There’s an old saying that goes along the lines of, “in going forward, one needs to know where they’re coming from.” As much as I try to push forward and blog like The Little Black Dress Project is done and dusted, I feel like I should share what happened. Because in my mind, it kinda came out of nowhere, was all encompassing and is now gone. So in honour of all of you who helped, visited and supported – here’s the behind the scenes of how I took my blog series and turned it into a book and exhibition!
What (in case you missed it):
In 2012 I set myself the challenge to wear one Little Black Dress (LBD) to work, once a week for a whole year – styled differently each time. I wanted to test the versatility of fashion’s favourite staple and my own creativity whilst also inspiring fellow working women to make the most out of their own LBDs.
In 2013 I turned the LBD Project into a book and exhibition that was part of the 2013 L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival Cultural Program – the state’s largest fashion retail event. The book featured fashion illustration by Angie Rehe, photography by Meagan Harding, creative design by Jim Petroutsos and a foreword by Sarah Gale. The exhibition at Melbourne Central was launched on March 1, the third birthday of this BusiChic blog and celebrated by 100 guests who enjoyed delicious canapes by Campari House and a sumptuous birthday cake by Pierrick Boyer of Le Petit Gateau. The exhibition would be attended by 1625 visitors, sell 223 copies of the book and enjoy 100 croissants especially baked by Le Petit Gateau for our Audrey-Hepburn tribute, Breakfast at Melbourne Central.
The Little Black Dress Project book is available for purchase online, here.
This is the backstory of how the book and exhibition came to be.
How it all started:
Brainwaves, they happen all the time I know but when I get a random idea, I’ve gotten into the habit of starting things up and seeing how far I can push things along.
I love fashion week and particularly enjoy the Cultural Program that adds to the fabric of L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival. These off-site exhibitions and events facilitate different discussions about the art, business, practicality and ethics of fashion. I’ve long thought that there needed to be events which catered to those of us who are looking for things to wear to work. This was back of mind whilst wrapping up my LBD Project blog series when the thought occurred to me that I could fill in this gap by exhibiting my project. I wrote a submission applying for a month-long program and said that I was going to publish a book to sell at said exhibition. Since LMFF went from March 1-31, I’d assumed that my event had to go for the full month; whenever I go to an exhibition, I always want to buy the accompanying book. Within the week LMFF had accepted it and helped me secure a venue, the iconic Melbourne Central.
I would need to organise an exhibition, book, launch event and supporting publicity within two months. Whilst holding down my day job. I’m not one to say no to opportunities, especially when I’m the one who dug the hole for myself!
Lots and lots of help from my family and friends. Given the timeframes, I knew the project had to be self-funded and prepared by improving my cash flows which meant stepping down from the Awesome Foundation (my interview with myself here) and moving back in with my folks. Thanks Mum and Dad! Having sat on the Awesome board – where each month we each throw in $100 to create a mini-grant of $1000 to give to a project that helps make Melbourne more awesome – I always had greater appreciation for those people who had thrown in all that they had into their projects so of course, I would do the same.
Building the dream team:
I didn’t know the first thing about publishing a book, particularly a fashion one that didn’t need to be particularly wordy. Most resources I came across focus on self-publishing novels. “How hard could it be?” I thought. I’ve worked in professional services where we were trained to ask questions and learn on the job. I was also the chair of our departmental social committee and used to project manage events for a team of 200; I knew that I can handle the workload and deliver a quality end-product. My grand plan was simple: to work out what I didn’t know about doing book, exhibition and launch event and find the people who did and would help me.
I knew I’d need a graphic designer but all of the friends I could think of were new mums/travelling.Then I see my friend Meagan Harding sharing photos of her friend Jim’s graphic design work via Facebook. I ask her to connect us. We met for coffee in January where I bring a stash of my favourite books to use as references; Jim tells me he had some of the same books. Quickly I find that we speak the same language and ask him to send me a quote.
Over drinks one night with friend and fashion illustrator, Angie Rehe of Patsy Fox and emboldened with drink, I mention my book and ask her to send me a quote. The next day I follow up with a brief using images from her website and a list of all the images I need to assist her quoting.
Over lunch with Sarah Gale who I met through Fashion Torque, I tell her about my book and she advises that I seek someone to write a foreword for the book. Something so obvious that I’d not yet thought about. I later send Sarah a bumbling email asking her to write the foreword and thankfully, she accepts. Sweet relief.
My friend Jina of Urban Jin, tells me about all the business-y things I’d need to lock in place. Like getting an EFTPOS machine.
In terms of sponsorship, we were two weeks out from the exhibition launch when in desperation at where to start, I tweet (DM) Pierrick Boyer of Le Petit Gateau about whether he’s interested in coming board as a sponsor. The champion man responds succinctly in such a generous, professional and kind way – I want to be more like Pierrick as I grow up!
My boyfriend, Tim, has a cousin whose girlfriend is a gallery curator. Jess is the one who gave me the idea of setting up the exhibition such to create several tableaus where groups of mannequins could be styled around different workplace scenes. Thanks Jess!
Mikala Tai, the LMFF Cultural Program Manager, would be invaluable for advice and counsel.
Andy at Cassette, the company who did my printing proves to be one of the most freaking patient people I get to deal with during the project as we work through a number of very different exhibition layouts. Thanks for all of your help with quotes and logistics, Andy!
My amazing boyfriend, Tim, calls every mannequin supplier in Melbourne and finds the 30 mannequins that we need from Martyn Sullivan – the Rack Man – who stays back and helps my and Tim’s family set up the exhibition. Thank you Martyn! Also suddenly needing to dress 30 mannequins was made possible with lots of quick help from my family and friends at American Rag – thank you Eileen and the team for all of your help and advice!
My amazing family – Mum was in the process of running her own data processing business but made sure that I was eating properly while giving me a break on the getting sleep/keeping-my-room-neat side of things. We had family meals and trouble-shot things together over a wine from the parental cellar. I did develop a bit of a habit over the course of the project, getting into their wines, the good man that is my father only ever just the once said, “maybe not the whole bottle in the one go.”
Have I told you that my boyfriend has been amazing throughout this whole process? Sure he also made me do things like celebrate my own 30th birthday with a bash that he ended up organising single-handedly because I had no brain capacity – golly was he a supportive partner! Mid-exhibition I had coffee with another friend who had been in a similar position of being under-the-making-our-dreams-happen-pump and she pointed out how lucky we were to have partners who are supportive even when the things that we’re pursuing make things a little more stressful back home. It’s true – thank you, Tim!
Inevitably there were a great many challenges which considering our tight timeframe, hit hard and fast and required lots of quick on the spot/day troubleshooting. Here is a list of just some them to illustrate which I’ve grouped them into neat categories. Let me tell you though; they sure as hell didn’t happen in as tidy a fashion!
Jim goes through my blog photos and voices his concern that the resolution isn’t high enough for printing. Ahhh it’s not going to be as easy as copying and pasting my blog images into a book. Luck will have it that my friend Meagan is an ace photographer and stylist who happens to a have a day free to rephotograph the entire project. Woo! Trouble is I’ve recently moved house and can’t find a number of the clothes and accessories that I used in the blog series plus desperately need a hair cut (and fringe trim!) but of all weeks, this was the week that my hairdressers were closed for a holiday! My hair and make up friend, Lam, whom I met during the filming of Destination 90s gives me a quote and is on set the next day to try make me decent. My wonderful friends at American Rag respond to a random email I’ve sent them at 3am by couriering over a bunch of items for the shoot to substitute those that I haven’t found since I moved- AMAZING! Meagan and I spend the next 15 hours shooting 59 looks so that I could cull down to 52 for the book- Meagan is amazing. My body aches for days after, I receive a text from Meagan telling me that she’s been marinating in Deep Heat. But we get the photos at the quality we needed and Jim is happy. I will spend the next weeks of the project complaining that anyone who reads the book will agree that I need a fringe trim; Meagan spends the next few weeks painstakingly Photoshopping my fringe out of my eyes – she assures me that’s the only thing she’s photoshopped 😉
I have to get Public Liability Insurance to the value of $20million – standard for a shopping centre. Try getting PIL as a blogger – even when I explained my actual profession! I lose count of the number of insurers that I call. Thank goodness we’re selling a book and I manage to find a reputable broker to underwrite me. Phew!
It’s been my priority to make sure that everyone on the project is paid and that the book is printed in Australia. I also have an eye on my cash flow and have in the back of my mind that I’ll use my friend Rick’s crowdfunding website, Pozible, if things get tight. So one afternoon when Jim completes mock ups of the book, I submit my Pozible application to raise $5,000 within the next two weeks. Then I receive an auto-reply email and realise that Pozible have a screening process to review projects before they go live- gah! Rick’s overseas and I have no idea what to do so I tweet Pozible that I’ve submitted my project and kinda really need it to go live this afternoon! Thankfully Pozible are super responsive on the tweets and the project goes live that afternoon and after some more tweeting, I get my first donations! Even more thankfully, successful past crowdfundraiser, Kylie Gussett, sees my project because she must’ve worked out that I have no clue and starts sending me emails on how to run a successful crowdfunding campaign- yay! I spend the next two weeks implementing Kylie’s feedback and promoting the heck out of the campaign to try raise the money! With the help of BusiChics, I raise $5,482.
We’re running on a tight timeframe, made tighter by the fact that I’m still going to work!
My days consist of my working on writing press releases, pitching and following up in my lunch breaks. Which fortuitously turns into me answering interview questions in my lunch breaks! Once I reach home, I hit up the emails and work on the book manuscript. My editor is ex-colleague from my days in professional services. Janie has awesome report and proposal writing skills and she is also one of my dearest and most blunt friends who I know will know how to keep me on track. Janie’s just had her first bub so at one stage I’m tinkering on the manuscript until 3am, Janie’s up at 4am for feeds and has changes for me to address by the time I wake up.
Jim takes over liaising with the printers because well, he has the pre-existing relationship and well I need to actually finish writing the book. One day I finally twig and decide to throw out most of the text and make it more photo focussed. Which works well until we get the book printed and a storm that keeps me company as I work through the night, results in a black out for the printers. The six-hour delay is exacerbated by the high number of images of black dresses which is taking longer than expected to dry! We develop a worse-case scenario option so that I’ll have at least one copy of the book to hold up at the exhibition launch. Fortunately the printers get the book printed and boxed with two hours to spare. Woo!
Life doesn’t stop and things happen. So many things. At the lowest point, my boss has a suspected heart attack and is taken away in an ambulance. Later we find out it wasn’t a heart attack (sweet relief!) but the boss still needs time away to get back on his feet. I take this as a reality check and reassess things. The priorities are the book and exhibition so I decide this means that the eBook is going to have to go on the backburner. I also realise that I need help with sponsorship and accept help from awesome Caroline from 17 Laps Marketing who then proceeds to make life so much easier for me, even going on to secure sponsorship from Campari House to create some of the tastiest and stylish canapes for our launch event = AMAZING!
My own physical health is pretty poor. I’m sleeping silly hours, eating and drinking a little more as I please (i.e. wine and cheese) and skipping yoga and pretty much all forms of exercise. By the time fashion week rolls around, I practically have to roll myself to it. That said the shows provide respite from my stresses and rekindle my excitement in fashion and all of the talent here in our city that I’m passionate about celebrating!
Dealing with doubt: at every single half-step of the way. I almost don’t want to bore you with detail about all of the anxiety attacks I had all the way through the project. I ran hours late to meet Jim at the studio for our first meeting because I’d just been named one of ProBlogger’s Bloggers to Watch in 2013 and had fallen into a massive shitting-myself freakout. I was worried that people were watching, would take me for a narcissistic blogger doing yet another vanity project and that the exhibition itself wouldn’t be good enough. Heck some of the anxiety I still haven’t put into words yet. Most of the time I felt like I had a rock in my stomach, I found a chair that allowed me to semi-foetal at my home computer plus my hands were shaky and tingly a lot of the time. Meagan and Jim, my family and Tim were tireless cheerleaders but there was also a lot of digging deep, here are some things that got me through:
- You can quit at any time: Meagan pointed out early on that I could quit at anytime and the only person who would really know/remember that I’d quit was me. I continued on because I wanted to do this, no one was forcing me.
- Baby steps: I was working with a dream team who were waiting for me to tell them what to do. I got to the point where I’d simply kind of sit on my knotted stomach and just focus on giving direction. Like with yoga where we’re instructed to push away thoughts, I tried to let the self-doubt wash over so that I could focus on giving instructions and getting things done – pushing through, keeping one foot in front of the other, over and over…
- The opportunity to create something: I freaking love creating. I started this blog to have a creative outlet and there in front of me was the opportunity to have an exhibition and a book. This realisation was often all I needed to calm down and quietly keep plodding along.
Perhaps the most valuable thing that I learnt from all of this was that it’s normal to feel anxious (see Part 4 of Seth Godin’s newest book, The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly?) and that I have the ability to work through it to get things done. Also that it’s possible that I don’t have “anxiety” as I’d previously thought and that it’s more I’m a scaredy cat…who is less scared now!
Going into this, I’d no idea what it would cost to do a book or put on an exhibition at the calibre I was after; hence the reason why I freed up as much personal cash as possible. Look in the end it wasn’t as bad financially as I thought it was going to be; the Pozible crowdfunding took out a lot of the sting. That said, some jaws drop when I tell people how much I spent overall. If you’re thinking of doing something similar, here’s a list of things you’ll need to consider putting into your budget.
- Book – illustration, graphic design, photography, hair & makeup, printing and ISBN
- Exhibition – printing and easels to display posters, banner, public liability insurance, EFTPOS terminal
- Launch – beverages and staff – thank goodness for the delicious canapes by Campari House and birthday cake by Pierrick Boyer of Le Petit Gateau.
I lost count at the hours I put into this project. Let’s just say that I didn’t get very much sleep in February 2013!
We did it! I’m pretty excited that I created the opportunity and had the follow-through to turn a year-long blog project into a book and exhibition at Melbourne’s largest fashion retail event. BusiChic, I overcame my fears and got my ass everywhere!
Getting to meet and work with some truly wonderful people! I look forward to promoting them (refer list under “The How”) wherever I can because they were professional and pleasant to deal with under a great bit of pressure!
Getting to meet you BusiChics! I’ve met a bunch of you and SO appreciated your visits! Your enthusiasm at seeing the exhibition made me feel very shy but SO grateful – thank you!
I was lucky enough to get press and bloggers to cover the exhibition, here is the round up that I’m aware of – if you have a piece I can include here, please let me know!
- Smarter Shopper – Suzanne Robson‘s piece in the Local Leader newspaper was seen by so many people – I had texts, facebook messages and countless people at work tell me that they had seen this piece. I received a lovely letter from my State Member citing this article and I’m touched by the number of people who came to the exhibition, carrying this article saying that they’d read about it and wanted to see The LBD Project for themselves!
- Stonnington Review – thank you Leeyong Soo for hooking up this little profile where I got to share my favourite things and places in the City of Stonnington!
- Latte Magazine – I love this magazine for the Business Chicks networking group and was so excited to be included in this piece featuring the likes of Hair Romance, Styling You and Edenland – thank you Valerie Khoo!
- Peppermint Magazine
- Onya Magazine
Blogs: Thank you to all of the bloggers who wrote about the exhibition! Particular thanks to Norlin of Baubles, Bubbles and Bags who even bought a copy of the book to giveaway on her blog– thank you for your support, Norlin! x
- Sarah’s Style Emporium
- Creative Womens’ Circle
- Esme & the Laneway
- Ruby Red Slipper
- Letters from Letty
- For the Love of Audrey
- Petit Praguian
- Samson Girl
If you wrote about the LBD Project and should be included in this list -please let me know!
Also thank you everyone who tweeted and Facebooked about the project- I so appreciate your helping get the word out! xx
What I learnt:
- Make your own opportunity.
- Share your opportunity and where possible, create opportunities for your network. Build your dream team!
- Having a steady income to help fund creative projects is awesome. Crowdfunding is also awesome but can be nerve-racking: be prepared!
- Self-doubt is normal. Allow yourself to feel freaking terrified. Try to channel the anxiety into action, take baby steps. Take deep breaths.
- Things get tense, remain professional at all time.
- When something doesn’t go your way, that’s an opportunity to re-work things. Sometimes you’ll be surprised at how much the new solution works better than the original plan!
- Utilise your social media following, email database and personal and professional networks. Share your journey.
- Be grateful.
- Longer lead time!
- Obviously there were great opportunities here to work with the brands that I had already used in the project. Next time I’ll actually create a sponsorship pack to pitch and get financial and in-kind sponsors on board.
- Take a month off work so there’s time to do things like complete the eBook, do proper invitations and notify all the brands and designers that I’d be including them in my book and exhibition – I still haven’t done this yet…
- Keep up physical exercise and yoga.
- Sell clothing and accessories or in the instance of Melbourne Central, have flyers to direct shoppers to retailers. The number of people who came in asking to buy “Look 14″ or a particular trench or scarf opened my eyes to the potential retail opportunities.
- Video: I only got onto Vine at the end of the exhibition however I would have liked to have done an associated TV show to interview the featured designers etc but maybe I can park that idea for another time.
What I’m doing next:
- I need to complete the eBook – I’m still trying to work out an appropriate format and whether to sell through the blog (i.e. eJunkie and buyers can upload to their own readers) or through Amazon.
- I need to distribute the physical book. I still have 250 physical copies to move – ideally for Mother’s Day!
- I’m giving a keynote talk this week to continue empowering busy professional women to get dressed for success for work in a way that’s authentic to their true selves. I’ve had to sit through a few of these talks in my time so I’m looking forward to sharing my take on things!
- I’m running a shopping tour for Queen Victoria Market on May 4!
- Having time to recover, Tim’s taking me to Bali next week for a much-needed holiday. Our poor brains!
- Inbox 1,673.
- Oh and I would like to do something like this again. It might be my own project, or I’d like to help project manage someone else’s event. I have lots of ideas although I’ll be seeking corporate sponsors the next time round because there were such great opportunities and while I love my parents, I’d really like to have my own place again! If you’re interested in having a chat, get in touch with me firstname.lastname@example.org
Is there anything or anyone I’ve missed?
Part of the proceeds from each copy of The Little Black Dress Project book sold will go to OneGirl – a not-for-profit that helps improve the lives of girls in Sierra Leone. When you educate one girl, she can change the world.
I started up specialised Little Black Dress Project social media platforms for those of you interested in seeing how that project evolves! @TheLBDProject on Twitter | LBDproject on Instagram and Facebook.com/LBDproject