Tag: BuyBritish

Mind Your Manners!

Like many specialist industries, Fine corsetry is one of those niche talents, many of us work for years at our ‘hobby’ to get to where we are, I personally have only been doing this for 4 years which is a mere hiccup in the timescale of some other corsetieres, some were lucky enough to be able to study fashion at college and/or university, some have spent time on unpaid (or minimally paid) internships, volunteered for other makers, whilst others basically slugged it out for years, subsidising their corset making with other paid work.  One thing I can say with all certainty is that regardless of whether we studies by book, by web, or by educational means, its cost us all many thousands of pounds of our own money to be able to do what we do.  Which leads me to the point of this blog post:

Is it any wonder why we get a bit narked when someone outright asks us to give away our methods, our suppliers, our time, our skills… to someone who cannot grasp the basic functions of the Library/Google?

Somehow the laws of etiquette flew out of the window in the age of the internet, I reluctantly acknowledge that yes, I was around (just) before the internet was ‘mainstream’ I was in my teens when I got a Commodore 64k, (64K of Ram… can you imagine that now?!) with its tape deck, where you typed line upon line of code so that you could see “Hello World!” come up on the screen in the vain hope someone… anyone would reply (but never did)


pacman-cap
   op03   C64_08

But back in the day, and heck even now… would you for example, stop a solicitor on the street and demand free legal advice? would you ask a plumber to fix your leaky shower… right now, for free? would then you ask that plumber for a list of his suppliers so you can bypass him/her and get all your materials cheaper whilst your at it… and then send a barrage of messages to them asking them how to do it when you cant figure out how to plumb in that shower on your own?  Of course you wouldn’t! But yet… and corsetry is by no means alone here – its fine to do precisely this?  In the last few months, I have personally seen a lot of this happen, a few such examples are:

  • “Did you draft that pattern yourself, if so, can i have a copy?”
  • “Tell me what pattern number it is and where do I get one?”
  • “I want that corset, where is the link/who did it (name is literally plastered ALL OVER the photo)
  • “Please can i have a list of your fabric suppliers?”
  • “I want a corset made for me for a shoot, you wont be paid but think of the exposure!”
  • “Oooh that (Vintage/French/Imported) Lace is gorgeous, do you have any left over that i can have… i’ll pay post!”
  • “I want someone to teach me how to make corsets, I want someone in the <insert country/area> so i can get step by step instructions and be able to come to your house if i get stuck… for free… obvs!” (??!!)

I’ve had people wanting me to guide them through “someone else’s” corset repair, or corset construction via Facebook Messenger on four separate occasions, one even got very mad, sending a barrage of messages, accusing me of being ignorant and snotty when I didnt respond to their demands and threatened to spread lies about my work (that they’d never seen) because I refused to give them one-on-one online tutorial and support (for free of course)  I wouldn’t even say that I am anywhere near the standard of some more accomplished makers that I know of… I certainly wouldn’t be confident of being able to teach a novice how to start when in general conversation they ask “What do you mean by straight grain?”.

People seem to have lost the art of wanting to find out things, to absorb information as and when it comes along, lost the art of experimenting, and getting it wrong… ‘happy accidents’ if you will, rather than go to the library, or buy a book on corsetry and reading it, or going onto Google and typing a question (and God forbid have to look through a few search results!) they would rather go onto social media and ask their question where they could wait hours or even days for a subjective answer (and often several different ones) The whole Google issue troubles me, I dont understand why someone would sit for hours waiting for a forum reply to a question like:

Coutil Suppliers

When Google literally told me in less than 0.51 seconds that there were several local suppliers I could go to. I could even get some basic corsetry tutorials online in the same amount of time (of course nothing will ever beat one-on-one in person tutorials like I was lucky enough to experience) and 4 years on, I’m still teaching myself, pushing boundaries, techniques, reading…

The whole way we have of effective communication (or lack thereof) has changed and yes, times change and we need to change with it, but since when did that equal demanding? Where did the expectation of free ‘stuff’ even become a thing?

spongebob

Again, on other craft forums I am a member of (I am also a fairly apt pencil drawer, general sewer & knitter) I see openly rude demands for free things, people telling other crafts-persons that they want personalised bespoke items but they wont pay for them “until I see it in my own hands” Would they demand that Studio for example (mass produced personalised gifts) send them lots of things before they will pay up? would they place a big order with, say, Amazon, and refuse to pay until Amazon delivered all of their stuff for their approval first? of course not… so why the sudden lack of etiquette when speaking to individual corsetieres and crafts-persons? What happened to make this acceptable?

There are many arts and crafts that are (or were) a dying art, just several decades ago many people would sew their own clothes as a matter of course, everything was cooked from scratch, often even grown in the garden, if you wanted to learn something, the internet wasn’t there, it was either passed down through generations, or you learnt yourself or paid someone to teach you – Now we have cheap clothes on hand whenever we want, you can have a full Sunday roast at the sound of a PING!! if you really want without lifting barely a finger, and Google is there at a keystroke and you’re pretty much guaranteed to find out or learn anything without having to find your local library (if there is even one left in your area)  Such easy to have references should be treasured, and the people who keep old crafts alive should also be treasured.  Please, if you are reading this, do your own little bit to bring a little bit of etiquette back, tell/show a crafts-person how much you appreciate what they do, whether its someone who spent several days knitting your newborn a new hat and jacket, to someone who spends days/weeks making a corset just for you… appreciate what they do, and try not to utter “is that your best price”.

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?