a colourful studio based in New Mexico which excels at painterly colourful abstracts for the fashion industry.
patternbooth: Tell us a bit about you and what you do...
lesley: I started hunt+gather on my own a little over a year and a half ago. It started with just myself and my own designs and since then I have added the work of different artists from all over the world to the collection which I think makes it more interesting, everyone has a different hand and a different take on the designs and trends. So far it's just me and my artists- they send me their artwork and I do everything else which is a lot of work and I will be getting an intern or two soon to help with some of the responsibilities so that I can focus more on creating art and doing all of the important stuff! My role is design director, textile designer, website editor, blogger, trend researcher, administrator etc etc, I am pretty busy! My goal is to grow so that we have a few employees and I am hoping to do that within the next year or two! I am really proud of how far we have come in such a short period of time though!
patternbooth: Tell as about the time before Hunt + Gather.
lesley: I graduated from FIT in NY in 2002 with an AAS in Fine Arts and a BFA in Textile/Surface design. The textile design program at FIT is very intense and they let you explore just about every part of the industry from papergoods, home furnishings and wallpaper to fashion. My initial dream was to design for sleepwear! I loved doing fun novelty prints and you can put just about anything on a pair of pajamas! You often can't be too picky about your first few jobs and I started out working in contract textiles, then moved to wallpaper, then to home furnishings and finally to fashion. I have enjoyed working in fashion the most because the designs tend to be more interesting, edgy and trend forward. Fashion is harder because it moves VERY fast unlike home furnishings, but I definitely got really sick of creating scrolls, damasks and florals all the time for bedding and curtains so it was a good move for me. hunt+gather designs primarily for the fashion industry at the moment.
patternbooth: What made you decide to set up your own studio?
lesley: It was a few different things! I was definitely starting to feel really burnt out working for other people. When you are a textile cad artist, especially in fashion, you tend to not get the chance to be very creative, especially in a larger company. Fashion moves so fast that most companies do not have the time to create their own prints in house. They come up with their story and trend boards for the current season and shop all the print studios and print shows for the artwork. The cad artist then makes changes to the prints based on the needs of the fashion designers, color separates, re-colors the artwork, puts the designs into technical repeat etc. I definitely appreciate all the time I spent doing that because I now freelance for many companies doing their color separations and repeats. I have had so much practice at it that it usually comes very easy to me and I definitely enjoy the challenge of a difficult repeat, as well as restoration work that comes from recreating vintage samples or simply just recreating another print studios artwork to finish off the repeat. I like switching back and forth from doing this to creating originals and working with my artists.
Another reason I started my own studio was because my husband and I moved from NJ to Taos, New Mexico where he is from. I needed a change of scenery, and you can't get much better than Taos for that! There is definitely no industry here- so I had to create my own job if I wanted to continue doing the work I love. It has been a great experience and I am excited to see what this year brings! We just did the Indigo show in NY in January and I am planning to go back in July for the Fall/Winter 2014 show. I have a lot of goals for hunt+gather for 2013!
There are a lot of differences in working for yourself!! I could probably list 100. Most of them are pros and not cons for me. I definitely work more hours than I did in the corporate world and more nights and weekends, but it is a lot more rewarding. There are also more down times when I am able to refocus on the goals of the studio and take a little break after going weeks on end with almost no break. I can take a lunch break when I want now, (usually!) most of the time with my husband who works nearby. I have no crazy commute which is a huge plus for me in my new life here! I love being my own boss, and I have a really good work ethic so I tend to not slack off too much at all. I think I am too hard on myself sometimes, so it's definitely always a learning experience in every way trying to maintain balance in my life, I don't have a 9-6 schedule anymore. The cons would probably be that there is definitely still stress- but it's a different type of stress than when you are working for someone else. When I have a computer issue, it's MY issue and I have to fix it, when I have a problem with a vendor it's all on me and I have to resolve it, when I have a strict deadline I don't have a manager or a boss adjusting the deadline for me I just have to get the work in on time- and believe me, you get some pretty tight and often somewhat ridiculous deadlines in the fashion world especially when you freelance or when the client who buys the prints also wants to employ you to do design service on the prints because they don't have in house cad artists.
patternbooth: How do you develop each collection?
lesley: I start out by doing a ton of trend research for the upcoming season- fashion is always a year ahead, but we have to be 6 months to a year ahead of that when we are developing prints because it takes so long to get the collection done and get it all printed and ready to go so that you are in line for when the buyers are purchasing prints. I have a lot of conversations with the artists during this time, there is some tweaking or color changing going on, deciding whats going to work or not- and sometimes just winging it because honestly you never really know what the buyers are going to want or be into. Their trend story for the season may align very closely to what the current trends are, or not at all, they might have their own thing going on! I am sometimes really surprised at what sells and what does not. Bird prints are a good example of this- some people are so into birds, some know that there is no way they will ever sell a garment with a bird on it, and I never knew so many people actually had a real averseion to birds in the same way that some people are completely disgusted by mice and rats!
After the prints are all ready to go digitally- they get sent to various fabric printing places, then when I get everything back I have to cut and prep it all to get it ready to be sent out and shown by my rep or for the print shows.
patternbooth: Your work is very vibrant, what inspires you?
lesley: I am foremost always inspired by nature and fine art. A peacock feather or a super fun looking tropical fish will definitely do it for me! I love looking at fashion magazines but often its National Geographic that gets the creative juices flowing. I
have learned working in fashion that you don't always get to design for yourself, you really have to try to design what will sell and of course put your own twist on it, and I personally love vibrant prints. Whenever any of my artists send me work, even if it's for a fall or winter color palette I usually tell them to bump the vibrance up a notch!
patternbooth: What advice would you give someone who wants their own studio?
lesley: I guess be sure you know your market first- this can also be a surprise after you start, you might realize that the people buying your prints are not who you expected! I would say having working experience either in the industry as a textile designer for a home furnishings or fashion company or at a print studio is probably a must. I can't imagine jumping into this without any prior knowledge. I did a lot of looking and listening throughout the years working on the other side of things and attending the print shows either as a buyer or just checking out what was going on and I still learn something new every day.
A huge part of the past two years has been researching vendors for printing fabric, getting samples made, getting feedback from clients on what works and what doesn't, what people want to see. It is way more than just having a website and some business cards- and even those two things can take a while to fine tune! I think in this day in age, it is so necessary to have as big of an online presence as you possibly can, but in this business you also have to have a strong physical presence and show your work accordingly to your market. Home furnishings is very different from fashion, both are very different from papergoods etc. Some clients have no interest in working with you online, they need to see work in person, some find it refreshing to not have to make an appointment with you and do it on their own time. Where you live and what your budget is for starting your own business can also determine how and what you are going to do and how far you can push it.
It's hard but important to keep up with the season schedule. Doing the January Indigo show really pushed me to get the Spring 14 collection done on time and now after a year and a half I feel like we are ahead of the game instead of slightly behind.
Know it is going to be hard work. I do a lot of juggling work and no matter how I try to plan my day, there is usually always something tossed in there to make me adjust my to do list more than once! Making plans even for the weekend can definitely be tough during busy times and you just have to learn to deal with the little disappointments sometimes and focus on what is most important to you. Having friends and family who understand is a huge plus!!
patternbooth: Finally the question I know a lot of people will be wanting to know the answer to...where do you find your designers?
lesley: I have found some of my best designers on my own in various places like Etsy, Flikr, and different blogs where their work may have been shown. Some people are shocked when I contact them! It might be a watercolor painting I see on Pinterest and I write to them and say "Do you have any interest in textile design? Because your work is amazing and would be so perfect on a garment!"
Sometimes people contact me as well and I will have a look at their online portfolios or they send me their work to look at. Most of my designers do have some sort of textile design background or training, but not all do. I definitely feel like people with textile design backgrounds or fine art backgrounds do better than someone who is only trained in graphic design for some reason. I am at the point now where I feel like I need to be more picky and really narrow down the type of work I am looking for. Since we really only sell to fashion and some home furnishings the work needs to relate to that and not be for childrenswear or quilting fabric- I love that stuff for sure but it's not our focus at the moment. I think you really have to have an interest in what you are designing for- so if fashion is not your thing and you love papergoods or quilting fabric etc then don't try to branch out in every direction, just keep it focused in those areas and you will be much happier and won't be wasting your time.
Anyone interested can send their info to me at email@example.com if they feel like their style is similar to what they see on the hunt+gather website and I will be happy to take a look!