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Category Archives: fashion jobs

Tips about Contracts and your [successful] Couture Business

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As a business operator, and yes this includes artists, dressmakers, couturiers and tailors, we all use contracts, everyone should be aware of and know what a legally binding contract is.

Very few creative types like to talk about them, and like even less to think about them until something goes wrong. The purpose of designing your own contract for your business is not only to secure work and lay out the terms of getting paid, but also planning what would happen if [or when] something doesn’t go to plan.

So, exactly what is a contract? More specifically what are the elements of a legally binding contract. We kind of make and fulfill contracts everyday without realizing it, like agreeing to meet up with friends for lunch and you promise to pay for desserts ‘if’ you all go the restaurant of your choice this time. This is a contract if your friends mutually agree to it – by phone, email or text message. What?!

If one of your friends couldn’t make it to lunch, not really a problem for you, but likely hugely disappointing if no one turned up but you. But what if everyone turned up but you? I’m guessing hard feelings would be one major downside, but you also did break an agreement or rather you breached a contract. Your friends could take you to task over it (in court), especially if they could prove your offer, that you broke your promise and they were put out of pocket as a result! Say what?!

In all seriousness though, that probably wouldn’t happen, but it could be enforceable in a court of Law. [Very briefly, Contract law covers contracts, etc. as differentiated from Criminal Law: conduct perceived as threatening, harmful, or otherwise endangering to the property, health, safety, and moral welfare of people.  But a breach of contract could certainly overlap with breaking a criminal law]. I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t have all the details, but I do know this from my college business law class.

A legally binding contract has 3 crucial elements (plus 2 provisions).

  1. An offer. You offer your couture service or offer your creation for sale [see point 5] personally, online, by email, however you put it out there.
  2. Acceptance. Someone accepts your offer [see point 4], personally, online, by email, however they let you know.
  3. Consideration. There is an exchange of something of value: cash, services, goods or specifically to withhold an exchange of cash, service, or goods.

Provisions:

  1. You must be of legal age of consent, and/or of sound mind and body or fully competent to participate.
  2. And the object must be legal. If what you are selling or buying is illegal, then the contract is not valid or void. The object is not misrepresented.

Both written and verbal agreements are legal. Verbal agreements are legal contracts even though they were not memorialized in a writing. Assuming the contract is valid, the verbal agreement between two parties is binding although it is very hard to prove if it were in dispute. Beware, even emails and text messaging can constitute a legally binding agreement!

The body of a contract also should include essentials like date(s), the names of the signatories, the details, and the ‘what ifs?’ What if something were to go sideways, or someone didn’t fulfill their end of the agreement, such as non-performance or interference with the other party’s performance. This then would become a ‘breach of contract’ or a broken contract.

It’s prudent to identify what happens if your client doesn’t turn up for an appointed fitting, or doesn’t have the money to pay you on time. Or what if your client is unhappy with your work during the process, how can you prevent that from becoming an unsolvable problem. If everyone knows in advance, what the possible problems and consequences are, commonly known to happen from time to time, then all parties do much better in preventing them from arising in the first place.

Informing all parties involved about what is expected of them and what they can expect from you prevents heartache and hardship. Try to avoid being overly wordy, but be clear. No one wants or expects things to go wrong doing business, but it occasionally happens. No one wants a surprise ending, everyone wants what they expected.

Every transaction can be a learning experience. You’ll soon figure out what works best for you, and especially what doesn’t. The path to success really does look like this:

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Ecole Holt Couture ‘Dress Code’ fashion event

 

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Tools of the trade

389x421We all love the latest in gadgetry or digital technology which most of us want to possess even if we don’t actually use! If you’ve ever observed an artist or trades person using their tools at work, you’ll have noticed that the tools are very simple or very special but, very well used. Painters use the same brushes over and over until the bristles have all fallen out or have broken off. Cabinet makers use the same planes, chisels and mallets that perhaps they’ve inherited or started out with. Hair stylists use their favorite scissors and combs. You get the picture.It is no different with dressmakers, tailors and couturiers. Once we’ve invested in the best tools we can afford, we use them constantly, and stay with us forever if we can help it.

A few examples of tools I mean are scissors, thimbles, sewing needles, yard sticks and tape measures. Tape measures drape around your neck, get rolled up and unrolled, the printed markings become worn, and they gain a few nicks along the edges, but getting a new one is one is just one big hassle after breaking-in the one you’ve been using properly. Yard sticks are good for setting hems, marking lines, and swatting flies when necessary.
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Sewing needles sometimes become visibly plate bare in spots along the shafts, and eventually do get replaced. But to lose one is irritating bordering on disaster and finding one that became lost is a near-on victory! Using cheap needles is total waste of time because they only bend and break.
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Thimbles actually become a comfortable extension of your middle finger. I’ve used very few in my career, only replacing two that acquired punctures in the tops from repeated needle pressure, and it takes a long time to warm up to a new one so I guard mine closely. They need not be pretty, but good quality metal is essential. In the studio, holding up your middle finger is not a rude gesture – it means ‘have you seen where I left my thimble?’ without speaking.
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Scissors and shears become your pride and joy when you’ve invested in high quality tempered steal. Purchasing them really hurts at the time, as they’re rather expensive items – which no one else will understand the value of, and hard to justify when you’re just starting out. Good ones will last 40 to 50 years and longer if you take good care of them!
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We don’t use special pattern drafting tools either, just the basics. Straight edge or T-square, triangle, pencil and eraser. We go through proper tailors chalk like crazy. Pens are banned from the studio. We use ordinary un-waxed wide width white butchers paper for drafting, only using tailors card for patterns we plan to keep and reuse – this 92lb card stock is sold in rolls and is extremely heavy and somewhat expensive.

Wonderful gadgets, fancy sewing aids and swanky drafting tools are a boon for sewing hobbyists. DIY stores offer a specialized tool for every conceivable do-it or fix-it job you might ever do at home. As appealing or impressive as they might look they’re not necessarily manufactured for the professionals. However, it seems everyone wants them and they do look terrific on the collector’s shelf!
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Pattern cutting, pattern making, pattern engineering.

At EHC pattern engineering

At EHC pattern engineering

Whatever you call it, is interpreting a design with an eye for detail, making pattern templates used to cut the cloth before any construction can begin. We often get approached by outside students of fashion and designers alike asking for theses pattern making skills.

We still draft patterns by hand at Ecole Holt Couture, an essentially combined science and art form without the aid of CAD programs, specifically for haute couture and bespoke tailoring – which is what we teach. Pattern engineering is integral and essential to a successful business as a couturier and tailor whether you work from home or operate a studio or boutique.

Every pattern is based on an entirely unique set of measurements first to create a mock-up or toile for design and fit adjustments. This ensures perfect fit, efficient use and adequate quantity of expensive and specially made fabrics for the final garment.

Interpreting the designer’s ideal fit and flair is what sets great pattern-makers apart from the masses and enables them to command high salaries. Being detail-oriented, style-conscious, perfectionistic, and hard-working, enables pattern-makers to earn upwards of $100,000/year in New York or Los Angeles as of 2013. Freelance pattern-makers may earn up to $40/hr or more in LA. Pattern-making services usually charge more than this, however. The time it takes to make any type of pattern is extremely difficult to predict, and few predictions are accurate.

The importance of having the skills to make original patterns cannot be understated. The following are comments made by professionals in the fashion design and production field.

Pattern engineering is at the cutting edge of design, processing flat designs into 3D form is as important as the design itself, and fundamental to the success of any design. Without the technician the designer cannot produce. Pattern cutters are equal to the designer and are crucial to success.

Even though pattern cutters work in collaboration with designers for many years, the credit normally goes to the designer. However, no famous designer would ever claim that their design was created without a great team behind them as they work hand in hand on every function to achieve final goal.

Cutters understand and are interpreters of what is in your head as a designer. Behind every designer is a very creative pattern cutter, a sort of marriage between art forms and expertise. They provide many more options than the obvious ones to achieve a design.

Pattern cutters are just as creative as the designer, but perhaps more practical. However, not enough technical people being trained for the fashion industry as the actual manufacturers move into other countries. There are plenty of designers around, but not enough technical creators.

Pattern cutters are open-minded and know the foundation rules, and understand how to break those rules. They can turn tailoring ideas on their head, are methodical and use good sense.

We live in a fairly celebrity obsessed society and perhaps most people want to be the high profile designer. But maybe you are the type that will follow your love and spirit for cutting. Pattern cutting is actually a highly respected career that you can make a decent living out of. (See: Canada. USA. UK. )

As a pattern cutter you won’t be on television or have a famous name, the same as if you’re a football coach or in the pit crew of a formula one race car – you are the support team. Pattern cutters are the unsung heroes.

It is very satisfying seeing a project through from the concept, its procedure of cutting and fitting, all the way to the runway or see someone wearing it, or in the shops.If you become a top pattern cutter you will become an even better designer, the best training ever to become an even better designer.

They are real gold to a designer, who needs to create what people want to buy and what they want to wear. Imagine if you are a designer and find pattern cutter you absolutely love, then you can feed all these wonderful ideas to them to be interpreted.

Imaging doing something you really enjoy for 8 hours every day. Pattern cutters understand you before you’ve even said something, even presented with a vague sketch. You don’t want to get rid of a good pattern cutter – ever!

Designers will come and go. That’s just the way it is. A creative pattern cutter will have great job security. If you are good, then you become in some ways, the mainstay of a successful creative studio.

You work with someone else and add your input to create the final garment. You turn great ideas into reality. There is a huge need for creative technologists in every single area of fashion design including pattern cutters, seamstresses, etc.

The fashion industry has changed, certainly from local manufacturing, but the front end part is not moving anywhere – business always need to be very close to the market that they are operating in.

Unfortunately, there hasn’t been enough publicity of the icons of the past – we need more publicity of these very creative people. Careers for pattern cutting and sewing are still very much alive; you just never know where you will end up working – for a high street shop or next to a designer.

Comments condensed from video:
Sally Smith, one time Design Director, Coats Viyella
Michael Terry, Design Director and one time Executive Director at Dewhirst Group based in the UK,
Amanda Wakeley, Designer
Betty Jackson, Designer
Nicole Fahri, Designer
Ren Pearce and Andrew Fionda, Designers recently well known for their innovative cutting techniques for British Fashion Council.

Many books are published on the subject, but it is rare for a pattern-maker to become a professional through teaching oneself. Apprenticeships are almost unheard of in North America, but would serve well to improve the transition from student to professional status. Because this occupation is relatively unknown outside of the apparel industry, there is a serious lack of pattern-makers who can accurately interpret designs in LA, and possibly other fashion capitals.

pattern cutter

 

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EHC ‘How to sew’ video series

EHC has added a new web page called ‘Couture Sewing Tips and Secrets’ featuring a video series on ‘how to sew’ basics and tidbits of useful information about professional Couture and Tailoring. We’ve had great feedback to date on the ‘how to thread a needle with one, two and three strands of thread’ and ‘how to sew on a button the couture way’, and the ‘basic back stitch’ videos. http://www.ecoleholtcouture.com/sewing-tips-secrets.php

We are working on more demonstration videos showing skills that everyone could benefit by, and how new students to EHC actually begin in the certificate program. Since haute couture is all about high quality standards of hand sewing techniques and high quality materials, this is a great introduction into what EHC expects its students to master, much before they are let loose on expensive materials.

We will also share some secrets along the way. As more people have become acquainted with Ecole Holt Couture’s teaching method and curriculum, more interest has been generated in acquiring these traditional skills and how to apply them in our current day context.

But, a valuable point that came up during in-class discussions worth emphasizing is that Couture Sewing and Tailoring is not in the exclusive realm of female skills and talents. It is true that more women work at this profession than men; but many men have been, and are, in the business of sewing especially in men’s bespoke tailoring. In our once mostly male dominated societies, men rose to the top of fame and fortune in fashion over females as the well-known conceptual designers, but not as commonly known is that some were supremely skilled artisans/craftsmen as well, such as Cristóbal Balenciaga, Roger Vivier and more recently Alexander McQueen.

There is no reason today, why men are not as involved in or engaged as Couturiers as women are other than I suspect, the stigma attached to a perceived ‘weak or over refined profession’ of sewing in fashion – as hair styling or dance once was. EHC welcomes all who have the passion and determination to master this art, and hope that the parents of young men also fully support them in their aspirations just as do the parents of young women in becoming professionals in Couture and Tailoring.

Balenciaga - 1951 - from the Metropolitan Museum collection

Balenciaga – 1951 – from the Metropolitan Museum collection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Balenciaga - 1957 - from the Metropolitan Museum collection

Balenciaga – 1957 – from the Metropolitan Museum collection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roger Vivier - for House of Dior - from the Metropolitan Museum collection

Roger Vivier – for House of Dior – from the Metropolitan Museum collection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roger Vivier 1956 - house of Dior - from the Metropolitan Museum collection

Roger Vivier 1956 – house of Dior – from the Metropolitan Museum collection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alexander McQueen 2007 - from the Metropolitan Museum collection

Alexander McQueen 2007 – from the Metropolitan Museum collection

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Alexander McQueen 2000 – from the Metropolitan Museum collection

 

 

 

 

 

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EHC – Couture requires specialized skills

The survey says:

To meet needs of growth trends for custom work and alterations,in businesses surveyed – 56% required expert hand sewing skills, 33% custom pattern making skills, 89% custom fitting skills, 56% customer service skills, 33% required Design and styling skills, and only 22% need machinist skills.

What does that mean? These businesses are in need of professionally skilled workers who are able to produce high standards of hand sewing, can custom design original patterns, a whopping 89% could really use expertise in fitting skills, a good handle on excellent customer service, can design and style garments, and can operate machines.

Only 22% said they saw a increased need for skilled machinists, however, skills in traditional couture sewing are hard to find. Many young people are misinformed about the business of professional couture sewing, and as a result are reluctant to get into a field of fashion design that they think is just monotonous and slavishly laborious – picture sweat shops now closed in Canada, but alive and booming in overseas countries.  In fact, couture sewing and design is very creative and fulfilling, and yes, the hours are sometimes long, but each piece that you work on is different from the last unlike production work.

Appeal and glamor is the face of television and fashion media, however true career satisfaction from comes from within and the recognition of a job well done, along with the financial rewards. And while haute couture appears quite sensational on the surface, it is just like any business that requires education, experience, dedication and investment to be successful.

Oh yes, today was the first day of Fall Term – join us in the journey….

EHC’s fourth year couture class – first day

 

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EHC – Couture is on the Increase

A labor market survey was conducted in June 2012, by Ecole Holt Couture, for the purpose of collecting current prime source information from the fashion industry regarding dressmaking, tailoring, couture, and fashion design jobs in Alberta.

  • The questions asked were concerning industry growth trends, proof of job market, barriers or problems to employment, time estimations and job/availability of part-time, full-time and contract work, and included other considerations.
  • An indication to whether the market is regional or province wide was reflected by the returns and responses which were mainly from Edmonton and Calgary.
  • Surveys were sent to professional tailors, dressmakers, and fashion designers across Alberta
  • Respondents replied to the first question – do you see a growth trend in your business, and if so, in what area?

44% – Requests for Custom work

78% – Requests for Alterations

11% – Retail Sales

Along with the steady increase in retail sales there is a significant increase in requests for alterations – no surprise there as ready-made clothing requires alterations to fit reasonably well, but the increase in request for custom work is also on the rise. Most of the skilled workforce is nearing retirement or even working beyond retirement to fulfill this need.

Two things become apparent. One that there is a void of up and coming skilled labor for custom Dressmaking, Tailoring and Couture work and secondly, this type of work can be continued by skilled workers way beyond the shelf life of a typical career. We are seeing many more individuals working past the age of 65 for the reason of extended and cumulative skills and creativity.

Couture in particular is highly creative and fulfilling as a career, plus the increase in requests for custom work flies in the face of rampant consumerism for ready-made cheap clothing.

stay tuned…

The studio at EHC engaged in “creativity at work”.

 

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Couturiers and Tailors Jobs!

EHC is training Couturiers and Tailors – specialists in fashion production

According to a 2011 Canadian Labour Market Information Study, prepared by Milstein & Co Consulting Inc for Apparel Human Resources Council in March 2011:

The (Canadian) apparel industry could require possibly as many as 7,000 trained production personnel in the next 18 to 24 months (Production means the various jobs in making or creation of something – and of that group are fashion Couturiers and Tailors). Considering the impact of the various demand scenarios (as well as the retirement challenge), the industry will face serious labour demand challenges over the next several years, and could be required to hire between 6,000 and 21,000 new employees (excluding normal turnover and excluding the need to replace retiring executives).  

The challenges at the moment are:

  • Vocational programs for skilled apparel production workers have, by and large,been discontinued;
  • Students in post-secondary institutions seek service jobs in the industry as opposed to production jobs;
  • There is an overriding sentiment in the country that apparel production has largely moved offshore and as a result, is not a viable occupation to pursue;
  • Immigration policy is not focused on attracting skilled apparel production workers;
  • Provincial employment programs often encourage displaced apparel production workers to retrain into other occupations

Parents of young people wanting to enter the fashion profession are very skeptical about their futures in the business. Fashion as a viable career, has received some valid criticism – no thanks to TV programs such as Project Runway and the overabundance of ‘fashion designers’ out of work. ‘Fashion’ is hard work requiring a spectrum of expert skills. The jobs are indeed available locally, not all fashion related jobs are in retail sales or overseas.

From an article in The Association of Sewing and Design Professionals April 2012 members newsletter, (an American association which includes Canadian members) written by Mimi Jackson, a MSDP Board Member

Couture sewing is indeed a worthy profession. Constructing clothing by hand has a future, and as those with couture sewing skills are retiring, passing away, and leaving the profession, new hands are desperately needed.  As the owner of http://www.Findadressmaker.com, I have my finger on the pulse of what skills are being sought across the United States.

In New York City, I can assure you, the search has become frantic. At the highest levels in the sample workrooms of the top design firms (whose names we all know), there are empty seats where sample hands once sat. One very well established Madison Avenue boutique can seat (and would hire) 30 tailors in their alteration room and only 12 of those seats are filled.

A high end women’s custom clothing firm in New York City recently placed an online search ad for a women’s tailor/fitter and has not received A SINGLE RESPONSE.  Movies which are shooting in other parts of the country scramble to find willing, capable, flexible, and custom sewing professionals whose skills run the gamut from simple to complex. These jobs can pay quite well, since much of the work requires expertise and a willingness to be “on call”. Yes, even in this (USA) economy!

While people simply willing to sew are not quite as hard to find, locating those who know the value, beauty, and techniques required to turn a delicate rolled hem on bias chiffon properly, fortify a corset, invisibly join pieces with delicate hand stitching, understand proper zipper insertion, develop a pattern, and skillfully fit a figure have become like trying to find needles in haystacks.  As anyone in this profession knows, this work requires your head, your heart, and your hands. It is a talent, requiring years of practice and education.

Ecole Holt Couture offers a 4 year program for Couture, Ladies and Men’s Tailoring.

Resource for posting and finding fashion related jobs in Canada and abroad.
Online portfolio advantage for fashion graduates.

 

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