Surtex Take Two!

Hellooooooo!! Writing this post is extra special because I got to meet so many of you at Surtex this time around! Honestly, I had no idea so many of you have been following along on my little art journey. I work in a bubble, as many of us do, and my main connection to other designers is through the internet. So was so nice to meet so many of you in real life. Surtex this year was amazing! I was so happy with how everything went and all the amazing folks I met — both clients, artists and new friends. And let me tell you, It was so much easier the second time around! I was far more relaxed about the whole thing, and while I had my momentary freak-outs and bouts of nausea, overall I was able to take things as they came this year and trust that I’d done as much as I could do. Here are some of my post-show thoughts on the second time around.

The Surtex Cheerleading Squad
I really want to thank you guys for stopping by and being so ridiculously sweet! It felt so special to have people come up to me and say that I’d had some effect on their journey, or that my work had inspired them in some way, or had given them a push to get moving and follow their dreams (*wipes tears*). All business things aside, I came home with a full, full heart, and I thank you all so much for that. Surtex can be scary. You’re putting it all out there, and you can’t help but have your moments of doubt and feel overwhelmed. The week before Surtex I was convinced it was going to be a flop! All of your hugs and words of support and good energy really relaxed me and gave me that extra boost. It was surreal and amazing and just… wow.

Second time around
Leading up to my first Surtex, I heard from many people that manufacturers wouldn’t give you a shot the first time around. They wanted to see you year after year to see if you’re serious about it. Last year I thought things went really well and felt that people were totally open but I did feel vulnerable and hopeful and all ‘please please please work with me’. This year, going in with a bit more experience and some clients under my belt, I felt it made a difference. Clients did seem happy to hear it was my second time exhibiting. The playing field was a little more even, and I felt like the vibe was all about a mutual collaboration. I’m really happy about the companies I met and can’t wait to see what happens this year. I also felt that people this year were willing to meet me in the middle when it comes to licensing — last year it seemed like everyone was looking to buy outright. Could just be coincidence, but I’ll take it.

It’s okay if you’re not for everyone
Surtex draws people from all sorts of companies, and honestly, most of them are not going to be looking for the type of work you do. For me, I would guesstimate that less than 10% of the people attending Surtex would be looking for the *type* of work I do, and an even smaller proportioned would like my work. (I could have skipped the part where one particular guy walked by and snarkily said loud enough to hear “oh, everyone is doing that” (whatever “that” means). But what I figured out this time around was that that’s okay — because there were also people that would walk up with eyes full of wonder (so touching)! The thing is, I don’t want to work with companies that don’t get me. I don’t want to have to stretch so far out of my comfort zone that I’m not myself anymore. I’m looking for great, solid, reciprocal partnerships that I can feel good about and get behind and want to share with the world. My holiday patterns will not punch you in the face with red-and-green festive Santa spirit, because that’s just not me. Plus, there are other people out there that are really good at it. I’ve come to realize what people respond to most with my work, and it’s the stuff that I feel best about too. At the end of the day, I’m a lofty artist chasing her dreams and dream clients, and I’ve gotta to stay true to myself. That whole ‘integrity’ thing. (Side note: I did get a lot of holiday requests though… I had some, but I fully admit that I should do more… in my style!)

He’s Just Not That Into You
Did you ever read that book? Sadly, I did. It would have said that if someone doesn’t write you back, they’re just not that into you. But the licensing world doesn’t work that way. Last year, I followed up with my contacts after Surtex and a few times after that… but honestly, I got very few replies. Just like when you submit artwork and never hear anything back, it can be discouraging. Am I annoying these people? Do they even want to get these emails? Should I stop? This year, it was encouraging to have people stop by and say they’d gotten the emails and liked my work — even if they never replied to me, it helped me understand that they see this stuff, they’re just busy. It’s so hard to be patient but people who walk the show aren’t *necessarily* looking for artwork at that exact moment in time but they will be a few months (or a year! or two!) down the road. So if you don’t hear back right away, it doesn’t mean they’re not into you.

Social media – it works!
I always figure that the more avenues I have to get in front of people, the better. And this proved to be beneficial this year. I met people who’d seen my video, my feature in Uppercase, listened in on my webinar, saw my Look Book, followed on Facebook or Instagram, or saw my work on Pinterest… Creating lots of pathways equals exposure, equals opportunities!

Art Crush Central
I was so happy that I got to meet sooooo many amazing people and some of my biggest art crushes too! Highlights were meeting Grace Bonney from Design Sponge (if I were to include exclamation marks, you would never get to the end of this post), Lisa Congdon, Ashley Goldberg, Helen Dardik, Carolyn Gavin, Flora Waycott, Sarah Watson, the girls from Dotty Wren and Forest Foundry, Victoria Johnson, Ana Victoria Calderon, Ana Davis, Jennifer Paganelli… I could go on!

An Annual Business Meeting
I also got the chance to meet with some of my favourite clients outside of the show — an all-too-rare occurrence. I’ve come to look at Surtex as a sort of ‘annual business meeting’ where I actually get to see my clients face to face. It’s invaluable to have that human connection. You get such a better understanding of what’s happening in their world (and your part in it) when you can sit, have a glass of wine, and have a good old fashioned chit chat. I’m so lucky to have such awesome clients… some of which I can’t tell you about quite yet, but I’ll be able to soon! I’m terrible at keeping secrets!

A gigantic thank you
First, a big shout out to the amazing and incredibly sweet and helpful Anna London. Anna and I met online and she’d been wondering about exhibiting at Surtex, and we worked it out so she would come help with setting up my booth and could walk the show and get the experience first hand. Anna was amazing! And so easy-going and crazy helpful and was such a generous trooper. Her help was invaluable and she put up with me and my scatterbrained direction and met it all with a smile. Thank you, Anna!!!!

And finally… to my amazing friend Sam, who you would have met if you stopped by my booth. This is her 2nd time helping me at Surtex and she is such an incredible, supportive, generous sidekick. You know you’ve got a true friend when she will give up a week of her busy life running her own Interior Design business to come and be by your side and help in any way she can. To be genuinely HAPPY for you when good things happen and share in your excitement, to be a cheerleader and believer. Whole-hearted supporter. Endlessly patient. Expert note-taker (my own personal Joan Hollaway). Amazing friend. Sammy, I cannot thank you enough!!!!!!! I hope we are all so lucky to have the kind of people in our lives that will do that for us. (*wipes more tears*)

I can’t believe it’s over for another year! But hopefully this life-consuming event will lead to more fabulous opportunities this year — so far, so good. My follow-ups are taken care of and I’m going to try and sneak in a much-needed staycation now that the sun has arrived and do all the things I couldn’t get to for the months before Surtex. And enjoy the feeling of relaxation until it’s time to do it all over again.

Thanks for reading!!! I’ll leave you with some pics from my booth, which felt just like home.

1-ElizabethOlwen_Booth My booth! I got a corner booth this time and loved it.

2-ElizabethOlwen_MoiMe at my happiest, surrounded by pattern.

3-ElizabethOlwen_HoopsI tried a few new things this year like a different approach to signage and showing off my Cloud9 fabric collection.

4-ElizabethOlwen_EmbroiderI put some extra love into my main booth sign, which I embellished with some embroidery.

5-ElizabethOlwen_PanelsAnd of course there were flowers. And a bunch of stuff I sewed up.

6-ElizabethOlwen_TableAnd it was soooo awesome having real life products this year!! And it really did help when meeting with clients. It seemed easy for them to envision products with my patterns having seen real life examples and seeing that I’ve worked with other companies already.

7-ElizabethOlwen_SamMeMy fabulous sidekick and friend Sam! xo


  • June 6, 2014 at 8:34 pm // Reply

    Elizabeth, thank you so much for sharing all the pictures of your lovely booth and your tips for first time exhibitors. I can´t tell you how much I appreciate it. Your work is awesome, I love it so much. and for sure it´s very outstanding (this is just for the guy who believes “everbody is doing this now”). When every designer and artist would create so wonderful patterns as you do, the world wouldbe a fantastic place to live. Image all the beauty!
    x Petra

    • June 9, 2014 at 12:24 pm // Reply

      Thanks Petra, it was great meeting you in person!

  • June 15, 2014 at 5:42 pm // Reply

    Hello Elizabeth, unfortunatly we didn´t meet, as I wasn´t at Surtex (but hope to go next year). It must have been another Petra you met. I´m glad you enjoyed meeting her.
    x Petra

    • June 16, 2014 at 2:11 pm // Reply

      Oops, sorry Petra! Maybe we’ll meet one day 😉

  • January 11, 2015 at 5:17 pm // Reply

    Hi Elizabeth, I wrote a long-winded message, then lost it when I went to find a link to my own blog post to share with you. :( Basically what I said was that I appreciate your post sharing about your time last year. I am embarrassed to say that last year I was just down the row from you on the corner next to the cafe and I was too shy to come and meet you. I knew who you were from your amazing marketing efforts before the show so I guess I was a little star-struck. :) your work is beautiful! Congratulations on your success—a result of obvious hard work and talent!

    I was wondering if you could give me a word of encouragement or advice since I’ve not yet signed up for Surtex this year. I’m having cold feet. Even thoughh I felt really good about the response to my work last year and had an amazing time, nothing has really panned out from my follow-up and I’m not very sure about where to go from here. It’s hard to justify spending the money again. Catch twenty-two because I know that I should show up to be taken seriously.

    I hope you’ll take a look and any feedback you may have to offer would be so appreciated!

    • January 16, 2015 at 8:42 pm // Reply

      Hi Kim, Just wanted to let you know that I got this and will write you back at your email! :)

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