Earlier this year, we interviewed two lovely Melbourne-based indies: Jodie Nicholson who handmakes fabric bags for her label Meringue, and Anna Laura Blanford who is well known for her felt lady badges, screenprinted handmade bags and original artworks. Along with this double interview, we have a big surprise! We asked both Jodie and Anna Laura to each create just a dozen products especially for indie art & design, taking inspiration from our site colours. I've patiently kept this interview under wraps while we prepared for the launch of the INDIE ART & DESIGN STORE and would like to announce the online arrival of twelve little felt ladies and twelve gorgeous fabric wristlets!
The idea of the indie art & design store is to promote a handful of the labels we love by stocking strictly limited numbers of selected products to accompany feature articles & interviews. There will only be a small window of opportunity for you to snap up these exclusives - so get your mouse moving to avoid disappointment! Now that's enough stalling, here's the interview...
I 1. You two have been friends for some time, often mentioning each other in your blog posts. How did you meet? Was it through your common interest in design?
M I met Anna through Etsy. I had seen her posting in the forums and through that, became a fan of her work. She left a funny comment on my blog and then I started stalking her.
AL We met via Etsy, I’m not sure on the exact details but I think it involved a common interest the products we make, design, fabric and creativity. We both had a similar sense of humor, I laughed a lot at Jodie's emails.
I 2. What is it like to have a close friend who shares similar aspirations? It must be great to have someone who really understands when things are tough & of course someone who appreciates how much it means when things are going well!
M I can't even measure how great it is to have a handful of friends on Etsy, who are all experiencing the same rollercoaster. It's definitely a support I don't take for granted because I think I'd be lost without it. Having Anna to brainstorm with and vent to is brilliant, she is also responsible for me pushing myself harder than I otherwise might have.
AL I think it is handy to have someone you can touch base with who knows what you do because they do it themselves. I often will email Jodie for advice on things, however it is not always about art and design, I emailed her today on overlocker advice, so she is really my counselor. But she gets paid much less.
I 3. Do you bounce new ideas off each other for designs & new products? Do you provide each other with constructive criticism?
M We regulary share ideas, which some might find weird given that we both make bags. Anna has a definite 'art' leaning with everything she makes, whereas I base my designs more on function first. We come at pieces from different angles, which I think balances everything out nicely.
AL I think this is something that is really valuable, because if I only asked my partner for advice nothing would get made. He has his particular styles he likes and more often than not my stuff doesn't fit into that category. I think we also offer good feedback, I know Jodie won't sugar coat things and I respect that kind of advice.
I 4. When you share market stalls, do you think customers are enticed by the wide variety of products, colours & textures on display? In this way, do you think shared stalls are beneficial in creating extra interest & maximizing sales?
M Sharing a market stall with Anna last year was physically hard work but we had so many laughs, even when we were beyond exhausted. Our stall set up changed each week and evolved into a really appealing display that gave customers loads to look at. Spending the day with someone else meant that there was always someone else to reply on, even if it was just having someone to buy you an icy pole when the mercury soared!
AL I think our stuff has a different look, so although some of the products we make are similar (as in they hold all your stuff) it hasn't been a problem in terms of us competing with one another. We did have some people who purchased from both of us at Rose Street, so I think our items work well together. I think the major benefit from sharing a stall was having someone to sit with all day. It can get lonely on your own and having someone to laugh with was always good. I looked forward to the market because I was spending my entire week mainly with 15 year olds, so it was nice to sit and eat SuperDoopers and laugh at the world with someone who isn't trying to draw a dick on your stuff.
I 5. Have market stalls helped find you new stockists? What sort of responses have you had when boutique buyers discover your labels – do you think your pairing influences them to place orders with both labels, or does it just depend on the individual?
M I actually thought I'd meet more stockists than we did, although I was really happy with the amount of stores I signed on with in the lead up to Christmas. Anna has provided me with plenty of leads and I'm still working my way through that list.
AL One stockist who had contacted me previously, contacted me again and saw my market photos on Flickr. She asked about Jodie's bags and so now both of our items are stocked there.
I 6. Do you ever combine forces & approach new boutiques together or just provide moral support for each other before/after?
M We don't really approach stores together but we do share resources and tell each other where we're at as far as short term goals go. I think both of us are now very comfortable in approaching stores, although we've both been lucky in being sought out by stores who have seen our work online or in person.
AL We did go on a drive to find possible stockists in Melbourne and we do help each other in terms of contacts and passing on details to people we know. I think within the indie community it is really important to have this kind of support, because it isn't an easy industry when you're small as you don't always have the contacts. Without it I would be way back at square one.
I 7. You both use a variety of fabrics to make wristlets, bags & pouches. Do you ever go hunting together to source materials?
M We've never actually shopped for fabric together but by sheer coincidence, we do sometimes buy exactly the same fabric. However, we use it in such different ways and it's always interesting to see how Anna has applied a fabric to her bags, that I may have used for a wristlet.
AL We have not yet had a trip to Spotlight yet. I think this would be fun. There are a lot of fabric stores in the area I have just shifted to that I previously didn't have time to go to when I was working full time. I'm looking forward to having time in the day when I can go to op-shops and fabric shops and finding some really decent fabrics to work with.
I 8. What do you each admire most about the other?
M I love that Anna is so quietly passionate about her label. She is driven to make it a success but it's more about creating art, sharing it and making a living, not about finding fortune and fame... ...although I'm sure secretly she longs to appear on Mornings with Kerry Ann.
AL Jodie is fantastic at customer service and dealing with people and she can tell it like it is. Plus she has a good sense of humor and doesn't mind it when I say things that are probably inappropriate.
I 9. How important is the online component of your businesses? As I write this, I can see you’re both about to tip over the Etsy 150 sales mark – are any celebrations planned? How do you find sites like Etsy, MadeIt, Mintd etc? Do they provide a significant percentage of your sales, or do you see them as more as a source of supplementary income & marketing with retail boutiques the main focus?
M Online selling has been important for getting noticed by retail stores. It has been a steep learning curve that has taught me far more than I ever could have learned in any class. My online sales only account for a small percentage of sales but they have played a vital part in my business.
I am looking to set up my own website shortly, with its own shopping cart but I will definitely be keeping my other online stores and moving my main store from Etsy to Dawanda. I really like the Dawanda site and the way it operates, the attitude towards members appeals to me far more than Etsy.
AL I just calculated today what my online sales are over the last six months and it is about 25% of my income. As for the 150 sales on Etsy I had not planned anything big. Maybe I could shout Jodie a cask of Lambrusco and a ride in my car, I think she would like that.
I've just started a shop on Dawanda and I really like the look of the website and the fact that it is European based. Madeit is also a great site and growing all the time, the woman who started it, Bec is really supportive and friendly as well.
I 10. In addition to maintaining your online stores, you both post regularly to your weblogs, www.meringuediary.blogspot.com and www.annalauraart.blogspot.com. Your posts feature product updates, descriptions of your process and progress, and entertaining tales of skylarking & gossip as you travel through the various designers markets & events around Melbourne. Much time is obviously dedicated to keeping us all in the loop – is it a struggle to fit it all in, or is it something you just enjoy doing? Does maintaining your blog help to keep everything in perspective?
M It was with some hesitation that I started my blog last year but now I can't imagine not having it. I've been somewhat remiss in posting for the last couple of months thanks to long working hours and illness but I can't wait to start posting regularly again.
I'm always amused to see how Anna and I post about the same event. I normally come off sounding like such a whinger by comparison!
AL When I was working full time it was hard to keep it updated. I often worry its boring and dull and I tried to keep my posts nice as I also worked as a teacher. I'm no longer teaching so I am not so worried about people finding the blog so will probably make it a little more personal. I enjoy blogging because I have a history of my work and because you can get a response from other bloggers on your work. I love reading other peoples blog as well to find out what they are making and some insight into their life. I love seeing photos of the spaces they work in and where they live. I know it is a little nosey, but I'm really interested in that side of things. I also like blogs, which are not all happy la la. People make mistakes and mess and I like to hear about that side of life and see it as well.
I 11. How do you find the indie community in Melbourne, & have you met designers in other parts of Australia either through blogs or markets etc?
M I am also good friends with Simone Walsh from Etsy. She makes the most fantastic jewellery and I've found that having both her and Anna in daily email exchanges have kept my motor running. I'd like to be more active in the Melbourne Indie community but finding the time is a battle.
AL I've meet a few people from Etsy as well as other people in the indie community. Someone who is really lovely is Lara Cameron. She makes the most amazing things and he designs are beautiful and she is so down to earth and friendly. I am sure I will be saying "I knew Lara when..." very soon and I will be rather proud of that! It is great to have a support network all over Australia, I know if I went to other Australian cities there would be people there who I could meet with and tell me the good places to visit and I like the fact that I can email people who I might not have spoken to for advice and they will always be willing to help.
I 12. Finally, please tell us some of the highlights of your design experiences so far & where each label is headed in 2008!
M November and December last year was a blur but it was so incredible. I was working more hours in my day job, the wholesale orders were rolling in, I was doing the markets with Anna and also filling online orders, it was crazy busy.
I've started this year slowly but I plan to leap into it shortly. I'm really excited about 2008 because I have so many plans. First will be my website launch, which has been a long time coming. I've also got two new handbag lines in the works and a top secret project involving buttons. Yes, buttons! My big goal for this year is taking my wholesale side to the next level both here and in the US.
AL I think highlights are having things featured in the press and online. Often running a small business you have to work really hard on the promotional side of it, so when people like Frankie, design blogs like Indie and Modish and The Age are willing to expose smaller brands like myself it is exciting and it pleases me they are willing to support smaller brands. When you are making things you need to hear people tell you what you are making is good, you get so lost in what you are making you often lose sight so when someone lets you know it looks good it motivates you to keep working.
My aim for 2008 is an exhibition. I've been making a lot more art and I would love to have a show. I would also like to do some more fabric design for my bags and learn new screenprinting techniques.
I Thank you both so much for providing us with an insight into the workings of your labels! With such gorgeous products, I'm sure we'll hear much more about Anna Laura & Meringue in the future... Current stockists for each label are listed below:
VIC: Rose Street Artist Market (Fitzroy), Meet Me at Mikes (Fitzroy), Little Salon (Fitzroy, City), Kids in Berlin (North Melbourne), Brunswick Bound (Brunswick), Lumina Textiles (East Malvern), Anomaly (Belmont), Bob Boutique (Bendigo), I Dream a Highway (Northcote)
NSW: Dragstar Clothing (Newtown), Betty Mim (Newcastle)
ACT: The Hive (Braddon)
WA: Jac Boutique (Perth)
ONLINE: indie art & design store, www.annalaura.etsy.com, www.dawanda.com/shop/annalaura, www.madeit.com.au/annalaura
ONLINE: indie art & design store, Meringue Shop on Etsy, www.dawanda.com/user/Meringue
Real World: Meringue is stocked at many boutiques (including on of our faves, Betty Mim in Cooks Hill, Newcastle) - please contact Jodie directly to locate your nearest Meringue stockist.
Indie art & design is the digital baby of graphic design duo Carolyn & Martin (who are now also mum & dad to adorable Liam and Camille). Since 2006, we have showcased the work of Australian independent artists & designers on our blog, and we stock a large variety of beautiful and unique products in our online store.
We take a great deal of care with your orders, and have many return customers who love our range and service. We specialise in art and illustration (now including the work of the talented Amy Borrell and Dan Adams), and unique handmade pieces such as porcelain jewellery and objects by Irene Grishin Selzer of Iggy and Lou Lou... We have aso recently expanded our range of clever and thoughtful kids' products - from the ever-popular B&W Baby Mobile to exquisite clothing by Knuffle Kid, and delightful soft books and toys from Growing World.