How designers can sell their creative and sustainable work

Charlene C. Lam during the talk “Be Human” at Clerkenwell Design Week

Right people, right time, right way

We start our conversation with what was also a topic of Charlene’s talk at the London design week. The philosophy of her work is to focus on targeting the right people, at the right time and in the right way. Here is how she explains the three.

Photo by Ashim D’Silva on Unsplash

The super power of pop-up and…of whatever will come next

The focus of Charlene’s talk at London was on social media but she works also a lot with pop-up shops and installations. Over the years, there have been a lot of discussions about pop-up shops used by big brands, and the problem with growing prices of the spaces. So, we asked Charlene about them to understand how pop-ups where born, why they were so successful and what lies ahead.

Pop-up shops are just an amazing way for people to get work out of the studio and in front of actual people, actual customers, and get their reactions and see if people understand it.

I think that specially for handmade and limited-edition items, you must be able to communicate that and explain: why it is more expensive, how is it made, who made it, the materials… Designers and artist who create these objects often have a lot of assumptions. They think that people know, and people don’t know!

Even if we don’t call it a pop-up shop, the idea, the essence of a pop-up being something that is available for a limited time, new and special, something that is ahead of what is in standard shops, I think those aspects carry through, even if the so-called pop-up trend starts to go away.

I don’t think I have a crystal ball for the crisis of retail, but I don’t think it is dead. I think the big retail shops don’t move fast enough which is why they are suffering. And the reason why pop-up shops have been attractive and why they work is because they are more responsive to what people need: they create excitement, they are able to move faster, and they are able to change their selection as well whereas traditional retail gets stuck into such a long cycle that they can’t anticipate.

Experience and human contact

So, if the key to pop-up lies in their being more responsive to people needs, I asked Charlene about the next step and where we should focus as creatives trying to sell our work and as designers. What is the key for the future? Technology? Marketing? Yes, but not only. The answers go back to being human and maybe going back to the basics of her approach: purpose and people.

The core of why we buy certain things is still about emotions and how it makes us feel: the experience that we get, and the space in which we buy it.

A lot of independent stores are going to have a hard time, not just pop-up shops, and I think that, part of it, is that they need to focus more on thinking about themselves as experiential retail that provides a customer service that the big brands can’t. They provide the human contact that Amazon can’t. And I think in some ways all retailers need to think about themselves as experiential retailers, and that’s not just about product selection, it’s about a whole experience from start to finish.

Photo by eddie howell on Unsplash

Making sustainability doable

From our experience, and the one of our customers with our ECONYL® regenerated nylon, we feel there is a topic which is even more challenging to explain to final consumers: the sustainable features of a product. Sustainability is a delicate topic to explain and often it’s done with a very complicated language and with negative tones. So, we turned this problem to Charlene to hear what her suggestion on this are. Could pop-up shops be a solution to these difficulties and how?

You can have real conversations, and people can ask questions. You can challenge people’s assumptions in a friendly way because you would assume people are going to get what sustainability means, but no!

It means different things to different people. So, I think pop-up shops are a place to have conversations and to answer questions. They are so valuable to cut though just hype and sustainability speak. And also, you can touch things and realize that they feel nice and look good and can actually integrate sustainability in real life.

So, it’s about being more transparent about what you are actually saying and not just appealing to value but articulating the value.

Photo by Victor Garcia on Unsplash

“She is not like a social media influencer, but she is influencing my life. So, we can all take more responsibility for being influencers”.

Creativity will save us as individuals and as a society

During our conversation we also talked about creativity and design and how they can save us and open the doors to a more sustainable future. Charlene told me that part of her philosophy is that creativity will save us as individuals and as a society. So, as a last question we asked Charlene about her biggest source of inspiration.

Photo by Brunel Johnson on Unsplash

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