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Tuesday March 31st, 2015 – Back to class

We’ve just left two weeks of Spring break behind us. Well, it wasn’t so much a break as quiet work-time to catch up for most of us here, and part one of the final Certificate exam is being written today. The programs are pretty intense, and if you do get behind even for one or two days, the work piles up incredibly quickly. Students all work very long hours for the duration of the programs, and as an administrator as well as instructor, my job doesn’t end at the close of class either. It usually runs late into the evenings and into weekends replying to emails and keeping up with necessary paperwork. It didn’t get any easier when Ecole Holt Couture became a designated Private Vocational Training institution licensed by the Alberta government of Advanced Innovation and Education department.

We often get questions about EHC’s programs and the equivalency of its certificate awards to other degrees. So here it goes.

Both Ecole Holt Couture programs are recognized by the Advanced Innovation and Advanced Education government department of Alberta, Canada.

EHC’s Dressmaking Certificate program is designed for self directed employment as well as the prerequisite program to enter the EHC Couturier/Tailoring Diploma program. The Diploma program is designed for self directed employment or free lance work, as well as entry level positions for apprenticeships. As such, there is no equivalent to our Certificate and Diploma programs. The entire curriculum is unique and original, written by the Founder, based on her education and 60 plus years of professional experience in the trade of couture and tailoring in Europe and Canada.

The reason that Ecole Holt Couture was established and its sole existence is to preserve and pass on traditional practical skills with its related professional technical knowledge not currently being taught in fashion or design institutions. As we’ve ventured to more modern approaches, focusing on off-shore manufacturing and marketing, the nature of educational programs have evolved to meet the demands of the fashion industry.

What is being left out is formalized training in couture and tailoring. Expert mentoring, the transference of knowledge and sharing of experience, not least of which is teaching the fundamental skills for a couture and tailoring career alternative – not typically included in the ‘industry’ statistics today.

So where are the statistics for couturiers and tailors to be found then, if not in the fashion industry? In our research, we have found them to be placed squarely in the arts and culture sector as craftsmen and artisans. see Cultural Human Resources Council

At EHC we do not teach quick and easy step by step do-at-home projects, that follow trendy designs adapting ready made patterns for sewing enthusiasts nor do we teach how to manipulate CAD programs. This training is meant for the serious career-minded individual to gain the expertise to take an original design idea and craft it into a fully formed product, by your own hands. What then is the exact degree equivalent, remains a good question. Cheers! J

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Posted by on March 30, 2015 in College degrees

 

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Couturier ‘String Theory’ – not just a Fable!

Most of the Students at Ecole Holt Couture have heard me tell a similar version of this Fable….

Once upon a time there was a very rich man and his wife spending some quality time together on their private south pacific island. Even with its remoteness it had every modern convenience. Solar panels for electricity, running water, and even 4G Internet access. Everything you could possibly need was there. A beautiful house, airstrip, dock, boat house, deep-sea fishing boat, and several guest cottages on its beaches.

He arrived following several strenuous business trips with his wife, who had completed a major shopping spree from Paris, Milan, London, to Tokyo. There was nothing that the couple could not buy. His wife had just procured lengths of the most elaborately hand-embroidered French silk, the softest Kashmir wool, the most luxurious Italian silk velvet, and the finest English worsted. The best that could be made, very expensive and all quite unique.

Because this man was also very generous he regularly invited friends and relatives to his island, but he also invited strangers from time to time to share in his good fortune. This time he invited three young, and very promising, fashion designers to the island as a reward for their contribution to one of the many charities he supported.

Each of the three individuals saw this opportunity differently. One was very ambitious and viewed each day as potential for new business and so brought an iPhone, laptop, latest look-book, and a few new design ideas to present, just in case. The other viewed this as a good time to get on with a project or two without distractions, and so managed to pack a compact sewing machine, sewing kit (thread, pins and scissors), and some new patterns but decided to investigate locally made materials on the island to experiment with. The third accepted this, as a time to relax and not worry about anything. To absorb, and enjoy this once in a lifetime experience.

While on the island, which was very tiny indeed, it became apparent just how remote it was from civilization. The owners of the island were very hospitable and made time to visit with each of their guests, making sure that everyone was quite comfortable. One night they invited the three young people to dinner at the big house. Nothing but the finest was offered, the freshest fish caught just hours earlier, the best quality vegetables and most exotic fruit flown in from the nearest islands, and the finest wines.

The conversation turned to each guest to find out what their hopes and aspirations were for the future. One was confident that someday they would become world famous, so that everyone would want to own one of their designs. The other was hopeful, that with experience and some help, they would be able to manufacture highly popular collections selling around the world. The third confessed to wanting to be creative every day, to being content, and wanting to make other people happy. The others all sniggered at the third’s response, and privately thought how impractical and unrealistic that would be.

Curiously, the rich man’s wife asked more questions about why this would be a considered career choice. After all, doesn’t one need a lot of money to be able to have everything one’s heart desires? “For instance, we have everything one could possibly want, a good income, good health, and access to the best of everything. This doesn’t come without hard work and sacrifice of course”. All had to agree, and continued to enjoy a pleasant evening of good food, conversation and exchange of ideas.

Later, the rich man’s wife was delighted to show the three young people her exquisite fabric finds, knowing they would share in her excitement. As expected, all three were indeed thrilled. Also, as an almost instant reaction, they offered to design something for her using these fabrics. “Oh, but, I couldn’t just let anyone touch these precious fabrics, only someone with considerable experience”. They asked who she knew, that had such experience. “Well, I don’t really. I’m a bit hesitant about asking anyone!”

The first young designer offered to create the most fashion-forward designs, and would start on it straight away. The second, began to research the latest trends to present. Meanwhile, the third asked questions about what the rich man’s wife dreamed for herself, what were her requirements for the coming year, and what type of things she loves to wear. “This is all wonderful, but it still leaves the dilemma of who will make these amazing designs for me?”

Not to worry the first designer said, “I have some really good people behind me who will get it done right”, the second designer remarked, “I will make it myself, it won’t take long. I can usually run things up in a few hours, a couple of days at most!” The third’s reply was “I would love to make it for you, it will take some time. I want to make sure everything fits just right, and makes you look marvelous. Your fabrics will deserve the utmost attention, for the most part they will be hand-sewn”.

That night a tropical storm knocked out the 4G Internet access, the docks were damaged, and the airstrip was littered with debris from broken branches. Fuel supplies were so low that the generators couldn’t be run for more than just the bare essentials – such as pumping fresh water. Repairs would take some time.

The first designer conceded, “Well that pretty much finishes my plans, without the internet I can’t communicate with my team, my laptop battery is low and in need of recharging, but I can’t do it without electricity”. The second designer complained that without power the sewing machine was useless, and it was too late to order patterns on-line. The third said, “No problem. Let’s get started”.

In wonderment, the rich man’s wife asked how this is possible without any equipment! “I have my hands, I never travel without my emergency sewing kit, and if you have a ball of string somewhere, that’s all I need.” And so proceeded to take her measurements with the ball of string, sketched some ideas on paper for her approval, and drafted the patterns on old bed sheets. After assembling the mock-up designs, they were fitted exactly to her figure. Then used as the pattern to cut her prized fabrics.

During the following days, the rich man’s wife witnessed how the garments were being created piece by piece, all with the greatest care and attention to detail. Every pattern was skillfully matched at each seam. The garments were fitted a few times making sure they were comfortable and flattering to her figure. Then – one day the clothes were complete! “Oh my, I have never in my life seen such craftsmanship, such beauty, but mostly I have not felt so comfortable in my clothes, and felt so good about the way they make me look! I could see your joy while you worked, and why you love creating such wonderful things! How can I thank you enough for what you have done for me?” The young Couturier replied, “The opportunity you’ve given me has been priceless! Here is a detailed invoice of what you have received in exchange for my expertise.” The rich man’s wife never again wanted what everyone else could buy! Do you?

(Not The End) Just The Beginning – Cheers J

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Ecole Holt Couture 2014 Presents – Youtube video trailer

Watch Video

Watch Video

At EHC we are very fortunate to have talented students with varied skills. ‘You’re Invited’ was created by one such student, Amy Zia, as a light-hearted look at what we do as couturiers! But, don’t be fooled, what we do is highly professional whether for special occasions or to create a functional and personal business wardrobe.

This fashion event is created to help raise awareness and funds for Making Changes Association, who provides hundreds and hundreds of women with functional and appropriate work wardrobes each year. Their clients are all making the effort to re-enter the workforce, and perhaps have few resources to do so.

Making Changes programs include guidance on writing resumes, and networking to gain employment, to those who perhaps may never have had to provide these qualifications before.

The wardrobes that are provided are all donated, recycled, reused, and up-cycled from high quality garments that are either brand new or gently used, giving the garments a new life as well.

So although, EHC teaches the skills to create brand new custom couture made garments, we support, believe in what and how Making Changes not only uses perfectly good clothing as their main program resource, but

More importantly, we support and share their values in how they treat women and teens struggling to improve their life situations, by treating them like family. Almost all of the day to day operations are handled by wonderful volunteers who have time and expertise to share.

You are invited, to attend this event! Just click on ‘buy tickets‘, and join us in supporting this wonderful organization.
Ecole Holt Couture School will also have a booth at the event if you would like to know more about us, and become part of this wonderful highly skilled, hand-made and crafted market!

If you can’t start the video, please copy and paste the URL into your preferred browser! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=phgn-NzI-Ls
Enjoy and see you at the event on Sunday November 16th! – cheers J.

To get ahead you need to get started.

To get ahead you need to get started.

 

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“My Studio is open for business!”

photo credit: thechicadvisor.com

photo credit: thechicadvisor.com

A couturier, tailoring, or any artisan studio requires you to personalize it at the same time make it feel comfortable for your clients, in addition to room for working and storage. An important part of your branding or marketing is how your client sees you in your workspace, and is a reflection upon you personally.

The minute a client comes through the door they should feel connected, easily get their bearings, view your displays, and get an overall impression of who you are. The space shouldn’t be confusing in its design or message.

A bit of background info: Retailers calculate every centimeter of floor space as potential [profit = sales dollars / costs / sq. foot]. Include moving-around-space between the displays (tables, racks, and shelving), and just the right amount of attention given to the design of the entrance, flooring, wall area, ceiling/lighting, smell and sound, they all act as the canvass and give context to the product for sale.

Basically, boutiques with wide aisles and ample space between products on display, and less product out on the floor equates to higher-end product for sale. The profit margin on these products is usually much higher per unit. A lot of attention is given to staging – lighting effects, sounds (music) and smell (fragrances) even if the customer is consciously unaware of the effort behind it.

Shops with narrow aisles, jamb packed shelves and racks, only general lighting and small behind the scenes storage space for inventory indicates a less expensive product on offer. Profit margins per unit are much smaller and therefore rely on a higher volume of sales with quicker turn over.

This is only a general guide and not definitive, but illustrates the importance of conscious design in the space. And neither scenario indicates or guarantees the actually quality of the product itself.

Studios are frequently open by appointment only or open limited hours to the general public. They may be one single open plan area. Clients love to see artisans at work dissolving the mystery of how things are created, but clearly appreciate defined parameters so they know where they, as the client, fit in.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Making your client feel comfortable during a visit to your studio is extremely important. Whether it simply means offering them a place to hang their coat, a clean sturdy wooden stool off to the side of your workbench and a place to set down their freshly brewed organic coffee served up in a perfectly clean mug, or a lush upholstered sofa with your quality printed portfolio splayed out neatly in front, freshly cut flowers and cold Perrier served in Waterford crystal on a unique coffee table. It means you have considered your client’s experience.

Every studio needs some storage space for stock and deliveries. In my opinion, it is best left behind screens or in closed off rooms. No matter how on top of things you may be, clients make judgements about you based on your timeliness and tidiness or lack of it. Sample fabrics on display is not considered inventory – you get the idea.

Make sure the entry to your studio is inviting whether it’s wide open or intimately private and make sure it speaks of the entire space. And the mind loves to make order out of confusion – so the less confusion the better. Your client’s attention will ready and not hung up about confused messages in your studio.

If one element is unseen, this one is no less important than all of them put together. That is to keep the air in your studio fresh. There are few things worse than being assaulted by the smell of stale food or other unpleasant odors. Masking malodour with fragrances or room deodorizers doesn’t work; it only makes matters worse, a definite turn-off.

Natural light and lighting is essential to a studio for more than just working in. It creates desired mood very effectively – just be aware of the fact that people have different reactions to lighting just as they do to colour. However, this topic will be better explored separately in another blog. Have a look at the following for some ideas of the better and the could-be-better – you be the judge. Cheers! J.

Levis Tailor Shop

Levis Tailor Shop

 

At Ecole Holt Couture School

At Ecole Holt Couture School

Anderson & Sheppard

Anderson & Sheppard

Spiro Creations

Spiro Creations

Tonbogirl Verbua Leather Craft

Tonbogirl Verbua Leather Craft

Make

Make

 

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Fast forward >> the personal touch

what you wantThe future >> what you want with the personal touch. People are becoming excited about little changes to the fabric of their lives – in their food, their environment and local culture.

We care that we are environmentally, socially and economically sustainable and the reason I love doing this work so much. It is exceptionally satisfying both as a couturier/tailor and educator. However, fashion industry people would argue that if everyone in the industry would still carry on as we do; we’d still be living in the dark ages. That might be true, but on the other hand – maybe not!

Case in point, the growing shift going-back-to-basics in organic farming and selling locally. We yearn for healthy wholesome nutritional foods, rediscovering real ‘taste’ and knowing where our food comes from! We love the personal touch.

Land and Building development is en route to greening-up by reclaiming, replanting, recycling and reusing perfectly good brick, lumber, stone, metals, and etc. products. Toxic chemicals are finally being removed from building products to provide healthier environments. Traditional crafts men/women and trades people are in high demand to achieve quality and reflect our personality in homes and gardens.

Connecting-with-nature programs are re-focusing our attention on the value of all living things from tiny bugs to preserving forests, from saving the whales to natural water sheds. We have come to realize, everything on earth belongs here. People need to be actively engaged in safeguarding our planet; we cannot  be timid or remain ignorant of the urgency in making at least small changes in our current habits.

Psychologists and sociologists are proving that our increasing dependency on social media may actually be making us more isolated, even though we depend on it for keeping in touch. We cannot do without the internet to conduct business today. All the same we still need personal engagement with our immediate community to make our work meaningful. Do you know or care if your customers are truly happy or satisfied with your product? How are you connected?

The fashion industry as a whole has been guilty as charged of being rather deceptive in capturing our attention. No one should believe magazine photos because they are all touched up to create an illusion of idealized perfection. Labeling doesn’t give you the true story in part or in full. We don’t know anything at all about a garment’s journey, who made them and where they actually come from. Yet fantasy continues to influence our desires and attitudes about everything from what we drive to what we wear.  It is no surprise then that consumers are slow in making better choices to curb this insatiable addiction to an illusion of impossible glamor, and at a terrible cost.

Consumers have become irresistibly accustomed to cheap fashion paying next to nothing in our western society, in effect undervaluing all creative labor, totally unaware that quality and social welfare is sacrificed every time in achieving this. We have become entirely detached. So it is no wonder that we are  somewhat slow to adopt a more sustainable approach to style. The popular saying goes: “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem”, we all need to take another look and reassess our contribution to the well being of our own community as well as global communities.

However, positive changes are on the horizon and the alternatives are numerous! Sharing, Recycling, upcycling, redesigning and zero waste, to name a few. In practice couturiers and tailors do not waste materials, find creative ways of incorporating your cherished valuables, and are not just in the exclusive domain of the wealthy patron either.

As local artisans and crafts people we can effectively service clients in our own communities giving them exactly what they want and need and at a much higher quality – with a personal touch. If you don’t believe it, just think about  hand knit sweaters or your most valuable handmade possession which you really love and cherish – I’ll guess you still own them and loathe letting them go! Cheers! J photo shoot workshop

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Creating is exciting, mastering is satisfying.

70x76I love and need to do something creative with my hands, whether playing the piano, sewing, cooking, gardening, sketching or doodling. Using my hands and engaging my mind are perfect partners for what I do in couture sewing and bespoke tailoring. I’m never satisfied with good enough, I strive for perfection every time. And, learning continues long after you master the fundamental skills and techniques. Couture and tailoring as a career has never become dry and continues to evolve.

In fashion making, including alterations, businesses surveyed (2012) – 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. Clearly, machinist skills at the bottom of the list.

Wow, a whopping 89% could really use expertise in custom fitting skills!

It doesn’t help, I think,  that many young people are misinformed about the business of professional couture sewing. As a result are reluctant to get into a field of fashion design that they think is just monotonous and slavishly laborious such as seen in those factories exposed recently in overseas countries.  In fact, couture sewing and tailoring is really very creative and fulfilling. True, the hours are sometimes long, but each piece that you work on is different from the last, unlike production work.

Facebook

Facebook

Glamour and sex appeal is continually portrayed in fashion media and gives a false impression of the reality of working in fashion. Fashion is exciting, but true career satisfaction from comes from within and from 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. Did I forget to say, you need ‘Passion’.

If you are anything like me, you get excited about creating things yourself, find peace and tranquillity in stillness and quiet concentration, thrive on a balance of keeping your own company and sharing quality time with other creative people and have an eye for detail and beauty. Often I become inspired and find myself lost in imagination. You see a need and know deep down that you can succeed at something that you really love doing.

One of the most rewarding times is when you reach the stage in your career, when you no longer question your abilities or skills. When you know that even when you haven’t done something before, you can figure it out! Excitement builds within me with every new project, especially the challenging ones, and then to see the joy your clients express when they get what they dream about.

...working on a wedding gown early in my career...

…working on a wedding gown early in my career…

To see other people awaken to their passion, is always a thrill as an educator. Doing what I do is the cake, doing what I love doing is the icing on the cake. Sharing what I’ve learned is the eating of the cake. – J.

Pattern cutter, maker, engineer

 

Artist-hand-mind-maker

kelsey

Creative expression your living heritage

 

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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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