Mother-Daughter Marketing Teams Shine on the Internet
By Lisa Maddox, Sugarbelle Designs
Sophie Johnson and Chaislyn King
Some of my most satisfying moments as a mother come when I recognize in my daughter an ability or talent that I hope I can help her to develop. Watching her interest in books and fascination with building little worlds with her toys makes a tired mommy hope that her girl might possibly have something to face the world with besides her absolute refusal to go to bed before midnight and her obsession with sweets.
After all, that's one of the secrets to a happy life, isn't it? Find waysto feel good about our loved ones and ourselves and learn to emphasize the positive we see around us. I've been thinking about this more than ever this week, as I had the opportunity to speak to two women who have used their recognition of ability in themselves and their daughters to forge creative and lucrative partnerships.
Moms Lark Johnson (ebay id my_angel_sophie) and Lorri King (ebay id chaisyjay) and their daughters Sophie and Chaislyn are pioneering a new frontier in mother-daughter collaboration made possible by technology, talent, and good old-fashioned "chutzpah." Both women are self-deprecating, funny and fun to talk with. Both have extremely busy schedules thanks to their daughters' popularity as models for children's custom and boutique designers, and both seem to take life as it comes.
These two women are pathfinders in the children's fashion industry, providing high quality, professional photography for retailers at a fraction of the usual cost. They have crafted a unique niche for themselves as soup-to-nuts providers of top-notch photographic images for their clients. They provide the artistic know-how, the model, and their own innate sense of what makes a good advertisement. They act as stylists to their daughters, and put together pictures that are professional in every sense of the word. At the same time, they are in absolute control of the images of their daughters that appear on the Internet. How's that for "guerilla" marketing? Both lack formal training, but possess an abundance of talent and are women who saw an opportunity to add to their household's income and grabbed it with enthusiasm.
If you've never seen a "Sophie Auction," on Ebay you must not be surfing much!
Sophie is ubiquitous in the world of Ebay custom boutique clothing auctions. Her mother has, through her happy-go-lucky writing style and playful photographs, created a mystique around her daughter that is unique in the child fashion industry.
The bubbly 4-year-old native of Houston has attracted quite a following. "When we went to Disney World for Sophie's birthday, at least five people stopped us to ask if she was the little girl they'd seen on Ebay!" Lark exclaims.
Lorri King, (Chaislyn's mother), agrees, "People feel they know Sophie. They've watched her grow up on Ebay and they are just mesmerized with that little girl. Everyone has fallen in love with Sophie."
Designs by Kitty Girls Design (left) and other Ebay designers
This seems to be true. And honestly, it's hard not to. She is a truly adorable child, whose personality flows out from the computer screen and stops you dead in your…chair! Besides her years of appearing in auctions for Ebay designers, Sophie has been the featured model for Kitty Girls Design, and Baby Gassy Gooma for a couple of years. Quite an accomplishment for a four year old!
The association with Baby Gassy Gooma began when Lark sent a picture of her daughter wearing a BGG design to designer Gretchen Baker. "When I started selling on Ebay in 2001 Lark was one of my first customers. She bought a pair of vintage hanky pom pom overalls way back then. She sent us a little email and attached pictures of Sophie wearing the outfit. Those were the first pictures we ever got of her, and we started using her as our model soon after."
Baby Gassy Gooma was one of the first children's clothing designers on Ebay to realize the potentially huge appetite for custom and boutique children's clothing, and they have become extremely popular selling first on Ebay, then on their website and through select boutiques. Starting in Spring 2005 their line will be more widely available to retail buyers. Baby Gassy Gooma Designer Gretchen Baker credits Sophie Johnson's image as a cornerstone of their success.
Sophie's original Baby Gassy Gooma Photos
"She served as our image and helped build our brand. She was our first model ever, the first little image of our line, we were so thrilled to have her cute face and image bring our clothes to life. I still have the email Lark sent." Baker continues, "The relationship began on very much a professional basis. Lark is the ultimate professional. But as time went on we became good friends. Though I've never actually seen Lark or Sophie in person, I feel like they are an extended part of my family."
I mention that there are probably not many mother/daughter teams like Sophie and Lark out there. "It's true," Gretchen says. "And I believe the photo quality in marketing is equally important to the design. A beautiful child and wonderful photography are equally important, and we've been just thrilled with what Sophie and Lark have done for us. We were very lucky to find them."
Sophie works the camera in auctions for various Ebay designers
And what exactly do Sophie and Lark do for their clients? It's a pretty comprehensive service, and very different from the usual fashion photography shoots we've all seen in movies, where makeup artists, stylists and wardrobe assistants buzz around a bored, jaded-looking model. Sophie and Lark, and Chaislyn and Lorri, are one-stop shops for their clients.
On Ebay, Lark has always had the same policy for her "Sophie Auctions." The designer sends the clothing she wants modeled to Lark, who puts together an outfit with accessories, etc., and photographs Sophie. She composes an auction, typically with Sophie's name in the title, (a recent example is, "~SOPHIE ASKS "HAVE ANY DANCERS IN YOUR HOUSE? ~ O'ALLS 4") the pictures are usually over a white or black background, with three images of Sophie in differentposes next to each other.
The "Sophie Auctions" have been highly coveted by Ebay designers because of the added lift their sales get during and after the auction is listed. They also get to keep rights to Lark's fantastic photographic images of Sophie. Lark says the auctions have always worked the same for everyone. "Whatever outfit they were sending has to fit Sophie so she can wear it in the auction. And then we would list and sell the outfit, and the profit we get goes into Sophie's savings account. The seller gets the advertisement. Usually, designers get 3 or 4 orders off of our auctions." In fact, it is often many more orders. Designers have flocked to Lark to participate.
"The money is a good nest egg for her," Lark explains. "She works very hard on the auctions." Lark has worked out a simple method for photographing Sophie for the auctions. "We hang up a white or black sheet in my house where the light is very good" Lark says. "We always put music on since Sophie loves to dance. She makes up all of her little poses herself. Some of them are really funny."
Most people think the exuberant poses are what sells the clothes, "I think there are more beautiful children out there," says Lark. "But Sophie is photogenic and she loves the camera. She is a fun, happy, happy kid. Her personality sells the clothes," Lark states. "She's an easygoing kid. People tell me that I don't really know what it's like to be a mom. Now that she has turned 4 I'm waiting to see what happens, because some people say she might be harder to handle as she gets older."
Lark is thoughtful about her collaboration with Sophie and aware of the pitfalls of one little girl getting so much attention. "I was also an only child. My parents made me share and didn't give me everything. We do that with Sophie. She is very kind to her friends and very loving," she says. Lark and Sophie enjoy Ebay very much, but as the "Sophie Mystique" has grown, people have developed all kinds of misconceptions about Sophie. "People think she is a celebrity's daughter! That was one rumor. And then people were saying I was making $10 thousand dollars a month!" Lark exclaims. "I wish!"
Obviously, Sophie's personae has the power to set people to fantasizing. "I'll never forget the first time I got some hate mail," says Lark. "I was crushed. And every now and then I still get it. People write very mean emails sometimes, saying she looks like a spoiled brat. But I just let that roll off my shoulders now. I know Sophie is a warm and giving child and I believe we have our priorities straight."
When Lark's high-quality photographs are paired with Sophie natural ebullience, the result is downright irresistible. Lark says, "She's not always in the mood to model. She's just like any other kid. If people need some tips, bribery definitely works in those situations! But she has been dressed up from day one. She's always worn bows," she laughs heartily, "She thinks they're part of her anatomy!" Johnson obviously adores her girl and enjoys every minute she spends working with her.
I asked Lark to interview Sophie about modeling and what she thinks about it, since she is one of the subjects of this article. She had some great tips for any little Sophie fans that might be out there. Just try getting advice like this from Tyra Banks!
- Lark: Sophie, can you give any Mommies advice on how to get good pictures for their auctions?
- Sophie: Tell (the girls) to pretend that they are a "fashion star". They must be a fashion star if they want to be a model. I like to do poses. Poses are good." (Author's note: I'd say in Sophie's case poses have really paid off!)
- Lark: What is your favorite thing about modeling?
- Sophie: "You get to pose and you can do whatever you want to do when you are taking pictures." (Author's note: Now we're getting to the heart of why she enjoys it!)
- Lark: What kind of clothes are your favorite?
- Sophie: "Jumper sets and t-shirts with tights. (Lark follows this answer with the comment, "Now isn't that a pretty sight, I have never even seen her wear anything like that but hey, these are her answers.")
Actually, Johnson discovered her baby's commercial appeal by accident. "I'd been selling Sophie's "extra" clothes on Ebay using pictures of the outfits with no model," says Lark, "One day I was writing up an auction and I threw in a picture of Sophie wearing the outfit I was advertising. It sold for 3 times more than anything ever had!"
Lark, who confides ruefully that she has over 17,000 pictures of Sophie on her computer, fished this one out from her archives to show me what an early Sophie photo for Baby Gassy Gooma looked like:
Sophie, 9 months in Baby Gassy Gooma
"Ahhh! I look back at my pictures and I'm downright embarrassed," Lark exclaims. "When I started out I just had a Sony 1.5 mega pixel video camera and my pictures were not very good quality. You can see it in this picture." (I laugh; thinking most of us would be thrilled to have this great a picture of one of our children, "mega pixels" be damned!)
"I've gotten better with my editing as times goes on." (Johnson offers instructions on how to achieve the signature "look" of her auctions at the end of this article.) "I tried to learn some of the more complex editing techniques like cutting images out," continues Lark, "But I wasn't good at it. So I do most of my auctions the same way." Lark continues, "I really love to take pictures and I've been taking pictures of Sophie from day one. That's probably why she feels so comfortable in front of the camera."
This is something Lark shares with Lorri King, mother of up and coming Ebay model Chaislyn King. Another warm and funny Southern woman, King likens the flow of a photo shoot to the rhythm of music. When I ask her how she gets such great pictures of her daughter, and how she deals with the dreaded "digital camera pause," she says easily, "It's like music. You get into a beat and then you just know when the next shot is coming. And I take lots and lots of pictures. That helps, too."
King's early photos of Chaislyn
"I'm such a camera person, my kids have been raised in front of the camera. For the first year of my son's (Chas, also a model for Baby Gassy Gooma- Fall/Winter 2005) life I averaged 3 rolls of film a week. They used to laugh at me at the drugstore's photo lab!" says Lorri. "If you want great pictures of your kids you have to get them used to having a camera around." Her Ebay story is similar to Lark's. "My mother in law was always on the computer, and she found Ebay before I did. She sent me the link and said, "This looks so cool, show me how to do it." I got to looking at the auctions and getting interested in what they were selling. Having three kids, naturally my focus was toys and clothing."
Once Chaislyn was born, Lorri too was faced with the "bulging closet" described by most Ebay mommies and custom clothing addicts. She had waited a long time for a daughter to dress and soon she needed to start making some more room in a packed closet. She started out with pictures of Chaislyn wearing her own cast off clothing in auctions. Lorri, too, discovered that her auctions did very well when her daughter did the modeling.
Pictures from early auctions of Chaislyn's outgrown clothing
"I'd taken pictures for so long and enjoyed it. I take scads of pictures of my kids. It wasn't until I met January Hart and Gretchen from Baby Gassy Gooma that we started modeling for other sellers." Yes, the children's boutique fashion world can be a small one, and Chaislyn is now modeling for Baby Gassy Gooma. Sophie's contract with Greggy Girl is exclusive. This meant that, with sadness, Lark had to end the partnerships with Baby Gassy Gooma and Kitty Girls Design. "With dance and church choir, Sophie is very busy. She's still only 4 years old, and I want her to have more in her life than the modeling. It was just time to move on to be exclusive for Greggy Girl. It means that I can't promote people on ebay like I did before. We are extremely busy in November for the fall Greggy Girl catalog. When we are doing those pictures we can't take on anything else. So I will only be doing the Sophie auctions occasionally, when we have time."
Once Sophie could no longer model for Baby Gassy Gooma, Baker conducted a model search and got 1500 applicants! 15 models have been chosen to represent the company. "I had noticed Chaislyn in an auction on Ebay before her mother contacted me. I was browsing ebay and saw a poncho that I was interested in and Chaislyn was the model. I called my husband over and said if I ever had the opportunity to hand pick another model here's the one I would have picked. She was that stunning," says Baker. "When I got Lorrie's email I called my husband and said remember that little girl?" Baker says she appreciates how Chaislyn has a somewhat different appeal than Sophie.
Chaislyn Lorri's ponchos (left), BGG Outfits
In her auction pictures Chaislyn conveys a charming, demure quality. She is that "perfect little girl," that mothers dream about, sweet and exceptionally pretty. She too though, can project a sunny personality, says January Hart, another designer who works with Chaislyn.
January Hart is known for her richly detailed designs and beautifully shot and edited auction photos, which feature Chaislyn modeling (and Lorri's expert editing.) A gifted designer, Hart has a formal design education and her training is apparent in her popular fashions. Ebay buyers have rewarded Hart with high bids on her ensembles. But when she met Chaislyn and Lorri King, a whole world of marketing possibilities presented themselves. "Lorri and I met each other through our church. Lorri taught me the ebay "ropes" and then it just naturally progressed into our collaborating together with using Chaislyn as my model and Lorri as photographer," says Hart. "I've been fortunate to have Chaislyn modeling my designs almost from the very start of my ebay tenure."
Hart continues enthusiastically, "She's a beautiful little girl with the sweetest personality, and I think that really comes across in Lorri's photos. Chaislyn really has the unique ability to connect to the audience via the camera and people really respond. At shoots I always get the sense that Chaislyn loves modeling and being in front of the camera. People frequently stop to ooh! And ah! Over how cute she is, and Chaislyn's a hoot to watch when that happens! Those are the moments when she really 'hams' it up for the camera!"
Chaislyn in January Hart Designs
January is a grateful beneficiary of Lorri's photographic and editing abilities. "Lorri is so great to work with! She really understands the shots that are needed for certain outfits and the angles that are going to show an outfit to it's highest potential. I always feel very at ease at letting her choose the best shots because she consistently does a fabulous job with it."
Gretchen Baker, of Baby Gassy Gooma, agrees that Lorri brings a great deal to the equation. "Lorri takes beautiful pictures, and we're thrilled with how things are going with Chaislyn and Lorri."
Chaislyn in recent Baby Gassy Gooma Designs
King's photographs are particularly unique in the Ebay environment because of the various techniques she's developed to enhance the basic images. She has a gift for the editing process, and demand for her services is growing. She is happy to share some tips. Like Lark Johnson, she stresses that lighting is a key factor in good photography. "During the winter if weather is a problem we take pictures inside. But if I can get decent weather I do it outside," King says.
The family lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana where finding a sunny day is quite easy. "Down here, we have lots of good weather, which helps. I just do ourpictures right around our home. I try to go to more of an upscale place for January's and Baby GassyGooma's pictures. We try to do only 2 outfits at a time, and just go out a few times a week. There have been busy times where we go almost every day." Like Sophie, Chaislyn loves the sessions. "We wouldn't do it if Chaislyn didn't enjoy it. A frown comes through in your pictures. So do tears," King states.
King suggests spending a lot of time with your camera, "You get used to your camera and start to anticipate the picture. Take all the pictures you can. This is my 4th digital camera from Olympus (an Olympus C-750) and I love them. It cost in the $500 range." (Lark Johnson also uses an Olympus, an 8080, 8-mega pixel. She needs the added picture quality for the Greggy Girl photographs.)
Lorri also has a useful photography tip for people who primarily resell their own children's clothes, "Take the pictures when they wear the outfit initially. Save them in a folder to list the following season. I did this and still do it all the time. Its so much easier to snap a quick picture on your way out the door than it is to take pictures of your child in 15 outfits... from last year... that they've outgrown!"
King was a highly coveted Ebay seller of her crocheted ponchos and hats as well as rhinestone broaches and her special "frayed" jeans. "I would crochet and make frayed jeans. But I am happiest when I am playing on the computer. I still do the jeans, some jewelry and auction some of Chaislyn's clothing, but the computer is what I enjoy the most."
Lorri King's Frayed Jeans, Polka Dot Flowers, and Crocheted Halter
King has moved into the photography world with her usual enthusiasm. A visit to Momeigh Photography's home page (the name is a nod to King's Baton Rouge hometown's Cajun French Louisiana heritage) is a visual pleasure, as King has created an animated environment that major corporations would be happy to have represent them. "Momeigh photography is doing really well. I get lots of questions every time I list. And usually some orders. I've not focused on marketing Momeigh Photography just yet. I've been taking pictures of kids locally. So far that's been kind of fun too. I've got new ideas for other photographic designs. I don't know how busy this might get," Lorri laughs.
An example of King's signature editing style
Fascinated by her energy, I ask how she has time for 3 kids and all of the other things she does. "Well, Chaislyn's in preschool 3 days a week and that' s helped a lot. My husband helps me at night when he's at home. The whole idea is that it will slowly develop and I can do this full time after my kids are all in school. Everything's going at a nice little busy pace," she understates.
"Chaislyn is just beginning to work with other designers in much the same way that Sophie has," says King. In fact, Chaislyn is getting offers weekly to participate in websites and auctions. Lorri and Chaislyn are available to model Ebay designer's outfits, and like Lark and Sophie; they also retain the outfit for sale after Chaislyn models it.
I asked Lorri to interview Chaislyn about modeling. Here is the transcript of their conversation:
- Lorri: Why do you model?
- Chaislyn: I like to take pictures. Ya know elephants like peanut butter.
- Lorri: Why do you like to take pictures?
- Chaislyn: Cause the outfits are cute and I love hair bows.
(Author's note: At this point in the interview, Chaislyn left the room. She's only 3. Says Lorri, "I haven't a clue why it matters that elephants like peanut butter. That's just what she told me.")
Examples of Lorri's Work for eBay
(crochet stole by eBay designer Tammy McBee, dress by Bebemonde)
Chaislyn is at the age where it is hard to tell if she understands how the pictures are used. When asked by an admiring woman in a store where her outfit came from, she answered, "The postman brought it!" Lorri says Chaislyn absolutely loves clothes.
"Baby Gassy Gooma sent 8 outfits recently, and Chaislyn pulled the clothes out of the box so fast I had to call to see what went with what! She changes outfits all day long."
Since little girls typically begin to assert their own personalities and preferences regarding clothing when they are 4 or 5, and because the school environment is too "dangerous" for expensive designer clothes, most Ebay designers focus on designing for girls under the age of 6. Successful Ebay child models have only a very short time to benefit from the custom clothing craze before they have to move on to other types of modeling. If your child is photogenic and has the right personality, and you think you can take good pictures of her, it's best to make the first move if you'd like her to take up modeling on Ebay. "Latch on to a designer that's becoming hot and solicit your child to them," advises Gretchen Baker. "It's a win-win situation for everyone."
Author's note: It's obvious that bright futures are ahead for Sophie and Chaislyn, and for their talented mothers as well. In the online world of stay-at-home moms King and Johnson are standout examples of innovation and collaboration. Every working mother dreams of a way to inlude her children in her work day. Lorri King and Lark Johnson are doing it, and both are building their businesses as a result.
Lorri King's Mirror Image Photographic Editing Technique
A popular method for showcasing an outfit is the Mirror Image Technique. Basically, a mirror image is one in which one side of a frame is perfectly mirrored (reflected) on the opposite side of the frame.
Here's how to do it in Paint Shop Pro 8. You can achieve the same results with other digital imaging programs:
- Choose a picture you like. (Always use your best images, they are the base for all of your marketing designs.)
- Select the area of the picture to be mirrored using the selection tool or go to the "Selections" drop down and choose "Select All".
- Go to the "Edit" drop down and choose "Copy".
- The next step is to increase your border size on one side -- which will be where you place your mirrored image.
- Go to "Image>Add Borders". You can increase the borders in any direction by typing in the size in the selection.
- Next, you will mirror your image. This is done by clicking "Image>Mirror".
- You're getting close! Now choose "Edit>Paste as New Selection". Carefully align the images so they look perfectly mirrored.
- You can crop away any areas you don't want. That's it! You've got it!
--Tip courtesy of Lorri King, Momeigh Photography
Lark Johnson's "Sophie Auction" Editing Technique
(Note: this technique is meant to be used with photos taken over a white or black background.)
- Color the photo black or white (depending on your background) with a very soft paintbrush in Photoshop
- Then crop around the picture as closely to the your model as you can.
- Then I create a large picture that is the exact color of the background for all the pictures I have edited, open it in photo deluxe and layer the pictures into it. That gives it a look that Sophie is in one picture but with several different poses.
Added note: Johnson then writes her auction description directly on the photo and uploads it to Ebay. Simple, but highly effective!
-Tip courtesy Lark Johnson
To view Sophie in action for Greggy Girl, go to their web site www.greggygirl.com.
To contact Lark or Lorri, email them at their addresses: Lark Johnson email@example.com
Lorri King - SuperMomiegh to the Rescue!! Lorri@momiegh.com
To see Baby Gassy Gooma's latest designs go to www.babygassygooma.com.