Pin Club: 1st Birthday Feature + Interview

Originally published 5th September, 2016

My first, vivid encounter with enamel pins took place within the parameters of primary-school assembly halls. Marking the epoch-making transition from communal cafeteria lunchtimes to dining at "the big girls' table", our seating arrangement for the following six years was determined by the primary-coloured pin we received upon entering first class. These brightly-hued adornments were touted as badges of honour, devised to instil pride in our appointed houses and to nurture crucial team-building skills (this categorisation also extended to sports activities, music competitions and all manners of recreation). Rather than promote camaraderie and good-natured competitiveness, however, this enforced embellishment on our forest-green jumpers segregated new-found friendships and gave rise to multiple clique formations. Far removed from a Harry Potter fantasy - or, earlier still, an Enid Blyton boarding-school novel - this archaic house-branding was markedly different from an organisation pin or charity badge, where you could belong to any association of your choosing. Opting out of scholastic categorisation was unheard of - so too was switching houses, until I managed to officially jump dining tables in my penultimate term.

 Fast-forward numerous, decidedly more liberal years to 2016's prevalent pin-collecting scene, and one quickly discovers that exclusivity is the very antithesis of its core ethos. Myriad networks of pin devotees have surfaced on social media platforms; all-inclusive chains of connectivity wherein enamel-pin artists happily exchange their prized works and promote their rapidly-expanding collections to eager online spectators. The fact that this colourful craze has also erupted within high-street retail outlets (partly attributed to the sartorial efforts of Chanel and Vivienne Westwood) would be an almost-incidental knock-on effect, were it not for recent controversies surrounding certain fast-fashion multinationals and their alleged theft of original designs from independent pin creators. The most prevalent news story pertaining to this - Zara's repeated copyright infringement of Tuesday Bassen's eclectic designs - has triggered an outpouring of solidarity from pin admirers and artist contemporaries alike, with many of the latter citing Bassen's Instagram announcement as the necessary jolt to come forward courageously and declare that they, too, had been plagiarised by the same corporation. As was justifiably stated by pin designer Adam (an innovative marker who has recently garnered acclaim as co-founder of Shop Art Theft) many of these violated artists have a very limited collection of pin designs available to purchase, all produced as a means of displaying their original work cost-effectively. Nevertheless, a brief scan of online feeds will reveal that these unfortunate incidents have only served to further solidify the brazen loyalty of independent-pin purchasers. For every report of unlawfully poached pin creations (with the original items proudly displayed on Shop Art Theft), a hundred flair-fixated accounts vouch their unfaltering support for the imaginative pin artists that have spearheaded this creative community's remarkable growth.

Such refreshing freedom of expression is championed by Pin Club, a UK-based purveyor of pins credited as the first pin-subscription company in the world - and arguably the most technicoloured in existence, as perusing its diverse collections would instantly testify! Founded in mid-August of last year by creative entrepreneur and bona-fide pin worshipper Nik, its fanbase has skyrocketed over the past twelve months to encompass over 24 thousand Instagram followers (and counting). Its main premise is to provide new limited-edition pins on a monthly subscription basis, each piece created in collaboration with an inventive pin designer. Pin Club's surprise subscription packages are as filled with vibrancy and humour as they are universally accessible: the company's non-binding monthly rates are priced between £5 for domestic orders and £7/$10 for its overseas subscribers, with the enticing guarantee of a sought-after pin delivered straight to your doorstep. Nik's genuine passion for unique enamel pins - and the expressive, creative community that accompanies them - flows through Pin Club's colourful website: pin-artist newcomers and well-established design veterans alike have their creations displayed with equal fanfare, from Paper Flour Ink's patisserie-worthy macaron pins to Chris Uphue's wildly-popular heart pins. On the cusp of celebrating Pin Club's first official birthday, I spoke with Nik regarding the snowballing success of her globally-renowned venture, her love of profiling and supporting independent artists and the eclectic festivities in store this month for Pin Club's enthusiastic followers:

What first inspired you to establish Pin Club?

I love pins and noticed there was a real buzz about them on social media, particularly Instagram.  I was looking for a new venture to unleash some creative energy and with my ‘business head’ I put the trend for subscription boxes and pins together and voilà!  I wanted to do something fun and low cost, collaborate with designers and something that would justify me buying lots of pins!

Do you curate pin collections with a particular consumer in mind? If so, what do they embody?

To an extent. I’m aware of a general demographic and there are some designs it would be difficult to do with a blind subscription but I don’t like to generalise or be too rigid with what we produce. I guess we pitch ourselves on the ‘cute’ side of things, we don’t do the dark edgy pins (which I love as well) and we haven’t done any pop culture pins either as they can be very subjective. I do take cultural differences into consideration as we have such a global audience, not everyone celebrates the same holidays and what might be an iconic item in one country might be totally lost on someone in another country.  

I really believe that the beauty of a pin collection is that pins are eclectic; you can mix and match the weirdest combinations!  I don’t want our customers to necessarily ‘expect’ a certain pin from us, if you are of that mindset then I’d say you should curate your own collection and not be part of a blind subscription but if you are up for surprise limited edition pins from new and established designers then that is what we are all about.

From the perspective of a long-standing pin admirer and collector, how do you feel its mainstream popularity has developed over the last several years; particularly its skyrocketing success as a catwalk trend (and its appearance in high-street stores) in the past year?

It almost feels to me that a lot of high street retailers have come quite late to the party with their pingame, at least that is what I am putting the awful quality of their pins down to.  I haven't seen anything on the high-street that would entice me to buy them.  For me the beauty of an independent designed pin is that they are like little works of art.

Given that enamel pins have become a staple in many big-brand retailers' collections this year (as previously stated), do you feel it's now more important than ever to support and credit the independent artists crafting unique pin designs?

Absolutely!!  The recent publicity surrounding the theft of dozens of independent artists work by Zara has really focused attention on something that has been happening for too long. These big corporations believe they are above the law and can cherry-pick and copy with impunity whatever they want.  The worst part is that they count on the fact that most independent artists do not have the means to fight them and so they will get away with it.

Shoparttheft.com is a great resource that sharply highlights the extent of the problem.  I am hopeful that there will be some traction on this case due to the huge amount of coverage it is receiving and that it will lead to big businesses’ changing their working practices.  I will always support independent artists, for me I would rather a few pins from independent designers than a jacket full of cheap imitations.

Is there a memorable moment or story that stands out as a highlight in the Pin Club's young history? 

It has been so nice to connect with other pin makers and designers and become part of what is a really supportive community.  When we started we had some great advice and encouragement from some of our peers that really motivated us in those early scary months. We have recently started to work with some young designers to produce pins of their work and that is so exciting!  

Having worked in business for ten years - prior to Pin Club's inception - importing Mexican folk art, has that previous experience of working in a creative sector aided this new initiative and its evolution?

I think so, it certainly helped that with my other business I learnt everything from scratch; building a website, importing, design, marketing. That experience gave me the confidence and the means to act on an idea and create something new.  I have quite a DIY background and in our household we always have projects on the go, my husband runs a DIY tape label and there is always a new plan taking shape in one of our heads!

With Pin Club nearing its first anniversary, what has surprised you the most over the course of its creation?

I have really been surprised by how fast we have grown! Gaining over 20K followers on Instagram within a year feels like a great achievement.  I envisaged Pin Club as being a supplementary part time venture that would run alongside my other business but in the last few months it has become apparent that it really is a full time job. 

Pin Club's *twice sold-out* April subscription with Lazy Line Painter Belle (available to purchase "here")

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs looking to set up a creative business in this field?

My general advice to anyone setting up a new business is to do something you really love, setting up a business takes a lot of time and if you aren't passionate about it I believe that will shine through in some way.  It is a crowded market out there now in the Pin World so having a point of difference or being really creative with your marketing and Instagram will help.  Don’t plan on any business lasting forever, grab opportunities while they are around but trends change so you have to be able to adapt.  

Also, and this may sound a bit naff but I really think it pays to be nice!  I think you need to be a part of the business community you are joining, support other makers as you would wish to be supported and be genuinely glad for other peoples success.  Oh and try to keep your pin addiction under control or you will literally spend all your profits! I don’t think I've learnt the last one yet! 

Pin Club founder Nik with her ever-growing stash of colourful pins!

What can we expect to see next from Pin Club? Could you give a little teaser as to what to expect for Pin Club's first birthday celebrations?!

I have loved this first year of Pin Club and I'm so excited about the next one!  The website it going to get bigger and bigger, bursting with all our favourite pins from around the world.  I have started working with some new designers to create pins that will not be part of the subscription and I am really enjoying this, it hasn’t been possible to offer everyone who gets in touch a slot for the monthly pin but this gives us room to make mini series and to do designs that wouldn’t necessarily fit with the subscription.

August is going to be a lot of fun, we have our collaboration with the amazing Designosaur and have also created another little pin which all subscribers will receive free.  There is going to be a ‘seconds’ sale and a big giveaway.  I’m also hoping to squeeze in a little holiday before rushing home to do it all again in September! 

Clicking "here" will transport you to Pin Club's vibrant online boutique, where a multitude of diverse design talents and whimsical collaborators are waiting to be discovered. Additionally, following Pin Club on Instagram will ensure you're kept fully up to speed with August birthday celebrations. With twelve remarkably-successful months under its belt (and an expansive, enthralled fanbase cheering from the sidelines) Pin Club's second year of commerce and collaborations is primed to be its most exciting yet!

Amelia xx

La Femme Éclectique