Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Alternative Markets

Here's a little article I wrote about my experince of trying to 'break' the London craft market scene. Writing it was pretty cathartic as it allowed me to review some elements of my past that I have nagging feelings could have turned out differently. Que sera....

As a young Fashion Design student, I couldn’t wait until I graduated to start creating and selling my ideas. So in the third year of my degree, I began making bags and found some stockists by tentatively approached local independent shops. My first few sales generated an excitement that, years later, still motivates me today.

After moving back near London and conducting more research, I decided that obtaining a stall at one of the increasingly popular London design markets was my way forward. From the more established Camden, Portabello and Spitalfields Markets, to the lesser known Greenwich Market, to the newer UpMarket and Backyard Market, three or four years ago these were rapidly gaining in popularity as locations to discover a wealth of talented young designers offering exciting alternatives to the increasing homogeny of high street fashion. Designer/makers display their handmade or customised wares in stalls, which often replicate the feel of mini-boutiques. The absence of high rents, business taxes and other overheads theoretically mean they can concentrate on experimentation and product development.

A buzz began to surround these markets, subsequently press attention followed. The councils and private businesses that owned these markets soon realise that, as the stall holder inquiries and waiting lists grew, a lucrative profit could be gleaned. Stall prices for the more established markets rose prohibitively for new start-ups, if you were able to acquire a much-coveted pitch in the first place. Cheaper alternatives were the new markets being created to capitalise on this trend, or accepting a pitch at an established market but on a midweek day.

Becoming part of the Designer/maker market scene has become increasingly costly, particularly when you add transportation (possibly including parking and the London congestion charge), and not least the time and money outlay needed to create a whole stall’s worth of stock in the first place. Finding small independent shops to stock your products continues to be an option for someone starting out, which eliminates some of the preventative costs of market trading. Some of those early stockists also gave me invaluable support, suggestions, encouragement and feedback. However, often the slow turnover in small shops and crippling price mark-ups can result in meagre, if any, profit for the wannabe designer.

For the last couple of years, another option for Designer/makers who wish to sell their creations is Etsy.com. Etsy, and the proliferation of similar sites, acts as an online market, in which the seller has their own ‘shop’ and pays a small fee to Etsy when a purchase has been made. Like stocking in an existing ‘real’ shop, Etsy and the likes avade many of the problems and costs of market trading, with the added bonus of avoiding high price mark-ups.

However, although Etsy and similar sites do have the benefit of making your items available world wide, there are a couple of notable downsides. The first is that Etsy, by far the best known of these sites, is saturated with creations, making hits and sales very rare (unless you are able to attract online traffic another way, perhaps through a popular blog which attracts ‘fans’). The second is one that applies to all online shopping: it is impossible to try on the garment or item before purchase. Sometimes it is necessary to see something in the flesh to fall in love with it!

Something that I am involved in, and would like to see more of in the future, is collectives of creative people setting up mini-markets/exhibitions/sales featuring their own handmade items. Potentially prohibitive because of the organisation required to make it possible, and advertising needed to make it a success, but it is an exciting option never-the-less. This allows sellers to take back control of how and what they wish to display, whilst re-establishing one of the most positive elements of markets, namely giving customers the ability to meet and interact with the Designer/maker.

Ultimately, there is no perfect solution for low-fi fashion makers wanting to sell their goods. However, by applying some of their natural-born creativity to the selling process, there will always be ever-evolving options for this vibrant niche.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Now you think about what you did

Whilst peeking through previous posts on one of my more recent blog acquaintances, Bloom's Fabric Obsession, I spotted an interesting post she based on an article in the Australian Stitches magazine. It listed the top 10 wardrobe mistakes of a sewer, Bloom’s witty and insightful comments on the article can be viewed here, however I thought I’d add my tup’ney worth:

1. Wearing the wrong colour:
I have deliberately avoided learning too much about what colours are meant to compliment mine and other peoples’ complexions. I think I would find myself analysing people and clothing even more than I already do, and that’s just not brain-space I’m prepared to relinquish. Also, if you are naturally drawn to certain colours, as we all are, aren’t those colours, as a reflection of your personality, what you should be wearing? If indeed they turn out to be different from the ones that you could get ‘prescribed’ to you by ‘experts’? See what I mean? Too much brain-space required. All I can say is that, presently I’m aiming for more red and turquoise garmentage.

2. Sewing and wearing garments that are too big:
Sooooper annoying when you make something that turns out to be too big because the pattern’s size guide was inaccurate. Unpicking is so disheartening. I am getting more disciplined at refitting a garment, but often it has to be initially left and revisited at a later date, as the pain can be too raw to tackle the unwearable garment immediately.

3. Not wearing what we sew:
Generally this only happens to me when the garment turns out too big (see above) or I can no longer get my expanded ass into something. That can be pretty heart breaking too. I’ve often considered going on a crash diet just to recapture the ability to wear one specific garment, which wouldn’t work as the rest of my wardrobe would no longer fit.

4. Not accessorising:
Guilty, for shizzle. This also includes jewellery wearing. I think I’m going to have to make some dresses and tops that have appropriate necklines SPECIFICALLY for necklace wearing ease. I’m not a born accessoriser, so maybe I have to employ this type of planning to cheat a look into appearing naturally more cohesive.

5. Putting all our money into fabric and not enough into ourselves:
What? They are the same thing aren’t they?

6. Mixing day and evening wear:
At first I wasn’t sure what was meant to be the crime here, wearing sequins in the daytime or scuzzy jeans when out on the razzle. Actually I’m still not sure. Hmm, maybe I’ve been walking around with my eyes closed but I’m not sure I’ve seen much evidence of either round my way, and if such things did occur, would it be so bad? Anyways.....

7. Spending all out time sewing and not enough grooming:
Yep, for sure, though hair and makeup looks are limited at the moment because it’s so damn hot and sticky during the day. Also throw into this category failing to see that a healthier diet and more exercise would be a far greater benefit to my overall look than my latest creation.

8. Focusing on big projects and neglecting everyday clothes:
Getting better at this (see previous ‘Lessons Learnt’ post). I don’t have the patience required to make a massive fancy dress anyhow, and you can keep tailoring. I’d much rather rustle up a quick skirt that takes maximum three prep and sewing sessions to complete.

9. Neglecting undergarments:
Unless we are talking about eveningwear, how important is this really?

10. Not investing enough time in fit:
Yes yes yes, I know, stop going on. This is linked to point no.2, wearing things that are too big. But fitting my garments isn’t so easy with my mum living in another country. I did get my boy doing some pinning the other day, so there’s potential there.

I think this articles main value is making sewers think about what they are creating and why. Seeing as I think about these type of questions excessively anyhow, it was good to have someone else’s thoughts from which to shed a new light onto such topics.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Lessons Learnt

Wandering around fabric shops or charity shops, looking for a basis of a new creations, most sewers are going to be drawn to and inspired by colour, pattern, print and the general wonderfulness of a fabric or customisable garment. The subsequent resulting items tend to be pretty attention seeking, in terms of their eventual place within an outfit. In my experience, a garment rarely gets created which forms an understated accompaniment for another item in my wardrobe. More fool me.

A prime example is the blouse featured in the last post. Although not the loudest item I am capable of creating (believe me!), I found it only actually went with one pair of plain trousers I already own. A lesson needed to be learnt in the form PLAIN garment creating! Did you hear that? PLAIN!

Subsequently, a skirt was born:

Made from a nice stretch navy sateen 'acquired' from a previous employment establishment. It's created from a Burda World of Fashion magazine (09/2007) pattern. I've been a fan of the voluminous front pleat skirt trend for a while, but really wasn't sure that volume in the front-skirt area was what my figure needed. However, I think this style is a good compromise: providing some detail interest without being too balloony. Yes, that's an adjective. It also has something of a pencil skirt shape, which is allegedly good for creating the sexy secretary/teacher look that suits hourglass shaped ladies. However, I think I fall somewhat short of that, which is probably for the best when teaching children!

Anyway, I hope you'll agree when I say that it looks pretty rockin' with the blouse. Maybe this teacher has finally learnt a lesson!

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