Studio Production Goes to the Wholesale Marketplace

by Carolyn Edlund

Artist Erin Bassett developed a handmade fashion accessories line to sell at wholesale. Here’s how she did it.

 

Erin Bassett presents her handmade accessories at a trade show in Atlanta.

Erin Bassett presents her handmade accessories at a trade show in Atlanta.

 

Florida fiber artist Erin Bassett makes large sculptural work for corporate and residential interiors, but has expanded her designs to approach other markets as well. Knowing that her medium was a good fit for lightweight, striking necklaces and scarves, she built a collection originally for the purpose of making retail sales.

Her transition to wholesaling began when experimenting with accessory designs for her own wedding. She explains, “I created a huge, gorgeous silk fabric necklace, utilizing an ombre dye job, which transitioned the silk from cobalt to navy. It was spectacular and since I didn’t end up wearing it, I decided to sell it at my next retail event. This necklace led to a most fortuitous exchange when a new client fell in love with my work, purchased it and proceeded to share her enthusiasm with a friend who runs a wholesale showroom, Tim Philbin Accessories at the AmericasMart trade show in Atlanta.”

Thus began her foray into wholesaling, a business model that involves selling product outright to retailers at wholesale prices. They in turn mark up the prices for sale to the public in their stores. Wholesaling can give artists wide exposure, since retailers from all over the country shop at trade shows to place orders for merchandise.

Wholesaling is also a sustainable business model and Basset has found this to be true for her. “The journey into wholesale has been a learning experience, but I am grateful for the stability and growth it has provided for me, my business, and my wearable art accessories line,” she says. “At this point in time, I feel more confident in my work and myself than ever before.”

 

Each piece of wearable art in Erin Bassett's line is made by hand in a production process.

Each piece of wearable art in Erin Bassett’s line is made by hand in a production process.

 

Since wholesale orders are placed from samples, it demands consistency in design and color. There is a need for the pieces shipped to be the exact same size and color as the samples at the time the orders were placed. Bassett found that this sometimes presents issues for her preferred creative process, and chose to shift her mindset. As a result, she still creates freely in order to keep the wholesale line fresh and interesting. However, if a piece intended for the wholesale market turns out to be too different from the sample, she can usually recoup her investment of time and materials by selling it in a retail setting instead.

Her line has gotten positive response from wholesale buyers. The artist says, “The biggest selling point for my clients is that my silk accessories are truly unique, original, handmade in the USA, and that they are conversation pieces. These accessories are a cross between a necklace and a scarf, but unlike a scarf, they don’t have to be worn – they simply slip on over the head.”

Developing her line for the wholesale marketplace was an evolution. In the first few years, she created hundreds of different designs. Over time, she started to see specific silhouettes shine through that she named and made repeatedly to refine the design. She also spent time while working in the studio listening to podcasts and courses about wholesaling in order to be prepared when the opportunity presented itself.

Bassett’s  current wholesale line consists of nine designs in eleven colors that customers are able to mix and match to create their own personal custom collection. The colors are a balance between neutrals, holiday and trendy. Five classic colors are always available, and she offers six seasonal colors that change.

 

Artist Erin Bassett works on production in her studio.

Artist Erin Bassett works on production in her studio.

 

She shares her process for orders and production, saying, “When making the samples, I sew more necklaces templates than I need so that I have them available for orders. When I receive orders, each template is labeled with the requested design, which has to be as close as possible to the displayed sample, and placed into piles according to color. The piles are ordered by due date and completed in a timely manor. Once the necklaces are created, they are photographed, labels sewn in, hang tags pinned on, and boxed up. Once each order is complete, it’s shipped out to the customer. Then I get ready for the next trade show.”

Creating systems and an efficient production process to work quickly and profitably at wholesale price is key to success. Basset avoids burnout by constantly developing her line. “I get to flex my creative muscles by constantly coming up with new designs,” she says. “The line is constantly changing in order to provide a variety of price points as well as fresh colorways to keep existing clients interested and attract new clients. This also helps with production. I’m not just creating the same thing all the time. Old designs that don’t sell come out of the collection as new designs get added. With nine trade shows a year, there is a very fast-paced turnaround time. Wholesaling is very exciting. It’s taken my business to the next level and keeps me busy creating art full time.”

 

 

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