Today, our designer interview is with Bari Ackerman from Bari J Designs.
Do you remember the first piece of work you ever sold? What was it and who did you sell it to? How did you feel?
Yes, I sold my first line of licensed fabric to Windham fabrics in 2008 and it was in stores Spring 2009. It’s a very surreal feeling to see something I’ve created on a product, especially months (or years) after I’ve created it.
Can you describe the evolution of your business?
I started Bari J. in 2005 creating finished handbags that were sold in boutiques all over the US and on ebags.com’s Rising Designer section. In early 2008, I attended the Country Living Women’s Entrepreneur event. We had a speaker that asked us to write “what you want” on a piece of paper and tuck it into an envelope. I wrote something I’d been dreaming of for years: “I want to design and license my own fabric line.”. When I got home I posted about this on my blog and set to work making it happen. I designed and redesigned pieces until I was happy with it. Around the same time, Spoonflower (the digital fabric printer) opened it’s beta testing, and I quickly got on board. I printed up a bunch of fabric, made it into aprons, bags, quilts and more and went to quilt market in Houston with the plan of meeting with fabric companies to show them my “line” in the fall of 2008. Since then, I’ve had eight lines of fabric in stores, and now have a line of home decor stencils, wallpaper and wall decals and another group of licensed art to hit stores in May (I can’t wait to reveal those details soon!).
What has been the most important lesson you have learnt along the way?
Be patient and follow your heart.
We’d love to hear a bit about your process. Where do your designs begin, and how to you develop them through to the finished product?
Until last October when I took Lilla Roger’s Make Art that Sells class, I had been starting with a blank photoshop page, and drawing all my art into photoshop using a Wacom graphics tablet. Since then my art process has significantly changed… and frankly gotten much easier. I always talked about how I felt like I had to re-invent the wheel each time I started a new collection, and really I did! Starting with a blank Photoshop page in front of me, I was deciding what I “thought” the work should look like in the end and trying to build toward that. Lilla’s class taught me that I was working backwards.
As soon as I started to draw elements, motifs and icons before starting a collection, the whole world opened up. The “playtime” was what created a collection suddenly. I had been struggling to finish a collection for months prior to the class and within weeks, I had the whole thing finished, and it was easier than ever before. Now I find I’m doing a lot of drawing and scanning prior to starting any project. I’ll often just use the art as a guideline and put a layer on top of it to make the finished work, then delete the lower layer of original sketched work. Additionally, this most recently released line, Emmy Grace, features actual water color art that was recolored in photoshop. That’s a total departure for me, and yet still looks very much like what I’ve worked towards all along.
At each major growth point of your business how do you make yourself take the big leap?
I’m a pretty good one with fear… sometimes I don’t realize how afraid I should have been until later. I tend to leap and then think later which has definitely worked in my favor. I think the hardest thing for me is to make phone calls and submit to new clients. Phone calls being the worst… However, I’ve found that those calls are really the thing that gets licenses cooking.
Please share a little about how your brand look and feel has developed over time
I think my look has matured a little bit and become slightly sophisticated. My art still has a hand painted look and feel but I now mix in a lot of geometrics to give it more of an edge.
What kind of team do you have around you to support you and your business?
First and foremost, I wouldn’t be able to do any of this if it weren’t for my husband. He supports me in every way. I have friends and family that I can bounce ideas off of, and my teenage girls are also immensely helpful with a lot of little administrative items.
What makes you excited about your business now?
I think that my creative world has opened up immensely over the past year. I’m painting and drawing now as opposed to working entirely digitally. I’m super excited to take my work to Surtex in May for the first time and I feel entirely ready.
What is your creative space like?
Because a lot of my business is focused on sewing, I have several stations in my studio. I have three sewing machines that are out all the time, a large table for cutting fabric and for painting and drawing, and a space for my computer. Luckily I have a relatively large room to work in. I love it because it’s at the front of the house and it’s light and bright.
How do you juggle being a successful designer and businesswoman with having children?
When my kids were little, I mainly worked when they were school or asleep. When I was at trade shows my husband was a life-saver. Now they are 16 and 18, and they drive and go to school and my 16 year old even has her own job. I have much less that I have to worry about with them now… and actually? I sort of miss that crazy juggling circus part of my life.
Do you license/sell your designs or do you get everything manufactured yourself? What is the reason behind your decision to do this?
I license my designs. I manufactured my own handbags made in the US, and it was extremely hard work and greatly risky. I’d much rather license. In fact, I’d like to license the handbag designs themselves.
Your beautiful products are sold all over the world. How do you manage international distribution?
My sewing patterns are sold by distributors, and the fabric and home decor stencils/wallpaper are sold by the manufacturers, so I don’t have to worry about selling. Although I do promote everything that I design via my blog and social media.
Which do you think is the most exciting overseas market for your beautiful textiles and home products?
I understand that there’s much of my fabric in Russia. I had no idea. I think that’s pretty cool. And I just heard that a company in Australia bought a bunch of fabrics for men’s shirts… I cannot wait to see those!
Which of your products is your favourite?
Fabric. Because I sewed before I designed fabric, it’s just the most useful to me.
What advice would you give to an emerging designer looking to follow a similar path to you?
Work hard, don’t give up and be yourself.
What is the big dream for you as a designer and your business?
I’d like to see my designs on products of many, many more categories. I think every designer has that one dream license, and I think mine would be Anthropologie. I have visions of gorgeous dishes and table top items in their store. I hope to walk in there one day and see it.
The designer behind the Bari J. brand is Bari J.Ackerman. Bari is an artist who is well known in the fabric industry for her whimsical designs and bold eye for pattern and color. She has created many successful lines of fabric for renowned fabric houses such as Art Gallery Fabrics, has a line of home decor wall stencils with Royal Design Studio and also has a line of sewing patterns. Bari is also the author of the book, Inspired to Sew. Bari’s work has been featured in many national and international magazines and is sold worldwide.
Would you like to be featured on our blog? Please take a look at our submission opportunities here.
Registration is also open here for our next series of pattern design classes starting in October.