Month: September 2014

You Charge HOW MUCH?! (aka The true cost of bespoke corsetry & clothing)

how-much (1)

It’s a phrase that, regardless of how many times corsetieres, dressmakers & assorted craft people alike hear it, it still stings, it still makes you doubt yourself, it still makes you feel you have to justify your craft – even yourself.  It never gets easier to hear, regardless of how you handle it to the outside world – phrases like:

  • Wow… that’s more than i thought….
  • Oh, it’s rather expensive.
  • I can get a corset for £30 from (insert imported online retailer here) – why are yours so expensive?
  • My friend who knows  someone who will make me one for free if I buy the fabric.
  • You must be very good to think you can charge so much.
  • I thought this was just your hobby?

Its not JUST limited to corsetry, ask any dressmaker, any person who makes bags, brooches, knits jumpers.. they’ll all tell you about ‘The Expression’ the expression when some customers get told how much their bespoke item will cost to make, the expression when all manner of thoughts are running through their head whilst attempting not to say something negative – that usually ends up being negative anyway – The expression that tells you that the chances are, this person is not a ‘crafty’ person and has no real grasp of just how much raw materials cost, let alone that you will *gasp* want to pay yourself a wage for working. Working you say? but surely this is a hobby?

Its both – I have no paid outside employment, Yes, I enjoy what I do – sometimes (when things go effortlessly right, when the seam ripper is NOT my eternal friend, when my sewing machine behaves…) but I need money, I need money to buy the raw materials, I need money to pay my mortgage, my bank manager likes it very much when that happens… There is also the question of equipment, machines, space, raw materials, training, research… to give a rough idea of what I have spent monetary wise in the last 3 years, purely related to corsetry, I have a little (non exhaustive) list:

  • Sewing Machines – 1 x Overlocker (serger) £200, 1 x Embroidery machine £800 plus software £1000, 1 x steam iron (with reservoir & stand) £200, 2 x (vintage) Singer machines (cheaper than buying an industrial Juki), plus servicing and electric conversion kits £300

Total Est Cost: £2,500

  • Training courses & Qualifications – Level 1 & level 2 NVQ in Fashion & Textiles plus expenses = £500 (other courses in the pipeline but not paid so far approx £1000), 3 x Courses (so far) on Pattern Drafting, Underbust corsetry techniques, Overbust corsetry techniques (3 x £250) = £750, plus travel/petrol = £150 approx, plus accommodation 9 nights approx = £630

Total Est Cost: £3,030

  • Books/Memberships – Like any craft or hobby, a good supply of books, research, website memberships and so on is vital.  I have a bookshelf full of, and dedicated to corsetry and related topics that are there so I can refer to them if I need tips on historical accuracy, the look of the time, how to do certain techniques and so on – Historical fashion books, modern designers, Le More Illustre books, pattern cutting, embellishment technique books, dressmaking, specific corsetry authors.. plus monthly membership fee’s to online resources. Again an estimation of what I’ve spent on these over the last few years.

Total Est Cost – £2000

  • Misc Hardware/Tools – Various pliers, Bolt Cutters, Eyelet setting press, Awls, Rotary Cutters & blades, cutting Boards, Sheers, Tailors Hams,  task lighting, pattern card and papers, Spiral steel boning of various thicknesses, flat steel bonings, various sizes of busks, eyelets, boning end caps…I can’t even begin to think how much ive spent here, but its safe to quote a figure of around £1800 but likely more

Total Est Cost £1800

  • Misc FabricsANY crafter will attest to their ‘Fabric Stash’ (including secret stashes hidden from their significant others) these are not only those “oooh pretty” fabrics that are randomly picked up, fabrics on sale, but staple fabrics that you *know* are asked for frequently, so a good stock of basic fabrics, cottons, drills, duchesse satin’s, silks, tafetta’s.. plus the inevitable stock needed of medium weight calico for client mock ups, and that corsetry necessity (and expensive) coutil fabric needed for the strength layers which can cost anywhere between £9-25 per meter) having gone through my current fabric stock, i’d say there is several thousand pounds worth of stock, and this is a continuous outlay.

Total Est Cost £3000

  • Misc additional corsetry materials – More materials you say? heck yes! these include corsetry lacing, bias bindings, bone casing tapes, waist tapes, herringbone tapes, fancy laces (£25+ per meter easily), swarovski’s, crystals, beads, studs/spikes and all manner of fancy, pretty things and sewing threads (Gutermann is the more expensive, but having tried others, they just aren’t strong enough for the demands of corsetry –  a 1000m reel of plain white thread is almost £9 in the shops) I’ve probably missed a lot of things here but you get the idea!

Total Est Cost £1000

  • The last and final outlay, the one no one like to speak of, the losses that need to be factored in and absorbed. Craftspeople the country wide will speak of their naivety in the fledgling business beginnings over those people who didnt pay or only partially paid for their item right down to those who paid, received their item then immediately did a chargeback, Ebay/Etsy type sales where the buyers then claims it wasn’t ‘the right shade/colour’ or it was damaged (dare I say, after wearing it for the posh do they wanted it for) and issue Paypal disputes… and so, these extra costs of what is essentially theft are inevitably re-absorbed into the final cost of the items.

So even here, the total monetary cost of what I’ve spent is before I’ve even sewn a stitch, before I’ve actually sat down, spent any time researching, drafting a pattern for a client, or done any actual work at all. It’s safe to assume that all in all, drafting a pattern, alterations, fittings, down to the finished completed corset can easily take (me) 3 x 8 hour days, Sure, I’m not the quickest, but here you get an idea of the time taken – so even on the UK minimum wage  (which often isn’t applied in our attempts to compete with cheaper imported corsets), would equal £156 just on wage costs alone.  I know of corsetieres who spend 180 HOURS alone on handstitched beading/lace on their beautiful corsets that are more like works of art – if they also charge minimum wage for that on top of the normal rate for the basic corset, plus material costs your easily talking £1500+ and that’s before you’ve factored in the years that they spend learning, training, equipment costs, overheads, shop rentals, we have to find our own ‘Pension Pot’ and our own ‘Holiday Pay’… Luckily in the UK we have the NHS to cover health bills… other countries, that’s another expense…

Now I’ve bored most people to a semi-sleep state by my ramblings, the short answer, is that corsets require specialised skills, specialised equipment and materials to produce, and as a niche item, they are done in small, often individual quantities.  I’ve tried in the past to reduce my prices to compete with ‘fashion’ corsets from High Street Stores or other imported online retailers, but it’s impossible, But I realise that now, and I no longer wish to devalue my skills or my time by trying to compete.  When people Buy British, or come to a locally based, self employed corsetiere or craftsperson, they are doing so much more than paying for a well made, quality item – they are putting back into the British Economy, they are helping to pay for other small businesses to stay afloat, not just those that supply my corsetry materials, (for example, I don’t buy meat from a supermarket chain, I support my local butcher, I buy my fruit & veg mostly from the local markets) your custom to these people might also pay for a child to have ballet/karate/extra maths lessons, College or Uni… It doesn’t just disappear into a tidal wave of Multi-Million Pound Annual Profits –  Isn’t that enough to give you a lovely fuzzy warm feeling inside when you think about it?

Why I started to learn Corsetry

Its an interesting question, with a very interesting, if amusing answer!

Whilst this is a ‘business’ blog, I still want to retain the element of personal thoughts, events and feelings, I dont want it to be a rigid, ‘businessfied’ efficient page of no personality.  Since my early twenties, I began wearing corsetry and more adventurous get ups (thanks to a LOT of soul searching, and the break up of Marriage #1) I would buy RTW corsets (shop bought, ready to wear, standard size) and these came from 2 companies, Vollers, and Axfords. the fit was okay, the comfort factor was also fine for RTW, but, being standard sizing, it was never going to be perfect, and let face it, there’s not a whole lot of people out there who conform to a standard size all over – I NEVER have, even though I’ve been many different sizes, I’ve been underweight, I’ve been average weight, ive been slightly overweight and ‘obese’, yet one thing remained consistent, my ‘well defined’ bottom and hips – yes, even when I was underweight, this ‘Baby got Back’To get jeans to fit my bottom, there would be several inches of gape at the waistband, and this inevitably made other RTW garments including corsetry difficult, and the bigger I got, the bigger my butt got, but I still retained a waistline, which in corsetry gives me quite a decent ‘Hip spring’ and made RTW corsetry more and more difficult.

Claire & David proofs-008

Spin forwards to 16th April 2011.  This was my wedding day (#2) to my wonderful soulmate David.  Like many brides I’d planned on losing a LOT of weight, and which I inevitably failed, I’d lost some, but not enough to fit into the corset I’d bought for the big day and so, in a mad panic, 3 weeks before the day and the dawning realisation that my wedding corset just wasn’t going to fit, I delved into the ‘dark side‘ of corsetry, I knew it wasn’t great, I knew it would probably be rather uncomfortable, but I also knew I could get a ‘Plus-Size’ corset and it would be delivered in time – I ordered a corset from CorsetsUK.

It arrived within 7 days, it fit (kind of) and it was uncomfortable.  the day of the wedding arrived, and I rapidly began to realise that the longer I wore this ‘corset’ the more uncomfortable I was getting, and then discomfort turned into actual PAIN.  Now, I need to point out that I’ve worn corsets for a number of years, and I’m no lightweight when it comes to pain, I’ve had Arthritis since I was diagnosed in my early 20’s, I’m ‘used to’ pain, but this was different, my lower fixed ribs were aching, the bones were digging in my ribs, my hips and my lower lumbar… but the moment when I first though “I’m sure I MUST be able to make something better myself (even though I’d barely sewn since school) was this conversation, with the registrar, just before the ceremony:

“Are You sure you want to get married? … You look VERY uncomfortable… You are not being forced into this marriage against your will?”

Sweet Lord, I was looking THAT uncomfortable, the registrar actually thought I was involved in a forced/sham marriage?!! I had to explain to this registrar that I was fine, and it was actually the corset that was making me uncomfortable… Wow.  Anyway, the ceremony was perfect, just how we wanted (instrumental Guns & Roses  – November Rain in the background) and I managed to keep the corset on, longer than my shoes! but I’m sure the copious amounts of alcohol that night numbed the pain somewhat!

When we left the venue for our honeymoon suite, the anticipation building of that delicious moment I’d been waiting for ALL DAY… the moment of sheer unadulterated bliss when I could unlace this damn corset and get it off me!  What I wasn’t expecting were the deep gouges where the bones had been pressing against my ribs, the blue bruising was already evident along my rib cage, down the ribs on my back where one of the bones had snapped, and the deep bruising and once bleeding cut in one of my hips, where a ‘bone’ had cut through the fabric, and into my skin.  This corset had injured me, and I’d only been wearing it for a period of around 10 hours.  I hadn’t taken photos (and looking back, i really wish I had) but the bruising was still there toward the end of our honeymoon.

Claire & David proofs-016

Not long after that, after some employment related issues, I lost my job, and with the money I received in settlement, I paid for several courses so that I could learn corsetry, even after such a bad experience, I still loved corsets, as I know myself its NOT the corset that is the bad guy here, its the cheap sweatshop factories producing these tube like garments in vast numbers, garments that are geared more toward the Asian build (slender, with little hip/waist ratio) and the Transgender community which bears little resemblance to the typical Western woman of today. By training in corsetry, I could not only make my own corsets that actually fit ME, but I could in time, offer my services to other people.

Its always going to be hard to convince people who want to buy corsets, that they should invest their hard earned money in a well fitted quality piece that will last them, that won’t hurt, that FITS, but all I can do, is tell it how it was for me, there are lots of people out there that will always take cost over comfort, but all I hope is that in time, people will see the benefits of good, locally made, bespoke corsetry over cheap imported corsetry – hopefully before another Rana Plaza type disaster happens.

Humble Beginnings

I thought I’d start off my new blog by harking back to one of my first ever corset makes.

The lovely Pauline in her black suede underbust corset we made for her Role-Playing  hobby
The lovely Pauline in her black suede underbust corset we made for her Role-Playing hobby

A long time friend had heard of my desire to start making corsetry, and was incredibly supportive.  She did a lot of role-play and was looking for someone to make her a new corset for her outfit and this is the result!  This was made before I’d even gone on any corsetière training or courses so it was very trying at times, with the limited resources and information that I had acquired at that point.

I’m amazed that, as my first piece, it fitted so well – I do recall that I has so many issue with how to figure out how to attach the fake buckles to the front of the corset, that they were all assembled and attached with hand sewing!  Its made from a black vegan suede fabric, and black cotton coutil with spiral steel boning.  Id managed to find a good supplier of coutil and boning in the UK that I still use now, and it was though her, that I found out about the training courses she offered.  Not long after making this first corset, I saved my pennies and paid for several courses and quite simply, I haven’t looked back since!

Welcome to our new blog!

Well, what can i say! I’d be lying if I said this was my first blog, there have been others, but they have been more along the rambling, ad-hoc type postings that chartered my first footsteps into the world corset making, with other randomness thrown in for good measure.  This new one, is specifically for my brand, Curvitude Corsetry.

Now, I must stress that although this is aimed mainly at my fledgling business, there will still be big slashes of my trademark humour, sarcasm and general bonkers attitude, it wouldn’t be me otherwise! I’ll never pretend to be something other than what I am! There will be glamorous images, some posh and descriptive wording, but really, dont be surprised if there’s some zany and odd posts on here too!

I’m hardly going to portray an image of an immaculately manicured and dressed lady smelling of Lily of the Valley who has Bach gently playing in the background, whilst sewing corsetry for a client (It kinda happens… occasionally… ?!) When the real image is me, in sweatpants, with no make-up on, swearing under my breath after whacking my thumb with a hammer whilst setting eyelets, whilst a heavy/black/classic metal CD grunts away in the background (Most likely of scenarios) It makes me relevant and edgy… or something.

Here on this blog im going to treat you to a more ‘Behind the Scenes’ experience, client pictures, stories, maybe a few info-articles, links to video’s and step-by-step project insights – I often do these if im tackling a new type of corset design, it not only helps me to vent (as we all need to occasionally!) but helps to chart progress, and give prospective clients an idea of how the different corsetry shaping and designs will REALLY look.

Anyway, enough of my rambling introduction!

Claire