Brand Building - Island Style

The Vineyard Vines brothers, Shep and Ian.

The Vineyard Vines brothers, Shep and Ian.

This past week I was on Martha's Vineyard, a place well known in New England for its beautiful beaches, incredible farmland, and classic coastal towns.  But to the rest of the country, I think Martha's Vineyard is becoming known for being the birthplace of Vineyard Vines, a clothing company that has been expanding like crazy these past few years.  Much like Nantucket Nectars, Vineyard Vines was started by two guys, Shep and Ian (also brothers), who drew inspiration from an island they loved to start selling a product.  For the Nantucket Nectars guys, that product was homemade juice that they sold boat-to-boat in Nantucket Harbor.  For the Vineyard Vines brothers, it was preppy colorful ties.  If you do a little digging into how both these companies started, you get the sense that it all began with two guys who just wanted to live by the water and sell enough product to cover their mooring fees.  It seems that neither could have ever imagined how big their sales would get.  

But in both cases, sales got really, really big.  On July 3rd, I walked into the newly expanded Vineyard Vines store in Edgartown and saw Ian, one of the founding brothers, shaking hands and taking pictures with his devoted customers.  The staff was fully decked out in their preppy glory, a Hinkley-inspired boat couch gleamed in the front room, and sales were booming.  I later read that it was on July 3rd, 1998, exactly sixteen years earlier, that Ian and his brother sold their first batch of ties.  They sold those ties door-to-door on commission, which means they paid for the product upfront and gave them to stores for free, receiving a split only when the ties sold.  

And that made me really, really happy.  Because that's how I sell to bookstores.  I go in person and introduce myself and my books and then provide inventory to the stores.  I make many follow-up phones calls and many long drives to restock supplies when the books sell out (which they have been very fast!).  It's a lot of unglamorous legwork, but I'm learning that it's what I need to do to grow my young company.  Yes, company.  Star Sisters will always be first and foremost about writing, because that's what I love and what really fulfills me. But I also want it to be bigger than just a single book.  I want to produce an entire series that moms and kids love, that they think of whenever they need something new to read, or the perfect birthday present, or a fabulous necklace to celebrate a milestone event.  And that takes a lot of work.  But I think part of the reason that the Nantucket Nectars and Vineyard Vines guys have succeeded is because they genuinely loved their products.  They came up with something unique that didn't exist before and people responded.  I've certainly got the love, so I can't wait to see what happens.

And while we're talking fashion, Annie and I are starting to think about illustrations for Book 4, titled Star Sisters and the Best Seller.  It's such a fun part of the process because she is amazing at bringing my ideas to life.  It's not a summer book, but if it was I could totally see Coco in this chevron halter and Lucy in this collared anchor print:

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Bling It

My husband's been in California all week for work which is 99% terrible and 1% good.  Terrible because he's the best guy in the world and we all miss him.  (Especially this morning when my 20 month old came down with the stomach bug right as I was trying to get everyone off to school, that was awesome!)  But good because, as someone who is responsible for the feeding, dressing, bathing, entertaining, and general sheparding through life of three little people, I love having the house to myself at night.  I can order sushi and plop on the couch for some serious Bravo TV time without anyone questioning how in the world I can stand to watch such crap.  I just can.  There's no rational explanation.

I've also had more time to read at night and I'm currently loving The Lost Sisterhood by Anne Fortier.  It's my favorite kind of historical fiction, one that intersperses a historical story line with a contemporary one.  A great example of this literary style is The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Meyes.  If you haven't read that or Meyes' other recent novel Me Before You please stop whatever you are doing and buy them.  Her novels are amazing.  I promise.  

But I digress.  In The Lost Sisterhood there is a bronze bracelet that is of great significance and weaves the two stories together.  It got me thinking about the emotional importance of jewelry.  I'm not just talking about engagement rings or wedding bands (although if you want to read a great novel about the history behind diamond engagement rings pick up The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan).  I'm thinking about unique jewelry that tugs at us for other reasons.  For me, one piece of jewelry that I feel really emotional about is my Heather Moore necklace.  Moore makes engraved custom pieces that are beautifully subtle.  Her golds and silvers are worn and antique looking, as if handed down from an older generation.  My necklace has four charms, one for each of my daughters and one for my husband.  It hangs low and makes this great clanking sound when I walk.  But what I love most is that my girls will often come up to me and ask to see their name charm, almost like they are checking on it.  And when my perfect little angels are less than angelic and get in trouble, they will reach out to find their charm and play with it while we are discussing their latest antics.  My littlest one still loves to put the charms in her mouth when I am leaning over to change her diapers.  I just love it.  

Maybe this is why when I needed something of significance for my Star Sisters ladies, Coco and Lucy, I chose a pendant necklace.  Coco finds her necklace on the streets of Paris and Lucy finds her necklace in the bottom of a trunk of her grandmother's clothes.  When the necklace are brought together magic occurs.  You'll have to read Star Sisters and the Royal Wedding to learn all about the necklaces' mysterious origins!  But here's a sneak peak from Star Sisters and the Big Show of the ladies in their magic necklaces.  They wear them everywhere, even to the local swimming pool!  Aren't they cute in their bathing suits?  I love these girls!

Baby Steps (or Mocs).

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Should you happen to ring my doorbell on an average Friday night, you would find me and my husband sprawled on the couch watching Shark Tank.  He and I have very different taste in television - one of us leans more Top Gear, while the other more Real Housewives of whatever city is playing.  But Shark Tank is the one show that we both love equally.  My husband likes the business wheeling and dealing side of the show and I love the personal side of the show, particularly the stories about moms like me who have an idea for a product and work their bootys off to that make that idea an actual business.  I keep trying to think of a reason why The Star Sisters chapter book series should be on Shark Tank but so far nothing rational comes to mind, at least until we start production on Coco and Lucy dolls.  (Kidding.  Kind of.)

Hands down, my favorite Shark Tank guest was Susan Petersen of Freshly Picked.  Susan earned money to start her business by removing the aluminum framing from old windows.  She had a vision for the kind of baby moccasin she wanted to produce and she made it happen, big time.  On the show, Susan scored an investment from Shark Damian and she's recently been traveling across the U.S. selling her moccasins at Land of Nod pop up shops.

I know all about Susan's travels because I, along with roughly 128,000 other people, follow Susan on Instagram.  Impressive number, right?  In an interview with SMP Living Susan cited Instagram as her top marketing source and suggests a 20/40/40 breakdown of content - meaning 20% promotional, 40% about the company (behind the scenes and such), and 40% personal. It helps tremendously that Susan's product is insanely cute and the woman takes full advantage of featuring chubby baby thighs and feet, as she very well should.  But I wonder if this marketing advice can be applied to a publishing venture like Star Sisters?  After all, part of what inspired my to publish Star Sisters independently is the desire to bring a fresher, stylish approach to the children's chapter book genre. So I'm going to give this Instagram marketing thing a shot!  After all, I've spent enough time by myself with just a blank screen for company, it's time to start engaging with the outside world, even if its only virtually.  Baby steps, one social media platform at a time. 

crewcuts Cuteness

Okay, can we take a brief break from all this talk of dreams and books to discuss the insane cuteness that is crewcuts these days.  The children's line of J.Crew, crewcuts started a few years ago and it took them a little while to find their groove.  But man, once they found it, they found it.  Their clothes are cool and fun with amazing patterns with not a logo in sight.  I do think they have some quality issues, but I'm also a tough customer in that regard because I expect everything I buy to last through three active little girls.  (FYI, MiniBoden wins the quality card, but that's a whole other post).  

Anyways, I was walking by the store the other day and stopped in my tracks when I saw this dress in the window.  LOVE!  And would you believe it, the dress was 25% off AND the only sizes they had left were the three exact sizes I needed.  So yes, all three came home with me and I think my girls will be wearing them at a rehearsal dinner this summer.  And yes, I love to dress my girls in matching clothes.  My oldest is 6-years old so I probably can't get it away with it much longer and I fully intend to rock the look while I can.

Of course, no discussion of any children's line is complete without asking what Coco and Lucy, the stars of the Star Sisters chapter book series, would wear.  When I wrote the books I intentionally kept Coco and Lucy interchangeable.  It's sometimes hard for kids to keep track of several characters so I wanted them to basically read as two equivalent girls.  But when I started the illustration process with the amazing Annie Zimanski, I realized I had to define each girl a little more.  As I thought about Coco and Lucy I realized that, in my mind, I had really been picturing my two older girls, one who is a brunette just starting into a funky tomboy phase and the other a blond who will only wear dresses, the frillier the better.  I sent Annie a picture of my girls and Coco and Lucy as you see them now were born.

Here's what I'm loving for Coco, because poms-poms make everything better:

While I think Lucy might chose something like this:

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P.S. How great would this dress be in a dress-up box?  Or walking down the streets of NYC if your kids have got the guts!  I bet it's beautifully made.