Liberty of London’s Open Call – A survivors guide

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It is in many ways every designer/makers dream to be discovered at the Liberty Open Call event. Just getting that magic email that invites you to attend the event is very exciting. This makes you feel that you must be doing something right, that your products are somehow special. And I think in many ways for me that was indeed the case. Having found out afterwards that Liberty received 6000 applications and I was shortlisted to 600 open call attendees is an achievement in itself.

I knew about the open call process, as I watched Liberty of London on Channel 4 in 2013, and as a result became quietly obsessed with the store and the journey that it was taking to support British Design.

Skip to 2015 as this was the year that I had designed a London range for Powder Butterfly and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to take a chance and sumbit an application for the open call event in January 2016. I was thrilled when I received my email to say that I had been successful and that they buyers were really looking forward to seeing me in the New Year.

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Christmas was a blur with meeting all of my individual customer orders, attending Christmas fairs, and fulfilling orders for Fenwicks Newcastle and York branches. But I also had to think about what I was going to take to the open call and so I started to do some research, talk to trusted colleagues and friends about what to expect.

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Although I got some fantastic advice from some very wonderful supporters of my little business I have to say nothing can really prepare you for the day itself. But this blog post is designed to help you prepare as much as possible before the big day, if you decide to go for it!!

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As previously mentioned I decided to take my London range with me to the open call event. Getting these items ready, photographed and creating a small promotional brochureto leave with the buyers were my main focus before I attended the event.

Travelling from the North East of the UK to my hometown London was very exciting and I was keen to get the most out of the experience. I was lucky as I could stay with family while in London; many people have the expense of travel and accomodation to take into consideration unless they do the open call in a day. However if you don’t know how long you will have to wait this can be a risky option.

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There definitely was one couple who were rushing for their train back to Manchester after a very long wait, but the Liberty team were great and as long as you let them know that you need to get away early they will try and accomodate you.

Everyone’s experience will be different, but below are my top tips for making this a positive one. My first Liberty’s Open Call was a steep learning curve, but I have learnt a lot and found it a very worthwhile experience.

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1. Be Patient

Be prepared for a long wait. Everything that I found online said that you could be waiting between 3-4 hours. I waited 6 hours!!!! The first 3 weren’t bad as I was chatting with people in the queue, but as time went on and it got colder throughout the day the cheerfluness starts to become harder to maintain.

I did arrive at 11.00am and there might have been some benefit in arriving earlier. I know that some people queue for hours before the open call begins just to be seen at the begining of the day. There may be an added benefit in arriving early and that is that the buyers will not have information over load. As I am sure you can imagine if they have seen hundreds of people in one day, being seen at the end doesn’t necessarily work in your favour.

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2. Pitch Perfect

Practice your pitch, you will have on average about 5 minutes to meet with your allocated buyer. They will have a number of questions for you such as: How long are your lead times? what is the wholesale price for this product? do you have a minimum order quantity? how long have you been producing these products? where do you get it manufacturered? etc etc. I made the fatal error of rushing my pitch, I didn’t even sit down for goodness sake. I felt flustered and really think that I could have given a better impression of my business and product. But to be honest I think in many ways we are all our own worst critic and I am sure that the buyers could see I was passionate about what I do. I mean, I must be to have waited for 6 hours right!!?

3. Lasting Impressions

It is important that if you do get flustered and nervous like me that you leave behind some information that buyers can reference once you have left. You never know when they might be interested in buying your products in the future even if you weren’t successful on the first occassion.

My experience of buyers generally is that they build relationships with suppliers over many months, and possibly years, and they may follow your progression and suddenly your designs will become just what they are looking for. So make sure they have your contact details to hand.

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4. No Feedback

Liberty’s have a no feedback policy. On the day that I attended the buyers saw 600 people, and obviously it isn’t possible to provide feedback to each person. So if you are unsuccessful then you won’t be given any feedback I am afraid. However take a look at the Open call film for 2016 and you will see what products did hit the mark for them this year.

As you will see from the film Liberty’s do try and stay ahead of the curve and they are always looking for something different that isn’t already on the market. In many ways perhaps my relationship with Fenwicks counted against me on this occassion. However I always have other design ideas so I will no doubt be back to try my luck again.

5. Promotion

Don’t forget that for your company and Liberty’s this is a great PR opportunity. It is really important that you realize Liberty’s will be buying into you AND your products/brand. When I attended there were cameras everywhere, and #LibertyOpenCall was also around to remind you to get the most out of the day. If you have watched the film above you will see the type of products that were featured as part of their PR campaign and also they interviewed the makers which gives you a great insight into how both Liberty’s and the applicants got the most out of the day.

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6. Dress for Success

Having lived in the North East for the last 18 years I thought that London in January would be relatively tropical. Boy was I wrong!! Standing outside on a fresh and sunny winters day for 4 hours is no mean feet. And I was freezing, so I bet you can guess what my top tip is for number 6. Dress for success. Wear comfortable shoes, makes sure you wear a nice big coat if you are going in January and try and wear something that they will notice. As previously mentioned they might film you and it is important that you feel confident and ready to shout about your products and what you do!!

7. Fashion vs Homeware

When I attended the open call I noticed that during the day the buying staff were taking people out of the line and fast tracking them. The people that went to the front of the queue had fashion and beauty products. So menswear, womenswear, accessories, make up, skin care that sort of product was in short supply. The other products that fitted into the homeware market were clearly there in abundance so we had a much longer wait.

This could have just been the 2016 open call but I thought it was wortha  mention to give you a real sense of the day itself and make you aware that this might be worth considering when you submit your application.

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8. Refreshments

As you can imagine if you have a long wait and you are on your own you will need to have a drink and possibly something to eat. I have defintely learnt that I should have taken some refreshements with me to save costs, but also to keep morale going while waiting for such a long time. When you finally get inside the building Liberty did provide some popcorn and bottles of water which was great. But considering that  this was the last hour of my open call experience, for the first 5 hours I was woefully unprepared.

9. Moral support

If you can I would say that it is a good idea if you can bring someone with you for moral support. They can be there for practical things like holding your place in the line when you need a toilet or coffee break. But it is also important to have someone there that is keen for you to succeed and can keep your spirits up while you are waiting.

10. Meet your Peers

If you arent able to take anyone with you don’t worry as there are loads of people around you that you can chat with. We are all in the same boat and there are so many interesting and talented people in the queue that you can get to know. It is well worth taking your time and chatting to people and finding out what they do. You never know you might find someone that you want to work with in the future and you should take advantage of every element of the open call.

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11. Hedge your Bets

Although the open call is a fantastic opportunity, I think that it is very important to make sure that you set up potential meetings with other buyers. If you are going to stay in London for a night or two this is a great opportunity for you to meet with other buyers from smaller outlets or even larger high street retailers. After all there is nothing wrong with making sure you get the most out of your visit. If you are taking time away from your studio it is worth making that time pay as much as possible.

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12. Keep the Faith

I was shortlisted from 6000 to 600 open call applicants and this for me is a great honour. I wasn’t one of the lucky designers to be stocked in Liberty, but I got a great deal from the experience. And I gained a greater understanding of what they are looking for. I have learnt throughout my creative career that it is so important not to take rejection personally, and to make sure that you learn from it.

Each opportunity that you go for win or lose provides you with a stepping stone onto the next part of your journey and you should always keep the faith in what you are passionate about.

Finally if you do decide to go for it then good luck and hope you have a short wait and great success at the end of your Liberty of London Open Call experience.

 

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