This is the fifth installment of Hands On, a series of informal posts dedicated to honoring the people, machines, and processes involved in making and manufacturing.
Introducing Paper Box Studios
Our favorite thing about Philadelphia is the incredible community of artists, makers, tinkerers, manufacturers, and creative entrepreneurs. Thanks to the city's rich manufacturing past, the dearth of vacant property has left us ample space for meetups, studios, workshops, and offices, but rarely are these locations as beautiful and unique as the ones you'll find at Paper Box Studios.
Paper Box Studios, at 1639 North Hancock Street, is a 32,000 square ft. warehouse that is a space for artists and creative professionals to practice their trades. The 25 spaces available for rent range from 200 to 2300 square ft. What was originally a 1880s snuff, trunk, and paper box factory is now a fantastic blend of old and new-- A/C and heating, wifi, kitchenettes, exposed brick, restored hardwood and beams, and decorative tin elements.
Currently, the building filled to capacity, but interested tenants can sign up for the waitlist here. In addition to the rental spaces, co-working at Paper Box Studios is due to launch on September 1st, and will feature small private offices, open working areas, and access to a conference room.
Founded by local entrepreneurs Amy and Leo Voloshin, Paper Box Studios is also home to their successful textile design studio, Printfresh, which we had the pleasure of visiting.
Printfresh creates on-trend artwork for fabric that strives to be at the forefront of the fashion industry. With a client list that includes Urban Outfitters, GAP Inc., Abercrombie & Fitch Co., Mango, Roxy, Billabong, Element, American Eagle, Aeropostale, J.Crew, Justice, Pottery Barn, H&M, and Zara, it's safe to say that you've seen their work before, whether you know it or not.
Since starting in 2006, the company now employs over 20 people and deals primarily in the intellectual property business. This means Printfresh works business-to-business and does not produce finished products. They design and sells fabric prints, which are then sold to fashion designers for million and billion dollar brands to use for whatever they like-- dresses, bikinis, shawls, etc.
By forecasting up-coming trends between 12 - 24 months into the future,the design team churns out up to 115 patterns a week that are then shown and sold to leading fashion designers from all over the world and in turn, influencing the styles you see on the street.
How does someone predict what's going to be in style in, say Summer 2016? Owner Leo describes their process as "speculative design," meaning Printfresh mostly doesn't take specific direction on the characteristics of their designs. Rather, they produce what they expect to be popular in their clients' store by paying careful attention to cutting-edge fashion trends, as well as art exhibitions, and other pop culture indicators. Broadly, Leo says, "it really it comes down to whatever is influencing people." He recognizes the need to keep looking ahead: "Today's innovation is tomorrow's commodity."
Not all of Printfresh's work is speculative, but much of it is. Commission work is also welcome. For example, a client might say "We liked this piece from the Marc Jacob's runway show... can you make it in blue with butterflies instead of birds?"
Using these trends as a guide, the design team gets to work. A bunch of images pinned to a tack board gives an idea of their creative process -- patterns and photos paired with words like "folkloric," "tesselations," "inky," "magic carpet," "wanderlust," or "animal instincts."
A large number of the company's designs start as hand-drawn, in order to avoid the distinctly unnatural look that comes from vector graphics. Then they're scanned and edited, and finally printed on special paper-backed fabric. This allows them to use standard large-format printers with only minimal modifications. Next, the paper backing is peeled of, and the patterns are labeled, and they're essentially ready to go!
While it might seem simple, Leo cautions that it requires a nuanced approach. All his designers are talented artists many from the top art schools on the East Coast, but it takes an extra keen eye to be effective when working with textiles. Designers need to ensure their work answers the most basic question of all: "Can you wear it?" The challenge, he says, comes from creating artwork that is not only beautiful, but is practical for fashion, evokes an emotional response, and would appeal to the client's customers, who may be very different demographically from the designers themselves. But to the bright and highly trained artists who work here, it's a welcomed challenge.
Like the design process, the sales process is streamlined-- the printed physical samples get tossed in a suitcase and presented to clients from LA to London, who are then able to purchase them on the spot. The goods are are delivered as digital files that have been prepped and are ready to be printed.
Clients then may hand off the prints to their fashion designers, or they have the option of working further with Printfresh's CAD & Customs team. They can change colors, play with repetition and rotary characteristics, create custom designs for specific garments, digitize vintage patterns, or do whatever is necessary to satisfy client's needs and make the patterns factory-ready.
Printfresh also boasts an enormous (30,000+) library of vintage fabrics and garments ranging from the 1800s to the 1980s, which includes printed swatches, yarn dyes, antique scarves, garment swatches, full garments, unique lace and jacquards sources from all over the world. They are neatly hung and categorized by every characteristic imaginable. Need something scenic? Something geometric? Something nautical? It's all there, along with a slew of samples that exemplify special techniques like beading or embroidering.
Printfresh makes this collection available to clients locally and abroad who want to browse, get inspired, and interpret trends. Fashion is cyclical after all, and so a collection like this is simultaneously a window into the past and the future.
Our intention with Hands On is to provide a resource for small businesses, artists, and budding entrepreneurs. Printfresh is somewhat of a departure from our usual feature, because their clients are typically million dollar brands. We chose to feature them because even if your business is not this large, our hope is that you found this instructive. Perhaps it helps you to realize the diverse possibilities that exist at the intersection of art and business. Or maybe one day your business actually will be doing millions in sales, and you can work with Printfresh. Who knows? Maybe this will simply inspire you to approach the business world with an open mind, and seeing the success that Amy and Leo have enjoyed, you will be moved to start your own business, and as Steve Jobs was fond of saying, "make a dent in the universe."
To learn more, visit PrintFreshStudio.com. Special thanks to Karen Randal and the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce for facilitating this trip.