Running a small, rapidly growing business can feel like stumbling through a cave with bats flying in your face. The only thing you can see is the thing right before your eyes, and all you want to do is get it out of the way, but then… another bat flies in your face. (Did someone mention “Living The Dream”?). Fortunately, over the last few years, I have a team with whom I can share in the bat wrangling, which means that it’s possible to see that there is light in the cave, and paths to be chosen.
I mentioned in my previous Skinnylaminxenstein post that our word for 2017 is REFLECTION “without which”, writer and management consultant Margaret Wheatley says, “we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful”. She could be talking about bats in a cave, right? Our shop has just turned five, this business has been going for eight years, and it’s high time to take stock, to figure out what we do, why we do it, and whether we’re going to keep doing it this way.
So yes, REFLECTION is the word. But without the word STOP, I don’t think it will be of much use, because in order to reflect (both literally and figuratively), there has to be time for close examination, a spot of rumination and consideration, and then expressing what’s been noticed. This is some of the work I’m trying to get done in these Skinnylaminxenstein posts, as well as in the daily reading and writing habit I’m trying to cultivate.
Stop. Reflect. Repeat. A great place to start is by looking back at 2016 to reflect on some of the highlights of the year:
On one outrageously hot Sunday in early January, Bree Street was closed to all motorised transport, and was taken over by two-legged humans, bicycles and skateboards in the Open Streets initiative. Shopkeepers were encouraged to contribute to the day’s festival vibe, and I thought it would be fun to get people into Skinny laMinx camouflage. So with the help of some rather nice jackets and hats and fabric-covered panels, we had a really fun time making people disappear into the Skinny laMinx woodwork.
It was a super successful day for the #skinnylaminx hashtag, and our photos got picked up and Pinned all over the place. A great start to the year!
The Oddjects Exhibition in our shop – showing my ceramics, some framed lino prints and drawings, and launching the Oddjects fabric print – was a beautiful expression of how my years-long Making Friday practice is really important for the business (read more about Making Friday). For about two years, my Monday mornings have been spent at ceramics class making funny little objects (which I call oddjects). I’d also been spending evenings lino printing at Warren Editions, and in my studio on a Friday, I’d been making collages and paintings using the same shapes and forms. At the time, I had no clear idea of what I was doing, or how these funny shapes might all make sense.
But when I blockprinted an Oddject-shaped design onto fabric one day, suddenly all that building and sketching and shaping and printing fell into place, and I was able to feed all of that back into the business, selling ceramics and fabrics that all tell an interesting story. This is the kind of thing that makes me very, very happy.
I’m increasingly horrified by waste, which means that our production studio above the shop has a constant creative challenge of using up our variously-sized offcuts and scraps. These funny little Half-and-Half zip bags are one of the most recent solutions that our design and sewing team came up with, and we’ll have lots more of this kind of one-of-a-kind thing going on in the new year to keep channelling that stream productively.
Our word for 2016 was GENEROSITY, which is how we came up with our Friends & Neighbours blog feature. What happened was I got in touch with people who I like, and who make great work – eg: Sindiso Khumalo, above – to write a little blog post on them.
Easy peasy to do, but such a wonderful opportunity in a few ways: Firstly, to get to know fellow designers better; secondly, and to use our social media resources in a generous way, and thirdly; to feel inspired by how other people do things. It’s made me open my eyes to all the amazing businesses in South Africa (and elsewhere), and excited about poking my nose into all kinds of creative spaces. Keep an eye out for more Friends & Neighbours features in 2017.
After months and months of posting photos of mid-century pierced brick walls and screens, using the #BriseSoleil hashtag, it was time to reveal our fabric collection for 2016, called (of course) BRISE SOLEIL.
With the help of my most stylish and can-do friend Viv Barrett, our design and marketing team pulled out all the stops as we planned and executed our first full day professional studio shoot, getting all our catalogue and promotional shots done and dusted in just one day. After years and years of taking our own in-house product shots under less-than-ideal circumstances (surprisingly successfully, most of the time), this major production really was a milestone for all of us.
One of the things about this work that makes me feel really happy is when I can see growth and development in the people I work with. This year has seen our design and marketing team comprising Melissa and Laura on a fast track of evolution and learning, and I’m constantly delighted to see what they come up with. Pats on backs all round.
JUNE / JULY
It had been a busy year already, but June was the month when the whirlwind started. It started with a visit to pattern-saturated Lisbon where I was teaching an Ace Camp. Afterwards, I headed to Amsterdam to work with Marian Counihan of The South is Blooming, who had arranged an intense programme to introduce Skinny laMinx to the European market. I gave talks, visited shops, set up a pop up shop in Amsterdam, gave workshops in Utrecht, then visited Berlin for a pop-up at The District Six, and an interview for a magazine feature. I also visited the Vitra Museum for an incredible Alexander Girard retrospective.
We did a spruce up of the front of the shop, adding new awnings, some fab new steel lettering and spanky new windowboxes too. Doesn’t it look good?
Our shop manager Janine is another of the (many) bright sparks on our team, and a big word of appreciation needs to go out to her here, because she really is a shop manager to be proud of. Every week, she rearranges and restyles the shop, constantly coming up with inspiring colour and display ideas, which feed back into our marketing team’s planning and thinking. This year has made me feel so proud of my shop, thanks to Janine’s top-notch management.
This was another MAJOR month, as we did our first trade show ever – at Maison et Objet in Paris.
Over the past three years, we’ve been participating in a Dutch-funded exporters’ programme, and this show was part of that process. Boy oh boy, was it fabulous! I stayed with these amazing ladies (L-R) Binky Newman of Design Afrika, Marian Counihan of The South is Blooming, and Bridget Henderson of Cowgirlblues. The four of us just talked big ideas and business from early in the morning til late at night, and I felt excited by owning a business in a way I’ve never felt before. I think this trip to Paris may have made me feel like a proper businesswoman for the first time ever, actually!
All year long, we’d been keeping our DIMENSIONAL fabric collaboration with Heath Ceramics under wraps, so were thrilled to reveal the three prints in this tile-inspired collection, exclusive to our stores and theirs.
Collaborating with Heath on this project was a real prestige project for us, as we’ve been supplying their stores for so long, and have seen how their business has grown over the time we’ve worked together. I’m totally in awe of how they do things, and am honoured to have the kind of relationship with them that we do. Here’s to many more collaborations in the future!
This month was another leap for Melissa, who pretty much flew solo (with essential backup from Laura) as she planned, shot and designed our 2016 Gift Guide, which has underpinned all our marketing planning for the end of the year, and into the new year too.
A definite highlight of December was the team’s day out on the Big Red Bus. I got to say thank you to the marvellous bunch (not all of us squeezed into this pic) who really do make Skinny laMinx a collaborative project. Much of what’s featured on this blog doesn’t name names, or talk about what’s going on upstairs in the sewing room, or downstairs in the stockroom, or behind the screen in the online shop, or in the colour mixing room at the printing factory, so here are some shout outs to this awesome team for all the things that have gone so well this year:
PRODUCTION – Our production manager, Sarah has aced production through some pretty hard times and kept an amazing sense of humour through it all. She has also found her inner spread sheet gene!
STOCKROOM – Belinda had her second baby this year, and then returned to join her cousin Nobuzwe in the stockroom, where together they have become the queens of organisation. Both of them have been pro-active in making suggestions for improvements, and Nobuzwe gets a special mention for learning all designs and colourways in record time, and big thanks go to Belinda for calmly and quietly making sure all online orders go out beautifully wrapped and on time.
Also in the stockroom is Maleeka, who has overseen a big increase in local trade orders. She has also been a great support for our fabulous fabric rep Lynn Fagg – another fabulous addition to our team – whose clients often need things done in a hurry.
CUTTING AND SEWING – Our team upstairs of Nadieya, Moena, Bridget and Mariam, and our BoKaap family unit of Marcia and Minnie are the slickest cutting-and-stitching team you ever will see. The constant compliments I get on the quality of Skinny laMinx goods are a testament to their skill and focus.
ONLINE SHOP – In the online shop, Sonia has been consistently on the ball, helping customers make decisions from afar, and getting orders put through lickety-split. Our online sales are on the constant up and up, thanks to Sonia’s exceptional customer service.
BREE ST SHOP – Alongside Janine (already mentioned), we have our Saturday crew, comprising Nolu, Hayden and Anna-Grace, all of whom are hugely appreciated for their weekend and fill-in work.
DESIGN & MARKETING TEAM – Melissa and Laura have already had praises heaped upon them, and we’re also happy to have recently welcomed Hanlie to the team, handling our press and publicity.
FINANCES & WHOLESALE – And while the finances may be the least public side of what we do, without them, Skinnylaminxenstein would be a Failed State for sure, so massive thanks to Pearl (currently living in Paris) for steering a steady ship, both financially and emotionally, through a big and busy year. Also, big congrats to Sonia, Janine, and Maleeka who have made the migration to Sage Pastel system super smooth and simple.
What a team! Onwards into 2017!
PS: We’ll be taking a blog and newsletter break over the festive season, but our shops – both in Cape Town and online – will be open, apart from a couple of days around Christmas and New Year (see below)