Ahhh Surtex! I got back from NYC two weeks ago and it’s taken me a little while to get back into the swing of things (in the meantime though, I GOT MY VISA! but more on that in another post).

Surtex was a crazy experience- overwhelming, educational, inspirational… I came away with a really clear sense of what I want, and a better idea of how to get there, which is a truly amazing feeling. Here’s a little recap of my experiences, and some tips for any designers who plan to walk the show for the first time.

Setting up

I was so excited to be able to help one of my favorite designers, Elizabeth Olwen, with her booth. I got in touch with her online a few months back, and we worked out a deal so that I could get into the show and experience it, and also help her set up her booth. Meeting her (and her friend who was there to help her) was so much fun, and being involved with setting up her booth was a huge extra bonus. Part of the reason I wanted to go to Surtex this year was to get a feel for it and see if I want to show next year, so this gave me a good look at what goes into having a booth at the show.

Walking the Floor

Ah, what can I say! So many amazing beautiful booths. I just tried to take it all in. I took business cards from my favorite designers, but I was really (maybe overly) cautious about talking to designers because I had read about the importance of not bothering them while they are trying to meet potential clients. I can totally understand this, especially after hearing how much it costs to exhibit at Surtex ($3,600-4,000 for the booth ALONE!!). I spent a lot of time thinking about which booths stood out and why, and then furiously writing notes in my little notebook so I can remember everything if I show next year.


I attended two seminars, one about licensing work and one about whether or not to find an agent. If you have the chance to go to any seminars at Surtex, I highly recommend it. They were so informative, and I came away from both feeling as though I’d learned something really valuable.

Funnily enough, I felt that the most important thing I got out of each seminar was learning what I don’t want, which is just as important as what I do want. I realized that I’d rather license my work than sell it outright. This means I likely won’t be working in the apparel industry, as they prefer to purchase patterns outright because apparel seasons are so short. I do want to have my name attached to my work, because there are many designers that I admire and follow. I love to see what they make and to have the option to purchase their products. The idea of selling a pattern, and then never knowing what becomes of it does not appeal to me as much.

The most valuable thing I learned from the Agent or Not panel was to not settle for the first agent you meet. In the panel, they stressed the importance of treating your relationship with a potential agent as you would any personal relationship- ask lots of questions, and make sure you can get what you want from the relationship. You don’t need to sign the first contract they give you, you can make adjustments.

Meeting other designers

One of the most fun parts of Surtex was meeting so many lovely people who share the same interests. Surface and pattern design is such a specific field, I often have a hard time explaining what I do when I first meet people. So to be in a room with hundreds of other people who do the same thing- that was a really cool feeling. It was exciting to see and meet the designers whose work I’ve followed, and it was just as great to meet new designers and see their work. There is so much good design done by lovely people out there!

Tips for walkers

Be respectful of designers at their booth (but it’s still okay to say hi). I read about walking etiquette before going to Surtex, so when I got there I was so careful to not talk to any designers. As it turned out, as long as you’re polite and respectful, most people are happy to say hi and chat a little if they have time. However, you do need to be aware and if a potential client comes by their booth, you should get out of the way ASAP.

I didn’t take any photos during the show, partly because I was so busy with a million other things, but also because I wasn’t sure if the designers would appreciate that. I think it’s fine to take some, but again, be respectful of the designers. They are displaying work that might not be out in public yet and they might want to keep it that way.

Wear comfy but professional clothes and shoes. I wore dark pants and nice shirts, or a nice casual dress. I didn’t realize how warm it was going to be, but I think dresses are a great way to go. Bring water and snacks, because the food at the convention center is crazy over priced. Bring a notebook/sketchbook, because you will have so many ideas.

Bring business cards and/or postcards, but be respectful about giving them out. I brought business cards and I made up some large postcards with samples of my work. I mostly gave cards to other designers. As a “walker” of the show, I think it’s a big no-no to try to promote yourself to potential clients, which is why I didn’t end up giving out too many postcards. I was glad I had them anyways though because they did come in handy once or twice. For example, I walked the stationary show and ended up chatting with a lady from a stationary company that I like. She asked if I had any work with me, so I gave her a postcard. I was really happy to have some work to show, even if I only ended up showing it to one or two people.

Overall, I came away from Surtex feeling so motivated and ready to create tons of new work. I’d still love to show next year, but after hearing that it costs around $9,000 (!!) to show, I definitely need to consider if I can invest that much at this point (here is a really great blog entry about the costs). Surtex may become a longer term goal, but I’m confident that one day I’ll get there. For now though, I’m so happy that I was able to see it this year!