The most defining moment for me starting Raven Artwear, was when I put down my non-refundable deposit for the gallery where Raven Artwear’s painted leather jackets would be displayed at Cape Town’s First Thursday’s https://first-thursdays.co.za/
event in May. In that moment, when I dedicated three months worth of savings to the venue, I felt that the business was sure to succeed and I was going to spend a lavish life, displaying hand painted leather jackets all over the world in the most established art galleries. .As the date approached, reality struck me harder than a charging bull strapped to a larger, angrier bull. This is where the public would get the chance to scrutinize my first business and in my mind at least, relentlessly mock me and my efforts to start an art/fashion business. A descending bladed pendulum of doubt, hit me with the question “what are the consequences of failure?”. The short answer is probably very little, the long answer involves either a poignant lesson learnt or crippling anxiety about business for the rest of my life. The question about holding an event open to the public was “will it result in tragic failure or an epic win”
The lead up to the event was not as much of a “nail biting” experience as much as it was a “nail ripping off with you bare teeth” type of experience. While the social media side was going well, with over fourteen people confirming on Facebook, the product side was not as fruitful. The problem was that I needed around 20 leather jackets and with less then two weeks before the show I only had around nine artworks to display. One of the best things about artists is that if you give them a deadline they will make it. The terrifying part, is that it may be moments before they have to display. Another panic inducing stress, was the main headlining band being canceled at the last minute, and being replaced by a lesser known singer. With everything going the way it was, everything looked as if it was set up to fail.
The first sign that the evening might not be such a disaster was that most of the artists managed to hand in their work more then a week before the event. I managed to collect over 25 hand painted leather jackets from over 18 contributing artists and they all looked amazing. The second, was that I looked up some of the songs the booked singer performed on Youtube and discovered that he was an amazing singer. The final hint that the evening was going to be better then anticipated, was that over 159 people RSVP’d, reassuring me that it wasnt just going to be me, the artists and my mum attending.
The additional preparation for the event was on the next level of micro management, especially when it came to the display. I had bought a bulk load of second hand shop mannequins days before the event; terrifyingly mottled and beaten up looking. I roped in my large family who worked into the night before the event. My siblings and I painting the mannequins, while my Mum dried them with a hair dryer.
Finally, the day had arrived,The May 4th first Thursday’s, that had been haunting my dreams more than the mannequins I had to store in my bedroom while I slept. While setting, up there were only a few light mishaps that turned my blood cold. The first was as I was driving to the venue with all the jackets and displays in my car, someone lost control of their breaks at a stop street and totalled the side of my car, which luckily was still usable. The next was that while everyone (family and friends I invited with the promise of free beer), was helping me set up, I found that I left half the jackets at home. What was worse, was that half the jackets didn’t have labels in them. With all this going on the fact that I didn’t have any business cards or posters was only a slight addition to the stress stroke I felt coming on.
Despite all these factors, the night was an objectively great event and not just my mum said that! This was because of a few things that slowly but surely dropped my anxiety to an almost normal level. Most of the artists coming by, was one of my favorite aspects of the event. They where all taking pictures, having a few drinks and mingling with one another.. The other was that the amount of foot traffic was unbelievable. First Thursday is already a popular event in Cape Town, so there where a lot of people who dropped in without knowing about the event and all of whom had positive things to say about the company. Finally the most important feature of the event was that we sold three times more jackets than we had hoped, without a card machine. This meant that I had to carry around huge wads of cash like a very misplaced drug dealer.
After the event had concluded and everything was packed up and ready to go home, I decided that even if nothing was sold and only a few people came it would have still been a great success. As it was, everyone did come, we had an amazing evening and I was more sure then ever that I would turn Raven Artwear into a legitimate business.