Last year at the Licensing Expo I met with and interviewed Deb Dittmer and Vicki De Roeck of GirlNation as they embarked on their very first trade event. I recommend anyone who is interested in attending a trade show or thinking about building a brand from the ground up – READ THIS INTERVIEW.
J’net Q: We first met last year before the Licensing Expo. What was your experience at the show?
GN A: We had an incredible experience at the show and came away with one licensing contract! It’s hard to believe it’s been almost a year since we launched GirlNation at the Licensing Expo! We were so thrilled to have been named one of the “Top Ten Ones to Watch” but it was our first show and we had no idea what to expect. It was great to get feedback from people at the show and also to walk the show and see the art that others were exhibiting. Being at the Licensing Expo definitely gave us an opportunity to meet people that we would never have had access to at this early stage of our business.
J’net Q: So tell me again how you came up with your brand concept and which market you are targeting?
GN A: We started GirlNation shortly after our daughters left for college. We were both complaining about the wreckage they left behind in their rooms. Amid the chaos, we both uncovered extensive collections of inspiring words, quotes and images covering walls, notebooks and filling drawers. We realized that what seemed like clutter was really a huge part of who they had become. These independent and confident young women were truly influenced by these strong, empowering messages. We had the proverbial light bulb moment! As partners in our own graphics agency, we decided to take this valuable insight and turn it into a brand that would give all girls the gift of empowerment through positive messages and beautiful designs. We are appealing to girls during those difficult tween and early teen years.
The empowerment movement for women and girls has been gaining momentum for years. Prominent women and large corporations have been investing in this enterprise with their own campaigns. Dove was one of the first with their “Real Beauty” campaign. Cheryl Sandburg, Facebook COO, launched her Ban Bossy Campaign in 2013 and just recently, we all saw the “Throw Like a Girl” campaign launched during the Superbowl.
We have seen nothing in the commercial marketplace that allows girls to take ownership of their stake in this movement. A GirlNation brand of products would provide girls with a vehicle to express their solidarity to the movement and allow girls to unite in a global sisterhood. Although this demographic has a tendency to be fickle, we think there is longevity in the brand. We intend for this to be a brand that girls grow into and grow up with; we’ve given the empowerment movement for girls a name and an identity.
J’net Q: So I see you have made some changes in your original designs. What was the feedback that you received and how did that influence the changes you made?
GN A: Before the show we were so focused on creating art to fill a portfolio. We never really had the chance to take a step back and look at the body of work objectively to see if it was really going to resonate with our target market. Recently, we’ve been able to take a deep breath, take that step back and take a look at GirlNation with a fresh eye. We had to give the brand a little tough love. First, we realized our Girl “the face of GirlNation” needed to change. We loved her; she was beautiful but not right for the brand. She was too sophisticated and romantic and not consistent with our core message. So, we created a new girl…it still wasn’t right! We realized that there really wasn’t just one face of GirlNation, every girl is the face of GirlNation-every girl of every race, creed and color.
Secondly, you can see from our new website, that we’ve not only incorporated images of real girls, but have created a stronger looking identity. We have made some subtle changes to our logo, enhanced our graphics and patterns, added a GirlNation crest and revamped our creed to have more appeal to young girls. We found the original creed really resonated with women but for younger girls, the words were too mature and it was just too long. We took the same message and crafted a new creed that more reflects the attitude of tween girls.
Finally, we just took an objective look at all of our artwork and realized that some of the designs were too contrived (our acronym line) and that some of the graphics were too flat, needed more depth and needed more of an edge. We’ve kept the hand drawn doodle feel that we started with but are giving the designs more of an artsy, contemporary edge. We are so excited and energized by this new direction!
Our changes have also been influenced by feedback we have received from buyers and agents. We participated in a workshop offered by Michelle Fifis of Pattern Observer, called “Sharing Your Work.” One of the great advantages of the workshop was the opportunity to have three buyers review and critique your work. We received critiques from a buyer for the tween private label brand at a major department store, an art licensing agent and a fabric manufacturer. They all said that they loved the message, the artwork was on trend and was appropriate for our target market. All good news and very encouraging to know we were on the right track. They had some great constructive criticism for changes to our website and we have used their feedback to make our website easier to navigate and to simplify how we were conveying our message. It was a great way to get honest feedback from knowledgeable people within the industry.
J’net Q: So how are you now planning to monetize your efforts and take your updated material to manufacturers and retailers?
GN A: We have kept in touch with many of our leads from last year’s show and continue to update them with new products and updates to our website. In addition, we have put together targeted lists of manufacturers and retailers that we think are appropriate for our brand. In addition to scouring the internet, we constantly look at tags and labels of products when we are shopping to find new manufacturers that we think would be a good fit. We reach out to them via Linked In and directly via email. We have found some success with this method of “cold calling” and have been pleasantly surprised at the level of response, it expands our contact list and allows us to stay in front of more manufacturers.
We are also taking advantage of every opportunity on the Art Licensing Show website which allows you to reach out to member manufacturers and invite them to review your portfolio. We hope to attend The Licensing Expo again in 2016! This past year we have been working with both our agency clients and working to refine GirlNation and we just knew we would not be prepared in time for the shows. Our mantra this year is persistence, persistence, persistence. You never know when the timing will be right for that perfect match of what manufacturers are looking for and what you have to offer so we feel like we have to just stay in front of them.
J’net Q: So what can we expect to see from GirlNation in the future?
GN A: We will continue to add more pattern collections. We had a great response to our patterns from attendees at the Licensing Expo last year and from some fabric manufacturers since we’ve been back. We have added a new “Team Inspired” line of graphics and will continue to expand the collections to offer more variety to buyers. We are also working on a fun line of greeting cards that really reflects the new direction of the artwork.
J’net Q: Based on your experience over the past year, what advice would you give to other new artists who are thinking about licensing their art or developing a brand?
GN A: Do your research and really understand your target market. We were lucky to have had a strong concept so that the creation of the art was very intuitive. Eventually though, you have to take a leap of faith and get your artwork out there. This is what we did a year ago when we decided to go to Licensing Expo. We were fortunate to have met you in the very beginning and you guided us through the entire process of getting ready for our first show. You gave us concrete advice, objective feedback and were an incredible source of encouragement.
Another bit of advice, that we have trouble following ourselves (!!), is to be patient! Rome was not built in a day! The licensing cycle is long and it’s important stay committed, keep analyzing, reinventing and adapting. In such a competitive industry, you can’t create your art or brand in a vacuum. You have to keep on top of your market and continue to evolve.
We are so grateful to have stayed in touch with you and to have had this opportunity talk with you on this first year milestone of this crazy journey of ours! Thank you for taking the time to follow-up with us.
J’net NOTE: A BIG ‘Thank you’ to Deb & Vicki for their willingness to be candid about their experiences and share them with us all! See you in Vegas 2016! Also…don’t miss the last FREE ASK J’net Q&A before Licensing Expo, scheduled for Wednesday, June 3rd, 10am PDT. Sign up now to get your questions answered! Register here.