Craft Industry Alliance member Gay Isber McMillan recently attended the Nest x Hermès Craft Convening in Texas. She carefully planned how she would present herself in order to make a splash.
The national craft-focused non-profit, Nest, recently collaborated with celebrated fashion brand, Hermès, to host a 2-day “convening” for craftspeople in the US in Austin, Texas. 30 artisans were invited to the 2023 Nest X Hermes American Craft Convening for hands-on workshops, panels, and one-on-one sessions focused on marketing. The sessions were led by Hermès employees.
One of our members, jewelry artist Gay “Sugar” Isber McMillan, was invited to attend. For Sugar, carefully considering her visual appearance, researching the company and staff members in advance, and creating special jewelry pieces to share at the event helped her to stand out from the crowd. These steps helped her to optimize the press and networking opportunities this event presented.
Here’s Sugar sharing the steps she took to make the most of this special opportunity.
I do live large, let’s just start with that. I’m an overachiever, a businesswoman, and a serious artist. So, when I opened the email saying my application had been accepted to attend the all-expense paid Nest x Hermès American Craft Convening in Dallas, Texas November 3-4, I was on fire with excitement. Fire, like from a volcano.
I’ve had the privilege of crafting jewelry for royalty, movie stars, TV shows, movies, and fashion icons. My work has been featured in The New York Times, definitely a bucket list moment, and I’ve owned three successful stores that exclusively sold my creations. Currently, I host my own TV show on Made It Myself TV and sell my pieces live on Market.live. But the opportunity to engage with Hermes, a global craft powerhouse, was a chance like no other.
Sugar shares her jewelry at the event.
With the clock ticking to the two-day event, I set about ensuring that I attended this event as my best self. There was no room for squandering this once-in-a-lifetime experience. I set forth to prepare myself and my brand to truly stand out.
I decided to incorporate the iconic Hermes orange into my attire. I ordered a stunning orange dress and created matching jewelry for the climax of the final day when we would visit the Hermès Dallas store and meet the company’s CEO. It would also be the day we would display our products. That one step resulted in eye-catching photos that truly popped. The photos were perfect for Instagram (and I’ve now fallen in love with orange).
To gather insights in advance of the event, I set up a Google alert for Hermès, immersing myself in the company’s press and researching the staff members we would meet. It was easy to do and I enjoyed the task. This preparation paid off when I got a few brownie points when talking to someone whom I had slightly stalked on LinkedIn before the event. Everyone likes it when you take notice of them and I was glad I had prepared.
One of my easiest ideas was inspired by an article I stumbled upon entitled, “Hermès wants us to wear green mascara.” Embracing the theme, I bought green mascara and playfully shared this detail while chatting with the Hermès staff. It created a connection that showed I knew their newest product. It even matched my green glasses, causing me to become a true convert to that hue now, as well. Each time I pointed out this green detail, they were so happy!
The event would conclude on Saturday with the artisans showcasing our work. As soon as I found this out I created a set of new mineral and fossil jewelry pieces. While making them, I imagined the discerning global Hermes clients who might appreciate their extravagance. This exercise in slow, meticulous, precision elevated my jewelry to new heights and that focus was also good for my creative soul.
I curated three new outfits around my iconic and most memorable statement pieces to complete my preparations. I wanted to look like my brand. I invested in comfortable knee-high fashion boots with platforms for added height and added comfort insoles to ease the strain of walking and standing. No tights were needed then either. Such a bonus. No tugging on hosiery all day.
The decision to drive to Dallas from Austin to the event instead of flying allowed me to bring extra display pieces. Without the constraints of an airline weight limit, I brought a bust, lighting, a very heavy jewelry case, extra luggage, and more. Having a car while at the event also facilitated bonding with fellow attendees as I happily drove groups of us to different venues. New friends are always a bonus.
The group of artisans invited to the event pose for a picture together.
Bringing the right products
I felt prepared and ready when the time came to create my display to showcase my work during the event’s final hours. Each piece reflected my best craftsmanship, all inspired by the occasion.
That fire of creativity had been burning brightly since I found out I was attending. I was really happy and truly satisfied.
I made 20 samples of my jewelry in several styles to give away. I made sure they were perfect, tucked inside my branded bags, each with one of my brand’s cards. I even included a handwritten thank you with each piece. I lined them up like soldiers and had the staff members of Nest and Hermes treat them like tarot cards, “Let yourself feel which earring want to go home with you.” It was more fun to make a game out of giving samples. It was also one last chance to engage with them one final time before the end of the event.
And lastly and perhaps the best thing that happened, serendipity worked its magic. On the first day of the event, I bought an issue of a magazine that featured an article about Hermès featuring two craftspeople from different parts of the world collaborating to create an object together. I was able to get a photo of myself holding the magazine with the Hermès vice president who had placed the article in the publication. He was so pleased to see someone had seen the story. He then autographed the magazine, complete with his email. He encouraged me to send the photos we took together to the magazine editor, his friend. This bonded me to Hermès forever. I may never be able to buy a Birken but I will keep that magazine as if it was.
You should seek out events that enable you to spread your wings. Put your best self forward, embrace anticipation, and watch as your hard work and dedication combine to make your star shine brighter than ever before.
Sugar Gay Isber McMillan
Sugar Gay, a lifelong artist, channels her passion into jewelry design and teaching, amassing a portfolio of over 100,000 pieces and collaborating with renowned brands like Martha Stewart, Tiffany & Co., Proctor & Gamble, and various museums. Her award-winning designs reflect her creativity, while her decade-long tenure as a jewelry design instructor at Austin Community College showcases her dedication to sharing her craft.
Over the years, she’s created a long list of clients, including the Queen of England, TV, divas/stars, films, and fashion shows. Sugar’s work has been featured in global publications including The New York Times. She authored two DIY jewelry books (Fox Chapel Publishing) and has a TV show “Jewelry Stars by Sugar Gay Isber” on Made it Myself TV, Sugar’s day job is as a technical writer for a tech giant. Follow her on Instagram @SugarGayIsber.