Bari J. Ackerman, a renowned textile artist known for her imaginative patterns, textile design, bold color, and home décor wall stencils, founded Bari J. in 2005. She has created numerous fabric lines for prominent fabric houses, including Art Gallery Fabrics, and a line of stitching patterns. Bari’s artwork is sold worldwide and featured in national and international magazines. In 2008, Windham Fabrics purchased her first licensed fabric line, which was available in stores in 2009. The brand has since expanded to include wall decals, wallpaper, and stencils for home décor, as well as a new collection of licensed artwork.
The Bari J. brand was created by Bari J. Ackerman. Bari is a well-known textile artist noted for her imaginative patterns, adventurous use of pattern, and bold use of color. She has also created a line of home décor wall stencils with Royal Design Studio, numerous profitable fabric lines for prominent fabric houses including Art Gallery Fabrics, and a line of stitching patterns. Bari is also the author of Inspired to Sew. Bari’s artwork is sold all over the world and has been featured in several national and international magazines.
Do you remember the very first piece of your art that sold? What exactly did you sell, and to whom? How were you feeling?
Yes, Windham Fabrics purchased my first licensed fabric line in 2008, and it was available in stores in the spring of 2009. It’s incredibly strange to see anything I’ve made on a product months (or years) after I made it.
Can you describe the evolution of your business and textile design?
I established Bari J. in 2005, creating handbags that were offered for sale on the Rising Designer page of ebags.com and in shops all around the country. Early in 2008, I went to the Country Living Women’s Entrepreneur event. We were instructed to write “what you want” on a piece of paper and place it inside an envelope beside a speaker. I expressed a long-standing dream of mine: “I want to design and license my own fabric line.” As soon as I got home, I wrote about it on my blog and started putting it into action. I kept redesigning the components until I was happy with them. At around the same time, beta testing for Spoonflower, a digital fabric printer, started, and I signed up right away. In order to exhibit my “line” to fabric producers, I printed a significant amount of fabric, made it into quilts, aprons, handbags, and other goods, and went to quilt market in Houston in the fall of 2008. Since then, I’ve had eight fabric lines in shops, and in May, I’ll have a line of wall decals, wallpaper, and stencils for home décor as well as a new collection of licensed artwork (I can’t wait to share the specifics!).
What has been the most important lesson you have learned along the way?
Be tolerant and submissive to your feelings.
We’d be interested in learning more about your approach. How do you carry out your designs from start to finish, and where do they come from?
Before enrolling in Lilla Roger’s Make Art that Sells workshop in October, I started every Photoshop project with a blank sheet and used a Wacom graphics tablet to draw my artwork. My creative process has changed substantially since then, becoming much more straightforward. I always felt like I had to “reinvent the wheel” whenever I introduced a new collection, and I actually did! I made my decision on how I “thought” the finished product should look while staring at a blank Photoshop page, then I worked toward that vision. I learned in class that I was operating backwards.
The cosmos opened up to me as soon as I started to draw components, themes, and pictures before starting a collection. The “playtime” sparked the unanticipated emergence of a collection. I had been working on a collection for months before to the session, but after taking it, it was easier than ever. Now, I often sketch and digitize a lot before starting a project. Usually, I take the art as a reference, build the finished piece on top of it, and then remove the original sketch layer. Also included in this most recent collection, Emmy Grace, is real watercolor artwork that has been Photoshopped to a different color. Although it is a drastic change for me, this is similar to what I have been aiming for the entire time.
What inspires you to take the risk at each pivotal point in your company’s growth?
I can handle fear rather well… Sometimes it takes me a long time to understand that I should have been scared. I’ve benefited from my predisposition to act without thinking through the repercussions. Making phone calls and submitting bids to new clients is what I find the most challenging. The worst discussions are those over the phone. But I’ve come to realize that these discussions are what truly get licensing boiling.
Please explain how your brand’s look and feel have changed over time!
I think I’ve somewhat improved and grown more sophisticated in terms of looks. My work still has a hand-painted feel to it, but in order to give it more edge, I also use a lot of geometric forms.
What type of support personnel are there around you and your company?
First and foremost, without the support of my husband, I could not have accomplished anything. He gives me his unshakable backing. My friends, family, and teenage kids are tremendously helpful with a variety of administrative responsibilities, and I can bounce ideas off of them.
What about your company now makes you excited?
Over the previous year, I think my creative boundaries have really increased. I am no longer only working digitally; I am also painting and sketching. In May, I can’t wait to give my work to Surtex for the first time, and I feel totally ready.
Describe the atmosphere that inspires you!
I have several stations in my studio because a sizable percentage of my business is around needlework. I also have a huge table for painting and drawing, three portable sewing machines, and a specific space for my computer. Fortunately, my workspace is rather roomy. I adore it since it is at the front of the house and is bright and happy.
How do you manage having kids while still being a successful businesswoman and designer?
I used to work mostly during my kids’ naps or when they were in school when they were smaller. My spouse saved me when I went to business functions. My daughters, who are now 16 and 18, each drive, go to school, and have their own jobs. With them now, I have a lot less to worry about… and actually? I long for the crazy circus side of my existence.
Do you sell or license your designs, or do you do everything by hand? What led you to choose this course of action?
My creations are licensed. It was really challenging and dangerous for me to manufacture my own handbags in the US. I prefer to be licensed. Actually, I’d like to license the handbag designs itself.
You sell your excellent goods all over the world. How do you manage distribution across borders?
I don’t have to worry about sales since distributors distribute my stitching patterns and manufacturers sell my fabric and home décor stencils/wallpaper. Nevertheless, I make all of my designs visible on my site and on social media.
Which overseas market, in your opinion, offers the most exciting prospects for your exquisite textiles and home furnishings?
I am aware that a significant portion of my cloth is made in Russia. I was clueless. I think that’s quite remarkable. And I recently found out that an Australian business bought a lot of materials for men’s clothing. I’m looking forward to seeing them!
Which of your goods do you find to be the best?
Fabric. I consider it to be the most helpful since I learned to sew before creating cloth.
What suggestions would you provide to a young designer hoping to follow in your footsteps?
Be yourself, work hard, and never give up.
What do you want to accomplish most as a designer and for your company?
Many more types of items would be amazing to see my designs on. Every designer, in my opinion, has their dream client, and mine would be Anthropologie. In their shop, I see priceless dinnerware and decor items. One day, I’d like to go there and see it.
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