Samira Henley on amplifying the voices of diverse creators with Jewel Branding’s Artist Series initiative

Samira Henley, VP of Brand Licensing at Jewel Branding & Licensing, reveals the three things Jewel looks for in new artists.

Samira! It’s great to chat. Tell us a little bit about Jewel Branding, your company history and portfolio?
Jewel Branding & Licensing Inc. is a global, award-winning woman owned and operated licensing agency focused on unique and diverse design-based brands. As leaders in trend-forward design, Jewel is focused on compelling licensing programs as well as creative services that can help manufacturers and retailers stay ahead of the curve.

The agency was founded by Julie Newman about 13 years ago because she wanted to support artists and create beautifully designed products that she would actually want to buy. She saw a void in the market for trend-forward design in everyday products. Since then, Jewel Branding has grown exponentially and established itself as a leader in trend-forward design.

Today our roster of clients includes a wide range of artists, designers, lifestyle and cause-related brands from all over the world, each with a unique design perspective. Additionally, our Creative Services division helps retailers and manufacturers achieve their design goals and stand out, by providing industry-specific trend-forward design guides, product & packaging design services and more.

I know you have great relationships with the artists and illustrators that you represent. How do you identify new artists to work with?
We are always on the look-out for new and emerging artists to add to our portfolio and typically look at three key things.

First, we evaluate if the art is truly unique and unlike anything in our portfolio. We pride ourselves on representing artists that have a distinct aesthetic with an original style. Our goal is to offer designs to our licensees that are unlike anything they could find elsewhere or create on their own. We also look at the art through a licensing lens to assess if we feel the art is licensable; there are so many talented artists but not all art works on consumer products.

Second, we review the artist’s portfolio carefully to determine if they have a well-rounded portfolio. Some of the considerations include having a wide range of patterns, icons, typography and themes, as well as cohesive collections.

A unique aesthetic, a well-rounded portfolio… What’s consideration number three?
We look at the artist’s social media following and how well they engage with their followers. Social media has become a critical tool for artists to promote themselves and their art, which is increasingly important for manufacturers and retailers. It’s not just about the art… It’s the story behind the artist.

Great insights. Jewel recently launched The Artist Series initiative. This was in part to amplify the voices of diverse creators. Can you tell us more about it?
Jewel Branding is proud to represent so many talented creators from all over the world and each with a rich story and style. Many are independent female artists making a living and supporting their families through their art. Many also have built a very loyal and engaged following on social media of people that love their art and who wholeheartedly support them.

With that incredible pool of talent and built-in-audiences, it was a natural step for us to actively seek out partners and retailers who are interested in more than just featuring beautiful, on-trend designs on products. We were seeking out brands to highlight and tell the story of the creators behind the designs and to share their inspirations. Consumers today are seeking meaningful purchases and are interested in supporting independent and diverse creators. They want to have a connection and engage with the brands they purchase.

This is a change that is both socially and politically driven, and retailers are listening and are doing their own important part in spotlighting the artists along-side their beautiful designs. You can see that with Target and their Artist Series program, as well as many other mainstream, national retailers.

Samira Henley, Jewel Branding

Can you tell us a little bit about the featured artists in the Artist Series?
The featured artists are just a small representative sample of Jewel Branding’s extensive portfolio of multi-cultural talent who are also influencers with their own loyal fan bases. These creators are from all over the world and from different cultural backgrounds, which clearly influence their very unique styles.

Many of them have significant programs at retail and others are rising stars that have attracted the attention of customers and retailers alike. They not only bring distinctive designs to products, but also have a story and built-in captive audience, which brings new customers and drives purchases.

From a practical point of view, how do you present this opportunity to the artists and the retailers?
Artist series are not a new concept. For years artists have been the core of what many specialty or bespoke retailers like Anthropologie have supported and highlighted. Artists have also been featured in unique exclusive or capsule collections by high profile companies like Swatch, Vans and so on.

What’s new is that now major retailers are starting to feature artist collaborations more prominently in stores, on their websites and through other promotional channels than they ever have before.

It’s definitely not been an easy road, as major retailers historically tend to be risk-averse and stick to tried and true offerings, especially in economically uncertain times. That’s not going away, but now retailers are starting to also create space for independent and minority brands, which is largely consumer driven.

Consumers expect to see, and they support, retailers who are investing in unique products that are not just beautiful, but that have a story and meaning behind them. Whether that’s helping women-owned small business, diverse creators and brands, or cause-related programs.

I believe Sam’s Club and Target have worked with you already on the Artist’s Series. Can you tell us about those campaigns and how they have performed?
Absolutely! Sam’s Club has introduced an exciting artist series pallet program of insulated lunch bags featuring striking hand-painted prints by four of our influencer artists: Kendra Dandy of Bouffants & Broken Hearts, Jessi Raulet of EttaVee, Cat Coquillette of CatCoq and Alja Horvat. The collection was launched online and as a stand-alone pallet in-stores that prominently featured each artist’s photo and bio.

Samira Henley, Jewel Branding

That has performed extraordinarily well, with several SKUs sold out within the first couple of months. The program was supported by the artists, Sam’s Club and our licensee Fit & Fresh, through social media, PR, lifestyle imagery and interviews. It’s truly a brilliant display of 360 marketing.

Target has featured artist collections including several of our creators as well. This year alone, Jessi of EttaVee, Kendra Dandy of Bouffants & Broken Hearts and Alja Horvat had an endcap of greeting cards. Jessi and Kendra also had wall art collections highlighted in-stores with prominent signage and stand-alone displays.

Samira Henley, Jewel Branding

Kendra Dandy just launched a furniture collection exclusively at Target through Cloth & Co., and another one of our artists – Cat Coquillette of CatCoq – was also featured in select stores with bedding and deck pillows.

Samira Henley, Jewel Branding

What advice would you give to retailers looking at working with an initiative like this one. What do they need to think about in terms of product mix, timing and communication?
Be authentic in your support for creators. It’s great to celebrate creators for various occasions like Black History Month, Pride, Hispanic Heritage Month and so on, but it’s important to highlight creators outside of those key marketing timeframes as well.

We also feel that the most successful programs involve the creators in terms of product mix, storytelling, as well as mutual promotional efforts. I think engagement from all parties is important. That way, creators also feel like they are part of the process and retailers end up with a more authentic program.

What’s next for the Artist Series?
We’re having quite a bit of success with the Artist Series here in the USA. We are hoping to continue expanding that internationally. There is a lot of opportunity and I think the timing is right.

Samira Henley, Jewel Branding

Have you identified any new design trends and styles that you see making an impact in the market in the next year or so?
We have an experienced creative services team who is constantly on the lookout for the latest design trends and styles. We work with many manufacturers and retailers to assist with a broad range of creative needs. We also ensure our artists are designing with the latest trends in mind.

Here is a recap with some of the current trends that expect will continue through next year:

Consumers also continue to be really interested in retro and archival styles, and creative collaborations with artists and heritage brands, which present an opportunity to refresh and interpret iconic design for today’s style sensibility; whether it be a revised silhouette, new material application or updated colour and pattern.

A great example of this trend from a heritage brand is Steelcase’s recent collaboration with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, which features updates of original designs produced by Steelcase that were used in Wright’s first open plan office space in 1939.

Samira, a huge thanks for this. One last question! If you could organise a lunch meeting with three artists – living or dead – who would be your guests and why?
Frida Kahlo, Keith Haring and Romero Britto. These are artists whose styles I personally love. Each also has a powerful social message that they communicate through their art, whether that be equality, love, joy, commentary on society… The conversation would surely be colorful. I would love to pick their brains on so many topics!

Great picks! Thanks again!

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