Running a Costuming business part 4:Getting Real

You are a creative person and would like to run a creative business full time.  You have read the success stories, you have chatted to friends, and everything looks peachy – so you are leaving your mundane day-job and are … Continue reading

That Bespoke Thang…

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Over the last 20 years of sewing for other people this is one of the more often-asked  questions – “Why is bespoke more expensive than ready to wear, off-the-peg garments?”  And this request accounts for about 80% of the email I am getting nowadays too:
“I saw your off the peg riding habit/gown/corset and I love it –  I would like it made bespoke for me, in a different fabric and colour and with more decoration – will the price be the same?”

 

 

The reason for the difference in price is simple – as already stated in one of my previous blogs,  ( A Queen on a budget, please), nowadays ordering bespoke is very rare thing. People are used to all the cheap, ready made clothing they see in the shops, and  even with specialised items such as corsetry and historical  clothing,  a lot of people do not realise the difference between the ‘off-the-peg’ and ‘bespoke’, especially when made by he same person or company.

So,to make things simpler let us have a look at what you are actually paying for – at least  as far as my own merchandise is concerned..

  Off the Peg items:

* Fabric

* Labour –   a generically sized pattern is used to cut out the fabric, followed by assembly and decoration: the price will depend upon the complexity of the garment and time needed to execute it

*Notions – decorations, buttons, thread, embroidery, etc

*Packing/postage/delivery if required

*My professional expertise, knowledge and experience!

 

 Bespoke items.

  • Fabric

 

  •  Labour –
    • initial measuring  session with a client
    • drafting their specific pattern
    • making up a mock-up ( toile)
    • fitting the mock up on the client (with second client visit)
    • cutting out fabric based on final pattern from re-fitted toile
    •  assembling  the garment proper,
    •  fitting session with a client – these stages may be repeated several times depending upon how many items are to be made or how complex the garments may be)
    •  final assembly of the garment(s)
    •  adding decoration, finishing touches, etc
    • pick up session  with finished garments – although rarely needed, there is usually time assigned for any last minute corrections, as well. In my case you are likely to get a free photoshoot  with TimeLight  Photographic too, if you wish 😉
    • after-care –  small repairs or minor adjustments are generally provided for free; bigger ones may be provided at a reduced hourly rate. People usually come back to resize a garment if they have lost or gained significant weight,  or to add more decoration, reapply a hem guard if the  original one is worn out, etc.
  • time  (apart from actual making of the garment)-
    • fitting sessions, measuring sessions have to be scheduled in.
    • consultation, either in person, on the phone or by email, giving advice on style,  fabric choices, historical accuracy, etc.  For a relatively simple garments emails and message exchange may take several hours to write, research, etc. In the most extreme case I received over 250 emails from one person in one week about her commission…
    • research. Lots of research.
    • sourcing the fabrics, embellishments and other providers for items we do not supply direct (blackwork, embroidery, shoes, etc)
    • writing up contracts, quotes and invoices
    • chasing up clients  to settle on fitting dates, etc. Fortunately, a good contract means we don’t have to chase folks for the payment! (more on contracts for businesses running a business – contracts)

 

  • notions – decorations, buttons, thread, etc
  •  

    packing/postage/delivery if needed

  •  

    my professional expertise, knowledge and experience.

 

  • stress!  I am an introvert and dealing with people, however lovely, and no matter how enjoyable it is for me, (and make no mistake, I love my work and so far all of my bespoke clients have been amazing – to such an extent that we often develop friendly relations afterwards and stay in touch socially), this stress still takes its toll. After a few ours of fittings I feel as if I have run a marathon and all I want to do is sleep:-)

 

See the difference?  A riding habit that looks the same  will take 3 times as long  if made bespoke – and that is usually  true for every other item.

Above – a bespoke habit  worth over £1000 in quality cloth, fittings, handmade and hand applied braiding and an off the peg habit from our online shop – £370

 

Another thing to consider is  the fact that I make off-the-peg garments largely to satisfy my own insane desire to create pretty things – I make them in the size I want, in a fabric I like and have available currently and in a style I feel inclined to – I don’t have to  consult a client on what they would like. If I change my mind half way through – that is fine. If I feel tired and don’t fancy pushing myself to finish by a certain deadline – that is fine too. Full creative freedom.

Bespoke work is much more complex, since I have to adhere to the client’s ideas, body type, etc, so it provides quite a different feeling. Taking someone else’s ideas and making a fully functional garment, looking the way they want it too look, and fitting them well is immensely satisfying. All the hours of research, fittings, handstitching etc are worth it not only in terms of the financial reward-  the look on the client’s faces when they see themselves in the mirror wearing  their new clothing for the first time is a great reward too – and, I won’t lie, I love  to see my work worn and admired. The last session when a final outfit is tried on is always stressful – no matter how experienced you are, you are always worried that maybe this button is a tad too tight, or maybe the skirt is 0.5″ too big. Paltry things, easy to sort out within minutes, but irrationally, I still always worry!

But when it all comes together – well, the moment is magic. And  I don’t charge for that! 😉

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Running a Costuming Business, part 3:The Art of Objectivity

 

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A short follow up on my earlier posts, ( part 1 and 2), dealing with running a creative business – not only a costuming one I suppose, but applying to many art- and craft-related business as well.

This point has come up recently, but in quite a few places, and so I though it was worth discussing it here. I have mentioned ‘constant learning’ and pointed out how important it is if you want your  business to succeed, but  I neglected to mention one important thing:

MISTAKES.

…and believe me, ladies and gentlemen, mistakes are  your friend.  They show  you clearly in which areas you need to improve, they make you aware that there is yet more research todo/ techniques to study, and  as a result, you get better! The thing is, everybody makes mistakes- but not everybody learns from them.

I am often asked by  folks for an opinion on their creations – and they all ask me for an honest opinion. And an honest opinion I give, highlighting both the points of excellency, and  stating what areas could do with some improvement (as a college teacher I have had decades of practice on how to do this, at least now it comes  handy for my own business too!); and guessed what?  A few folks are happy,  a few take the comments on board and apply in their future work, a few listen, thank me and ignore whatever was suggested – and that is all fine. However, quite a significant  percentage are angry and actually resort to abuse,  (“how dare you criticise my gown! I spent months working on it!” ; “You are just  jealous, you must hate my work –  all my friends are saying this piece is perfect!”; and even “go fuck yourself, you ‘know- it-all’,  my work is faultless; afraid of competition, huh?”).  They do make for an interesting read sometimes, and sometimes they leave me puzzled – so after some thinking and a few discussions with friends,  I realised  an important thing:

Very few people are able to view their work objectively.

It works in both directions. Some  people create amazing things  but in their own eyes they are nothing special, just ‘something I made’ . The are the perfectionists, never satisfied with the end result, and sometimes suffering from ‘impostor syndrome’. As a result they do put their own work down, and either under-price it or, if making things for themselves, they get disappointed with the lack of perfection. Usually  they just need a bit of a boost, usually from another person whose opinion they feel they can trust, to start looking at their creations in a different light. Sometimes their sense of underachievement may come from comparing their own work to other artists to whom they look up – and that issue can be dealt with as well.

If you think you might be one of these folks, there are a few things you may do, to try to look at your own work in a more realistic light:

  • Read up on the Impostor Syndrome and ways to overcome it; (a good start here)
  • Set yourself realistic goals. Aim high, yes – but in small steps rather than one huge leap.  Take small steps, each bringing you closer to your ideal.
  • Identify the issues that you think your work has, write them down and then discuss  – ideally with a specialist in the area, an outsider who will be objective, but if you have friends who are able to tell you what they really think, that can work, too. Seek out a few good, informed opinions – if none of them perceive the same issues as yourself, there is a high probability that the issue is really only in your own head! If they agree and state that there is something upon which you can improve, don’t despair. Simply note the advice and plan for how to deal with it. This is one of your targets, and gives you something tangible to work on, whilst on your way to ‘perfection’.
  •  Talking about perfection – well, it means something different to  everybody.  I  usually assume absolute perfection is unattainable, but one can damn well try to get as close as possible! Do not over-obsess though – that one, tiny, skipped stitch you found on the inside or that one buttonhole 0.2mm out of alignment?  It will most likely not be noticed by 99.9% of the population…
  • Know your limits: everybody has different strengths and different weaknesses – use your strengths to your advantage.  You can make a great piece of clothing with a commercial pattern, but when trying to pattern things yourself you end up in a mess?- either take lessons or a course in patterning, or just concentrate on doing what you are good at! Or, if you cannot follow a pattern at all and get lost in calculations, but can free-hand them with ease and the end result is amazing – well, ditch the patterns! There are may ways leading to the same result, all of them equally good.

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  • Don’t always compare yourself to the top of your profession. Yes, look up to them and learn from them, but also take time to compare yourself to your peers, and also to those who are just starting out.  This is crucial – and works for many walks of life.  I  had a similar experience in Mixed Martial Arts quite recently –   for the last year or so I have been trying to spar with the best fighters, thinking that these guys are the ones to learn from. I was right, but only partially.  I was learning, but couldn’t see it, and the fact that I was having my arse handed to me again, and again, and again, wasn’t particularly motivating. I did some sparring with the beginners, and enjoyed the teaching and coaching part, but it was only when I came across somebody who was my peer, more or less,  when I understood how much I had learnt. These guys were not the cage fighters I usually worked with, but blokes who had been coming for the last year or so – fit, young and looking quite formidable. I sparred with them a few times half a year ago or so  and was just about able to handle it.  So now I expected something similar – but it turned out much better. Suddenly all the moves that I wasn’t able to pull with the ‘pros’ now worked! I seemed faster and more agile – although obviously I wasn’t – they were just a bit slower than my usual sparring partners. My ego soared! At least until the next round when  I was ground to dust by one of our pros…  it is a lengthy example but I hope it shows how working with all, levels, higher and lower can help you understand your own capabilities: Working with the best can provide you with inspiration and will make you learn; working with peers will help you assess your own work better and you learn from each other a lot too; working with beginners will help you realise how far you have come – and will help them to improve as well.

 

* Take photos of you work and if you are feeling particularly low, have a look at the old ones.  more often than not, you will see how far you have come!

*and a final note – Do not use the Impostor Syndrome as an excuse for sloppy work – if  one sleeve is longer than another, if the collar doesn’t align or the hem buckles it is not you telling yourself you are trying too hard to be too perfect and most people wont notice it anyway. Grab that seam ripper and set too work, it will be worth it!

 

Now, let us have a look at the other end of the scale.

Some people are not able to see their own mistakes – and the reasons may be  numerous, ranging from a case of Dunning- Kruger Syndrome  to the fact that your family and friends may be pumping you full lies so that you stay happy. Or maybe  you are starting  on a long road and are so ecstatic about the first step as a whole, that you cannot see the details which could be improved (been there, done that, got the tee shirt. I now cringe when I look at those ‘masterpieces’ I used to be so proud of!)

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one of my early corsets…. essentially a tube. but gosh, i was so ecstatic about it!

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4 years and about 60 corsets later…. getting better!

Most often, the apparent confidence in one’s own brilliance comes not from an over-abundance of self esteem – but rather a lack of it. Often, people are bought up in the belief that mistakes are bad and to be avoided at all cost – and that admitting to one is just as bad. Years of self delusion, denying all possibility of any fault, usually re-enforced  by the white lies that family and friends feed you, and you somehow loose the ability to see your mistakes – and most importantly, to learn from them.

Now, if you are making things for yourself, and love what you doing – that is really all that matters – especially when  you are happy about your results. You are happy and that’s the end of it – enjoy it, and what everybody  else is thinking does not matter at all.

However, if  your professional career depends upon it, and you are making things for other people, this can be detrimental to the development of your business and indeed can stop you from fully realising your creative potential. It will also make you very unhappy – you are producing fantastic things, but nobody wants to buy them – why?  If you want to succeed, you need to understand how to adjust your perception – even though your mind is telling you clearly that there is no fault with the product, it is just that all of those other people are wrong, and being awkward! ;-0).
There are a few techniques that may help:

  •  It is very difficult to judge your own work accurately – so seek the opinions of outsiders, just as mentioned above. Try not to get upset when critical advice is offered, but do take notes and decide which parts need more work. Make sure the ‘experts’ you are asking for advice are indeed knowledgeable folks with experience and not just a friend of a friend who once made a hankie….
  • Assume from the start that what you have just made may have faults. Although lots of art is deeply subjective, at least in costuming things can be made easy – you cannot  ‘objectively’ state how pretty something is, but there are measurable quantities and aspects – below are two of my check-lists, for corsetry and off-the-peg  Victorian dresses. Lists like that are  great, and you will soon find that in time they become mental check-lists, and that you are  noticing a mistake as you work  along and correcting it as you go – much easier than doing so after the garment is finished!
  •  Seam ripper is your best friend –  it is frustrating, dull and infuriating, but it is really worth it to rip and redo a wonky seam!
  • …as is the tape measure. You may not see that the collar is uneven, but you cannot argue with the tape informing you kindly that one edge is half an inch higher than the other….  These may be details – but oh, so often they do make a difference between a mediocre dress and a superb outfit!
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Your Best Friend

  • Get some distance – after you make a garment,  put it away overnight, or at least for a few hours and go for a walk, or do something different. Then look at it with fresh eyes and try to asses it as somebody else’s work. I once spent a whole day working on a replica bolero jacket for a museum. I was battling with a lurgy and not feeling great, but decided to soldier through.  I shouldn’t have. I felt better the next day and one look at the garment made me go: “Oh, crap, I need to do the blasted thing again”.   There was nothing inherently wrong with it, but it just did not seem right, I went through my checks with a tape measure etc, and realised what was the problem : the bias bits were not done well enough, the trim was a bit uneven, buttons just a notch out of alignment… I spent the whole day remaking it from scratch. As it turned out, the client liked both –  but I felt better knowing that I had made an item better suited for public viewing
  •  As in the opposite spectrum, perform frequent ‘reality checks’. Seek advice from people you admire, compare your work to your peers’ and study together, help beginners –  a few times, I have realised my own mistakes only after seeing them on a student’s work. And the occasional bitch-and-stitch sessions can be not only educational, but fun 🙂
  • As before, do take pictures. Compare your old work with new pieces; if you are learning and improving, there will  be clear evidence of it, and it will sharpen your ‘mistake hunting’ senses. By the same token, if you look at the skirts you made over the last 3 years and they all feature an uneven hem – well, you know precisely your next personal improvement goal!
  •  Having said all that, don’t go over the top trying to find out the slightest faults in every single item. Improving is one thing – loosing your joy in making things is quite another, and it is never a good thing trying to make a living doing things you don’t enjoy any more…

 

Well, that is it – I believe my first blog ever with more text than pictures, a rarity!  I hope my musings were not too hard a read and that they may help some people. If you have any ideas on other techniques people can use to learn how to assess  their own work (more or less objectively), please share in the comments!

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Running a Costuming Business

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Over the last few years I had a few people asking me about doing costuming as a business – and since in the last 3 months I have had several graduates and future entrepreneurs ask me the very same questions again and again, I have decided to deal with them  in one place – so that everybody who thinks of operating a business can benefit.

Just a short background note first – I am a self-taught costumier – my adventure started in 1997 or so, after spending a summer with historical interpreters from Past Pleasures.   I first made a few medieval things for myself for a Christmas party of my group (I was taught the basics of sewing at school and my mum ), and although the garments were, to be honest, quite horrid, I soon had friends and other members of the club asking me to make them kit too.

Within a few years, I made loads of outfits for friends and re-enactors, and after 3 years of serious stitching and even more serious research and costume education, I had a side business established, adding a few good zloties ( I still lived in Poland at that time) to my normal income.  For 5 years I ran it with a friend, making mostly medieval  clothing for clients in Poland, Scandinavia, France and Italy.

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early days, working with my partner at an event

When I moved to the UK in 2005, I had to start anew, more or less – and the first year or two I spent most of my professional time working, teaching in the colleges, getting more teaching qualifications etc. But then I got the bug again, and started attending more events, and as a result, was asked for more kit.

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my first outfits. urgghhrr!!!!

Prior Attire was born in 2009 – as a supplementary 1 woman business.  In 2010 I was able to switch the college workload a bit, and work 80% – leaving Friday and the whole weekend to costuming and teaching the rest of the days. In November 2011 I left the college stint for good – and never looked back…  It hasn’t been easy but since then I am usually fully booked up 3-6 months ahead, sometimes more – and although I do work more hours than ever, it is worth it!

If it all looks great and peachy for you – well, don’t be deceived. It does take years to establish a good customer base, find a niche in the market, and invest your time, money, resources… I am doing the job I love, and am quite good at (false modesty aside), but it was not an easy path – and it not so easy to maintain and grow either….

Still, hope this helps a bit – find below the questions I am asked most often:

* Do I need to have a degree?

Not necessarily – I  read English at University, and it encompassed the history of the language as well as usual history. It did come in useful, as,  being able to decipher Old English or Middle English texts during the research, it provides you with more data. So a related uni or college degree would be  very helpful – but with or without it, be prepared to do a LOT of studying and learning on your own as well. and if you want to maintain your business, you will never stop learning….

* Had you already done a lot of work before you started bespoke historical costuming?

Yes.  Yes. Yes. – as mentioned above I was sewing  for years before I was able to dedicate my career to costuming entirely. It helps if you can phase it out, but it usually takes years. Work also means research – and when I was starting research meant actually going to museums, travelling to other countries to trawl the libraries, galleries etc. Nowadays, with the internet it is much easier!

*How do you advertise and get clients?

You can advertise on Facebook (not worth it, unless you study the algorithyms and can use it to your advantage)), google adverts, magazines, fora, etc. Not really sure how effective that is – for me the greatest advertisement proved to be – well, wearing my work!  Due to my academic background, I am also an interpreter, and I wear historical costume for work. Seeing the clothes worn, on a person, is one of the best adverts you can get, in my experience – be it at an event, or a market, a gown on a person is much more interesting than a small add in a magazine.

And the same goes for my clients – 60 % of my customers find their way to me via word of mouth – usually seeing my work on another client.

Professional social media and internet presence is essential too – that’s the rest of the customers accounted for, mostly. Here you do need to put some time  too – learning fb algorithms,  posting regularly with quality content, engaging etc – but it is all worth it.

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a happy client is your best asset!

 Do you work by yourself?

Yes, I am a 1 woman business. I have a loving and long suffering husband who helps at the market (he possesses much better people skills than I do!), but apart from that, all I do is just me and my needle pricked fingers! Recently I have started hiring a workshop space and some help for the busy periods when I need to make lots of simple stock fast though – and it proved not only fun but profitable too!

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 Do you work normal 9-5 hours?

Ha!  Nope.  My normal working day may start more or less at 9, but it does not finish at 5 – I do take breaks for lunch, to go training in the evening, etc, but it is often that I am still doing some stitching at 11pm, watching a telly or playing scrabble.

Weekends – yep, same applies.  In fact I do need to plan my holidays better – in the last 5 years I had much less holiday than the national quota…..

I do like keeping busy though and cannot imagine it any other way – but you will need to manage your time efficiently (see my article on that here)

Did you research the market first?

Not much – as I started by making clothes for myself, to be able to work as an interpreter and for living history demonstrations, the market research was done more or less on the go.  But it is essential if you are starting with a clear business purpose in mind. You do learn what people need and how much they are willing to pay for it if you are a part of the community – the basic supply and demand laws of economics apply. You might be making lovely Viking dresses, but if people don’t need them, you won’t make much profit! But if you have a particular product or line in mind – yes, market research is essential.  Learn what events are popular, what periods, and how it works with your area of expertise. I would love to make more late 17th century mantuas – but there is scarcely any demand for them as there are almost no big events in UK for this period – so it doesn’t matter if my mantuas are exceptional pieces, if people don’t have a reason to wear them, they won’t buy them.

Still, I made one just for fun…. just in case, you never know…. 🙂

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*How big was your profit in the first year? (Yes, people do ask that!!)

To be honest, forget about any profit for the first few years at the very least. For me, whatever I earned that didn’t go towards taxes, bills, living expenses etc, was spent right back on improving the business – getting more stock, making more samples, getting better websites, banners, courses, equippment,books. If you are after a quick profit, well, that is not the business for it, it seems! It does get better though, as you are becoming more established – I can now afford occasional treats now… ( read – more silks….) ;-0

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silks!!!!!!

 

 Who are your customers?

Mostly re-enactors, historical interpreters, both professional, part time or hobbyists, museums, heritage sites, event companies; less often film and theatre; used to do bridal and Steampunk stuff too, but in the end decided it was not my cup of tea. Really varies!

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providing costume and working as an extra for Horrible Histories

 How to you work out the pricing?

There are many ways to do it, but the general thing is – make sure you charge what is right for you – the cost of the material, the cost of time, research etc.  Remember that undercharging just so that you get a sale is not a good strategy – but neither is overcharging. If you are an artist and price your items as unique masterpieces – be prepared to earn like one –  and yes, from time to time there will be a person who would pay several thousands of pounds of a dress just because it has your name on it. But this is not a reliable income that would pay your mortgage and bills…. If you are in a happy situation that you don’t need to rely on your business to survive, that’s great – but very few of us are!

Generally my prices are mid-range – I don’t really do cheap stuff, and people who expect to pay £20 for a corset or £100 for a dress are simply not my clients. If I accepted such prices, I wouldn’t even begin paying up the costs of the materials in some cases, let alone time and profit!  I sell off the peg items cheaper than bespoke – I don’t have to go through the measuring, consultation, fittings etc process – so they take much less time. Bespoke stuff is more expensive – but then you get a much more personalised item – my prices can be found on my website, if you want to get a feeling for it.

It is really  important  to learn to work fast and precisely. Not in a hurry, mind you – but if you take months to finish one dress, it won’t pay your bills. But with experience, you will be able to speed the process up with no loss of quality – my first bustle cage took me over a day, as I was puzzling out the construction, playing with design and pattern. Half a year later and a few cages more, I was able to make one in 6 hours. Nowadays I make one in just under 2 hours, maybe 3 is it is a fancy one – mostly because I know the process so well and don’t need to ponder on what goes where…

*Do I need to do my own marketing?

Hell yes…. As mentioned before, you need to be visible – have a separate page, website, Instagram account, update it often, learn Facebook algorithms to manage the reach of the posts – and yes, it does take time, and yes it is a part of the job.  Set up promotional photo shoots, invest in making showpieces – it all pays up. When I was developing the bridal side of the business we set up 4 seasonal photo shoots in one year – I made about 20 gowns for these, in between work on historical items. It was an investment – in time, resources, fabric, organizing the shoots around the country, finding models, MUAs, and photographers – and it was worth it.  Most samples sold anyway, and the commissions I got on the strength of my portfolio paid up more than once over the original investment.

At the same time – do not go over the top and over market – There is nothing more irritating than a starting company who is trying to sell in an overaggressive manner.  Steady, moderate and tasteful – yes, loud, in-your-face, incessant – not so much…

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outtake shoot from our first bridal collection and fashion show at Harrowden, 2012

 

*Do I need to have contracts etc?

Absolutely. Contracts protect you and the customer alike – they specify what is to be made, the deadline, the fittings, pricing, deposit, all terms and conditions.  And yes, especially important when making stuff for friends. Always specify the non-refundable deposit (either a percentage of the labour prices, or the cost of fabrics etc) – if the client defaults, you will at least have something, as it may be too late to book another customer in the suddenly vacant plot. Also specify payment options and what happens to unpaid/uncollected items.

Remember the contract binds you too – so make sure to allow for enough time to make the garment…. It doesn’t matter if you produce a fantastic Victorian gown two weeks after the ball the client needed it for – they won’t be coming back to you, and will make sure their friends don’t either.

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working on the set of Horrible Histories

  Some general points and advice…

*quality – goes without saying, strive for the best you can do. Always. And be proud of what you make –  don’t cut corners on fabrics, styles etc if you don’t have to –  well made outfit in quality materials will bring you more customers. A poorly made one, or one that sports inferior fabrics, finish or fit will most likely lose you some potential business.

*communicate – make a point of answering emails in a timely manner, keep people informed about the development, and if you have a problem – talk about it. It won’t go away just because you are ignoring the messages, phone calls etc. deal with it. Be reliable, finish things in time – the reputation for reliability will be crucial in obtaining new customers.

*Mistakes – accept that you will make them. Everybody does. So be prepared to deal with them and learn from them. If it means that you need to start stitching anew, and buy an extra length of fabric out of your own pocket – so be it, shit happens. You will remember next time.

* Don’t stop learning. Ever. There is always something new to learn, a new technique to muster, more in-depth research to do, a new pattern to develop. Don’t accept that this is it, you have made it and know it all, no need for more learning. As you learn, your skills will improve alongside with your reputation. I think we have all been there – we look at an outfit we made a few years ago, and we thought then it was brilliant, the pinnacle of our achievement – and yet now you see how much better you are able to make things now. I look at my past garments and cringe – there is always something I now know I could have done better! But that’s ok, next time I do similar style, I will make it ever more perfect.

Read articles, go on courses, watch how to videos on youtube even – and experiment. It is time well spent.

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learning corsetry …

*invest in good quality.  Good quality sewing equipment, good quality fabrics, boning etc – it will pay off.

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my two sewing machines…. love them!

* manage your time to avoid procrastination, digressions and distractions. Plan for every outfit commissioned, and plan well in advance.

11.timing for a coat - with some action point

notes on the timing – how long it takes to make one item

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

planning – in the calendar and working out components and time necessary for an order

* It helps if you have a unique product you want to sell. But remember that may not be enough.  Also, if your product is not unique but your service is (you deliver on time, exceptional quality, etc) – it will work too!

* if you are an introvert, like me, markets, networking etc will be double hard. I am lucky in having my hubby  to share the workload at the markets, but even then it takes me days to recover !  Still, it has to be done – but try and share your work at markets with a friend, spouse – or hire help, if necessary. Dealing with people is necessary – sometimes fun, sometimes hard work – but it is people who buy your products, so treat them right!

* be flexible. Some years you will find demand for different items is greater –  the last few years it was mostly Regency, Titanic and WWI era – because there are events planned to go with the anniversaries. It meant I had to do more research on those periods, play with patterns and invest in shoots, etc – but it was worth it.  I would never have thought that in the last few months our greatest earner would be a Victorian and 1914 style corsetry – but hey, so it is. No doubt a few years on, something else will be in fashion, and more research and learning will be needed – but hey, that’s fun!

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our bestsellers:-)

*Network.  work together with other people in the industry – help them out, learn from them, enjoy working together.

*Have fun – don’t forget you started your business because you wanted to do what you love doing. Yes, it may take a few years when you may be stuck doing 50 boring shirts – but this is your bill money. In time you will be able to choose the commissions you want to do, but before that simply award yourself by working on private projects – make a gown you always wanted to make , spend a day or two just on lace making, embroidery, simply re-affirm your love for the craft.  If you have made a gown of your dreams, wear it – have a photo shoot in it, go to a ball in it, invite friends for a tea in kit !It will keep you motivated and keep the costuming joy going.

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Do comment if you have any other questions you’d like answered!

And if you want a more in depth information on all the aspect of running a creative business – check this little book, Craft a Creative Business by Fiona Pullen. It covers all the basics and more in an accessible way, presents you with a nicely develop points and business strategy and offers invaluable advice on marketing, legal matters, planning –   a must to read!

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p.s. – part 2 of this article, answering more questions and dealing with time management, contracts etc is now available too –  Running a Costuming Business part 2; we are dealing with perception of your own work in  part 3 – The Art of Objectivity, and finally  saying what it takes to make a successful business that lasts in part 4. Getting Real.

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