Birkenwald Art

Exceptional, hand-painted cases for exceptional people.

Background

Birkenwald Art is a side project very close to my heart. At my last visit to NYC, a friend proposed the idea of selling hand-painted smartphone cases. I caught instant fire and introduced the same to my mother, who is an artist.

Now, almost two years later, at the time of writing, I can say the idea resulted in a beautiful journey of learning and creating.

Challenge

The fundamental, ubiquitous challenge which shined through each and every project related activity was (and still is) that the product is unique. Each case exists once in this world, but it shares most of its attributes with the other cases belonging to a specific phone model.

Boy, what challenges this project just threw at us. I will retreat into a list of the main difficulties, which occurred in the listed order. Hopefully, this will also help draw an accurate image in your mind.

  1. The canvas: Finding the perfect case to paint on. We ordered countless transparent cases, and my mother tried various approaches to seal the painting (e.g. with resin, plastic film, varnish, etc.). The case we ultimately decided to use comes with its own glass finish, by the way, which makes the end result marvelous.
  2. The manufacturer: When we found the case, I contacted the manufacturer. I met an agent in person to discuss a collaboration and upcoming deal in person.
  3. The paperwork: Because the manufacturer is from China, I had to dive deep into bureaucracy and sort out things with customs. That's harder than it sounds, living in Germany - a country that loves to impose paperwork on the most straightforward processes.
  4. The imagery: With the growing amount of cases, which my mother had finished painting, I started to get into (product) photography. Every photo on the website was directed, taken, and edited by me. I can't even pretend I am not proud. By the way: Because each case is unique and I had to literally shoot hundreds of cases from different angles. That's where I came up with some sneaky stage setting and bulk editing scripts.
  5. The online shop: To resemble the quality of the photos, I tried to pour my best into the website. To supercharge the process, I leveraged Gatsby.js and Shopify, so I could focus on building a premium interface for a demanding customer.
  6. The filmmaking: We soon came to the idea of creating a gorgeous making-of video. And so, I jumped into videography. Again, all self-directed and produced.
  7. Finding customers: Finally, after everything was done, the moment of truth arrived. It was time to sell. So I learned and deployed ads on Facebook, Google, and Instagram (including influencer marketing). It's all try and error. And as I would find out later, a quite expensive try and error. But in the end totally worth it.

All these challenges had to be approached very efficiently due to limited resources in time, money, and experience.

Solution

I decided to leverage the fact that I am the owner of the project and the only one who will manage the content in the nearest future. This means I can be as geeky as I want, and don't need a real interface to arrange my products. So I used a combination of JSON and Excel files to populate the data into Shopify and Gatsby, which saved a lot of time (considering each case is a product on its own).

I cannot emphasize enough, how much work the combination of Shopify and Gatsby took of me, while still allowing to build everything pixel perfect to my desire. The sole downside of this approach is that Gatsby will take a few (about 5) minutes to rebuild the page after a case has been bought. This means a user would see a case labeled as "available" up to 5 minutes after it has been purchased already.

Because the whole shop is being advertised on various platforms and we are selling phone cases, it's clear that mobile traffic makes a huge chunk. The entire design folds into a beautiful sublime mobile view, serving everybody the best possible experience.

Benefits

Ultimately, Birkenwald Art has now a very individual shop, which adapts to its unique needs. It's built to serve one-time products and allows everybody involved to spend as little time with the technical aspects as possible. It leverages existing tools and platforms to help out with product management, payment process, and serve a semi-dynamic website adapting to the data.

A substantial advantage (and one of the main reasons for choosing it) of Gatsby.js is it's performance. Because it basically builds static files, nothing ever needs to be computed on the server, when the client opens the website. Well knowing of its own benefits, Gatsby keeps piling on the performance track, providing a lot of further performance tools and plugins.

A big thank you to the people, who lent me photography equipment, explained me basics of photographing and editing. You know who you are, and I am deeply grateful. Also, I want to thank all the wonderful humans who are posting tutorials to the internet and help out beginners like me. Your resources are priceless.
Thank you all!