We recently sat down with our founder and creative director, Thea Pérez, to find out more about her and what prompted her to start Polychrome. This the first post in our new #AskMeAnything series where we will be getting some of the back story about our founder and our brand.
Jessica: Hey, Thea! Thank you so much for giving us the opportunity to take a closer look at Polychrome and to get to know you, too. We’re all really excited to hear what you have to say! To start off, can you talk about your start in the fashion industry and what you do now?
Thea: Thank you! I’m thrilled to be starting this series to give everyone a closer look into how Polychrome came to be. Probably the best way to answer that is to tell you what drew me to fashion in the first place. I can honestly say that I have loved fashion for as long as I can remember. Seeing the individual styles of all the women in my family, looking at fashion magazines, and playing dress up with my grandmother's costume jewelry were all early influences. Even as a young child, I was always enrolled in private art classes, mostly painting. It became clear to me by the time I was in 5th grade that I wanted to do something in the fashion world. I love everything to do with surface design and embellishment and I am also fascinated with how fashion reflects society and culture - that’s what drew me into this industry. Currently, I am the founder and creative director of Polychrome and I am also the founder and lead organizer of a networking group for fashion designers called the Apparel Designers Network; it is so fantastic to have a group of like-minded peers!
Jessica: So what exactly is Polychrome?
Thea: Polychrome is an online marketplace for original print artwork and trend forecasts specifically for the fashion apparel industry. We help fashion brands streamline their development process so that their in-house designers can focus more on making beautiful product. It’s our passion to help alleviate some of the common bottlenecks in the design process so that our clients can spend more time and energy doing more of what they love with less stress.
Jessica: What prompted you to start your own business? What was the inspiration behind it?
Thea: I have worked in various positions in the fashion industry for a long time now - full time employee, freelancer, consultant, shoulder to cry on (just kidding!) - I found that in many of the companies I was working for certain parts of the development process just seemed so inefficient. One of the places a lot of time and energy is spent is developing prints each season. I was often tasked with buying prints for whatever company I was working for. Aside from making sure the prints met the design plans we had set, one of the most important factors was that the print hit an emotional cue - I had to fall in love with it. Honestly, though, that wasn’t the biggest challenge; it was no problem finding artwork I was excited about. But I found that what print studios weren't fulfilling was that when I would bring the piece of print artwork that I had purchased back to the office, it just wasn’t the working tool that we needed it to be.
Jessica: What do you mean by that?
Thea: Well, not so long ago when you bought a print, that original artwork would only be on a fabric swatch or a piece of paper. No matter how much you loved the print 95% of the time you’d have to change something about it - additional colorways, removing a motif, or creating a complimentary print. That usually meant a lot of work for someone in your department, especially if you are dealing with many prints in a season. If you were lucky, you had a designated CAD person to do this, but many offices don’t have someone on staff and they are either hiring freelance help or the designers are getting it done themselves as best they can. Even if you do have a CAD person in-house, that editing stage can easily become the bottleneck in the design process as the projects pile up on their desk.
Revisions should have been made more efficient once many studios started delivering a digital file of the artwork, but often that file was just a flat JPG or PDF, which meant they had only saved us the trouble of scanning a physical swatch. There was still so much work to be done before we could send the artwork to a mill for printing - such a waste of time. I was looking at this bottleneck and thinking “This is so frustrating. It doesn’t have to be this way!” That’s why I decided there was room in the market for another print studio - because there is simply no time to waste in the typical design development calendar, and no reason to as far as print revision is concerned.
above: DM18-003 Leonore - Original Print Artwork
Most Polychrome prints come with multiple colorways included at no extra cost!
Jessica: So how does Polychrome look to ease this burden?
Thea: Polychrome delivers a digital file that is not only beautiful and hopefully does resonate with you emotionally, but also is a working tool, not just another pretty print, because our prints are engineered so that they’re really easy to edit. Everything is layered and the layers themselves are very organized so it’s clear where you're going to find the motifs that you are looking for, and of course all our repeat prints are truly in repeat - no eyeballing it!
We estimate that while other studios’ prints, which are less engineered, could take a CAD person six hours or more to make the changes needed, our prints take a fraction of that time to edit. With Polychrome prints, edits can take under two hours, in many cases even less. That’s a significant amount of time that our customers are saving.
Jessica: That’s a pretty significant improvement - from editing for a whole day to a couple of hours instead!
Thea: Yes, it makes a big difference. Really the motivation behind Polychrome was the frustration with this step in the development process. We understand that time is always an issue in this industry - every minute a designer is spending dealing with inefficiencies is time they could be spending designing!
We also have other products and services in our collection to save designers time and frustration. Our global team of 30 artists is designing into the trends that we have developed 18 months ahead of time. Those trend forecasts, which are the inspiration behind all of our prints, are also available to purchase directly from our site and are immediately available to download. We are constantly researching, compiling info, and curating these trend forecasts that we start our print collections with. They are concise and to the point, and will give you the insight you need without an overabundance of info to wade through. There is just so much information out there, it's almost overwhelming and it can be a daunting task to set aside enough time to look through, digest, and filter trends just to start your season. Our forecasts really get to the heart of what will be trending in the industry and the info is presented in a distilled and direct manner.
With each trend forecast, we deliver highly intuitive work on mood and aesthetic, as well as pattern and print direction - of course patterns because that's what we're all about! But we also give direction on silhouettes, accessories, and details. The color page is a vital component of our trends and has TCX Pantone codes included. All of our prints are developed with these on-trend color palettes and motifs as well. The trends and corresponding prints make for a very comprehensive solution for our customers - one that saves them time and alleviates some stress, too.
image above: A/W 2019-20 Pacific Northwest trend forecast and original prints
Jessica: Nice! And can you tell me about your team?
Thea: The team is one of the things that I’m proudest of, to be honest. I’m really humbled by the fact that even though Polychrome was born from my experiences, all of these artists and designers were excited and willing to be part of this new vision from really early on. Our team of artists is from all over the world: Italy, Spain, China, and across the United States. I think that the variety in their backgrounds and talents is one of our strongest assets.
This actually brings up the third thing that Polychrome does differently than a lot of other print studios. Although the bulk of our team (about 80%) are people that have worked in the fashion or textiles industries, the other 20% or so is made up of another kinds of artist - sculptors, painters, photographers, people that do etching and lithographs, and more. These aren’t necessarily people that traditionally create fashion prints, but I've really found this to be such a unique benefit because there is a greater creative diversity and a variety of artistic perspectives than you would get hiring only industry people. And while our artists might have very different skill sets and distinctive styles, they’re all working with the same trends as a starting off point, with the same color palette for that trend as well as the same mood and overall aesthetic in mind. You can see this play out in the fact that there is a definite cohesiveness to our collection even though there are so many different talents and skills at play; this is something that is very different than other print studios.
Jessica: It sounds like things have been so carefully developed and thought out! How long has Polychrome been in business?
Thea: In reality, Polychrome is still a fairly new business. We launched at the end of October, 2016, so we have only just passed our two year anniversary, but I myself have been in the fashion business for quite a long time. I graduated from Rhode Island School of Design with an Apparel degree in 1993 and worked in the industry ever since; I've never looked back. In that time, I've been a full time employee in various companies - one of the first companies I've worked for was a really avant garde company which showed during Paris Fashion Week! I've also worked at companies that sold to specialty boutiques, and for a large scale catalogue company that sold direct to consumer. I spent over ten years freelancing and consulting for a variety of clients and had a chance to see many things that companies do differently as well as the problems and frustrations they have in common. In many ways, Polychrome has been a long time in coming. Even though it is still in its infancy, it’s built on a really long and deep career in the fashion industry.
Jessica: How can potential clients start working with you?
Thea: One of the great things about Polychrome is that it’s incredibly convenient! Most of our clients go directly to our website and purchase right from there, and this can be done anytime and anywhere, even from your cell phone. On the website, you'll find the print shop and the trend shop, and in both, the products are available to view, to read about, and to purchase, and the product’s file is delivered immediately upon payment. All of the print artwork that is purchased from us is sold with a transfer of copyright as is standard in the fashion industry. As soon as you purchase that original print artwork and it is delivered to you, it disappears completely from our website so you can rest assured that you're the only person who is going to have the right to use it. The majority of our prints come with more than one colorway included, which is an additional perk that a lot of our competitors do not provide.
Jessica: So, you've told us about your print collection and your trend forecasts. Is there any other product or service you provide to help clients?
Thea: Yes, there is! We often get requests to collaborate with customers on special projects and custom work, and we are very happy to do so. We've done custom print work which might include print editing or digitizing, or designing a completely original print in collaboration with the client. We have clients that approach us with print artwork that they have purchased either from us or from another vendor and they don't have the right tools or they're too overwhelmed in the office handle the edits internally - we can get that done while they move on to other tasks in their development calendar.
We've also done custom trend work and trend interpretation for our clients. Maybe they’re interested in exploring a certain trend but need to have it interpreted with their specific customer in mind - we’re glad to offer our services to help them pitch their ideas. We even do custom fashion illustration work and product design.
Clients that are interested in working on custom projects with us can get the ball rolling two ways:
They can go to the ‘About’ section of our website, and choose Custom Services from the dropdown list. By going through the website, they can tell us about what their project is so that when we get back to them, we already have good idea what kind of help they need and we are prepared with the correct info.
The other way someone can initiate a custom project is to simply email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with some details and someone will get back to them to discuss their project.
Jessica: That's great! Can you speak to a couple goals you have for this new year and how you're implementing them?
Thea: Recently I've tried to attack my own personal goals as well as goals for my business endeavors in a more methodical way. At the start of this new year I gave myself some time to look back on what I'd accomplished in 2018 before plotting out how to achieve new goals in 2019. I hadn't really done this in a mindful way before and it was a big step forward for me. After taking that time to reflect on the past year, the most striking thing is just how much I myself and my team have done to develop this business with the client’s needs in mind. There's been so much time and effort put into the structure of how things are going to work, how the client experience is going to be on the website, and how we will handle custom work in the most efficient way possible - all to provide the client with a sense of ease.
On the other hand, I’ve put a lot of effort into how I work with our artists with those same goals in mind: how can Polychrome help them achieve their own goals and dreams and how can we make this company really easy for the artists to work with. All of our artists are working in many different capacities - as full-time artists, teachers, parents, designers. For some, Polychrome is their way of doing passion projects, for others it's a way to see their work in a commercial setting rather than always on a gallery wall. It's a privilege for me to work with them and I want them to have the same sense of ease in working with Polychrome that our clients do.
above: Original Polychrome prints
So...to answer your question, having already set up Polychrome's structure and process around the concept of ease, 2019 is going to be the year that I really want to focus on getting our brand message out - that we exist to make our client's high-pressure jobs a bit easier. And that's the point of starting this series, actually, because we've spent so long testing everything with the business to make sure we can fly, and now we're finally ready to say “okay world, here we are!".
I'm really excited for 2019 to be the year that we really grow exponentially, but also with continued ease.
Jessica: Thank you so much, Thea, for giving us some insight as to who you are and the inner workings of Polychrome. I am really looking forward to our next conversation when we can dive a little more deeply into your education and early career.
Thea: Yes, I’m excited to chat again, too. I hope our readers feel free to ask me any questions. I’d love to know what they are curious about!
Well, she asked for it - if you have any questions, leave them below!
We'll be sure to cover them next time in our #AskMeAnything series.
image sources: POLYCHROME