More real or more fantastical?

April 12, 2018

Money / No Money?

It is now May, and KOBA has been since December 14th, so we’ve been open for “business” for four and a half months now. And, yes, it does finally feel like we’ve reached “Business-as-Usual” – a term we used to refer to a kind of every-day regular tailor business where we would come to the shop and make make make. Emails, taxes, cleaning up… the overhead still piles up and represents a huge distraction, but we’re basically where we said we wanted to be.

The commissions we’re getting are from people “off the street”, meaning they’ve heard about us because we have a Ladenraum (shopfront), either by walking past or seeing us online. We now have a sign in the window stating that we’re an art project interested in making (your) wishes come true, and a price list implying that the “products” of our labor are truly affordable. After spending the first months confronting potential customers with the decision of what would be a fair price, we decided this was deterring them them from fantasizing about what they want, and creates a barrier to placing an order. To some extent this open-ended question of how much should it cost seems solved with this. We are an art project. We‘ve received funding. We work for “free”.

So yes we are subsidised, and yes we are realizing our own fantasy with this project, but maybe it is incorrect to say we are working for “free”. I quite like this narrative: we are in fact making a good profit off our customers, they are paying us with their personal data (oh no!). But we ask them first. We are paying our customers to engage as protagonists in our story. They get their commission, and we get the story. This still means we spend long hours and late nights in the studio researching, developing, and making “products” for other people who have “paid” for them. But we do it for the story.

But can we really park the whole money question so simply aside and focus on this story?

Especially in the beginning we quickly interpreted anybody’s pressing questions about our economic sustainability to be a misunderstanding of what our project is “really” about. We would reply: “we’re not in the business of making money, we’re in the businesses of telling the story of an alternative reality, in which custom made technology is commonplace”.
But people do understand that we’re not primarily driven by monetary profit or the desire to multiply a design in order to make it more profitable, yet they still worry and ask us about how we will continue.

One year is short to open a shop, get it running, attract customers, go through a few itterations of putting things out into the world and , we would like to run the shop for longer to tell a better story. But how much longer? Maybe only time will tell.
But the longer we run, the more pressing the question of sustaining it/ourselves becomes. More funding? Arts funding? Crowdfunding?
Any chance AT ALL we could actually make it economically sustainable in the longer run? Engaging with the economy does not mean we automatically become a profit-driven startup – we could be infinity creative about how we fund a shop like this in the longer run. But I think for this to happen we also need to re-evaluate and rethink the details of our story. Like is it really the common person we are reaching with our setup? Is it really about pretending that tailored tech is common place? Are we trying to be on par with basic needs – staples like bread and milk that the government subsidizes to insure they are affordable by “everyone”.

I’m writing all this because I really wonder these days because I wonder how our story has evolved since opening our doors. Our goal was not only to ask everybody to fantasize about custom made wearable technology, it was also to offer the “idea” of a real alternative to mass-production.
Could it be that offering a real alternative is an even more fantastical story than pretending we can for only a short time?

We shifted our narrative away from the “how much should it cost” question because we saw it in the way of fatasizing about what you want. A “real” sustainable business model could take care of that question.

Are we fantastical because we situate ourselves outside of the economic system?
Or, we were able to pay ourselves for the work we do, would that actually make it even more fantastical???