The reality of ‘mark up’

I am a huge supporter of British manufacture. Drapers is my bible of choice. But I can appreciate, as a freelancer trying to break even let alone profit, why the price of materials is often more important than its place of origin. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t only buy UK made fabrics or clothing. Far from it – oh if only I could!

Take this scenario for instance. I make a (for example) 1950s style day dress – still a very popular style at the moment. What would you pay for a dress that looked like this?

At 5 – 6 metres of fabric per dress retailing at about £3.99 a metre (not from the UK I hasten to add) that’s about £30 in materials. Add £5 an hour for labour and you’ve already got a dress that’s cost about £50 to make. If I only add a mark up of £20, I would need to make and successfully sell 23 of these every month just to pay basic bills. And in our current climate of throw away fashion from the likes of Primark and New Look where you can buy a summer dress for £25 or far less, it’s not easy to shift that kind of stock, even if it is something a little bit special. You only have to look at ebay to see that.  
Alternatively I could style 6 photoshoots per month at £80 per 4 hour shoot including outfits or produce one or two wedding dresses a month. That’s actually quite a lot of work, not only to do, but to find and secure the contract on.

So the use of expensive though clearly better fabrics (obviously because it’s British) isn’t really an option. It’s more about your style, that’s your selling point. What are you going to offer that’s a little bit different? The realisation of making couture (what our degree course is aimed at) really hit home last month with my capsule collection. After the price of fabrics, the mark up and the VAT I couldn’t even afford to buy my own work (it came in at about £550). Quality fabrics are going to set you back at least £20 per metre.

I suppose that, yes, I am thinking small and you’re never quite sure how to pitch your work in the early days. You tend to target those around you in your networking circle and take it from there Well, we all have to start somewhere and I’m not about to embark on a factory style operation, but times aren’t easy right now and you need to tread carefully. Though the initial realisation has died down in the news we are basically still in a recession and finding paid work is tricky. Oh there’s plenty of work and bucket loads of talent out there to keep your porfolio shiny and new but finding those able or willing to part with cash is another matter!

Thankfully this summer is only my test run. I am throwing myself into it full time to see if I can raise enough freelance work to get me through the next few months. I have until mid September to prove I can survive. In September I embark on my third and final year of my degree – head down – concentrate! This is the big one. Feathering the nest whilst in the safe house that is university life, nurturing my label and getting everything up and running with a good reputation and a clientelle has been my aim since day one. I started last summer so that by the time I am finished up at Uni, I may have the beginnings of a successful business to walk straight into, but I am not convinced even now that it will be established enough. The first two years are make or break for your average business.

So here we are, working hard, creating and getting everything in place. So far it is going very well, very well indeed. Let’s see how the next few months pan out. Watch this space….


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