What do you do? I’ve been asked this on several occasions over the last year or so. I know that to me it’s obvious. I am a fashion designer and a photoshoot stylist. But I realise it’s not as clear cut as this. I traverse several design disciplines and I don’t just design stuff. Equally things change. You find yourself constantly adapting as customers needs or those of the economy change. So here’s a run down of exactly what I am doing at the moment and what my business is to me.
In an ideal world I would be designing clothing collections, arranging and styling the photoshoots for them and everything would be sumptuous and high end and like opening up the pages of Vogue. Of course, we live in the real world and it just doesn’t work like that. Every small business has to bend in order to survive. My business is smaller than some, but that’s still a challenge. Working within your limitations can be incredibly restrictive if you see yourself in a bigger and better place or up against big competition.
I would describe myself primarily as a clothing designer of ‘capsule collections’. That is, ranges of up to 6 outfits that reflect the styles or trends I am currently working on. The reasons I work to these small numbers is simple:
Firstly, I don’t have the funding to invest in huge amounts of fabric to create limitless seasonal collections. I have one main supplier who gets me short runs of anything between one and 6 metres of whatever he has in stock and I work to that. It’s challenging and limited but also very inspiring. It teaches you to treat fabric as a valuable commodity not to be wasted. It also puts limitations on my creativity that are good for my design work. I have to make the most of far less and think outside the box. I have to get everything I can out a length of fabric which means discarding anything ordinary and sticking with anything that’s a bit different. In any case, it’s a necessity.
Secondly, it’s just me. I don’t have a factory, or several staff working under me. In other words I don’t have the capacity to produce a garment in a range of sizes ready made off the rail and hope that I sell them all at the envisioned price or stock sell to retailers in bulk.
What I am currently is a small, niche market industry overshadowed by bigger far more powerful retailers. It makes you have to shout louder and do things that get you noticed. And hopefully people who care about their clothes will spot you and want you to make something for them.
The aim of the ranges I make is to showcase what I can do and then remake my designs again to individual sizes as and when commissions arise. I am a bespoke designer. I fit things to the individual wearer, because you cannot compartmentalise a persons size to the clothes you are making. Everyone has their own body shape.
When I am designing I try to bear in mind a particular model or at least a definite size of model so that I am in fact designing for a particular person. These models may not be the ideal size of the average person on the high street, but ultimately these are the types of person who will be wearing my garments at a photoshoot and so those are the sizes I constrain myself to. If I was making a petite range, I’d design to a petite model, a size 16 to a size 16 model and a super tall range to a 6ft plus model.
Whilst these ‘protypes’ will ultimately be sold they need to be made, featured in a high quality shoot to preserve them for what they are, and marketed so that they, and their copies, sell, advertise my skills and ultimately promote my business.
This is the dream lifestyle. It is not reality and this type of work does not pay the bills on a regular basis. Therefore the other part of my business – commissions – is an essential component. The general rule is that a client will come to me with a dream dress or outfit in their heads and it’s my job to make it happen to their deadline and where possible to within a budget. I am selling a unique product that they themselves have conceived in their heads. It is their project brought to life by my skills. It is a collaboration. What I get is paid. What they get is something perfect that will last and noone else will ever own. And of course it fits. Perfectly.
What I need right now are more commissions. But increasingly much of the time I am undercut by bigger retailers offering cheaper (but not necessary better) products. Imports have had a huge impact on UK business, where clothing can be made in vast quantities for almost nothing and turned into huge profits. Even wedding dress commissions are becoming rare as would be brides search ebay for cheap Chinese imports or haggle at bridal shops in the January sales. Wedding gowns and prom dresses for under £100 are prices I cannot possibly compete with. And I don’t try to because I know that’s a losing battle. I would be working for nothing.
Running a business is a very involved process. I rarely switch off. If I’m not designing, I’m writing, blogging, updating social media, arranging shoots, finding locations for shoots or looking for inspiration for the next batch of fabrics I’ve just purchased. It’s rare that I am not working or thinking about working in some way – from the moment I wake up, to when I switch off my bedside light. And if it looks like I’m just messing about on my Nexus, I am probably searching Pinterest, putting together mood boards, scouring Model Mayhem for a new team to work with, or looking for accessories to compliment outfits. These are the hours a business owner does and is not paid for. It takes up a lot of time. A lot of business owners do a lot of work for nothing. It’s the behind the scenes work that admin in a office would probably do, but be paid for.
I wasn’t paid to sit here for an an hour and a half and write this blog update. But I wish I was.