Rich – Contrary to Tony’s I had very positive experience at WSA a couple years ago. Although Tony and I both made our first trips to WSA with no previous pro footwear design experience, our approach was a little different.
I didn’t take a portfolio. Following the advice of a well-known design director I’d already met, I didn’t want to appear to need a 30 minute chunk of someone’s schedule for them to see what I had to offer. I basically condensed the highlights of my portfolio into a brochure, 8.5" x 11", folded to 5.5" x 8.5". It featured about 10 shoe designs, presentation renderings only. The outer cover was designed to also serve as a self-mailer. It contained a short bio in paragraph form, not bullets, followed by all my contact info. I wanted it to read more like a sales brochure than a resumÃ©. Although I hadn’t done footwear professionally, I had 10 years experience as a graphic designer in communications and marketing, which served me well in preparing this way.
I made no appointments with any brands. I simply approached brands which looked interesting, or which I thought might have some interest in me. That turned out to be about 40 or 50. All the brands of course have a counter out front, stationed by a company employee or hired hottie (or two). When I approached, all I carried was a small messenger bag tucked behind me and one of my brochures in my left hand. My typical greeting was, “Hi, is your design director or any product development person here at the show?” About half the time, the answer was no, to which I replied something like, “I’m a freelance designer. Do you mind seeing that this brochure gets passed on to that person at some point?”, and then tried to get a read on their response, as I sort of stepped away to appear as if I might walk on—though I never actually walked on unless I sensed the person was done with me. But I was surprised by how many of those people said something like, “Hold on a minute, I’ll give it to someone right now who might have a minute to talk.” That happened a lot.
Over the course of two days, I actually got inside the booth and met with probably 14 to 18 brands, some of which I’d never heard of and some of which are very well known. In the end 2 of them developed into paying work, and 1 became a contact who gave me a lot of advice on presentation and technical renderings over the next few months. That was very valuable to me, given my lack of experience.
That’s my experience. Take it for what it’s worth. This is in no way to discredit Tony’s opinion of WSA. I know Tony fairly well, and his story is no doubt legit. I think your success rate at WSA depends heavily on your approach. And I received some GREAT advice beforehand about the portfolio part.
I hope you didn’t stay up too late reading this novel.