What Happens When You Collaborate: Cotton & Flax Shares Two Experiences

Getting things done on your own can be extremely satisfying, but sometimes a bit overwhelming and a little lonely. As we look to manage and create growth in our businesses, collaborations can play a very strategic role. Which is why we when we saw #ahasmember Erin of Cotton & Flax doing two smart and different collaborations recently, we asked her to share her experiences.

Erin is well established in her business and craft, which is why she was honored as a Master Maker at our last awards show, and has always been generous with her resources with fellow creatives. But we know that collaboration, particularly when it becomes more formal and there is more at stake, can be tricky waters to navigate sometimes even for a season pro. We are so thankful to Erin for sharing with us her insights. Please let us know in the comments if you have any questions about collaboration or how they have gone for you!

Q: Tell us about what you make and how you got started.
A: Cotton & Flax is a one-woman studio, run by me Erin, that features hand-printed textile home goods. What started out as tea towels has now branched into pillows, coasters and gift items for the home.

Cotton & Flax was born out of my fine art printmaking practice, where I'd been creating original relief, lithography, and silkscreen artworks on paper. I started experimenting with printing on fabric, and then sewing the printed fabric into products, and the response was great! As I continued to experiment, I decided to establish a new company, Cotton & Flax, to house those textile designs. Cotton & Flax has grown so much that it's taken up most of my time, and my fine art printmaking practice has taken a backseat for the time being.

Q: What was your first collaboration and what did it look like?
A: I've done lots of informal collaborations with other creatives-- mostly photo shoots and and lookbooks that have involved multiple makers and creatives coming together to create something that would be hard to achieve on my own.

Part of the promotion for the Scout Books + Cotton & Flax collaboration

Part of the promotion for the Scout Books + Cotton & Flax collaboration

This collaboration with Charlie of Minor Thread {#ahasmember} was my second formal collaboration where the result was product focused and co-branded. We used my printed fabrics to create sachets using organic lavender that Charlie sources. Charlie makes sachets from vintage fabrics for her own business, so this was a different take on what she does in her shop. 

I also just did a collaboration with Scout Books to create notebooks with prints I designed. They also sponsored a series of workshops here in California, where attendees could create their own printed Scout Books. They were hugely supportive during the process of developing our notebook collaboration, and they handled virtually all of the production, I just had to work with them to develop the pattern designs and choose the perfect color combos. They talked with me about the details at every step. It gave me a new perspective on what you can achieve through collaboration. 

Q: How are collaborations valuable to your business?
A: In so many, many ways! It's still just me running Cotton & Flax. So, when then opportunity comes up to spend time with a friend and create something more complex or ambitious, I think, "Why not?" Two heads are better than one for a lot of these projects.

It also makes work more interesting and your process becomes a multi-faceted experience. You just gain more perspective than when you develop products on your own.

With Charlie, one big benefit was focus. Sharing the production tasks freed up more of my time to focus on how to style the product photos, and how to better promote the final product. We both gained visibility with new audiences, which is a great long-term boost to both our businesses. 

Sachets by #ahasmembers Minor Thread and Cotton & Flax

Sachets by #ahasmembers Minor Thread and Cotton & Flax

Q: What should people consider when going into a collaboration with another brand?
A: Be thoughtful when entering into a collaboration. You need to be very up front, and both parties should be looking out to make sure everyone's needs are met. 

This can be uncomfortable for some people, especially if there is an sort of inequality in the two companies in terms of how established and successful they have been. Each partner should openly share what they want to get from the experience, and what they have to offer their collaborator in return. Try to create clear, achievable goals together. 

In some cases, this will mean you'll want to co-brand the final product, for better name-recognition. For others, just getting exposure through working with a more well-known collaborator is enough. If the latter is the case, be clear about how you'd like to have your work recognized publicly.

Q: What makes a collaboration a success?
A: For my collaboration with Charlie, getting people excited about purchasing the sachets was a top priority. Since it sold out in the first few days, I would say it was a success! Both of us came away happy and grew our brands by making sure that both our audiences were aware of the product release. For Charlie, growing her social presence was important with this collaboration, so we made sure that her brand name was mentioned in each social media post I did about the project.

Both parties should feel comfortable to speak honestly about what's working and what's not, during the collaborative process, as well as after. You should both be mindful to support each other's goals.

The process should be as much of a success as the end result (whether that's sales, growth in your social following, etc.). Having clear goals in beginning helps clarify what success will look like!

Lavender sachets by #ahasmembers Minor Thread and Cotton & Flax

Lavender sachets by #ahasmembers Minor Thread and Cotton & Flax

Q: Anything else?
A: Collaboration is possible at any stage, no matter how big/small your business is. Just spend time considering what you can offer and what is realistic for the other party to contribute. 

Q: Where can people find your stuff?

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