For this Product Design career profile, VocationVillage.com interviewed Emma Roscoe, self-employed artist and owner of Red Delicious.
How would you describe the main responsibilities of your product design career?
I design handmade bags and related accessories in limited editions. My primary responsibilities are to make and sell my products. I spend a couple of days per week on production and three days per week setting up a booth at Pike Place Market or attending other arts and crafts shows, mostly in the holiday sales season. To keep things running I also have to source and buy all my supplies, such as fabrics and hardwear, maintain my website, and do all the necessary administrative tasks.
What does a typical day look like in your business?
It depends on whether it’s a production day or a sales day. Every day starts on the computer, dealing with email and admin tasks. If it’s a sales day, I have to be at the Market by roll call time, which changes depending on the day of the week and time of year. After selecting my space for the day it takes about an hour to set up my booth completely, then I’ll be a salesperson through the day until foot traffic drops off – usually between 4 and 5 pm. Then I have to take down the booth and put everything back in my storage locker at the Market.
On a production day, I spend the day in my sewing room making bags and accessories. I have an assistant who cuts out all the fabric for me, so I just have to put each item together. I know pretty well how many of each style I can make in a day, and I usually spend about seven hours sewing. Some days I’m just replacing items I sold on recent sales days, others I’m sewing a set of bags in a new fabric. Most weeks I have some custom orders to fit into the production schedule.
What do you like best about your work?
The quality of my life is immensely good. I have a creative outlet in spades, and all the freedom and flexibility I wanted from self-employment. I’m not rich but I do OK and there are many opportunities to make more money if I work at it (which I am). It’s not perfect, no job is, but I never, ever dread getting up in the morning.
What are the most challenging things about a product design career like yours?
The financial insecurity of being self-employed and selling a non-essential item can be psychologically challenging. My monthly income fluctuates a great deal through the year, so to deal with it I save and plan my spending very carefully. It can also be difficult to switch off, particularly as my business is based in my home. I make an effort to include sufficient leisure time in my week and rarely work in the evenings.
What were your first steps in launching your business?
I started making bags for my own use at the same time as being exposed to professional artists and crafts people, and I quickly realized that this could be the creative business idea for which I had been searching. I had some positive reactions to my designs, so I figured out the label name (“delicious” describes the bags, red is my favorite color and it’s memorable because of the apple), then I spent about six months developing my style and designs and honing my sewing skills before beginning to sell the bags at crafts markets and holiday shows.
What was your professional background before you launched Red Delicious?
I spent 14 years in journalism as a writer and editor. I knew I eventually wanted to work for myself doing something creative, so I sought jobs in which I could develop my design skills and build experience in how to develop and grow a small business. I particularly gained experience in product launch and development.
What is your educational background?
I studied journalism in college.
What skills are most important to succeed in a product design career?
Obviously I need to be good at making my product — design and sewing. Sales skills are vital. Good organizational skills are definitely required to run a small business.
What advice do you have for someone who wants a product design career similar to yours?
Choose to focus on something about which you are passionate…that is essential to get you through the tough times. Be original because that will shine through and make your work stand out from the crowd. Be prepared to make sacrifices, particularly in terms of income and leisure time in the early years. Persevere because it may take some time to find the right niche for your work.
Are there any commonly held misperceptions about a product design career that you would like to clarify?
Not all artists are starving! It is possible to make a living, sometimes a very good living, from being a full-time artist/crafts person if you work to create a saleable product and find the right outlets.
In a product design career, what is the income range?
It’s hard to say, because what a business earns and what the artist takes out can vary widely depending on the medium they work in, the price points for their work and where they sell their work. Anecdotally, I know of artists whose businesses gross from $20,000 to $100,000 annually.
What are your long-term goals in your product design career?
I want to grow the business so that I am more responsible for pure design and and management and less for hands-on production. I am following a business plan to make that happen.
Thank you, Emma!
Update: Emma Roscoe made a career change and landed a new job. She said, “I’m combining a decade of running my own business with my previous career skills as an editor to work as an account manager with a small digital marketing company in downtown Seattle. I run the web development department, working with clients and our team of developers and creatives.”
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