I’ve been part of the creative community my entire life. My creative childhood wasn’t a hallmark moment or a pinterest pic, it was for most of my family a way of life. This way of life meant that we could live. My wonderful Mum made our clothes on the kitchen table, Nan an incredibly talented knitter made all of our soft toys, including a beautiful collection of hand knitted Beatrix Potter characters. My Aunt machine knitted her 250+ fostered and adopted childrens’ jumpers. My other Aunts and Great Aunts were bakers, dressmakers and all round handy women.
Not forgetting the fellas who were boot makers, tailors, farmers, carpenters, engineers and fencers. The men who would darn socks and make rag rugs from scraps. The family getting together to sew and repair horse rugs, taking up/in a hand me down dress or cutting it up to make something new.
Back then the art of making was starting to die out with generations not wanting to learn these skills, or older generations not wanting to teach them. Off the peg clothes have become so inexpensive, making clothes isn’t so much of a cost cutting exercise and so the skill has become lost.
Not in my family, I come from a long line of seamstresses and tailoresses. Cottage industries where women would work to create garments or household items not only for themselves but others. This wasn’t their hobby. It wasn’t trendy. It was their job. Their creativity and skills were their living, it paid the bills and kept food in tummies, a roof over your head.
Today, these skills are sought after which is fabulous but as they were not passed down and are not longer taught as regular curriculum the teachers of the past are few and far between. The Aunt that taught me to sew, she died in a home not really knowing who she was. I’m lucky that she taught me. The professionals from the West End and Saville Row that looked me up and down not expecting me to last, they taught me. The manager who gave me a chance in my first retail job, she taught me. She also taught me that you will never know everything and you will never be finished with education. Boy, was she right.
Above all, I’ve spent over 30 years in the creative community, 20 of those from a professional standpoint and for the most part, we’ve all been in it together. As a creative, I am incredibly passionate about what I do. I love to share that with people. Whether it be with someone just starting out or a fellow seasoned pro, the genuine love of creating just spills over into conversations on a daily basis. Through this community I have seen amazing things happen, women given better chances at life after sexual violence, children being made to feel more comfortable in hospital, Manchester being covered in hand made hearts after a horrific terrorist attack… I could go on and on. It’s something I have always said that the creative community do, time and time again: support. It’s via this amazing community that I have been afforded the benefit of gaining family and friends. I know that through these relationships, I can recommend someone for perhaps a craft that I’m not proficient in or share the love and pass potential customers along to other creatives. The whole “I can’t do that but I know someone that can” mantra is something we hold to here at Habbydays which is why we hand out so many cards for other small businesses and make recommendations. If that means we lose a sale, so be it. We’re more concerned with a patron getting what they need/want than forcing a sale on someone who doesn’t need or want it. We pride ourselves on our 50+ combined years of knowledge and insight into the creative world.
Within the creative community there has always been competition, with the skills in which we deal with dying out, competition has become more about big businesses making more products and garments ‘efficiently’, driving down costs and pricing individual professionals out of the jobs they worked so hard to get. Now we see more people having a go because of resources such as Pinterest or TV shows like The Great British Sewing Bee and it is awesome! Even more awesome if you learn something and can earn money doing something you love to do! Which is where it starts to sometimes become a grey area. We help support small businesses locally with our trade accounts but often receive backlash for not including licensed fabrics and goods within those terms. This is for very good reason and those products are protected by licensing, trademark and copyright. I’m a huge supporter and member of ACID, I’ve worked with Trading standards and it is quite distressing to see how many people who are in it for the money just rip off other people’s ideas and designs. Not just small businesses but large corporations: Ellie Ellie vs. Boohoo.com Elf for Christmas vs. B&M to name a couple. Of course there is going to be overlap in ideas but to see something that someone else is making to sell and think to yourself “I could do that” is pretty cool and awesome that you’ve been inspired. Too see that idea and think “I could do that” and start reproducing those exact ideas is in my humble opinion wrong and shortsighted. Then there are the people who see these ideas, copy them and claim to offer the same product or service at a cut price at a lower standard…
The keys to being a successful creative is for a start, to be creative. The second is to experiment and learn, find yourself and your style and thirdly stick to that. Don’t half arse other people’s ideas, even if a customer asks for it. Your integrity is in question not only as a creative but as a human being. In my opinion, you can’t just have a bash/watch a youtube video/read a book chapter once and decide that you can make to sell, teach or offer that service. It takes experience, even if it’s you practising a swiss roll bake 20 times a day or making more cushions than one house needs.
If you do make to sell and are confident in your product, service or lessons make sure they are bomb proof! There’s follow up care, basic instructions, trouble shooting and the odd student that just doesn’t get it so you have to think outside of the box to help them. With making to sell, is it a toy, if so is it CE tested? Mug painting, can you wash it? Teaching a class, do you have enough time and experience to complete the class and if not what follow up do you have? If you take in alterations are you prepared for how badly finished some off the peg garments are? What if there isn’t enough original fabric to complete the job?
Then there is pricing. As a creative, selling your skill is hard. Most creatives do not even make minimum wage, ask a quilter how many hours they put into that beautiful quilt you saw and await an astonishingly high number or a dressmaker how much her dress would be including her time? It’s the same with services or teaching, you must pay yourself what you are worth. Now whether you undercut other people because you’re new and not sure what to charge or because you just want to undercut someone, you’re doing your fellow creatives a disservice. I recently had a chat with someone making blankets, they wanted to charge some tiny amount for this blanket that had taken them hours. This wasn’t their living, more pocket money for them, something on the side. We discussed as to why that would be a bad idea. Imagine being a creative who honed their craft after years of training, who can’t sell their beautiful hand knitted, bamboo baby blankets at a craft fair because the person next to you is selling a similar blanket that maybe isn’t as uniform and in a cheaper yarn for next to nothing. It’s gutting. Check out our previous blog post about knowing your worth as a maker here.
It’s the same with classes or services. Sure someone might have a class to make a teddy bear for £20 but the teacher has just skipped over a book or seen it on Pinterest and fancied undercutting the other teacher in the area who is a Teddy Bear creator, trained by Steiff themselves and charges £35 for a class to make teddy bears. Or the local alterations worker who already isn’t paid enough for their work (alterations work is too inconsistent to have a standing charge) losing out because someone else is doing zips for £5, despite not doing them very well. And even if they are doing it well, £15/zip is pretty standard, you shouldn’t have to drop your prices if your quality is the same as your competitor.
It’s why we have 3 price points for most of our products. It’s why we have demos to see something being made and get a feel for that technique, clubs to share knowledge with other like minded folks and actual sewing classes where you learn a skill or technique from front to back which you can use time and time again and is transferable to other creative endeavors.
In conclusion what it comes down to is as a creative, don’t undercut your fellow creatives. Stick to doing something you do really well and people will come to you, for your designs, knowledge, classes and/or services.
As a consumer, you often get what you pay for. Don’t be fooled by false economy.
Above all, celebrate creatives and your fellow humans. Build them up, if you’re having to lie about someone or behave in a questionable way to get one over on someone… it’s likely that people will start to question you and your integrity.