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 Fabrics – ANY 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?