Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Ears and Tails above the Rest!

Greetings friends and welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation!  Today I am pleased to be joined by the very talented entrepreneur and seamstress Deanna Petro who is here to talk to us about her Realistic Animal Costume Ears on A Headband.  Thank you for joining us today Deanna!

Thank you - I am very happy to be here with you in this heated, air-conditioned studio with hot tea in delicate china and soft music playing in the background

{laughs} Your campaign’s title seems pretty straightforward, I guess the question becomes, why animal ears?   

I really don’t have an easy answer to this question.. To some extent, I think it’s just something we grow up with as children. You want to pretend to be a superhero, you don a cape and domino mask; and when you want to be an animal you go with the tail and ears. Something like an actor wearing his stage costume around town in order to get into character, wearing headband animal ears is an easy way to inject a little of the animal into our own consciousness.

While your campaign seems focused on just getting you the tools for making your ears will this help making your full outfits as well?

Most definitely. Art is not a linear equation so everything I can do to improve in any aspect of it, will improve other aspects as well. Ears are the big push that I wanted to focus on at this time, but most, if not all, of the goals I have set in place will go a long way towards streamlining the rest of my costume business as well.

What exactly is an overlock machine and what will you use it for?  

A serger (or overlock) differs from a ‘regular’ sewing machine (a lockstitch) in that it performs a very specific purpose - it sews the edges of cloth. Either to attach two pieces or hem a single piece. They can use several spools of thread, multiple needles, and automatic cutters to sew very quickly and efficiently. if you check the shirt you are wearing right now, it was almost certainly overlocked.

Specific towards my goal, this serger will mean that I will be able to cut 3 steps (sew material. trim edge of material by hand. sew again) down into one (sew and cut and overlock in one pass of the material).

Well even without that your products look amazing!  Did you develop the process yourself?  

I did. I started probably where most people start with this sort of thing - I cut two circles, sewed them together, then sewed that to a headband. After that the process evolved pretty naturally as each new pair of ears attempted to build upon the failures of the previous.

Your fans obviously believe in your talent and hope you’ll increase production with this campaign as you’ve quadrupled your goal!   How big of a surprise has it been having the community support you like it has?   Were you surprised to have your top tier rewards all bought up?  

Well I never take anything for granted, but I was reasonably sure that I would reach my funding goal. Granted I did think it would take more that 5 minutes into my campaign but not complaining!

I can’t even count how many emails I have received over the past couple years asking me to make more ears, so really my only concern has been getting the word out so that everyone interested has a chance to get in on the ground level.

I did not realize the top reward tiers would be as popular as they have been, but in hindsight it makes sense. There is a huge desire for custom character ears and the last time I really offered anything like the custom re-colors was probably 2 or 3 years ago and even then only a very small number. I am glad to have been able to offer this - while creating this Kickstarter project, my pledge levels went through many redesigns before settling on these current options!

I have to ask, where do you get that much fur?  It seems you must have a garage full of it to make all that you do!

That is very nearly the truth - we have modified our garage into a clean ‘bonus room’ and I store a lot of my full rolls of fur in it. I also have a 6 foot wide, floor to ceiling, set of wire racks for the ‘smaller’ yardage.

A lot is fur that I have bought over the years from various fabric stores - it is rare to find decent faux fur available so I used to snatch it up pretty quickly. Nowadays I have enough unique options for costumes and so I tend to buy most of my fur straight from the manufacturers so I can guarantee some uniformity for a large project such as a certain style of tail and not have to photograph every single option over again and again.

With the success of your Kickstarter do you think you’ll be able to lower your rates in the future?  $100+ for a pair of kitty ears, while very nicely made, does seem a bit high from an outsiders point of view.  

A statement which nicely proves how you’re not in my target market ;)

I know that from an outsider’s point of view, what I make is absolutely absurd - animal costumes for grown-ups. But to the niche group that I support, this is a very important product and service. We all have different priorities and desires - you'll never catch me buying a Testarossa but Ferrari is still doing quite well without me XD

A more pragmatic statement is that if I can’t make the base wage that I need to survive from my ears (due to the price being objectively too high and no one buying them), then I simply cannot sell them and I would discontinue my production.

This very nearly happened and actually this Kickstarter is in direct response to me not wanting to increase my prices but still wanting to satisfy the demand out there (and finally having somewhere to direct everyone sending me all those emails over the past couple years).

I expect that once I set up the new equipment, and more efficient processes, then I will be in a significantly better position to offer ears more often or maybe, in the future, even train someone else to take over the aspects that can be taught.

Could this mean in the future I could offer my product at a lower price? It is really too early for me to know - at the moment I’m focusing on just making my product available at all!

How long have you been making costumes?

I think we are at 9 years now of making costumes in this same basic format. 6 or 7 years making them professionally.

I understand the furry and cosplay communities often gets a bad rap by outsiders, has any of that negativity affected your work or this campaign in particular?  Have you just gotten used to shrugging off negative comments from those who don’t appreciate what you do?

Any bad rap that furry/cosplay gets is not really my concern. I’m not an internet ambassador for anyone but myself and my own actions and I’m not going to be burned at the stake IRL for fraternizing with one geek culture more than another. It is all very silly.

As an artist (and dare I say female artist), I’m in the unique position of almost everyone loving what I do. And, really, more lay people understand and love costumes (even furry ones) than I think is given credit for. If anything, the hard part is handling all of the curious questions that inevitably arise regarding complicated artistic processes that are difficult for me to sum up quickly and understandably in words.

I did once have a video of my RedXIII costume taken off Youtube for being obscene (years after I had first uploaded it)  which I found hilarious. I guess someone must have found my ‘Redroll’ Rick Astley impersonation to be in bad taste.

Everyone on Kickstarter has been very encouraging. They like my story and position - whatever anyone’s feelings towards the fandoms around me, I’m still a female/wife/mother/artist/younger person/internet person/cool person just like everyone else.

One of my biggest bugaboos with Kickstarter projects are budget breakdowns.  These simple business tools prove to backers that you have a plan for the money and have considered things like Kickstarter and Amazon fees as well as taxes.  How important was it to you tell your potential backers these costs directly and upfront as you have?  

Very important I think. If I back someone I want to know that they have researched the REAL costs of their venture.

How did you discover Kickstarter?

Through the global consciousness of the internet I suppose.

A key part of successful Kickstarters is backer participation and how to convert a potential backer into a full backer.   How are you engaging your backers?  What kinds of things do you have planned for updates to give notice to those who just hit the “remind me” button and surf on?  Interviews?  Videos?  Stories from the project?

Oh I made all these plans for such things when I was conceiving and launching the project but, during it’s run, I think I have realized that people just want the product. The rest is nice. It’s pretty and fun and nice to be able to ‘pay back’ a little. But, while I appreciate a store giving me a free bag with my purchase, it’s not going to make me buy a pair of $100 jeans there unless I’m already in the market for such.

I ultimately just try to give regular updates and to provide people with what they are asking for (while still with the aim of keeping things manageable for me when it comes time to fulfil all of the orders).

What kind of media attention have you received with your project?  How are you spreading the word?  Facebook?  Twitter?  Google+? Youtube?  Advertising?  Are you using Kicktraq to track your progress?  

I already have an existing customer base, so it’s just a matter of informing them through my usual sources - twitter/facebook/etc.

I appreciate any and all media coverage, but, with the niche nature of what I am offering, I don’t really expect unfocused outlets to really bring in much buying traffic. That said, my business has a lot to offer to the right groups and I’m always interested in finding new and unexpected future clients.

I HAVE looked at Kicktraq! Not with any aim in mind (since I was funded almost immediately) but just for the fun of statistics.

Do you have any tips/advice would you give to anyone looking to start a Kickstarter?

Pledging to a Kickstarter project is a risk. If you have no existing customer base, no history of completing projects, and no plan that can be easily explained to me; then I have no idea why I would give you any money. Prove to me why you are a sure thing, and bring up my confidence level.

Thank you for spending your time with us!  Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?

Nope. I think you’ve covered most things here and I should probably get back to my studio and back to work.

Thanks again and I hope to hear good things from your Kickstarter!

Thank you

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