Meet Your Makers : Janna Hurtzig of Winterluxe

Posted by on Sep 14, 2017 in Blog, Textiles, Uncategorized

Janna at work in the studio.

How did you get started & how long have you been in business?

Initially, I started a bag line called Astrosatchel in 1998, after making myself a bag based on the cross-body type bags I had seen all over London, England the previous summer. I didn’t really have a lot of technical sewing ability but I had made things all my life for myself, so when people began stopping me to ask about my bag, I figured there must be a gap in the market for such an item. I worked at a boutique which sold a lot of local designer goods so it didn’t seem that far fetched to make things for a living. Things took off from there… It was kind of a learn as you go along situation and I learned so much that first year, just by putting the hours in.
In 2010, I decided to change things up a bit and make my Winterluxe Recycled Cashmere line the main focus of my business; it had previously been a fun thing I did for the Holiday Shows as a way to justify my love of thrift shopping. Sewing everyday for long hours is incredibly hard on the body so I wanted to make something that was less physically demanding and that I could make a higher value of stock in fewer hours, so if I had to run an errand or go to an appointment I wouldn’t be doing production until Midnight as I often did with the bags.

Why do you make the art you do?

I find myself feeling more fulfilled in making my Winterluxe line as after years of using new materials, it’s nice to earn 100% of my living using all repurposed textiles. I feel like it’s everyone’s responsibility to be as mindful of what we are doing to the planet as possible and I am in a position to make a real impact through my work. I recycle about 250-300 lbs of sweaters annually, most of which are damaged and otherwise unwearable. It’s a good feeling to know I’m still bringing people joy through happy colours, but the upcycling really elevates it to higher level.
I have decided to take a break from doing any of my Astrosatchel line for the time being, to allow myself the creative time to really see how far I can take things with Winterluxe because there is a lot more freedom with the cashmere. I am experimenting with overdying techniques and further manipulating the fabric so I think I’ll be well entertained with cashmere for years to come.

How do you balance art practice and business practice?

I don’t really think about it. I have “brand rules” that I follow and a lot of those are business rules. I have evolved my business over the last 19 years to make things as easy for myself as possible as I tend to have lots of ideas and enthusiasm. Now if I put my energy into something, it has to have multiple payoffs or I don’t do it. I don’t mind to put effort in if I feel it will benefit myself and others.

As a case in point, several years ago I did an Autumn pop up shop for my Winterluxe line. It was fun to do something in a retail environment but it was a ton of work and even though I made money, I feel like I enjoy the atmosphere of a group show better. So having noticed that there wasn’t really a fashion-focused type of show happening early in the Autumn, I decided to start one. My event First Pick Handmade is September 16+17 and I really can’t wait as to me this is a combination of both art practice and business practice: creating an environment to sell the type of work I want to sell allows me the artistic freedom to make the work I want to make. I know this will benefit other artists as well.

I think splitting my time between studio time/production and then doing my shows balances things in a sense because when I’m doing one, I’m exclusively focused on that, rather than feeling scattered or pulled in multiple directions. Carving out time to do fun business stuff (like photo shoots) is important, I run on a seasonal production schedule so that is up next now that production is done and before all the show madness starts. I try to work with a yearly routine so I know a year in advance exactly what I’ll be doing at that point. Planning helps me keep on track. The more efficient I am with planning, the more time I can have off between production and shows, so I’m always very motivated to plan things out and get it all done.

Winterluxe ear warmer and cowl

Where do you find your audience(s) and what is the most effective way to reach them?

I realized that I am of two minds long ago: I really like making, and I really like interacting with my customers, but I don’t really like to combine the two. By making a product that is mostly seasonal, I am able to do my creative and production work from January to September and then exclusively sell my work from September to December through various Markets, Shows and Trunk Shows. I find by selling directly to the consumer, I am able to show and talk about my work the way that I envision it, which I think is a huge benefit when you have a handmade product.

When I was wholesaling my bags, I often found that I was kind of stuck working to the dictates of the retailers: sizes, colours, styles, images… I didn’t have as much freedom as I do now where I can create whatever I want to do that season and that’s it… in effect, I am the retailer now as well as the designer and I feel it’s the best way to really get my line out to my customer.

The retail environment has also changed a great deal over the course of my career as an artist, as Vancouver real estate prices have soared. It really impacts artists as shops that would have taken a chance on new work now only have space for what they know will sell immediately so I think it kind of homogenizes things to just what’s “trendy”, and a lot of shops have closed or changed focus, which is really too bad.

I think curated markets like Shiny Fuzzy Muddy and First Pick are a great way for customers and artists to connect because artists can show the work they want to, and get direct feedback from their customer base, while customers can see way more style options by their favourite designers. I think what I do is so intimate, so tactile, that customers really want to see the items and have that “experience” of choosing.

 

What do your customers love about your work?

Both my Astrosatchel line and Winterluxe label have been about colour, so even though it is vastly different materials, I think the same spirit embodies both.
I also approach the design the same way: first from the standpoint of function, followed by practical aesthetic, so I think customers appreciate really being able to wear my work on a daily basis.

What tips/advice do you have for people who want to start their creative business?

I think if I could do things over again, I would have spent more money on product photography and documenting my work instead of trying to do it all myself…. Just because you’re creative doesn’t mean you can do everything, which a lot of people try to do, or just don’t have time to do.

I would say trying to keep things simple is also a valuable lesson: big fashion and design houses have teams of people doing things, we don’t need to compete with them because we’re never going to be these huge sprawling companies as artists. I have had at times multiple people working for me and it was great, but I never got to do any creative work because I was always having to do administrative work, sales calls etc to keep the money coming in to pay everybody. I’m happier now having scaled things back: I work less and make more money because my company is leaner. It’s easy to fall into the mindset that we aren’t a success until we are huge, but small and localized is actually better in many ways.

I think aligning yourself with other complimentary companies is a good way to go. We can’t figure it all out on our own, and it’s okay to ask for help from others. Community over competition.

Lastly, I think we need to think of creative businesses as “business”:
-Always be professional in every aspect. Don’t be the “flakey artist”.
-Think about scalability in your practice: what will you do if you get big, how will you handle the ebb and flow, etc
-Put in the hours: doing is the best learning.
-Run your practice as a business: look at what’s profitable, what’s not, what costs time etc Try to keep it lean
-Give yourself time to work “on” your business rather than “in” your business

Winterluxe Red Beret

Do you have any mentors?

I am very thankful to Lawrence from Motherland Clothing for helping me in my early years making bags, he taught me a lot about business as well. I’m also very thankful for my fellow Shiny Fuzzy Muddy organizers as I feel we help each other grow. I am glad I can be part of the creative community in Vancouver, it definitely keeps me motivated to keep going and to try to make a difference through my work. My father was an upholsterer so I found a lot of influence there as a child, and my aunt and grandmother were both artists so I think growing up around creative people has definitely made an impact in my life.

 

What informs your work/inspires you?

I’m inspired through function: I realized about a year ago that I am part of the population that has Aphantasia, meaning I don’t have the ability to visualize things in my mind. Having this sort of brain means my creativity comes from a point of actually needing to make something in order to “see” it, because I can’t just “think” about it the way most people do. This filters through my work as I tend to make very practical, purpose built things vs flights of fancy “just because”. I don’t feel it hinders my creative process that much, as when I make a new item, it is always well thought thru from the functional aspect, vs designing something crazy and then needing to reverse engineer it to make it doable.

Now that I am making winter accessories, the jumping off point is fashion based: what do I need to solve a particular fashion problem, many of which I encounter travelling across Canada during the fall and winter with limited wardrobe choices available.Meeting my customers directly influences my work as I am often asked for items that people are looking for, which I then distill and put my own spin on. I added leg warmers to my collection after being asked for them multiple times in the Prairies, but I came at it from a perspective of doing something fitted rather than adding bulk so they could be worn in multiple ways.

I am also influenced by what I see in the thrift shop, as this is often my first go to for materials. I look at why things are being discarded and the quantity and work from there. Anything can be a catalyst.

Where do you find your creative community?

I find markets like Shiny Fuzzy Muddy and First Pick are great places to connect with fellow artists and designers. I think we also get customers who themselves are creative in their own right at the shows and it’s been really nice to get make these connections over the years. When I’m not doing shows, I’m on Instagram a lot, it’s nice to see that there is such a huge community of artists across Canada doing what I do and social media lets me stay connected to them.

Cozy couple with Winterluxe accessories and blanket

What do you do for fun?

I actually find my work really fun, I’ve made it so that there’s lots of aspects that don’t really feel like work. When the days are long, I watch documentaries on Youtube that transport me to other periods in history, which I would probably be watching anyway if I wasn’t working. Thrifting is a huge part of my work, and I love it anyway so that always feels like playing hooky even if I am getting my supplies.
Doing my shows across Canada has also let me visit friends in other places so I often choose to do events in places where there are friendly faces to see. I feel like doing shows is kinda like going away to Summer Camp, so I have a fun time doing them, even though I’m away from home for 6-8 weeks a year. I’m hoping I can start travelling even more but it’s always the fine balance between work/money/time

My boyfriend and I enjoy growing a lot of food in our garden, going to concerts and going to nature as much as possible. I try to find joy in simple things and watch the rhythm of the seasons. A morning watching hummingbirds on our deck can be so blissful. I also really like following fashion and taking photos for fun.

I’m hoping we can add a bit more about First Pick, since there are so many SFM people involved:

Tell us about your new show…

I decided to start First Pick because there was a gap in the market for a high quality, curated show early in Fall when people are looking to buy new clothes. I thought it would be nice to have a place where people could shop for themselves as so many of the Fall and Winter shows are geared more towards Holiday shopping. Our SFM customers will recognize a number of our designers as I’m striving to take what I’ve learned through my work with SFM to this new endeavour and celebrate high quality, handmade. The First Ever First Pick takes place September 16 and 17 at Heritage Hall. Firstpickhandmade.com

Winterluxe founder, Janna Hurtzig, in her production studio.