Friday, January 29, 2010

An Interview with ...Joan McGowan Michael

Once a week I post interviews with interesting designers about their insights on their experience of working in the Knitting industry. I’ve noticed that every designer makes their living in a slightly different manner bringing their own unique presence to the Knitting world.

Joan can be found here on Ravelry and at her website here

Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration from movies, vintage clothing stores, magazines, and just shopping (even in places like Walmart). To me, fashion begets fashion and all the little details I see go into the big blender of my brain to be used at a future time.
What is your favourite knitting technique?
I love lace. I enjoy knitting it and I like the airy, delicate feel of items that feature lacework.
How did you determine your size range?
I’m personally smack in the middle of my size range, so I started from myself and graded up and down from my own size.
Do you look at other designers work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I look at everyone’s work, knitwear, crochet, cut and name it. I may be inspired by pieces that already exist in some form, but by the time I’ve had my way with them they are a whole new item. Many of the items in my book Knitting Lingerie Style were inspired by garments I’d done many years ago for Frederick’s of Hollywood except for the fact that they were knitted.
How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
I think certain knitters need that sort of simplicity. Others don’t. I think the consumer dictates what they want and will find and buy what they need.
How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I have used sample knitters but many of my garments are so fitted that I need to do some of the fitting as I knit to work out the pattern.
Did you do a formal business plan?
Yes, at some point we did, but it is a fluid entity that changes as the need arises and the market evolves. We update it as often as we find necessary.
Do you have a mentor?
No, not really. I have been at this for about 12 years now and was working in a vacuum without much contact with other designers for the first few years, so I guess I blazed my own trail.
Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
No, and I say that because when we first began White Lies Designs, there were not a lot of sites selling primarily knitting patterns. It was all about winging it and developing the business model as we went along.
What impact has the Internet had on your business?
It has had an enormous impact since we sell retail online.
Do you use a Tech Editor?
How do you maintain your life/work balance?
It’s difficult to do this since I have mixed my hobby with my livelihood, but one of the things I’ve had to do to maintain balance is take weekends off.. I knit on the weekends, but nothing else pertaining to work if I can help it.
How do you deal with criticism?
I examine it closely to see where it’s coming from and if the criticism is valid, I take it into consideration. Criticism can be an excellent tool for determining what you customer really needs and wants. For example we began offering smaller sizes due to complaints about our larger size range. I decided it was foolish to exclude smaller folks, so began to size down and our bottom line reflected the expanded customer base.
How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
White Lies Designs was supporting itself the first year we were in business, and within 2 ½ years was supporting the household. I say this with the caveat that the knitting industry was on the upswing at that time. Within the economic climate today, I wouldn’t expect to see those results in the same amount of time.
What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
At this point in time, I would have to advise any aspiring designers to hang on to their day job as long as possible. Remuneration can be sporadic, projects fall through, and fees are not what they should be for freelance designers. The market is just groaning under the weight of all the free patterns, cheap patterns, indy designers patterns and books that have hit the market in the last few years. It is a far different landscape now than when I got into the business and I can’t say that I wouldn’t feel intimidated by it if I were looking at knitwear design as a career today.
It takes talent, drive, professionalism, creativity in more than just designing and a very deep love of the craft to make a living at it.
On the positive side if you have what it takes, there is nothing quite like it. I love what I do; truly madly, deeply.

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