We kick off 2009 amid a deepening recession and global uncertainty, but with the optimism of a new administration that just might help us all get back on track.
For my first post of the New Year, I took the opportunity to ask many of the jewelry designers who were profiled this past year to comment on what they see as both the greatest opportunities and the most difficult challenges for 2009. The responses were as thoughtful and insightful as one might expect from this group of enormously talented and motivated people!
I think that the greatest opportunities arise from the most difficult challenges. Plato said it well, "necessity is the mother of invention." And much later, Thorstein Veblen reversed it, "invention is the mother of necessity." In either case, necessity and invention are forever linked in a tumultuous pas de deux. They just switch off on who leads.
So, in the face of adversity, what will we invent?
1- Irresistible work, irresistible messaging. The "what is irresistible" part is the thing we'll all need to work out for ourselves.
2- We'll have to make it easier for stores to take a chance on us. My guess is minimum order requirements will be decreased at the same time that designer's requirements around store advertising will increase.
3- It should be easier to have our messages heard this year as many companies will not spend on advertising. There will be less noise. It's time to craft clear messages and be heard.
4- We can refine our lines, really using the knowledge around what was popular in spite of the market heading south. If certain items sold in that market, they will sell as the market continues to slide for the first 6 months of this year. We can expand color and size variations on those items. I am reading that we should expect a strong Christmas '09. So...
5- My advice...Slog on through. I think that getting through to the end of this year is the key. Things will take an upturn. We just have to be super smart -- conservative and targeted -- about how we spend this year in order to be around for the turn-around.
The greatest opportunities in 2009 are those of focusing and evaluating our best talents, best use of time and placement of our work. There isn’t much space for laxness. This can involve being brutally honest about ourselves, our work, our suppliers and our customers. Those who don’t do this will probably leave our career of choice.
The opportunity is also a challenge. It involves being honest, removing excess, changing course and being brave and confident in the face of an economy that is a challenge. Those that do this are more likely to be still standing after the economic downturn is over.
We all have challenges and opportunities facing us each day that shape us , that let us show ourselves as helpful, creative and positive individuals. Still, I find it easy for financial worries or competitive insecurities to jump to the front of the line and overshadow what's really happening in my life. These things are real, but they are not the foundation of anything, and letting them control what you do does a disservice to who we are.
We would not be working for ourselves if we were not self-motivated enough to take control of how we handle the challenges staring at us this year. Making conservatively designed jewelry in hard times is not the answer. Making work that you are happy to stand behind but doesn't cripple your cash flow does make sense. Sales down? Doesn't that mean you have time now to make that special piece, learn that exotic technique, maybe experiment a bit? Perhaps that will put you in the show that will be more helpful to you.
Think of your professional life in terms of its trajectory. Is it a line going steadily but reasonably upwards, creating a buffer for the harder times, exploring new things, showing that you are planning prudently? Or, is the line a low arc showing the same old efforts, with you in danger of a bumpy ride just because you aren't planning anything different?
Well, we all need to keep in mind where we are pointed, and just being aware of this helps me to react to a situation in a way that keeps me going in a good direction. As cloying as it may sound, those challenges are opportunities, and 2009 looks like it's going to have a lot of, well, let's say "opportunities."
Aside from the obvious problems with the economy I think that the greatest opportunities will come from technology; the use of the internet and the availability of learning opportunities via Smartflix, YouTube and other online venues, including social networking, forums, online magazines.
I think the challenge to designers is going to be focus. How does a creative person avoid going in a million different directions when there are so many new materials and techniques out there (like bronze metal clay) not to mention the older techniques such as chasing and repousse, granulation, etc.? Personally, I find it very hard to resist dabbling in everything and not turn into a whirling dervish! I have to reign myself in constantly!
I think 2009 will be a great year for jewelry making designers, because people can't live without jewelry, especially women. The difficult challenge we are facing is that competition will be more difficult, not only in designing the design piece, but the cost of the materials. So be wise and use different materials, be more unique, more artistic, and more exquisite. People always like unique things.
Harriete Estel Berman
The greatest opportunity in 2009 definitely involves the Internet and the visibility that it offers for good work, GREAT PHOTOS and personal initiative. Egalitarian forums like Etsy offer popular marketplaces. Social networking websites like Flickr and Crafthaus offer opportunities for showing your work at little or no expense. SlideShare.com can upload a PowerPoint about your work at no cost. Blogs and website templates can generate more formal portfolio presentations that are accessible for a wide audience for a very modest investment of time and money.
The most difficult challenge for 2009 is the depressed economy. There is no way around the fact that selling work in this current economic situation is not going to be easy. My recommendation is to cut back on production and related expenses and work on research and development of your work. Take time to make the best and most interesting work possible, save up your money, and invest in professional photography. Overall I would encourage everyone in the art and craft community to create exposure opportunities for yourself and others by organizing exhibitions with a focus on selecting the most interesting work – and not on whether it is saleable. As Robert Louis Stevenson said, "Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant."
Maybe one word will do for a jumping off point for my perspective: Fear. Fear is both an opportunity and a challenge to test your metal (a pun!) How sure are you of your design concepts? How willing are you to make some changes? How brave are you about not compromising your integrity? Are you brave enough to take a leap of faith on a design concept that excites you?
Can you face the public and show, not fear, but maintain and communicate your certainty that things will be okay again? That your work is worth having?
I wish us all courage and integrity and success. Work for peace and justice and our world will right itself again. In two weeks we will have a new start.
Reading these thoughtful responses kind of choked me up. And, I felt inspired to keep “slogging” as Jeanne Johngren so aptly put it!
By the way, Harriete Estel Berman also wanted to mention an upcoming Professional Development Seminar on maximizing the online revolution. It is through SNAG, but is open to everyone. From the comments above, everyone seems to feel that online is where we all must be—and be good!
Here’s more information on it:
Thanks for stopping by!