Interview: Pamela Barsky
The design world’s “It” girl schools us on Martha, the media and making it big.
Behind the Scenes With…
Birthdate/Sign: December 12/Sagittarius
Current Digs: LA
I’ve recently read that you’re a former ski bum, originally from Detroit, which is where I currently live. What part of Motown are you from, and do you ever come back to visit?
I grew up in Birmingham, which I didn’t appreciate
Any recommendations on places I should check out?
I’m a big believer in the Franklin Cider Mill.
I’ve also read that you sold your mother’s engagement ring to open your first shop in LA, which tragically was destroyed by an earthquake. Let’s just say, “Holy cow!” Tell us all about it. What prompted the move to LA? The desire to open the store? And how did you deal with the earthquake and its results?
I moved to LA by accident. I came to visit a health
As far as the earthquake, when I saw the mess, I took
Is it safe to say that’s been your biggest struggle in starting your business?
Oh, no. Not having enough financing has always been
What was your first shop like? Did it include items by other designers or were you designing back then as well?
My first shop was tiny, and, well, kind of lame. It
You studied journalism at the University of Colorado and then worked in advertising. How much do you think your background in media has benefited your career?
Let me start by saying, I got a D in reporting. As far as the advertising goes, everything I write or design is influenced by what I did in advertising. No matter how much is demanded of me, how much I have to create, it is nothing compared to what is expected
What prompted you to start designing your own products?
Pure financial need. I needed stuff to fill my empty, broken shelves.
Is your husband also a fulltime employee of Pamela Barsky?
Hell no. We want to stay married. (He will help out
Tell us about this new home décor television pilot you’re working on and how it came about. Are you rooting for Martha to serve
I am addicted to decorating shows, but they give me serious anxiety because they never really show you how to do anything. It is like, poof, it’s a room. If you’ve ever remodeled, you know this is NOT the way things really happen. I want to do a show where
Recently, someone in my neighborhood painted the
As far as Martha Stewart goes, once I saw her picking
Where do you find all of your great vintage materials?
If I tell you, I’ll have to kill you.
Fair enough. Working with vintage, does it make it hard to fill large orders since the fabric is one of a kind?
I’ve never had to turn an order down because I couldn’t find materials. I have great suppliers.
At what point did you go from a store to a manufacturing business?
Since I’m not much of a delegator, when the manufacturing began to demand all of my time, I decided to give up the store.
What all does having your own factory entail?
Lots of responsibility. There is nothing like the
All Up in Your Business
What was your first job?
Grocery bagger at the A&P. I made $3.35 an hour plus tips.
Your designs are simple, beautiful and often quirky and clever. What influences your designs?
Life. And the fact that my mother signed me up for art classes when other little girls were being dragged off to ballet. I’ve always been a voracious reader, so I guess that’s where I picked up the ability to turn a phrase.
You’ve been featured in more than your fair share of magazines — in fact, I feel like I’ve seen your name is nearly every magazine I’ve read over the last three months. How much do you think the publicity has contributed to your success?
Publicity is great. But it is the icing on the cake. Sometimes, we’ll get a feature article in a major magazine and only sell a journal or two.
It can be a double-edged sword. After I was in In
Yikes. Have you paid for advertising yet in any publications? How much do you think that’s benefited your business?
For a gal who made a living in advertising for a decade, I really don’t think it works in the gift industry. I tend to stick to direct mail.
Please walk us through the process you went through to form Pamela Barsky. Did you just start playing around with materials and ideas or did you have a set business plan from the beginning?
Although your bank and business school types insist on
Do you handmake all of the items or train people to do so? And once you realized you couldn’t make everything yourself, was it hard to relinquish that control?
99% of entrepreneurs are control freaks, myself
How long has the Pamela Barsky website been around? How much do you think it’s contributed to your notoriety?
The website has been amazing. In just 6 months, it has changed everything.
Even though you use a wide range of vintage materials, your designs seem pretty specific and recognizable. How important do you think branding and consistency are?
I can only see the world through my eyes, so it makes sense that there is a thread that weaves through my line. The consistency is more a function of this than anything else. As far as branding, if you don’t have a good idea, all the branding in the world isn’t going to help you. Of course, you’ll find my logo, name and
Have you found the design community in LA to be supportive?
I find the design community in LA to be very moviecentric. My creative friends live elsewhere, but I try not to give up hope that I might find some here.
My dad was a lawyer, my mom an artist, so I guess it
For those who don’t know, you also have a blog on your site. One that’s a goldmine for anyone interested in starting his/her own business. What prompted the blog and do you ever run into problems with people reading it that you’d rather not? Say, a supplier you’re angry with?
I don’t use names, and I’m a pretty good editor. It can be challenging some days.
Many people have grandiose ideas, but never put them into action, but you have. Any advice for people out there who might want to do something similar?
Stop yammering and do it.
How many people work for your company?
Two. We’re very efficient.
You’ve had many celebs buy your products. Of those
My store’s clientele was very celebrity heavy and I
Is there anyone in particular you wish would purchase Pamela Barsky goods?
An old boss from my advertising days who fired me
Starting your own business is exciting, scary and full of obstacles and learning experiences. What’s been the most rewarding part of it all?
I especially like having an idea, then seeing it turn
The most frustrating?
People who don’t get it.
What’s been the hardest lesson to learn?
Tell us about trade shows and markets. How vital are these when it comes to exposure and sustaining a profitable business? Do the bulk of your major orders come from these shows? Any recommendations on the best ones to attend?
New York Gift Show, although it has a 5-10 year
I sell to some pretty fabulous stores. Personally, I
In a field that is so subjective, what advice do you have for people in overcoming the big R — rejection?
Get over it.
Do you remember your first return and how did you handle it?
Don’t take returns.
Good policy. At what point do you recommend hiring outside help, such as financial analysts, lawyers, etc?
If you can afford it, do it. If not, figure it out yourself. The advice is usually about the same.
Any tips for getting these done without breaking the bank?
You get what you pay for in life, I’ve learned. My accountant costs $350 an hour, and I wouldn’t dream of going to anyone else. Scrimp somewhere else.
I’m too much of a loner to collaborate, but I am writing a book on how to start a business. It should be out and available on the site in about 4-6 months.
One of the obstacles online shops face is making their prices consistent with what shops selling their items at retail charge. Have you found this to be a challenge? Finding the right pricing and wholesale strategies and what not?
I price my things on the web based on the prices my customers charge for the same items. I make my living by selling to stores, and would not do anything to undercut them. The website is really an advertising tool.
Do you recommend starting up market and branding yourself as such or down market and building up a following?
It is very difficult to change your image once it is
What was the most daring investment you had to make while growing your business?
Moving out of my apartment and signing a commercial
The get-rich-quick myth. There is no such thing in
Has there been a moment where you’ve felt like you made it? If so, tell us about it. If not, do you think you’ll ever feel that?
I’ll let you know when I get there.
Any upcoming events, shows or press we should know about?
I’m introducing jewelry (see mom, those silversmithing
My fantasy is that Target calls and asks me to design
Can’t even imagine what the world is going to bring
I would have said “yes,” when Jay Chiat offered me a
Stylin’ and Profilin’
Describe your personal style.
Modern with slightly kitschy kick.
What people in the fashion/design industry do you
Favorite shops in LA?
Can’t answer that one for political reasons.
Favorite shops online?
Favorite way to procrastinate?
I like to watch Law and Order reruns.
Elle Decoration Britain, Donna Hay, Budget Living
I love LA, but dream of owning an apartment in New
Easy, Two for the Road.
In the spirit of Inside the Actors Studio, your
I don’t discriminate. I use them all.
More importantly, Ben or Jen?
Ick. Neither. I’m a
Because We’re Nosy
What are you craving right now?
What’s on your Tivo’s To-Do List?
In your CD player?
Simon and Garfunkle.
My husband and my puppy.
AM or PM?
Friendster – yay or nay?
Right up there with Ben or
If you could be anywhere right now, where would it
I’m here, so this must be where I want to be.
Anything else we should know?
My husband thinks I am the least funny person he
Please turn the tables and ask us a question!
What’s the deal with Lisa Rinna’s lips?
I dunno, but her hubby Harry Hamlin seems to be a happy man.
Visit Pamela online at pamelabarsky.com.
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