Initally Allistair Burt of Hole in my Pocket found it difficult to promote himself: “Its hard to talk enthusiastically about something I’ve made and I found it easier to talk about ‘we’ as a collective working under the Hole in My Pocket banner. I found I was more capable of highlighting things I was proud of under the cover of a collective term.” We talked to Allistair to find out more about how he adapted to being a full-time designer/maker, how he built his brand and how he sells his work…
When and how did you start your business?
I started Hole in my Pocket as an art practice in 2002 completing design competitions and creating installation and art projects. During exhibitions, visitors often asked if they could get copies of prints or asked if there were postcards available but I had no way of producing them. It wasn’t until towards the end of 2010 that I started to create products/ objects for sale and it wasn’t until 2012 that I created my first collection of work.
Did you consider your brand identity before you opened your Folksy shop?
The idea of branding, a logo etc was part of the first exercise I did when I started working as Hole in my Pocket. I always find it difficult to promote myself – it’s hard to talk enthusiastically about something I’ve made and I found it easier to talk about “we” as a collective working under that HIMP banner. I found I was more capable of highlighting things I was proud of under the cover of a collective term.
How and where do you sell your work?
I sell my work online through a couple of online sellers like Folksy and my own website but I also sell via wholesale now too with stockists throughout the British Isles and a few in America, Europe and South Korea. I don’t tend to do a lot of design or direct sales markets and really only support one local event that happens near to where I live each summer.
Do you ever develop pieces with a particular customer (or event) in mind?
Nearly all our cards have started out life because of a need I’ve personally had for a particular event. I keep a box of blank cards and whenever an event comes up I’ll draw a new card. The most successful ones make the transfer into products and become available in the shops. I should maybe get a ‘friends and family approved’ sticker to show they’ve been tested successfully on a live audience.
Do you work to commission. What are the good and bad points of working this way?
I have worked to commission many times in the past, but this tends to be on larger, more expensive, projects or designing specific products for a retailer. For example, I just recently designed a range of graduation cards for Oxford University. I don’t often design specific one-off products for individual customers. The designing stage can be a very long process and I don’t always have the spare time to dedicate to one-off pieces. I’m always happy to talk through ideas for people though.
What’s been your best-selling piece so far?
My cards are really super popular and I sell more of these than anything else. People seem to enjoy my sense of humour, so it’s the cards with quirky jokes or word play that seem to do really.
Have you got a method for working out your pricing?
I try to find a good balance between the average price for similar items and a competitive price for my stockists. Getting the balance right can be tricky sometimes as keeping prices low for direct customer sales can make the margins very tight on the wholesale orders.
How do you promote your work?
To promote to stockists I take part in several of the big trade shows each year. They are pretty fun events and you get to spend a few days chatting with a wide assortment of interesting people. The retailers that tend to stock my work all have really interesting arty backgrounds themselves and the stories behind the names of their shops are often brilliant.
Which social media channel is your favourite and why?
I love Twitter as a place to play and a great way to exchange links and images with other designers. I find Facebook has more connection to customers and it can be a useful tool to gather people’s ideas and thoughts on new products as they develop.
Do you do your own product photography?
I started out taking my own photos but quickly realised that there is a huge specialised creative skill to creating good product images. I’ve since worked with two wonderfully talented photographers, Yeshen Venema and Susan Castillo, who both are super talented and are experts at making your products look great.
How did you adapt from being an architect to artist/maker?
There really isn’t a very big difference between the process of designing as an architect or designing as an artist. Both are about working out some concept of a brief, researching ideas and then producing proposals or solutions to solve the brief.
What’s the hardest part about being a maker?
The hardest thing about being a maker is actually getting the time to make – especially as it gets nearer to Christmas when, as well as the increase in orders, you also have all the end-of-year paperwork popping up.
Finally, have you got any tips on how to stand out from the crowd when selling online?
The most important thing about selling online is making sure you have good photos. If you can afford it, you should get a professional to help. It makes a huge difference.
Read our Meet the Maker interview with Allistair to find out more about her work and inspirations >>