Dear customer….

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This will be a little bit different from my usual posts, and possibly a little controversial, but I feel some things simply have to be said. Running a business has its ups and downs, pros and cons, its challenges and its rewards. I love running mine – and the only thing that sometimes makes me pause is the interaction with some of my potential clients. Usually online, sometimes at trading events. I feel I have been very lucky in general, and my customers are at least 90% lovely people (I became friends with many of them), but over the years there have been enough of the less-than-perfect kind to make up that the 10%.

To be honest,  in most cases people simply behave in a particular way because they are oblivious to certain facts about the way of that life people in my line of work lead. They simply do not realize how rude they can sound – I believe if they did, they would be mortified! True, some people are dicks and nothing can change that,  but most of them are simply unaware that their behaviour can cause offence.

This is not simply my own opinion – quite a few folks  running small craft & art related businesses have experienced similar treatment, and probably for the same reason; I suppose that other small business may have been on the receiving end, too.

Below I am going to list the most common ‘faux pas‘  that I have personally come across. Usually small things, but small things do accumulate and can lead to a very negative client experience. And, hopefully, small things are also easy to amend. Some of the interactions mentioned may only be perceived as less than pleasant  from my personal perspective – as a very happy introvert I tend to  have a very specific perception I suppose – things that make me want to turn around and run away may make another costumer jump for joy, for example – but I think some of the  situations are relevant no matter what your personal traits may be.

So without further ado, this is my private list of ‘issues’ – and how they may be avoided!

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 Email/online interactions:

*Being polite matters!

Polite clients are a pleasure to deal with, and as a result I am willing to go the extra mile for them. I either offer a discount, or a free postage, or do additional high quality finishing work, just because they have been a joy to work with. If you are rude to start with, I am unlikely to accept your commission in the first place – despite what everybody seems to think, people in the creative industry rarely do sit around twiddling their thumbs, waiting for some work to miraculously happen to them, and are not therefore simply happy to accept anything from anyone – and so:

*Remember that written word can come across much more harshly than when spoken.

*I understand that nowadays formality tends to be often forgotten, but please when writing to me try to address me by my proper name, and not diminutives or ‘ huni’, ‘sweetie’ etc.  This is a personal pet hate – I understand that some people just use  endearments  automatically, but neither my family, my friends nor even my husband call me ‘sweetie’ . For a complete stranger, in a strictly professional situation, it is simply off-putting,  at least for me. My name is Izabela – please use it and we will all be happy.

*Please do not ask me to copy the work of another designer; especially if you want it at a fraction of the original price, (more on the cost of bespoke, art items and pricing in the industry can be read about in the this post – A Queen on a Budget, please.) Also, do not  be offended if I cannot take your order because it is something that we do not make – in such cases I will attempt to provide links to other people who specialise in that area, (shoes, fantasy and fancy-dress costume, etc), I simply know my limits and if I decline to accept an order, it is for a good reason. We specialise in historically accurate clothing – if you need a fancy-dress Victorian costume with medieval sleeves and Regency silhouette, in lycra, we may not be the best choice – but we probably know people who can make it for you, so we will endeavour to provide you with an alternative solution if we can!

*Book well ahead – I tend to be booked up to 6 months or more in advance. Yes, I can sometimes have an emergency slot  available, but often I simply cannot provide you with a full Regency finery for ‘next week’ – it is nothing personal, there are simply not enough hours in the day for me to do the work – especially since those rare emergency slots are already digging into my personal time and rest.

9. planning - in the calendar and working out components and time necessary for an order

*Be prepared to sign a contract and don’t be offended when we ask for a deposit; It is simply a part of running a business in a proper and effective manner, and avoiding running at a loss. More on running a business here – and even more, especially on contracts, here.

*Do not be offended if I do not accept your friend request on Facebook. I may be old fashioned, but I keep my personal account  for family and friends – which means people I have met, interacted with, liked, and deal in person often. Having an item made does not make you a friend – yet. Over the time if we meet often enough and find we like each other that may change, (and often does), but since we are starting from a professional footing, simply keep in touch through my page until such a time comes when we may change the status quo.

*also – I do not offer a free advise/tuition/consultation service via fb or email. We do provide the service if needs be, but it is a hourly paid job.  At the moment, if I was to answer every message/ email asking me for advice, opinion, etc   i would probably not have time to do anything at all   – we get about 10-120 on avarage. Per day. So nothing personal, but I cannot help you unless you book us in advance for a specific thing, billable by the hour… and the fact that you masquarade your request for help/ free advice its by putting a few sentences about how much you admire my work, does not really change it. Sorry!

  • my Youtube channel visitors… 80% of your messages and questions is answered in the credits of the video. Watch them, please, before asking. I am happy to answer more in depth/ interesting questions, but if you wish to know where I get the cotumes from (sic!) or my shoes from, all the information, with the liks is in the credits at the end. Also, google…..
  •  also youtube – please don’t write to me demand that I make  videos on a topic/ era you would like to see. I am happy to take commissions for videos on demand, but they won’t be cheap – research, making specific clothes,  shooting the video, editing etc – it will take several months and will cost around 2-4k ( GBP). I make the videos  you can watch for free, using stuff I have available to me at the moment. If you want me to spend more time doing that, do click on a few adverts – takes a few seconds but makes a difference to my revenue! ( since monetising my videos, I have become more aware of how many people out there rely on their online revenue, so i do click on stuff as well, helping other online artists:-)

St Neots WWI Comemorative July 2014-13

Fittings/home visits.

Dear customer, when you are coming to me for a fitting, please remember that I work  from a small studio, with basic facilities, and not desgned for hosting guests.  And so, please:

*Do tell me how many people are coming along – unless otherwise specified I expect only you. I need to know if there are more people as there are problems of space as well my personal issues. To me, the sudden invasion of 5 people when I was expecting 1 is just like a punch to the face. Suddenly instead of the controlled, serene environment  I am used to working in, the situation is changed into chaos, when everybody is everywhere, all talking very politely no doubt, but nevertheless very distracting. I do need to concentrate when I am fitting toiles, taking measurements and discussing designs with the client. Loud chatter, however amicable, is not helping.

*Ditto children –  my studio is not at all child friendly – there are lots of sharp objects around, lots of antique stuff, expensive silks-  so unless you can keep your offspring under control (which means another person to do so while you are busy working with me), preserving any Health and Safety rules will cetainly be tricky – in which case I would have to decline the commission.  Please let me know beforehand so that we can come up with appropriate solution to the situation.

*Do not ‘pop by’  without an appointment. Not only may I not be in, but I may be busy, either working on urgent stuff or working with another customer, (who may be in a state of dishabille), so I would have to turn you away from the door. Again, nothing personal, but it may feel like rejection, so please always ask when is a good time if you need to see me in person.

*Try not to be late.  I usually have 2, 3 appointments on any fitting day, usually, for efficiency’s sake, one after another. If you arrive late, it may impact on another appointment, so please call to let me know if you are running late. If you want me to put aside a whole day, or afternoon just for you, that is fine – but my time comes at a cost. You don’t pop round to your lawyer, doctor or dentist more or less at the time that suits you, so please extend me the same courtesy; working from home doesn’t mean that I am any less busy!

* don’t expect me to work on holidays/ weekends. I often do, and I do suggest weekends to my customers who cannot make it otherwise,  but please  remember, that  our line of work means we are usually away at the weekend.  So if your contract says  that the fittings will take place, as agreed, in the beginning of a month, please make sure you are available. We can adapt – but all summer we are away weekends, working at events, so if you forget to book a day off it may be another month or more before we have a weekend at home!

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  • please understand that we  usually cannot come over to you for fittings. Unless  previously agreed on and arranged it is smply not possible as I will need to carry my tools with me ( and believe me, the machiness are not light) and there will be additional charge for travel cost and time used.
  • Don’t be offended when  I cannot offer you your drink of choice or other refreshments. Being a small studio room, it has basic facilities – there is a a look and a tiny kitchenette where I keep  stuff i use for myself – fruit teas, coffee etc. I don’t use milk or sugar, I don’t keep biscuits around – so i wont be able to offer anything else I already have.
  • Ditto wifi –  I opted out of wifi at work to limit procrastination – so don’t be surprised whn I cannot provide you with a free wifi access for the duration of your visit…

At markets

*I am always delighted when people who follow me on social media come to have a chat at the markets. However, please remember that  unless you comment/like/interact with the page, I will not know your name. And even if I do, I may not recognize you, if your profile picture features a fluffy kitten or happy puppy.  Please introduce yourself and then everything will be fine – I know who I am talking to and will try to remember for the future 🙂

*Also, the mere fact that you follow me on facebookPA/twitter/ insta, etc, does not make you eligible for a discount at the stall…. or in the online shop. Sorry…

* Please remember that at markets,  I am working. You may be visiting for your leisure or for business – though for majority of people the former is the case.  You may want to come and have a good time, chat and exchange experiences tips etc – it is all fine, but , as I said, I am at work and need to treat everybody the same – which generally leaves very little time for idle chatting, am afraid. There are a few relaxed moments but usually the markets we attend tend to be heaving with public, and we have little time for lunch, let alone relaxed talk. So however much I might love to do so, I need to earn my living and serve paying customers instead 😦

Talking of lunch – please, let the stall holders have their lunch in peace! Trying to answer your questions with a mouth full of bagel is not a nice experience for anyone! We usually have one of us or a helper to front the shop when one person is eating – but people still manage to dodge them and sneak in at the back of the stall to talk to the person who is currently enjoying their lunch.

*Do not ask me to work for free.  Whatever tips and advice on costuming I can give I will, and a great deal of information is on the blog here anyway, but do not ask me to provide an ad hoc workshop/lecture for your benefit, for free. This happens quite a lot – a recent one was in Bath, during the market there; let me quote it for you..

-Two women were spending quite some time looking at the stays/corsets and other items, and by looking I mean taking off the hangers, turning upside down, inside out etc. After about 5 minutes of them discussing how the things go together (and meanwhile blocking access for other interested customers) I asked politely if there was anything I could help them with. The answer was:
Yeah, actually, we make stuff like that ourselves, for us and sometimes for sale, and we tried these styles before and they didn’t really work well, so we are just trying to work out the construction details – could you please explain to us how you put these together? Oh and these ones too? (at that point one of them took a notebook and a pencil out).
I looked at her and asked – ‘What do you do for a living madam?
‘Why, I teach the flute’.
‘Could you please explain to me how you play the flute? Could you teach me now, just the basics?
She looked at me, completely taken aback.
‘Why, well, I could, but I charge for my lessons!
My response? ‘So do I’….

She actually saw the point and was rather embarrassed, and apologized, but it sort of sums up the fact that a lot of people do not take what I do for a living seriously and assume it is ‘just ‘ a hobby – I suppose other people running craft or art based businesses are often faced by a similar situation.

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*Another point – you don’t generally go to let’s say, a baker, or a carpenter, have a look around, finger the goods, sneer and announce that you can do it better than they, and/or possibly cheaper. So please refrain from doing it to stallholders at the markets.  Even if you indeed, can make the items better and at a lesser cost. Just incredibly rude.

*please ask before touching the clothing. And make sure your children are under control – especially if they are eating at the time – we did have a few mishaps involving children, dogs, icecream or a burger….

And finally, some interactions from the online shop.

To start with, let me quote some of the messages/emails directly

* am interested in the blue dress, but it is not my size, can you re-model it so that is 3 sizes bigger?
* am interested in the blue riding habit, I clicked on the link but it takes me to the shop based in the UK. Can you please post the link to your USA branch? Otherwise I would be unable to purchase as shipping and customs duty are expensive.
* am interested in the grey skirt, i clicked on the link to the shop but it gives price in pounds. Why is there no Euro? I don’t like working out the conversion rates myself.
* are the measurements American? How many centimeters in an inch?
* I like your corsets! I want one but in different colour, and in my size – can you make me one for this Saturday? Would the price be the same?
* I love the pink Victorian gown in silk, but is too expensive! I can spend max £150 on a thing like that, would you consider selling it for £150 (postage included), or making me a bespoke one for that price?
* the riding habits are lovely, but why are there only 2 available? and why not in a range of sizes, and colours?
* am interested in the medieval Burgundian gown, but can purchase it in July only – can you keep it for me? I am not saying I will buy it, just considering and would like to know it is still available in July.
* I want a bespoke one, when are you able to make me one? (my answer – am now booked till October) – whaaaatttt!!!! October??? this is ridiculous, I need one for June! how can you run a business like that! Can you not shift other people so that mine can be made first?

Well…

Here I feel  the very fact that  we have an online shop may be put to blame – people simply assume that we are a much bigger business than we are – and flattering as that may be, it often causes  awkward situations.

Also, people assume that our ideology is the same as that of big chain stores and find it difficult to understand that we do not carry a huge stock of the same items in a range of colours and sizes.  Our field is quite  narrow, and I like to think that I specialise in unique and individual items – so our  stock items, though usually in ‘generic’ sizes are still unique. I have no desire to create the same dress in 6 different sizes and 3 different colours – this would not only kill the joy of making an individual item to me, but poses a question of stock control, space, cost, etc. We are a small business, and I have no particular desire to grow into a huge one. Might happen – might not. At the moment I take pleasure in making items unique – even our stock corsets have individual touches that make them unique. Nowadays,  many people are motivated by finance alone – and whereas, as a business you have to be, to some extent, I am in the happy situation where I can make what I want to make and enjoy it – and I treasure the enjoyment coming from creating one specific item much higher than profits coming from mass producing shirts.

And as for being booked well ahead – well,  we often are booked for more than 6 months in advance. Asking me to move other clients around so that your stuff can be made earlier is not only disrespectful to me but to other clients as well – imagine that it is the the other folks who are asking me to shift you around…. just not professional. And it doesn’t mater if you are a Russian princess,  a celebrity, local theater, or an individual  – once the contract is signed,  your order is treated in exactly the same way as everybody else’s.  Full equality.

 

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Well, that’s about it, I think – a bit of a rant, maybe, but as I have said, a lot of the problems stems from misunderstanding of the industry, and not malice. I do not wish to offend anyone and I think there are few people who go out of their way to offend others, especially if they want to develop a professional relationship, so I think maybe this post help both parts to understand each other a bit better.

And if you run a home/craft based business and you have experiences similar situations, or have something to add – please comment!

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Running a Costuming Business part 2

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It seems the first post on running a costuming business was very popular – it answered a lot of questions, but it also triggered many more! I have collated the most recent batch of questions, and here are my answers…

* Do I need to have a contract?

Absolutely. A contract protects both you and your client, it clarifies the job, establishes the parameters – in other words makes it easy.   And yes, you need it also when sewing for friends….. even more so, perhaps…

*What should I include in the contract, on the whole?

Apart from  your  letterhead/logo, addresses, etc the following is the bare minimum:

* what garment is to be made. You can opt to put details in a separate ‘Specification’ document – I use that only for the most elaborate costumes, simpler ones don’t need it – though you still need to state what is being made, in what fabrics, styles, etc. I usually add a few example or reference pictures too.

*the cost of the garment – either all-inclusive or labour and materials costed separately.

* the deposit – usually it is either the price of the fabrics or 30-40% of the labour.  Do state when this is to be paid (within a week, 10 days, etc of the issue of the contract), and the payment method. The deposit is non refundable, always – I book time aside to carry that work or use the money to buy provisions – if the client changes their mind, it is unlikely I will be able to  book another client at short notice, so that deposit protects me from too much of a loss.   If some people are reluctant pay a deposit, don’t take the order, it is that simple.  The majority of people understand it and have no problem with it.

* Payment details – how, and when.  If you offer installments do say so, and agree beforehand on how many installments will be needed. Provide your bank details, PayPal address, etc. I usually require the total to be paid in full on or before the delivery date. Tempting as it sometimes might be, try to avoid relinquishing your hold on the goods until the total is paid. It is different when dealing with public services and large organisations, but still make sure all the details are in place.

*delivery – shipping ( the exact shipping cost is usually included in the final invoice), pick up or delivery in person, to a market etc

* Timings: fittings schedule, deadline etc. make sure the client understands that their availability for fittings in the specified time frame is vital to completing the item on time. An example – I was making a 17th century set, ornate, with many fittings; deadline was June 2014, with fittings in May. One fitting happened and then due to work problems, family and health problems, etc, the customer wasn’t able to attend any of the fitting sessions till late august. And once he did, he said he would require all the work completed within a week.  I refused – since his item was overdue, I was only able to work on it in the gaps between other commissions, and  that meant at least 2 weeks. It wasn’t the most pleasant  situation, but in the end the customer realized I wasn’t at fault – far from it. He apologized and a new deadline was agreed on. What made him realise? I mentioned that I need to respect all of my customers and cannot get behind other orders simply because his was overdue due to his problems, and not mine.  I now include an additional clause specifying what happens if  a similar situation arises ( a new deadline is needed, though if I have a gap in between present commissions the item may be finished early)

* what happens if the items are unpaid or uncollected.    I  usually state that all unpaid/uncollected items are kept for one month; after that they will be advertise on sale.   This solves a lot of problems, though you may want use your own judgement – life is life, things happen – and sometimes it is a good idea to be flexible. I always advise people to contact me as soon as they can if they have financial problems – the sooner I know the more able I am to suggest a solution – by either moving the commissions further ahead, splitting the total into installments, etc. It is not easy to talk about money, but being straightforward is usually the best way of tackling the issue.

*also what happens if you have problems and default.

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* How do you plan your commissions?

I have  a system that works for me – it may not work for you in details,  but I believe the general principle is sound.

I know more or less how long it takes to make most of the garments and can plan on how many ours I will need.  (Remember you will need to factor fittings in to that as well), and so each client is allocated a slot  – it may be 2 days, 5 days, or 2 weeks – really depends on the garment. Make sure that the client is available for fittings within that time too. I always overestimate, usually by at least a day – unpredictable things may happen, so it is good to have that margin. If you finish the item on or before the allocated deadline, you have a day to rest, work on stock or  squeeze in an emergency order from the waiting list

This is what my monthly diary usually look like – you may wish to set it up as  a digital one, but I am afraid I am still very much a pen and paper kind of girl….

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I also put notes on  week pages –  it gives me focus and I know what I am doing day by day…

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You may notice fitting days –  I discovered that having fittings on many different days for different clients is  not working very well for me – it disrupts the day and productivity flow, and so I try to keep 2-4 fitting days a month (depends on the season), usually for both weekdays and weekends.  There are of course exceptions when a client cannot make any, but I have found out if I plan them well ahead, that doesn’t happen  a lot.

I usually have 3-4 people in for a fitting day – more is usually to much and I struggle to think clearly!

I also keep a few days a month for stock making for my online shop, or for upcoming markets.  I like making stock so these are usually fun days when I make what I want to make,  or when I experiment with patterns. They are also useful if you happen to have an emergency order too 🙂 and since we are talking about emergencies….

* Do you accept last minute orders?

That depends  on  a given month – sometimes if my stock days are free or if I know I can finish a planned order beforehand, then yes – but I make it very clear to the client that an emergency order will be a subject to an additional fee, and that they will need to be able to attend fittings, sometimes day after day  (in the picture above the regency dress as such – all done in 2 days, during which time the client stayed in a nearby b&B and was available for fittings as required – and picked up the dress at the end of her stay)

* I hate paperwork – how many documents do you usually issue per order?

1. quote, 2. contract ( sometimes with a separate specification), 3. final invoice

* What machines do you use?

I  have tried a few over the last 20 years or so – mostly Janome, Toyota and Pfaff. Nowadays Janome is my brand of choice  – I have had a few different models over the years and ended up with the best set up for me:

1. primary machine – dedicated straight stitch semi-industrial 1600PQC. perfect for everyday stitching, and FAST….

2. secondary machine –  for back up plus all the fancy work ( embroidery, zips, ruffling, buttonholes etc) – Horizon – MC800QC

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3. Overlocker – i used to have a  SMD744D and liked it, but since then moved on to Babylock Eclipse – it is faster and changing the threads is  easier due to the air threading:-)

These are not the cheapest models – but since they are the tools of my profession I need machines that are fast, reliable and can deal with the amount of work.  You don’t need to spend a fortune on hardware – mid price items from Janome are also good, and will suffice if you don’t stitch day in day out. I have used this models for years and they worked brilliantly too – SMD6019QC, and J3-20

Apart from that I also use a very old but very good grinder/sander for filing corsetry bones. It is old, it is noisy as hell, but does a fantastic job.  update – I have moved on to a new Draper now – but  the moment i find  replacement sanding discs for the old one, i think it will be back in favour!

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Steamer – Vaporella Easy

* what does your workroom look like?  you must need loads of space!

Well,  should I be so lucky….. 😉 I work from home so am using a combination of a reception and living room. No  space for a proper cutting table ( for most of the dresses I would need a rather sizable one….), so the cutting of large bits happens on the floor… but generally, this is when all the costuming happens. when I am working on a lot of stock and need more cutting space, I simply hire  a workshop  nearby.

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from the right – the work area…

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on the left – cutting and patterning space

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storage under the cutting space

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pressing station and some of the patterns ( corsetry) on the wall.

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reference books and computer desk 🙂

*Do you use commercial patterns?

Very rarely and usually either for myself or when a customer asks for an item to be made using a specific pattern.. Mostly I use either my own patterns that I developed throughout the years, or a combination – a commercial pattern adapted to my needs.  When I use a commercial pattern I always run a trial and see if it runs true to size -. For bespoke  items, I very rarely use commercial ones, and even when I do, I always make a mock up and fit it individually to a customer.

Also, many commercial patterns  are licensed for only 10  or 5 garments ( Truly Victorian or  Sew Curvy for example) so  unless I had  the authors  permission, I would  not be able to use them for many clients or for stock items.

* Do you have any tips for online selling?

a few!

* invest in a professional website. I use Create.net and love it, it was easy to set it up even for me, and it is not expensive.

*in the bespoke section include your price range  –  when people email you about commissions they will have already seen the pricing, so your quote won’t come as a surprise.

*specify posting dates.  if you have a post office nearby and don’t mind frequent visits, that’s fine – for me Monday, Wednesday and Friday are posting  days –  unless someone asks for urgent sale etc. people will get their items in 1 or 2 days, and you know you have 2 days when the chore of tackling the post office queues is not looming ahead.

* Be as specific about the items for sale as you can – and be honest. You may have a few less sales, but a few less returns as well!

*make sure your T&C are clearly defined!

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Well,I think that’s it for a while! as before, feel free to ask questions and comment, they are welcome and appreciated! and if  we have more questions, they will be answered in another post as well 🙂

Happy reading!

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