New York seems to be the place where so much happens for me. I have travelled there at least twice a year in the past 30 odd years (yes, that makes me feel old typing that!). In my corporate roles, I travelled there for fashion inspiration, and then when I started my own fashion business, pink zebra, it was where I went to research the market and select the fashion labels I wanted to range in my own boutiques. That was pretty exciting! Nine years ago I flew to New York and managed to secure ALL of the labels I wanted for pink zebra, and had exclusive rights for them in Australia. Oh happy days! Since then the internet has made any and all international labels available to Australians at the click of a button, but they were good days, pioneering bringing those US fashion labels to Australian shores.
The other great thing about doing business in New York has meant that I’ve had reason to stay with my brother Luke and his growing family often. I’ve actually stayed with Luke and his wife Mel in New York way more often and longer than I’ve stayed with any of my other siblings in Australia! And the huge blessing that has come with that is that I have seen his three beautiful daughters as they have been born and grow up. I do love being “Auntie Sarah” to those girls!
In May, three years ago, I was staying there the morning that their youngest daughter, Charlie was born, whilst also hosting a group of pink zebra customers for our inaugural “Fashion Insiders” tour of fashion New York, and buying for my stores (yes, my life was busy back then!).
In May, two years ago, I stayed there with my friend Louise and we had a fabulous time, exploring New York without any of my usual business commitments, as pink zebra had closed a few months earlier. And twelve months ago, I was planning to go to New York in July to see the girls before my scheduled surgery in August. In May last year, I invited my sister Lou to come to New York with me. She decided not to come. I can’t even go back and look at those email exchanges now to see her exact reasons. I think because of work, and not wanting to spend extra $$. It just hurts so much to think that only a year ago we were having lovely sisterly chats about travelling together.
This month I was in New York again, wearing Lou’s beautiful engagement ring, while she resides up there in heaven with Martha. Every day last week I looked at that ring, and thought “If someone had told me a year ago I would be in New York wearing Lou’s engagement ring, I would never have fathomed a reason why that would even have made sense”. Life has such unexpected twists and turns. The day I landed in New York last July, I arrived to the news that Lou had died that morning. We had been in email contact just the night before. It makes me so sad, thinking about how I could have been arriving there with her alongside, chatting and laughing and making plans to explore New York together, and be with Luke and his girls. But it was not meant to be. And I KNOW that Lou loved me being there this time, learning and travelling, two of Lou’s favorite things.
Have just had a big cry typing out those last few paragraphs. Oh Lou I wish you were still here with us. I wish you did not go…. Pause for deep breaths, long cry and many nose blows … It still doesn’t even seem real in so many ways. My story with Lou is another long story for another day.
BREATHE. And God bless you Lou.So THIS time in New York was a “do-over” for me. Time to indulge myself in a few of the things that I love – wandering the streets of New York, riding the subway back and forth between Brooklyn (where Luke lives) and Manhattan, browsing and shopping in all of my favorite stores, drawing and cuddling with little 3 year old Charlie, riding on the back of Luke’s motor bike across the Brooklyn Bridge (Lou would have REALLY loved that!) and just in general immersing myself in New York life, knowing that Luke and his family will soon be moving to Los Angeles, so this chapter will soon be over too. But there will always be New York!
So how did I go on the art front? That was the new part for me, learning about this whole new world about how you can make money from your art in the US market. I think, up until now, I have generally believed that in order to be successful as an artist, you need to hang it on the walls of an art gallery somewhere. At the same time, I have never felt like that was the way forward for me (albeit I have sold some art that way, I just don’t think it is my “thing”). I learned so much on this trip. The conference was great and has given me plenty of food for thought. There is a massive market there for art to decorate just about anything you can think of – wrapping paper, bed linen, greeting cards, crockery – as well as stuff you have NOT thought of – kitchen rugs and mailbox covers and yard flags – things we have never even heard of in Australia!
There was a world of information to take in – do you appoint an agent or approach manufacturers yourself? License your art or sell it outright? Sell pieces of your work randomly, or build a brand? What product category to focus on?? What part of the market do you want to position yourself in, or do you not even care about positioning at all? These are all good questions to ponder with no “right” answers, just the individual choice of each artist, and plenty of information to help you decide.
When I sat in the conference room on the first morning, amongst all of the international artists, about a hundred of them, a woman came and sat next to me. When I turned to introduce myself I realised I already knew her from my design school! We both flew from Sydney not knowing the other would be there and she walked in at the same time as me and sat next to me! Love the synchronicity of it all. So I was lucky to have someone to learn alongside about this whole new world.
We walked the trade fair together too. There were many different artists and artists’ agents selling art for manufacturers to print on their products. A series of manufacturers gave talks about the different product categories and how they deal with the artists. I came to see that having my business background will really help me with that end of things. There is still so much more to learn but it was a great overview. I’m still processing it all and working out where to go with it all from here.The main thing I came away from it with is that it is a huge market and you can make money from your art. It won’t be easy but it is possible. They were all so up front about the fact that artists deserve to be paid for their time, talents and effort. Art and commerce happily co-exist. The first thing is to find the right fit in terms of market level, products and manufacturers for my art handwriting. You have to be determined and tenacious, but if you give it enough effort and persevere, the right match will turn up. I just have to keep the faith! And learn more, and build my art portfolio in the meantime …
As with any new business, there are thousands of tiny steps to be taken. Some parts are a whole new world for me (those relating to art and art products in the US market), and others I am already familiar with (retail, business communication, product deadlines and communications). It is a matter of making an informed plan, letting go of any fear or doubts (yes, I have plenty!), keep learning, keep creating and making my way gently forward. The great thing is that it IS possible. I just have to figure out the right way for me.
Losing pink zebra has knocked my confidence in my ability to make money, but I know that is just fear talking. I can get back on the horse. Albeit a new horse and a more gentle way of riding, with heart and mind in tandem together. Lou and Martha will guide me along!
Onwards. I am grateful for this breathing space to process all of my life changes and the opportunity to reassess and move forward with a new mindset, an awareness of my new artistic talents and the knowledge accumulated from life to date. Yes, something good will come of all this! I am sure of it. Let’s just see what happens next!