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Social Media Offers More Artists The Chance To Build Their Own Brands, Followings image

Social Media Offers More Artists The Chance To Build Their Own Brands, Followings

Debra Valencia Dinnerware - Inside LicensingFor licensed artists, building a brand is increasingly rivaling paint and brushes as a staple for gaining retail distribution in home goods.

That need for brand recognition comes at a time when retailers are more risk averse than ever in seeking designs and brands for products. And while retailers continue to seek artwork that will separate them from the competition, most are seeking a brand that already has a record of strong sales in another category before plunging into such areas as wall décor, decorative pillows, bedding and furniture.

To be sure there are artists such as Mary Engelbreit and the late Thomas Kinkade that established broadly recognizable brands over the years. But in a time where social media can create overnight sensations, building a name and story to go with it are key to gaining retail orders and consumer following.

“The style increasingly needs to be recognizable so that the brand can go across multiple categories,” says artist Debra Valencia, who signed deals with Certified International (dinnerware) and Duke Imports (bedding), but started with her designs appearing on wristlets and cellphone covers sold by Charm 14 on QVC. “The strength is in manufacturers being able to cross promote the brand and retailers being able to cross merchandise it” across multiple departments.”

One Cohesive Licensing Property

Branding has enabled an increasing number of artists to become “one cohesive licensing property” to bring to retailers, says Brand Liaison’s Stephen Heller, whose agency represents Valencia, along with Engelbreit.

Adds Ilana Wilensky of Jewel Branding and Licensing: “There is still straight up art licensing, but we are seeing more and more that people are intrigued by the story behind the brand such as who made the art and what the inspiration was. Social media has contributed to that interest because now these artists have this platform that maybe they didn’t have 10 years ago.”

Among recent developments:

  • Colombian illustrator Catalina Estrada’s designs are part of a DTR at Hallmark stores that launches this month across a broad swath of home goods that will be sold through the chain’s Gold Crown stores. The home goods are extension of Estrada’s work with Hallmark that started with coloring books and calendars. Estrada also signed a licensing agreement with Baltic Linen Co. that will use her illustrations for 3-4 styles of bedding, says Wilensky.
  • Lifetime Brands recently signed an agreement with W. Turnowsky that bring its designs to an array of Mikasa and Pfaltzgraff plates, bowls, mugs and other dinnerware in more than a dozen different designs. The new pact will move Turnowsky, which has long-standing agreement with American Greetings for cards, into department stores where the Mikasa brand has a strong presence.
  • The Buffalo Works is seeking to develop the brand of artist Paul Brent to bring his designs into home furnishings. Brent previously has licensed designs for home décor and stationery. “The branding will help him pivot more into the consumer market,” says the agency’s Joanne Olds. The Buffalo Works also is representing UK artist Steven Brown for the U.S. market. Brown’s designs based on the McCoo cow from the Scottish Highlands have translated into a licensing and print business that is forecast to generate $25 million in revenue this year, largely through Brown’s UK website and store he opened Ayrshire, UK. In the UK, Brown’s designs have been licensed into such home goods categories as coasters, placemats and glass chopping blocks. For the U.S. market, Brown will dispense with McCoo cow designs, but continue with his abstract style and use of acrylic paints, says Olds.
  • Dinnerware supplier Certified International’s Boho collection of melamine dinnerware, created with Valencia, has launched sales through Target and other mass retailers. The 19-piece line ranges from a 19-inch platter to a 16-ounce green acrylic glass. Certified also carries lines from other artists with high-profile brands including Winget, who has been producing designs for the company for 20 years, and Lisa Audit and Tre Sorelle.
  • All Art Licensing is representing Timothy Chapman Studio as the artist moves into licensing for the first time specifically to target home décor, says All Art’s J’net Smith. Chapman sold his work through galleries before branching into licensing.

“Retailers are moving through stuff so fast that manufacturers can’t get enough art to put on their products to then sell to the retailers,” says Suzanne Cruise of agency Suzanne Cruise Creative Services. “To me the art is still the key, but I understand that if we develop a decent brand the potential income from that can be much longer.”

Inside LicensingAre They All Brands?

While artists’ brands are growing in importance, some industry executives argue that whether products succeed at retail still lies largely with whether the artwork has track record of sales in other categories

“I get many artists submitting their works as brands and I ask, ‘How is that a brand?’” says MHS Licensing’s Marty Segelbaum. “Just because you call yourself a brand, doesn’t mean you are one. Whether or not a buyer considers them a brand is all subjective, but there are plenty that I roll my eyes at.”

Some dinnerware licensees say they are more concerned with how an artist’s design fits within their portfolio of products than with the brand itself. “It helps if the artist has developed a brand and has side exposure like Susan Winget, but it all comes down to design for us,” says Certified’s Linda O’Donnell.

As artists work to raise their profiles at retail, they are increasingly faced with licensees unwilling to pay advances or minimum guarantees, say industry executives. The terms, typically 3-year contracts, with royalty rates – 3-4% for products sold through mass retailers and 7-8% for independent specialty retailers – have remained fairly consistent.

“Many manufacturers have been burned in the past and you write one or two of those nasty checks, and your corporate CFO puts in a policy of” not paying advances or minimum guarantees, says Olds.

Yet other industry executive maintain that the advances or minimum guarantees are more important than ever in a tight retail market to guarantee that a licensee moves forward on an agreement.

“We found that when working with licensees without an advance there is no incentive to proceed quickly to market with products,” says Valencia. At the same time, her approach to guarantees may vary. In categories where Valencia has had “proven success” guarantees can be a requirement, but for new business the terms are more “flexible”, says Valencia.


All Art Licensing, J’net Smith, Pres., 206-719-1905,

The Brand Liaison, Steven Heller, Pres., 855-843-5424 x702,

The Buffalo Works, Joanne Olds, Pres., 952-475-3013,

Certified International, Linda O’Donnell, Design Dir., 212- 685-1098,

Jewel Branding and Licensing, Ilana Wilensky, VP, 404-698-3350,

Lifetime Brands, Brian Schlef, Marketing Dir.,516-740-6784,

MHS Licensing, Marty Segelbaum, Pres., 952-544-1377,

Suzanne Cruise Creative Services, Suzanne Cruise, Pres., 913-648-2190,

W. Turnowsky, Guy Braun, Marketing Dir.,

Debra Valencia, Debra Valencia, Pres., 310.266.1577,


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