“He who works with his hands is a laborer.
He who works with his hands and his head, is a craftsman.
He who works with his hands and his head and his heart, is an ARTIST”.
– St. Francis of Assisi ***
As an Artisan, your personal philosophy and way of making a living, and everything you do makes you and how you do it totally unique.
Professional high or ‘haute’ couture and bespoke tailoring are careers more akin to siblings than to cousins, both are born from the same roots, require years of training and experience, are extremely creative, hand-mind skills based, and are clientele specific, but neither profession is given much attention within the fashion industry, or the crafts or arts disciplines, which makes it extremely difficult to find statistics on, or to find applicable practical business marketing plans for and both are very difficult to find training facilities or mentors for.
Human Resources and Skills Development Canada lists these collective industry skills separately under several reference NOC headings: Couturier, Fashion designer 5243, Tailor, Dressmaker, Furrier, Milliner 6342, Artisan and Craftsperson 5244, and Patternmakers textiles, leather and fur 5245, Theatre, fashion, exhibit and other creative designers 5243, Inspectors and graders, textile, fabric, fur and leather products manufacturing 9447 (listed under ‘fitters’). Each of these descriptions combined covers much of what couturiers and tailors do as self-employed and small business owners, but they also actively manage their independent business. HRSD says the National Occupation Classification should be updated next by 2016.
Couturiers and Tailors serve a ‘niche market’, a focused, targetable portion of a market addressing a need for a product or service that is not being addressed by mainstream providers. Marketing activity is perhaps more important for niche market businesses than for any other kind, because the niche market business is by definition, unknown and succeeds or fails on making the connection with exactly the right kind of customer/client, and today couturiers and tailors need to devote time to marketing as well as their craft.
They are of the few highly skilled disciplines in the fashion garment industry which still is and always will be a ‘time consuming creative mind-hand making process’or what the industry generally terms ‘labour intensive’. Let’s be clear about when technology becomes involved, it is for the specific purpose of speeding up very mundane repetitive tasks that does not detract from the final outcome (consider an electrical steam iron or sewing machine as technology versus tools of the trade being primarily your hands, and scissors, needles etc.). Extremely useful technology tools useful for today are the computer, the internet and social media.
However, humans will never be separated from and always will do the more interesting tasks in any discipline or industry, no matter how much mechanisation and technology has replaced mundane labour to speed up processes – they will never replace the work only humans can and love to do. This includes making contacts and the very special aspect of personal service.
Couture and bespoke tailoring entail the continuous assessment of the best approach and technique to use to attain the creative vision of the maker using a great variety of fabrics, colours, textures, layering of materials, draping effects, pleating, easing, structuring, detailing, to make a perfectly fitting unique and lasting garment, and every piece is different.
Decisions are not each dictated by miniscule savings on the unit cost of materials, quickest methods, or worse yet – shortcuts, as they are in manufacturing where profit margins only become lucrative in the thousands of units sold. In couture and tailoring the fabrics and the methods, must each serve and protect the design, the client, and ultimately the environment (natural and economical).
Personal inventiveness and creative exploration are often the most distinguishing features of successful crafts practitioners. Career craftspeople constantly “play” with ideas, materials or processes, forms, images, functions, even markets, and indulge in a path of life-long learning.
How you think about your world, your philosophy, your way of being and living is expressed in how you do your work, and in everything you do – which makes what you do totally unique – and there is nothing ambiguous or vague about the garments couturiers and tailors create.
Some craftspeople talk about the meditative or entrancing aspect of their work and how important that is to them. Most importantly, they love being part of a world that explores the meaning and values of society. Creativity, originality and distinctiveness are probably the most important long term factors in developing a successful couture and tailoring career. This concept of individuality is the root of both personal satisfaction and market recognition — whatever and wherever those might be.
***Quote share thanks to Sunil Joshi