“Man, people don’t care what you had for lunch. They want to hear your story.”
- Attributed, perhaps apocryphally, to Miles Davis
The piece of advice I tell makers the most is: tell your story.
Yes, your art is meaningful on its own. Yes, your products are tangibly better than others. But ultimately, your story is a key reason that a store owner will choose your line over another. In fact, with all the hullabaloo about Faire accepting international makers (what many US makers read as “cheap stuff coming in from other countries”) this becomes even more important for any maker trying to grow wholesale.
That said, many makers tell their story -- in an outreach email, on their website, on the “about” page of their line sheet -- in a way that is not effective. Makers tell parts of their story that people do not care about… they leave out parts that people do care about… and they neglect to tell their story in a rich way.
SO WHAT PARTS OF YOUR STORY DO PEOPLE ACTUALLY CARE ABOUT?
People -- especially store owners -- care about the parts of your story that show:
What your line is about (ethos and aesthetic)
Who it is for
How it will make them feel
When I say “your story”, I suppose what I mean is “your brand’s story” or “your business’s story” -- but every maker is a little different in terms of how they see the intersection of themselves, their art, and their business. So adapt the guidance in this article to fit with however you think about your art and business.
WE DON’T CARE ABOUT ERIN’S SHEEP
For instance, Erin has a line of glamorous, flamboyant, earrings in rainbow colors and fruit themes. The colors are tropical and you’d wear them for a night out with a red dress to feel fabulous. Erin works from home -- she actually lives on a 10-acre farm with her husband and 4 kids. She was divorced before, was totally broke, and she started making jewelry during that dark time in her life. The idea for the jewelry-making came from a certificate course she took when she lived in San Francisco. The idea for the aesthetic came from a trip to the Dominican Republic she took shortly after she started making jewelry -- and she was inspired by the music, colors, and spirit of the place. Now, she homeschools her kids and her other passion is shearing sheep and weaving with that wool. She also donates 5% of her profits to a sheep welfare nonprofit. And she hopes to outsource some of her production to local stay-at-home moms in her small town.
Erin is someone I would like to be friends with! She has so many passions and a beautiful story of creativity and resilience. And: only some aspects of her story show what her line is about, who it is for, and how it will make them feel.
Storytelling is an art, not a science. So you could tell Erin’s story in many ways. But if I were telling her story, I would focus on the aspects that show that her line is about joy, fun, vibrancy, and freedom… that it’s for regular people who want jewelry to jazz up their outfit and workday… and make them feel sexy, cheerful, and glamorous. And I would try to do that with photos, rather than words, wherever possible.
So I would:
Tell a story of her divorce, the jewelry hobby, the trip, and now her life that combines regular life with tropical flair.
Show photos of her in the Dominican Republic, with heaps of fruit, tropical colors, and fun bouncing off the page.
Feature a snapshot of her wearing the earrings, bare feet, and a simple dress, dancing in her farmhouse, with her husband.
Put together images of her design notebook, her hands (with jangly bracelets) packing orders and tucking a piece of Tutti Fruitti chewing gum in each box, and create a grid of women of all different walks of life wearing the earrings and feeling great.
Leave out the sheep-shearing and the homeschooling and the sheep welfare nonprofit and the stint in San Francisco and even the outsourcing plans.
In other words: we don’t care about Erin’s sheep. If Erin had a completely different business, we might. For instance, let’s say she hand wove scarves that are subtly gorgeous but deeply warm and sturdy -- we would definitely care about Erin’s sheep and the sheep welfare nonprofit -- but that is a different story for a different line.
YOUR STORY IS NOT YOUR PERSONAL JOURNEY
Your story is not identical to your personal journey. Your personal journey is fascinating and I, personally, want to hear it. But only elements of your personal journey will be relevant to the story you are trying to tell. In the example above, Erin’s job is to pick and choose which details from her personal journey support the story she is telling about her line. She should be strategic about those choices.
In fact, you don’t necessarily need to include your personal journey in your story. Ultimately, your story should be more about your customer (in subtle ways) than it is about you. But we do need something rich and human to connect with -- and often, well-chosen elements of your journey will contribute that.
Whichever details you choose to include, your storytelling should play at the intersection of what is true and what is relevant. That’s the sweet spot for us to connect to.
YOUR STORY IS NOT YOUR ABOUT PAGE
Your story may include the text on your “about” page but your story is far more comprehensive than that. In fact, the words on your about page are probably the smallest element of the story you tell. So look at all the details of your storytelling and try to bring them all into alignment.
Wording and tone in your Wholesale Terms
Colors, props, and backgrounds in your lifestyle photos
The level of professionalism and clarity in your product photos
What you’re wearing in photos of you on your “about” page
Fonts you choose
Photos you show (or lack thereof) of your production process.
The more things that dilute or contradict your story, the weaker it will be. And the weaker your story is, the harder it will be to sell your line to store owners. It’s like the Sesame Street bit: which of these things is not like the others? Spot the pieces that detract from the narrative and revise them.
Quick note: photos are your biggest tool for storytelling. If your photos aren’t great, check out our article on how to give your photos a big upgrade for $50 or less.
A FEW EXAMPLES OF BRANDS THAT TELL THEIR STORY BEAUTIFULLY, EFFECTIVELY, AND CONSISTENTLY:
Conscious Clothing is clear that their line is about sustainability and family values (and although they don’t say this explicitly, I’d probably add simple style as well.) That is what the line is about; it is for people who have families and compost bins but still want to look chic; the pieces will make you feel wholesome, beautiful, and powerful. So the story they tell loops those three things into every sentence and photo.
It’s likely that the owners have other interests and identities. But they don’t dilute the story by talking about their passion for Bauhaus architecture, or their travel in Ecuador, or their orchid collection. Those things may be true for them, but they wouldn’t be directly relevant to their story of style, family values, and sustainability.
You can look through their Instagram, the models they choose, their “about” page, the FAQs, or anything else they put out -- it all adds to and tells this same story of sustainability, family values, and simple style.
Neve and Hawk
Neve and Hawk is apparel “from our family to yours”. I see their brand as being about California cool and messy, real life. So their story -- their Instagram captions, their “about” page, their blog, even the copyright text on the bottom of their website -- all relate to that story. It’s a little quirky, quite real, but always cool and beautiful and Cali-inspired.
Neve and Hawk is an interesting contrast to Conscious Clothing. They’re both ethical fashion lines run by families -- but even if their personal journeys are similar, their stories are subtly very different. And each company does a beautiful job staying very consistent with their precise point of view and story -- which means you can instantly differentiate one from the other.
MommaStrong is a workout program about positivity, growth, and joyfully embracing your reality, flaws and all. The video they use to get everyone on board (scroll down on their homepage to see it) is a supercharged encapsulation of their entire story. It’s positive, it’s funny, it’s inspiring -- and it shows real people doing workouts in their real and messy lives. Towards the end of the video, Courtney shares a bit about her personal journey -- but only the points that are relevant to the MommaStrong story.
There are so many different videos they could have made -- emphasizing people’s “afters” or showing the aspirational aspect of fitness, doing lunges at fancy beaches -- but that is not the MommaStrong story. The MommaStrong story is about moms doing workouts as part of their real lives. And the video weaves that narrative flawlessly.
A SIMPLE STORYTELLING MAKEOVER
Improving your storytelling does not necessitate an existential crisis about who you are and what your life is about. You can do a storytelling makeover with some pretty practical steps.
Find the core of your story.
Spend 30 minutes journaling about: What your line is about (ethos and aesthetic); Who it is for; How it will make them feel. Pull together one sentence for each. You can always change this later, but try to be as specific as you can for this version.
Do a story inventory.
Go through your line sheet, website, Wholesale Terms, Instagram, and other materials and identify where you’ve been effective at telling the story in #1 and where you’re diluting or contradicting that story. On this step, you can definitely get outside input from someone you trust to be objective. If you’re a Wholesale In a Box maker, you can ask us. But whoever you ask, share the core of your story with them and ask them where you’ve deviated from it.
Identify your to-dos.
Make a task list of what you’d like to change in the above inventory. Then, divide that list into cheap/fast/simple things you can do in the next week and more complicated things that you will do later. You don’t need to change everything all at once -- as long as you are making small improvements as you go, and you know what your eventual vision is, you are headed in the right direction.
Beyond this… start to see. Keep a folder with storytelling from other companies that you love. Screenshot photos that fit with your story as inspiration. Be a tinkerer with your own story -- be on a constant lookout for ways to make your story richer, more compelling, and more relevant.
If you need more help around your story and are a Wholesale In a Box maker, email us to set up a coaching call or for feedback. If you’re not a Wholesale In a Box maker, sign up for our Grow Your Wholesale email course for more context and support.
A note to the brands I mention here: it’s very possible I’m not encapsulating your brand in the fullest or most accurate way! I apologize for that, sincerely! But I hope my admiration comes through regardless.