It's just a few days post-Surtex, and I've got a lot of follow-up emails to write (yay!). Before things get too crazy, though, I wanted to post my initial thoughts on investing and exhibiting at a trade-show like Surtex.
My backstory: I came back to illustration from maternity leave at the start of 2015. I knew that if I was going to get back into illustration in a serious way, I had to be strategic. Having a toddler and an artistic career is a balancing act to say the least! Plus, I was moving back to the U.S. after 7 years in the EU. This was going to take a lot of planning. First, I had to make sure my work was top-notch. So, late 2014 through 2015 was all about brushing up my skills and updating my portfolio. In the summer of 2015, I started my art collective Finch & Foxglove and created a safe space for sharing work and getting feedback. And in order to freshen up my contacts, I also started sending my work to dream clients (essentially cold-calling). In doing LOTS of research about which clients attend what shows, this led me to figure out that...
Surtex is not for everyone.
What kind of art do you make? Is your work best suited for fabric or apparel? Then this isn't your best show. Check out Quilt Market, Printsource, or Premier Vision. Is your work appealing to a broad audience or is it super-niche? If your work is super-cool-edgy-badass, know that the majority of Surtex attendees' end customers are your average American. There are some attendees looking for this, but you should be in contact with your dream clients long before the show and ask them what shows they attend. Is this the show your dream clients attend? No? You might be better served by exhibiting at NSS or selling directly at Renegade Crafts. Check your expectations. I think Happy Happy's 2015 Surtex Recap has a great Q&A session with their artists that covers expectations and the industries that attended in 2015. It was slightly different this year. And finally, where are you in your career? Are you on a fixed income or deep in debt because...
Surtex is SUPER expensive.
Got $10k? Well, that's what our 10'x20' booth cost. Honestly, it was actually more expensive than that, but that gives you a rough idea of what you're gonna be spending for a double booth. Ronnie Walter's blog post "To Surtex or Not to Surtex" did a really great job on explaining just how expensive the show real-estate is, and how this may or may not be the right avenue for you. This, my friends, is why I chose to start my own collective!
Surtex is really big.
It's not as big as it used to be, but still. You'll be among 150+ exhibitors at Surtex showing illustrations and designs, neighboring 200+ exhibitors at NSS, and I have no idea how many ateliers for ICFF. All 3 shows run concurrently at the Javits Center. Are you good with people? Do you have work that will stand out? If you're a shy person, maybe team up with someone inquisitive and not afraid to talk to people about their business.
Exhibiting at Surtex is complicated.
Booth specs. Contracts. Logistics. Shipping. Air travel. Lodging. Booth insurance anyone? And the Surtex exhibitor's website is deep. I'm talking nested within nested within nested menu items that would take several months just to uncover. Do instruction manuals scare you? Get ready for an ancient PDF made up of 20 years of random applications packaged together called "The Exhibitor's Manual".
Surtex is in NYC.
What Surtex does have is a great location that is easily accessible via the 7 train, plus access to a ton of contacts in the stationery, paper goods, home decor, gift manufacturing, toys, and textiles industries. So if your work fits those markets it might be worth it for you! Also, this mix of attendees changes every year since you cannot predict who will (or won't) attend. Again, it's best if you're already in contact with or aware of your top-tier clientele and know which trade-shows they attend.
Lingering Thoughts & Questions.
How should I best show my work? Should I exhibit solo? What about group exhibiting? What's the best way to form a collective? Once there, how do you get these attendees to come to see your work? That, my friends I'll leave for another post... this one's gotten too long!