This past weekend, I had to pleasure of speaking and displaying my company at South by Southwest’s International Women’s Day celebration in Austin, TX. It was one of the biggest events we had ever participated in so I wanted to make it special and to push myself to do something I had never done before. I designed my very first set and contracted artist and self proclaimed, modern day renaissance man, Moyo to help me bring it to life. I selected and hired two delightful, brilliant women (Alexandra and Cassie) to be the brand’s ambassadors, and I delivered a solo talk about building self confidence. It was a long twelve-hour work day, but I got to hug, meet, and celebrate so many amazing women.
SXSW’s popup brought back memories of the very first time I displayed Fanm Djanm publicly. I laugh about it now because when I was selected to be a vendor at this little Harlem market, everything seemed so stressful and complicated to me then. I didn’t have a blueprint or someone to advise me on how to be properly display my work. I went into it with so much fear and anxiety. I paid fifty dollars for a vendor’s spot (back then, that was a big investment to me), and my goal was to at least sell two headwraps to cover the expenses. I remember packing a grey folding table, a container of about thirty headwraps, a couple styrofoam mannequin heads, a few baskets, and a tablecloth on my handy dandy little hand-truck. This was just a couple of months after I launched the Fanm Djanm website, and although I had been making sales online, I was nervous about displaying and talking about a product (that most people didn’t yet consider a product) to the general public.
To get ready for the big day, I made sure I had enough inventory so to not disrupt any sales on the website. I made little price cards, a makeshift register with supplies I already had at home, and came up with a fun way to get people to buy more and sign up for the newsletter. I propped an old laptop on a colorful box on the small table that also served as product display and register to play tutorials (I had filmed of myself just a few days before in my tiny studio apartment) on loop. I looked all around me, I noticed how beautiful the other vendors’ sections were. Everyone seemed so much more experienced than me. My table was too crowded. Everything I did was so amateur compared to everyone else, but I decided to focus on my two strengths: my customer service and storytelling skills. If anyone passed by my table or made eye contact, I went around to greet them with a giant smile. And if they stopped, I’d tell them about my headwraps. I was so proud to talk about what Fanm Djanm meant and why I started it.
I wrapped my first customer with excitement and a hint of timidness. I had never wrapped a stranger before, and I wanted the experience to be pleasant for the both us. The intimacy and spontaneity of the moment reduced my nervousness. I focused on the movements of my hands around her head and hair, trying to be as graceful as possible. I wrapped with intention, and as if my life depended on it. When I was done, I picked up the mirror to show her the results, waiting for some sort of uneasiness or criticism, but to my surprise, she squealed with joy.
I turned around to find a small crowd around us. They were watching the entire thing, and one by one, they stepped closer to the table to pick out their headwraps and everyone wanted me to style them too. I wrapped each person based on their personal style, facial structure, and personality, and every time, their reactions would be similar to that of my first customer.
Within a couple of hours, I looked around at the giant intimidating room filled with dozens of vendors’ tables and displays, and I was no longer afraid because my colorful headwraps lit up the room, standing out in the crowd. People were asking about what was happening. They had never seen so many women with headwraps before, and they wanted find the headwrap lady. All of a sudden, I had no more headwraps left, and the event still had a few hours to go. That afternoon was magical.
I was very unsure and anxious about exhibiting my work at SXSW pop up too. My office is still in New York City. I’m in Austin without a team, and I was working on a few other projects. I didn’t want to bring a table and mannequin heads. I wanted to push myself to do something better. I knew my display wouldn’t be as fancy as the other more established brands I saw in the program, but I wanted to at least have something with character. Even if it wasn’t perfect, it would represent everything Fanm Djanm stands for.
Overall, the SXSW popup cost me about $2300. That amount only covered supplies to build the set, the set builder’s fees, the ambassadors’ rates, photograph prints and mounted logo, props and baskets, uniforms (jumpsuits), transportation, food, and a handyman to deliver and put together the makeshift wall, and to break everything down once the event was over. The space was provided to us as part of my speaking contract. This does not include shipping a bunch of heavy headwraps and marketing materials from our NYC office.
A few days before the event, I spent a few hours coming up with ideas for the display booth. I picked up supplies from Walmart and Home Depot. I planned out the day so my ladies didn’t feel tired and overworked. We started with breakfast at my house as I went over the day’s plans and my expectations. My true goals for the day were not to focus on sales, but to market, connect, and use this as a learning experience for future (similar) events. I know that my products cater to a niche market- most women of color (specifically black women), and I’m well aware that Austin lack diversity, but I still wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to present my work at such an important event. Sometimes, it’s important to understand when something will provide more value than just sales on a particular day.
Looking back, I’m extremely pleased with how everything turned out. I realized how much work it takes to get everything to work. I love slow, difficult projects, and I’m getting giddy just at the thought of future events. Maybe five years from now, I will be able to afford an amazing team of florists and set designers. I’d have incredible acts and talent. But most of all, my hope is to be able to create unforgettable experiences.