Collection Basics

Recently in F3 (our digital support group – check it out here) the question “how to structure a collection” came up, and a rather lively discussion ensued.
 
How do I design a collection that will interest buyers, and look like it belongs together?
 
Do I really have to have so many earrings, so many necklaces, and so many bracelets?
 
How do I know what I need? What if I don’t make bracelets (or earrings, or whatever)?
 
There’s no such thing as a crystal ball when you’re developing a collection. First of all, let’s get language clear so we’re talking about the same thing. When I say ‘collection”, it can mean a seasonal, confined collection of however many designs. It can also mean an ongoing  collection within your larger line to which you add each season. Your “larger line” being the entire body of your available work, which may consist of more than one collection.
 
This distinction is important when discussing. collection development because cohesion across a line is very different than cohesion across a collection. Each collection must have a distinct feel and voice, but you may be saying saying different things throughout your line with different collections.
 
Got that? Awesome. Moving on…
 
Okay, so to the question. When you’re beginning, you have to ignore everything and everyone, There has to be only you and whatever muse you listen to. While well-meaning collection guidelines serve a purpose by showing you what proportions more established, broad-based collections use it can make a new designer feel very inadequate if, for example, you design only necklaces and bracelets, and earrings just aren’t your thing.
 
Don’t get hung up in 2 from Column A and 3 from Column B. Worry about how the pieces you do work together.
 
So how does a collection become “cohesive”? What’s the difference between a collection that’s a true collection and just a mishmash of items stuffed together on a page?
 
As you’ve learned your craft you’ve developed a look, a signature. An exploration of “theme” for a particular collection can be approached in several ways. 
 
Many collections are themed around a concept. That concept may have a direct relationship to the actual design, or it may be a more figurative thread. Consider for example a “Zen Collection”. A literal interpretation might lead to Ohm carvings, Lotus shapes and Buddha beads; a more figurative approach might yield flowing lines, soothing colors and design names drawn from Buddhist philosophy.
 
Motif is another thematic approach. A collection based around Art Deco inspired shapes for instance, or botanical elements, or geometric angles. Color can also be a uniting thread to bring design elements together into a collection. Nearly anything is fair game for wrapping a collection around. An era, a geographic area, architecture, an idea, a feeling, a shape, a poem, a song… Your collection. Your rules. As long as there’s a thread of continuity, and you can market the concept of the theme of the collection (that’s another article) run with it.
 
 

Editing

 
When you’re starting out (or when you’re starting something new, even when you’re experienced) there’s inevitably a period where you’re simply throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks. At this point, EDITING is your best friend. 6 or 7 strong necklaces is better than a dozen that are too similar. Training yourself to weed out the ones that are too similar is a tough lesson but one you have to learn. Save the rejects for your “Designer Studio Sale”.
 
Young designers are frequently loathe to toss out anything, preferring to let every idea stand. The mark of a mature and confident designer is the willingness to toss out perfectly good ideas with the knowledge that tightening a collection strengthens the remaining designs. As painful as it is, be ruthless. If you’re not sure, toss it – or save it for a later day. 
 

Psychology of comparative price 

 
DON’T be afraid of the high price points in your collection, and DO be sure to have a variety of prices. Your highest priced pieces will always help sell your more moderately priced ones, in whatever price range you fall into, whether your high price is $100 and your low is $25, or your high is $5,000 and your low $500 – the psychology of buying is the same. If all you have is $500 items, they will seem expensive. Sitting next to a $2,500 piece that $500 item will seem like a steal – and that higher priced piece becomes a wishlist for your customer.
 
You will absolutely snag more customers with lower priced pieces, but never, ever, never price anything below where it should be just to make a sale – lower than YOUR mid-range is still lower – and that may or may not be low compared to someone else. Eyes on your own work. And spreadsheet.
 

Feedback

 
The next critical step, one that most people miss, is listening. The listening to what sells, to what doesn’t, and how. What sells first, what do people ask for, and what’s the common thread. What do people pick up, touch, ask questions about. “People”, by the way, is both retail customers and wholesale buyers – we’re all human, and both types of buyers are indicative of what will and won’t ultimately sell. What’s always left behind and why? 
 
Sometimes it’s a pricepoint – you may have items that are hot at X price, and die at Y price. Sometimes you have to walk away from these pieces because they can’t be done profitably.
 
Find the thread
 
You have to find the thread, and make it fit your design. Perhaps you need to tweak a piece, or an entire collection to lean it more towards the winds of your customers base. Or maybe you need to change your marketing to find a new customer base…
 
For example, I know our clientele loves rich cluster work, hoop styles and chandeliers. They buy lots of other things too, but those three categories are very important. So a cluster work hoop style will always do well for us, and will always be a best seller. (Our #1 and #2 top sellers are cluster work hoops) Consequently, we have five or six more in development, in all different sizes. And I’m confident all will do well. 
 
No overthinking!
 
Don’t overthink. Most of us are good at that. Pay attention to some broader trends (longer necklaces, bracelets) but don’t get hung up in the minutiae. The world doesn’t need another blah, generic, trend-following designer. They need you and your unique voice.
 
Create your work and listen. As things sell (or don’t sell), figure out the threads. Why is this and the other one popular, and why is that one not? What’s the connection? Then chase that thread. It will be more than the single design, it might be an embellishment, the type of pearl, the basic shape, the cut of stone, the overall color. Put all the photos of what’s sold together and find the thread. Do the same with the designs that aren’t moving, (if you had to mark it down to sell it, it goes in the “not moving” pile)
 
Developing a collection is like any other skill, You have to practice it, and it gets easier the more you do. But there are no magic bullets, and no amount of talking to other people can take the place of your own creative voice.
 
A word about trends…
 
Keep an ear to trends, of course. But don’t let them rule you or dictate how your structure your work. If bracelets are especially strong, it’s smart to look at adding them if you don’t do them or strengthening your presence in that area if you do. When longer necklaces are going crazy, it’s easy to lengthen chains or add extenders. But jumping on everything you see can be distracting and affect your own style as an artist. So take it easy on following the market too closely.
 
Look at your work as a body, rather than each individual design as existing in a vacuum. How does it relate to the other work in the collection? Can you see the family resemblance? Is it too close? Is it a continuation of thought, related enough to have a place in the same collection, or should there be a separate collection built around it?
 
There is no right or wrong in building a collection – only when you see orders will you know if you’ve hit the mark. Remember: Buyers don’t know what you didn’t include. They can’t hear the notes you leave unplayed. 
 
Your can create evergreen collections that continue to grow, adding new pieces and retiring the ones that don’t work, or that you don’t love, or you can do short term seasonal collections. That choice is a personal one that depends on your own ebb and flow as a creative. 
 
Look for the thread. Listen to the feedback. Edit.
 
Do you have questions about structuring collections? Let me know below, or come join us in F3, our free online support group for designers and makers. Apply here for membership!
 

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