Is it possible to be so niche market that you cannot make a living from your skill? If no one wants your skill, how can you possibly make enough from it?
Let’s look at it another way instead. Is it possible to be so niche that you almost own the market? So much so, that if people want to learn that skill or buy that product, that it is only you they can come to for help. You might not be making enough to retire on, but it could be enough to give you the standard of living to suit you and create the happiness and fulfillment in work that you want.
I certainly don’t class what I do as niche, and perhaps (almost certainly) I am wrongly marketing myself in an industry best known for ‘pile them high, sell them cheap’ which is far off my ethos and even further from the way in which I work. I need to address that.
Unfortunately I am for the most part drowned out by the face of fashion. The high street, high turnaround. My way of working is the kind of skill that flows by word of mouth, not through Twitter or Instagram. And whilst I don’t think I could make a living by word of mouth, there are people who are doing that because niche markets create small but tight communities that work together, recommend each other and circulate at relevant events. And that has far more power than social media.
I am far off the ethos of most fashion labels. I don’t make multiples, each piece is hand crafted, hand finished and completely unique. Most of my creations cannot be replicated because I don’t make block patterns and I style directly onto the mannequin. I am sure there is a community for that.
The motivation behind what I do is that if you wear a dress I created, you will never see anyone else in it, because only one exists. And if you are the kind of person who understands why things should cost more, are happy to invest in small businesses for the right reasons and want to be the individual, and invest in good design, my work is for you.
But how do you market that, or do you rest safe in the knowledge that good crafts find their market organically? This probably works for some. Others may never realise their potential but will have enjoyable working lives. What would you sacrifice to enjoy every day of your working life?
It takes a particular kind of person to truly enjoy what they do and not focus on the finance aspect of it. This is the problem with creatives turning the things they love to do, into income. It is a problem I have faced my entire working life. Sometimes it has made me mistrust my skills and my abilities and want to quit. Many of us, when we turn passions and skills into work, fall foul of the focus on the profit margin. It’s inevitable. You either need to be comfortably off already, or have a second job. Both are practical options of course. The other is to minimalise your life. And that also takes a particular kind of person.
I never wanted to be a part of the broader fashion industry. I never wanted a shop on every corner, in every city. I never wanted to make a fortune and have a New York apartment. I never wanted to be at trendy cocktail parties in trendy bars, rubbing shoulders with models and the media. I don’t care for any of that. I just wanted to enjoy what I did and make enough out of it to not worry too much. Compared to some, I haven’t done badly – seven years later and my business and my label still exists, but it’s only because I am savvy and willing to bend the rules of the game to stay here. I think in fashion, that may itself be relatively rare. At least, it seems like that when I look at my Twitter and Instagram feeds.
My decision to work from home again, gives me the opportunity to go back to the roots of what I do, and it has put perspective on the rest of my life too, because my creativity is my life. I have more experience and I’ve learned more lessons, enough I think, to make a better job of it this time around. I also have a better infrustrature around me to stay grounded and remain focused, some of my bad habits. This last five months at Progress Centre have been problematic and, for longer than that, the environment has not been good for my creativity. Sometimes a change is as good as a rest. And I think it is time for change.