Overcoming fear of exposure

Let’s face it, everyone faces fear of exposure. You want attention but you also don’t, not publicly. Being on display and subject to potential snarky pot shots isn’t something anyone welcomes. A common theme I see is designers who minimize commitments to their endeavors by undermining themselves. Simple things like failing to issue style numbers because they’re “too small” or don’t want to “get too corporate” are common. Another theme is due to the nebulousness of entry and lack of benchmarks. It’s not as though you get a certificate stating you are now an official designer at some point in your trajectory. I know designers who tell me they suspect they aren’t really designers because they haven’t hit X dollars in sales even though they’ve been producing and selling lines for ten years! And even if you get a degree in fashion design, there’s no one at the end of the dais who will shake your hand and welcome you as a full fledged member of the apparel industry or give you tomes of our best kept secrets.

Now it’s my turn on the hot seat. Last week, Problogger, a blog for bloggers posted a challenge. For a measly $250 fee, the thousands of visitors to that site will constructively critique a blog to be facilitated by Skellie. Naively, I responded and submitted Fashion-Incubator for the challenge. To my utter shock, Fashion-Incubator was selected.

Once I put aside my surprise (and dismay!) I put the shoe on the other foot. As someone who does a lot of product reviews, I knew that being selected meant the reviewers had most likely figured out a couple of things:

  • F-I isn’t hopeless. It has good bones. A reviewer doesn’t waste their time on a hopeless case.
  • I was serious about improving the site. A reviewer may decline if they think their suggestions will be ignored.
  • According to the Pareto Principle (rule of 80/20), it most likely meant they could suggest a few things (the 20%) that would have the greatest impact (the 80%). This meant the improvement process might be relatively painless.

As a reviewee, I also had to consider:

  • What if I didn’t agree with their assessments? Just as you know your market, I know my audience. Or worse, maybe I don’t know my audience? That could mean I wasn’t a very good blogger -maybe even a failure.
  • What if I minimized the summation of the assessment because I didn’t want to endure the pangs of change? What if it were too costly to implement? What if it forced me out of my comfort zone, forcing me to acquire new skills, moving into territories outside my range of competence?

All of these are pangs that must surely come to mind when you launch a product line too. So, we ask our friends what they think. The problem is, many of them won’t tell us what they really think. Or they may hedge their criticisms, limiting what they choose to share with us. This experience leaves me wondering whether I should pose my own $250 constructive critique project (in apparel, product reviews can run thousands of dollars). Is anyone game? I can promise I won’t let it get ugly.

Returning to F-I’s review and the comments that will surely be generated, I will strive to remember what a friend told me (he and his wife own a moderately successful company). He admitted that the very negative public comments he’s read on the web about his product line have hurt their feelings but says that the negativity has driven sales. People want to try his products to see what’s so bad about them. Customers become pleasantly surprised that the products aren’t as bad as reported and end up becoming regular customers. Let’s hope Fashion-Incubator can withstand the same scrutiny from our visiting reviewers. By the way, welcome Probloggers!

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  1. Dalila says:

    While it seems to be a good idea, I also fear that the reviewers won’t “get” F-I.
    But I am sure that there will be some good criticisms and it is a good idea to have a fresh viewer take a look at the site. And it’s great of you to ask for it as well.
    Good luck with this, Kathleen!

  2. J C Sprowls says:


    I’m excited for you! It would be great to receive qualified feedback on your product – F-I. I have no doubt that it might be tender in some regards. Criticism frequently is. Remember: nothing looks good under a microscope.

    But, the crew you’ve selected to do a review of your blog are not concerned with grandstanding – at least, as far as I can see. I intuit the feedback would be viable – even if they’re not the typical audience. I think that also qualifies them to look at other things you may not have considered (e.g. style (fine IMO), usability, marketability, etc.)

    RE: product review. I sent you an email. I’d be curious the guidelines, criteria and timeframes.

  3. Vesta says:

    I admit. I’m bristling. The talk of adding more “fashion-y” pictures makes me ill. Sigh. And it’s not even my blog. Well, sift through the advice and pick out the good bits. But please don’t go making big changes without giving us some notice. I’d like the opportunity to make my case, if they recommend something stupid. Not that you’d do something stupid. But still. This is the first and only blog I read with regularity.

  4. Kathleen says:

    I admit. I’m bristling. The talk of adding more “fashion-y” pictures makes me ill.

    You think you’re ill now, just wait till you see Eric in drag! Sorry folks, he’s the only model I’ve got. I think many of the reviewers don’t get that F-K is not a fashioney site. I don’t expect they’d understand that sewn products people (non fashion items) would feel even more left out than they typically do if I posted clothes pictures all the time.

    I’ve gotten several emails about some of the comments made at Problogger. On one hand, I’m very pleased. F-I regulars obviously consider this to be *their* space which is good. Other than a few infrastructure things that had been decided before this review was ever done (migrating to new blogging software mostly), I’ll be getting feedback from you all before I do other stuff (I know that I am annoyed when a site I visit frequently changes). In the end tho, I’ll have to make the ultimate decision on things but the worst that can happen is that I’ll have to change things back if too many are unhappy with navigational changes.

    In general, I’m pleased, certain themes are repeated. Some ideas I weigh less if it’s obvious the commentor hasn’t grokked that F-I is a B2B sewn products manufacturing site.

  5. Colette says:

    Change is always hard, and as you know, you will not do all the things they are mentioning. Only the most important ones, and the ones that make the most sense for this site.

    It will add to your success in getting the word out, about what is important to you, which is really the driving force behind this site (I think).

    My favorite suggestions so far are: 1. new designed header/logo to promote your book, 2. having a ‘book review’ are for those of us who just can’t get enough good reading but don’t want to look at all the amazon stuff, 3. less advertising 4. more pictures not crazy fashion crap, good technical learning like you have used in the past.
    It is all going to be good, and you will use the best advice to make your site become better, which is why this challenge grabbed your attention in the beginning.

    Good for you.
    I think (on a personal note) the very best improvements are made when you reach for something, maybe just right out of reach, but to your suprise it ends up in your hand.

  6. Laura says:

    Boy, I wish they’d introduced you better than “fashion author”, as a lot of the commenters seem to have an incorrect idea of the audience you’re writing for.

    Speaking as only one biased individual, *please please please* don’t add more “fashion-y pictures” or ads within your posts (barf). I also like the fact that several posts are on the front page, rather than having to click through to an archive to read more, and that the archives links are available from the main page. And for goodness sake, don’t dumb down your writing style as one commenter suggested.

    I agree that I could do without the columns of ads, and more white space is always nice. I am not an expert in the technical things suggested (what the heck is a favicon?) even though I’m fairly computer-savvy, and I would guess that most of your audience isn’t either. A nice design and layout are great, but for me it’s the content that keeps me coming back – and F-I has that in spades.

  7. Yahzi Rose says:

    good for you Kathleen, its hard to get on the hotseat – which is why I’m not rushing to send an email for the critique ;) What I will send in though is $20 toward the fee. I trust yours and our (FI community) judgement on the advice you receive. Improving the site will only be better for all of us.

  8. Jasmin says:

    Kathleen, I’ll ask my co-worker designer/user interface guys and girls to do me a favour, and review the site as well and give feedback – they love UI work, and if I give them genuine US Brownies to help the process, you may get some totally unbiased feedback that may assist (they are used to me raving about my favorite site ;-)) There is always room to improve, however if you have a gut feel the feedback just isn’t right for your site/vision – well, you’re probably correct – you know us best, and we do love you just the way you are. I’d say maybe a font change could be good (nice clean easy read stuff with a wee bit more spacing) … but the value in the content is so good, and there aren’t any really *bad* things about the site, so I think overall, it has to be positive :-)

  9. ioanna says:

    I just went over and read all the comments on Protoblogger. It seems crazy (but kinda typical) to me that people would start critiquing something without bothering to identify the most important issue to begin with: what’s it for.
    I don’t think this site needs more pictures! You provide ample visuals whenever they’re called for. We don’t come here for fashiony stuff. You can get those pretty much anywhere on the web.
    Also, for those pretend tech-wizz comments: 1)a blog full of images takes longer to load and eats bandwidth, both annoying.
    2)If you’re using Firefox and you really can’t stand the ads there’s an easy way to block them (I’m not saying how here because I really liked Kathleen’s comment that she thinks those are books we need to read ;) )
    3) I’ve been hearing a lot about meta tags and whatnots but I gotta say that whenever I google for something relevant F-I always shows up in the first few results.
    We all come here for content, all the other stuff is just the wrapping. I’m sure you can improve technical details here and there, tidy up this and that, but in the end content is what gets people to come back.
    Oh, if I were to put in a suggestion it’d be: More patternmaking tutorials/ pop quizzes! But that’s just what I need so it’s a selfish request!
    Oh and make the Tutorials Index into a web page not a word document. :)

  10. Deanna says:

    The reviewers sure had an incorrect preconceived notion of what the purpose is of this site, and the loyalty of the readers. I appreciated that this site was concise, packed with gems of information, and didn’t distract me with crap. I don’t have time to fool around with clickity click. (Books are not a distraction by the way, they are my friends. Yes, I am a geek.)

    Now I have to add my own 2 cents, and that is that I think it would be good to include a small photo of each author/contributor. (I’m jealous of all you guys who get to actually meet in a room together!)

  11. Barbara says:

    The first comments over there are useful, a lot are harsh. Who do they think we are? And “fashion blog”? Who are they kidding, they don’t get it. Typical and annoying. If I want fashion photos, I’ll read vogue. Keep that off MY site Kathleen!

    I vote for more challenges and the tutorials page should look like the main page with more descriptions. This is the only blog I read regularly. I didn’t even know what they were.

  12. Donna Carty says:

    I just want to add that several of the comments suggest getting rid of the calendar. I find the calendar very useful, especially when I’ve forgotten to stop by for a day or two.

  13. dianne c says:

    This is my first time commenting….
    I do not even consider this site a ‘blog’ It is informative, it is a must have, it is my rock in this wild and wooly design entrepreneur world. The information that Kathleen provides and moderates is a direct hit with her core audience. You have gathered a smart and like-minded core audience. It is a family.

    This site is more like a course you would take to obtain a Msters degree-heck a PHD for the DE’s versus other blogs who are blogging just to hear themselves type! I beg you not to change. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

    You have positively impacted so many, reached out to so many who needed your help and advice without the help of ‘others’ who do not understand this/your industry. You are our saviour. You have done this all by your lil’ ol’ self.

    I don’t want others playing in our Kathleen sandbox. I hope this comes across as well meaning and polite as I want it to be. You are an angel and I cannot wait to shout out your name when I am interviewed and make it big!

  14. Quite an interesting exercise. Folks noticed stuff that I never saw, which is great, but I say to find a way to keep the book links on the front page.

    Nobody had my suggestion: make the list of recent comments longer. I come here a couple of times a day to make sure I don’t miss any comments, because you get great input. Sometimes there’s a hot topic though, and all the visible comments are on a single post. Then I worry that there’s a thread I missed, but I don’t know where to go to pick it up.

    ProBlogger was mentioned as a site to copy, but I don’t like it. It looks likes a primarily commercial site… and the kerning in the headlines is so bad it’s distracting.

  15. Eric H says:

    When I started reading the comments over there, I too realized that most of those people were simply not qualified to comment. They were clearly used to scanning and overestimating their own comprehension and ability to ask smart questions. However, some of the comments were very good, and some were good but not really in line with some of Kathleen’s values. For and example of each (bad, good, good but irrelevant) respectively: more Pink Pony pictures, reduce the number of columns and get a favicon, make it easier to get to the forum.

    For those of you upset by the suggested changes, keep in mind that this was no different than a product review. The goal of a product review is to point out drawbacks, not to massage the designer’s ego. I think Kathleen would have been extremely disappointed in the whole experience if they had all been rave reviews that said, “Change nothing.” If she wants, she can ignore all of their suggestions and keep it as is.

    However, I’m not entirely in favor of following the advice of F-I regulars, either. You have all read Clayton Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma, haven’t you? Kathleen threatened to review it here . He explains how new technologies tend to arise in new companies because existing companies tend to focus on meeting the needs of their existing customers — to their own detriment — by continuing to refine existing methods while ignoring or studiously avoiding new methods and new customers. The new companies eventually win market share and drive the old out. An excerpt of the book can be found here.

    I think Kathleen loves to serve this community, but I think she also wants to keep the work interesting for herself. As I’m sure many of you are aware, she also has a great business sense. For those reasons, I would encourage you all to prepare yourselves for some changes. Odds are, most of you will like it better, but we may see a few community members drop out as new ones find reasons to stay.

  16. Eric, to your point, I’m afraid that I would have to support a more ‘Hemingway’ writing style if that is what Kathleen were to decide to adopt. Highly literate DEs with graduate degrees in engineering might be engaging in one way, but I doubt they represent the majority of people attempting to enter the rag trade. If she does this I may feel less well-served, but that’s entirely irrelevant as I am not a DE.

  17. Susan C says:

    Congradulations on taking such a risk.

    I think that the intent of change here is to attract more readers. The question is that if one wants to get more readers, how do you get the people who aren’t coming to the site to come. You are forfilling the needs of people who do come here regularly, but need to fill the needs of those who are not coming here regularly. I come here about once a month right now.

    I am a custom clothier, and I find that the longer I do this the more visually oriented I become. I would welcome more pictures, more drawings, etc.. It is easier for me to comprehend visually. This is a very visual field.

    I do love your tutorials and I do love this site. I would also love to see book reviews.

    Thank you for all the time and hard work that you put into this.

  18. Carmel Dolcine says:

    I found Problogger blogger Darren Rowse’s “community-driven” critique very interesting.

    What was most noteworthy is that the community at Problogger failed to adequately poll the readers of Fashion Incubator.

    They also failed to monitor Fashion Incubator’s posts and commentaries to gain insight into the impact the site has among the independent DE community it caters to.

    For a strictly for-profit consumerist blog the advice espoused by Problogger’s community is appropriate, particularly insightful, and should be considered.

    However, for a B2B blog such as Fashion Incubator beautification of the site or repositioning of ads or design modifications to improve SEO are not necessary.

    Your readership only values rich dialoque, new ideas to help improve their businesses, and whatever additional infotainment you care to offer concerning your likes, dislikes, day-to-day experiences, and personal life.

    The only advice I can offer concerning the site is the hope that you experiment with offering instructional videos via a pay-per-view or subscription based model. A section on interactive tutorials would be greatly appreciated by most of your readers.

    Moreover, a point to be made is the fact that the “network effect” of your blog has greater industry effect and greater monetization potential than most blogs.

    Properly managed B2B blogs have a captive audience.

    As a B2B blog, Fashion Incubator informs but also influences industry participants who establish trends and business practices.

    Fashion Incubator also acts as a referral and communication engine creating a foreground for new alliances and new collaborations among DE’s, manufacturers, and various fashion industry service providers from financiers and factors to patternmakers and distributors.

    B2C blogs only sell the trend of the day then must continuously realign their identities, branding initiatives, and products/services to attract the shifting attention spans of individual consumers with wayward eyeballs. B2C blogs are not sustainable, B2B blogs are.

    Take Care.

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