Dream Jobs… Liesl Gibson and Oliver + S. Creating a business that mixes creativity, motherhood and a little afternoon ‘market research’

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Dream Jobs… Liesl Gibson and Oliver + S. Creating a business that mixes creativity, motherhood and a little afternoon ‘market research’

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 So you may have noticed my recent obsession with the Oliver + S City Weekend fabric from Moda (here, here, and HERE!) Liesl Gibson is the designer behind this fabulous line which is chock full of coordinating cotton wovens and interlock knits (ideal for the making of Pendrells and Mini Bloomers…) Liesl also designs the adorable, classic Oliver + S children’s patterns with the distinctive paper doll packaging. Recently she took some time to answer a few questions for our dream jobs series. Dream job, indeed. A Brooklyn studio, time with her family, and creating the lovely designs of Oliver + S!

**Describe Oliver + S in a sentence or two…

We’re all about creating an enjoyable sewing experience. Oliver + S produces sewing patterns and fabric for creating contemporary, timeless children’s clothing that is fun to sew.

*Let’s talk about YOU! Liberal arts background, publishing, finance, the Fashion Institute of Technology, clothing design… tell us about what you did before launching Oliver + S (and if helped or hindered starting your business…)

I think all previous experience is helpful in starting a business. But I was fortunate to work in a variety of industries and to hold several jobs that gave me an excellent base of experience  when I decided to branch out on my own. I first worked in book publishing and was given an amazing opportunity to help launch a small imprint with a German publishing company. I was in my early 20’s, and the job gave me experience in balancing an enormous number of tasks including scouting authors, developing book ideas, editing manuscripts, working with book designers and cover artists, working with copyright lawyers, and negotiating contracts as well as navigating the publishing process within a much larger company. I moved from publishing onto Wall Street where I learned to read a balance sheet and talked with CEOs and CFO’s of publicly traded companies in order to advise large institutional investors. When I completely burned out on that job, I went back to school at the Fashion Institute of Technology here in New York, and after graduating I worked for Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger. Then S was born and I left it all to stay home with her. Oliver + S grew out of my desire to do creative things while I was home with her.

*OK. Any person who is a maker of things inevitably hears “You should sell that!”…. over and over and over… was that part of your experience? Thoughts on making the jump from hobby to business?

Oh, I heard that all the time. If people like something you’ve made, they’ll inevitably say you should sell it. But it’s so much harder than people realize to, first, make the step up to doing commercial-level production of a product and, then, to run a business in such a way that it’s profitable. It is very challenging to make any money when you’re in this industry, so my first recommendation would be to do a lot of research and planning before you jump in. Be sure that what you’re offering is unique enough that people have a reason to want it, and that you understand both what your costs will be and how much revenue you can generate from your product.

*What’s the meaning behind the name Oliver + S?

S is my daughter, and Oliver is a playmate of hers. Oliver’s mom is also a dear friend who initially suggested that I sell the sewing patterns I was drafting from my designs for S.

*What marketing strategies did you find effective when just starting out? What didn’t work at all?

Well, print advertising has never paid off, unfortunately. And that makes me really sad because I love magazines. Our best return on investment is with social media and our monthly email newsletters. –

*Tell us about a typical day in the life…

Oddly, there is no typical day! I do such a wide variety of activities in my work that on any given day I might be in meetings, shopping, drafting patterns, writing instructions or blog posts, drawing or illustrating, attending fittings, responding to email, etc. Sometimes I’ll do just one thing for two weeks and then won’t do it again for six months. It’s extremely varied work, which keeps it interesting. I like variety, so it’s a good job for me. One thing I can say is that having a child helps to keep me on more of a regular schedule, since she needs to be dropped off and picked up from school every day, and dinner and bedtime stay on a routine. Beyond that, there’s really no saying what I’ll be doing on any given day. This morning I’m catching up on a few details, and this afternoon I’m headed out to do a little “market research”—meaning that I’m going shopping to look at trends and to watch people on the street here in New York. I’m nearly finished with the spring Oliver + S patterns and am starting to think about the fall collection and what I’d like to do. So I’m gathering inspiration right now and letting a bunch of ideas float around for a while.

*I understand you’re a husband and wife team. How are the duties split up? Do you have any other employees?

Yes, Todd left his job in finance almost two years ago to join me. We have very different skill sets, so Todd runs the company and makes all the smart decisions and I concentrate on the creative development. We sit down together once a week to discuss things, and since we see each other all the time there are lots of smaller discussions that happen along the edges. But Todd makes it possible for me to concentrate on what I do best. We’re still quite small. We work with several free-lancers on an as-needed basis, and of course we work with our business partners like Moda (who produce our fabric collections) and Abrams (the publisher for our upcoming book). So we’re able to coordinate our efforts with their marketing teams, etc.

* What’s coming up for Oliver + S? (And yes, we would all like to know if there are any plans to branch into accessory and/or women’s patterns!)

Oh, I don’t want to give too much away yet. But 2011 will be a very exciting year for our company. The development cycle in this industry is quite long, and we’ve been working on some big things for which we’ll be making some exciting announcements this spring. Stay tuned!

 

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Thanks to Liesl for taking the time to answer our questions! I cannot WAIT to see what’s coming out next from Oliver + S! In the meantime, check out Liesl’s website if you can’t wait to get some of the patterns in your hot little hands. Or perhaps her blog for great sewing tips? Or if you’re just in the market for eye candy, there’s a Flickr group for the Oliver + S patterns as well as for the City Weekend fabric line!

Stay tuned for an exciting giveaway! There will be polka dots involved. Little teeny tiny polka dots…

6 Comments

  1. Tasia says:

    Another inspiring post in this series! Every story is so different. I especially like reading how and why each person started their business, and I love that she's created a mini-empire with patterns, fabric and books. Really motivating!

  2. Laurwyn says:

    Very inspiring! I also think that taking that leap would work better in the USA than in Europe. There, you have a large area of people speaking the same language and basic posting fees. Here, it is so different…

  3. LAP says:

    I love that her business came from doing something she loves FOR someone she lovesl

  4. K.Line says:

    Sure thing! It just came to me in a haze :-)

  5. [patty the snug bug] says:

    Kristin – I like that phrase, mind if I steal it for when I try to describe this series?

  6. K.Line says:

    Terrific interview. I really admire people who make the leap to creative entrepreneurialism.

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