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The Business Behind Indie Design

There's more to making it as a designer than creating great goods—you also need to find an avenue through which to share your wares. On Sunday morning at Dwell on Design, Mohawk General Store co-owner Kevin Carney and Industry of All Nations-cofounders Fernando and Juan Gerscovich joined Dwell associate editor Jordan Kushins for a discussion about the business behind indie design. Here we share a few of their tips (and invite you to join in the conversation!).

Mohawk General Store in Los Angeles, California
Inside Mohawk General Store.

Carney cofounded Mohawk General Store in 2008 with his wife Bo Carney. (We featured the shop and the space, which they now share with Ellen LeComte of Amsterdam Modern, in our April 2011 issue.) The shop sells shoes from Carney's other companies, The Generic Man and Generic Surplus, as well furniture, ceramics, lights, records, books, shelves, and more. "I try to connect the dots with design," he said to the audience. "I curate the space the same way I curate my house."

For Carney, the story of a product is a strong point for getting your goods into a store and then into customers' hands. "In retail, it's great to be able to say this pair of jeans is dyed with natural pigments from this plant and is hand loomed—to be able to share these details in addition to the fact that they're stylish and fit really well—is an amazing selling tool," he said.

Fernando Gerscovich, Kevin Carney, Juan Gerscovich, and Jordan Kushins on stage at Dwell on Design.
Fernando Gerscovich, Kevin Carney, Juan Gerscovich, and Jordan Kushins on stage at Dwell on Design.

Though Carney receives countless emails with huge attachments of product images, his preference when it comes to pitches is something simple. "I want something that's short and sweet, visual, and succinct," he said. "I want it to be easy to see in a couple of seconds, and if it catches my eye, then I'll follow up."

Espadrilles by Industry of All Nations.
Espadrilles by Industry of All Nations.

The best way to reach a retailer may also be to bring your product to them. Carney learned about Fernando and Juan's company Industry of All Nations when Fernando's wife came into Mohawk General Store, started talking with Carney, and mentioned that her husband makes biodegradable espadrilles. "I heard those two words together and was like, 'Wow! That's amazing,'" Carney recalled. "How cool is it that you can put your shoes back in the ground when you're finished with them?"

At Industry of All Nations, Fernando and Juan work with craftspeople and producers from around the globe to bring the local product—like jeans and shoes—to the world market. The biodegradable espadrilles are made out of canvas and woven rope by the craftspeople who have been making these shoes in this way forever. "We wanted to restore the culture of the product," Fernando said to the audience. "We want to start making things again where they are from, where they are supposed to be made."

In addition to having a great story like the one Fernando shared about the shoes, you need to be able to share it. At Industry of All Nations, Fernando and Juan spend as much time focusing on the designs as they do their branding and company image. "The excitement we bring to the brand is as important as how the products looks," Juan said during the discussion. Then it's about getting the products into the right hands. "When you have a good story and a good product, show it to everybody," Fernando said. "Many times we've just walked into a store that we liked and wanted to work with while holding a pair of jeans or shoes. If your product is made with love and it's good, they'll like it." After Carney learned about the espadrilles and saw them in person, he began carrying the line and just two months later Fernando and Juan were contacted by Urban Outfitters. The national retailer now also carries the brand, but Carney doesn't mind the competition. "It's great for the designers and it's especially great when companies let them continue to produce their own product and sell it to the company rather than taking it and making it themselves at a different factory," Carney said.

If you've started your own business, worked as a modern design retailer, or have experience in the indie business world, join the conversation in our comments section below!

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