How not to market ArtWear

artwear_dot_netThe person who sent me this is not to be offended, this is an opening but not an example. I actually mislaid her response which addressed my questions in a satisfactory way but this situation could have been like so many others. Let’s call her Carol. Carol writes:

I’m buying pfd fabrics, manufacturing the women’s tops and then hand painting and dyeing them. I have gleaned that there is a less than desirable connotation to the term ‘art wear’ in the industry. What is that? Where does this come from? I’m not planning to change the name anytime soon since I think it most accurately describes what I am doing, but perhaps I can avoid the pitfalls which have been so closely associated with the name. Thank you for your thoughts.

artwear_dogcoatThis is how I responded (in part) intended as the opening for what else I planned to write:

What you mean by “tops”? These days, a lot of people think a tee shirt is a blouse and a top can be anything from a tee to a blouse.
What are the retail prices of your items?
Where do you sell them and do you intend to go wholesale?
In your opinion, what is artwear?
You say artwear has a negative connotation. Why do you think this is and do you have any clues as to why?

Like I said, I lost her response, eaten in that h-hole I call an inbox.

digitalartwear_dotcomFor many, negative connotation can arise due to confusion and conflict between marketing vs selling strategies. As I mentioned before, designers pitch to a buyer the same way they pitch to a consumer and it doesn’t work (follow that link if you want to know what does work). If one goes wholesale, “artwear” is not an accepted segment so nobody knows where you fit into their mix. Artwear is not useful context for them to know if they want to buy from you. Buyers want to know if your stuff is contemporary, moderate etc. And since they’ve likely been pitched by innumerable artists with artwear -which can encompass anything from truly stellar individual pieces to puffy paint appliques slapped on a tee shirt- they’ll paint all comers with the same (worst) brush.

highstreet_artwearArtwear may be a useful term to put in your consumer directed marketing but you’ll have to be more descriptive using accepted apparel price point categories if you want to get the buyer’s attention. Like consumers, buyers get jaded having been duped many times (again, the old IKEA Effect ) because artwear, like couture, is in the eye of the beholder.

Maybe I am too traditional but I still think people should write proper garment descriptions. The product used in this example is from an artisan weaver yet it still works and looks very professional. Read that and then consider how you would describe your products now.


Speaking of, all of the photographs in this entry are the top ranked returns for a google search on artwear so as grudging as we may be to admit it, buyers have a point.

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  1. Dana says:

    I don’t know if this is how the writer defined “art wear” (I suspect not) but there is a category known as “wearable art”. Typically when using that phrase the product would include designers who hand weave, hand dye, hand knit, etc and therefore are producing more complicated, evolved garment forms than tie dyed tees and embellished blanks. These designers produce one of a kind or limited production items. They can sell direct to consumer or wholesale but generally wholesale is to a gallery and not a typical clothing store. I don’t put puff painted blanks in that category but not sure what I’d call those either.

    There are shows, both retail and wholesale, where the artist can exhibit as one method of selling. These events cover the full range of hand created product (ie glass and potter too not just clothing). Some of the better shows of this type would be the ACC shows, the Buyers Market show, and the One of a Kind shows. There is nothing negative about this category of product. It can be collectible and $$$$ or just interesting well made, everyday stuff with a twist. Hard to tell exactly how the writer is thinking about her product or where it falls on the handmade spectrum. Without that information it’s pretty hard to answer her questions. You present, market, and sell tie dyed tees very differently than a $2000 hand woven coat. Shows once again how important words are and that we as business people need to understand market basics.

  2. Well, there can be a derogatory sniff to “wearable art” or “art-to-wear” as well. In some circles it means patchwork embellishment, and the derogatory part comes in when the garment is primarily about the art (the patchwork embellishment) making the garment construction and fit secondary.

  3. Seth Meyerink-Griffin says:

    When I think of “art wear”, I think of things like this: (FWIW, the artist is Nick Cave, and these sell for *lots* of ca$h, but it’s not so much ‘clothing’ as ‘sculpture that happens to be worn’.)

  4. I think we all know, that google shows different results depending on your place and depending on the computer one uses…. No matter if I search or, none of the examples above is on the first ten pages google shows me… :o)

  5. Marie-Christine says:

    Interesting, the images that one gets googling for wearable art are definitely much artier than the ones for artwear. Although I can tell you I’ve seen the same puff-paint t-shirts classified under wearable art too, so it’s no guarantee.
    I’m with Dana, it’s basically impossible to tell where something would fall without a photo..

  6. Migdalia says:

    Thanks for the post. as mentioned above, Artwear in google returns quite diverse results. One good way to narrow your “Artwear” product is to use “GOOGLE KEYWORD TOOL”. This tool allows you to type in a keyword and it will return “how many people search” with that term and other related terms. (art to wear, dress boutique, applique bags, art wear clothing, handmade jewelry, make jewlery, etc…)
    I find it very useful when i can quite pinpoint the right name for something and what other people are searching for.

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