We recently added the fabulous CHRISTEN MAXWELL’S home collection to Shop Ten 25. If you haven’t had a chance to stop by and take a peek, her pieces are a must see. We recently chatted with Christen about what inspired her to take the plunge and create her namesake product line. Christen’s passion for contributing to a pure world, supporting regional manufactures & proving that American made designs can be top notch is why we love her so much at SHOP TEN 25.
With her official launch at the New York International Gift Fair January 30th and many new pieces planned for 2011, her line is sure to be a huge hit.
Zorah Spring 22″ Pillow | Algiers Stone 22″ Pillow | Lulu Navy 18″ Pillow | Lulu Raspberry 12″x22″ Pillow
ST25: You credit your parents for your passion for home products, tell us more about how your childhood inspired you to start CHRISTEN MAXWELL.
CM: My childhood was centered around business and design. In the late 80s, my parents opened a pottery & glassware shop in Portland, Maine. I was an only child, so I was at the shop with them everyday playing ‘store’. It was there I learned everything I know about business. My parents’ aesthetic was extremely colorful. We sold plates from Italy, bowls from Poland, platters from France, textiles from India, tin luminaries from Haiti, etc.
ST25: Tell us about your education, travel and other work experiences that have brought you to this point in your career/life.
CM: I studied painting for two years at the School of Visual Arts thinking I wanted to develop patterns for pottery collections. At a mid-year review my sophomore year, a critic thought it looked like I was “designing objects with paint”. He was right. I transferred to Parsons The New School for Design to study Product Design the following semester.
ST25: Was there a “this is it” moment when deciding to create the CHRISTEN MAXWELL brand? Tell us when you started your business and a little bit about that process (process, support of family/friends & taking the
CM: I graduated from Parsons just as the economy crashed in 2008. It wasn’t the best time to be a Product Designer. What set me apart from my colleagues was my business experience. I immediately started a small consultancy, freelancing within product design, retail development, and visual merchandising for industry leaders across the country. It was a great stepping stone, and a way to save enough capital to invest into launching my own collection.
I remember working on a pottery collection for a company who asked me to email drawings to their manufacturer for quoting. The products were made in a country where child labor is permitted, and I just remember thinking that a little girl was going to be making the products I had just designed. I knew I’d never allow this in my business.
ST25: What were the first pieces you launched in the CHRISTEN MAXWELL line?
CM: I launched my own fabric and pillow collection in the summer of 2010. Four patterns, four colors, three pillow sizes. It was all I could afford to start with. Within six months the collection has grown to over 400 SKUs. All of our products are handmade in the USA.
ST25: What is the most rewarding part of owning your own business? What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start their own business. (do’s and don’ts)
CM: It’s a pretty incredible feeling to know that something that was buried within your heart and soul can release and become a desirable, tangible object. Design is like art in that sense. As for do’s, don’ts and advise….
Study, analyze, implement, and fake it ’til you make it!
Study: If there’s only one piece of advice you take, I hope it’s “know your customer”. Designers tend to design for themselves, but you can’t. My house consists mainly of white, black, camel, and natural colors, but all of my designs are much more colorful. I design for both the curve (colorful, blue, red and brown focused American homes) and also for the target user, a groovy, design-knowledgable, eco-minded individual who wants to pass treasures along to the next generation.
Analyze: An alert and successful business person needs to study the market to learn what your customer wants. You need to be able to analyze and study industry trends and find your opening with the market. Is there a market for my ideas? Would people rather get a pillow at a discount store they can throw away and replace next year? Is red popular this fall? Which exact hue or shade? Home colors tend to drag a year behind fashion, so was it in a fashion magazine last year?
Implement: If you’ve successfully analyzed your market and launched your concept, then implement it to the best of your ability. Market it, create a Facebook fan page, a Twitter account to spread the word, send press/media kits. Do whatever it takes to get your baby to fly!
Fake it ’til you make it!
1). Invest in your own domain. Don’t use a Gmail/Yahoo/etc. email address, it makes you look amateur. Even if you’re a student looking for an internship, post your resume and some of your work on a site!
2). Expect every phone call to be professional, even on your cell number. When your phone rings, answer “Good Morning, This is Greg”. You’d never just answer with “hello” at an office.
3). Always say “we”, never “I”. “We’ll get right on that and email you this afternoon”. Make it sound like you have dozens of employees even if it’s just you in a home office!
4). Print your own letterhead, print return address stickers, and make your own business cards (even on just cardstock for now). Do the works. You spent all this time on a website, but don’t forget to be legit on paper, literally.
5). Be poised & polished, and don’t forget to kill ’em with kindness. Never say “um” and always send thank you notes/emails.
ST25: I can picture you in your NYC studio pulling together fabrics and details for your product line. If we were a fly on the wall on a typical day, what would we see? Do you work alone or have others that work with you during this process. Lots of coffee breaks…lots of fun marketing lunch meetings?
(As you can see, I imagine your life in NYC as super fab and glamorous! Humor me)
CM: We’re located in NYC’s celeb-clad, charming West Village. There isn’t a skyscraper in sight and our studio is absolutely tiny (about 20′ x 9′). We love lunch meetings at Snack Taverna and The Little Owl, and take-out from Taim! Our just-back-from-studying-in-England darling assistant has us on an office tea-kick, but you’ll find us here bright and early with a pot o’ coffee listening to some jazz while starting to call vendors and customers. So much of our day consists of follow-up and quality control. I still oversee just about every product that walks out the front door. I want to make sure it’s perfect. It has my name on it after all!
2011 is off with a bang, so we’ll probably be moving – and expanding – quite soon!
ST25: Speaking of NYC…tell us what it’s like to live in one of the most fabulous cities in the world! How long have you lived in the city? Where is your studio located or where do you create your fabulous pieces? Where do you go for inspiration?
CM: It’s magic. I can’t imagine living anywhere elsewhere. Except Paris. That’s the goal; be successful enough to live and work in Paris. New York is alive. It’s a living city. You start your day with a half empty tote, go to the fabric district, wander down a street or two, pop into the market, and wind up back at home at the end of the day unloading your overflowing bag of treasures.
Christen’s NYC Apartment
ST25: If you weren’t creating gorgeous pillows and accessories you’d be…
CM: If I wasn’t creating home accessories I’d be… traveling. There are so many colors and shapes and cultures to learn from in the world. Eyesight and perception is an invaluable education for a designer.
ST25: What is your biggest design pet peeve(s)?
CM: Overlooking use. I was just given a chic travel jewelry box with little suede earring divider squares, but when you close it and put it to use, all of your earrings mix around because there’s too much space between the top of the boxes and the lid. The designers overlooked the product’s actual use.
In interiors, it really hurts me when people put a sofa against a window so that one’s back is to the view. If there’s no other way to configure a room then there was a bad architect.
ST25: I am in LOVE with your laminated linen pieces! Tell us how you selected the product offerings for the collection and how it all works.
CM: Our products are chosen to create home accents that can be mixed within what people already have. We make jewelry for the home; you can splash our pillows around your home, add a new pendent over your dining room table, and serve cake on our trays. No major home renovations required!
Here are a few more images from Christen’s NYC Apartment. This 375 sqft Apartment is beautifully organized and full of her graphic pillows. See more details on Christen’s swanky pad at Design*Sponge.