A Designer/Seamstress Point of View

I have been holding this in for quite a while, but I am not sure I am doing anyone any favours keeping it all to myself. You might want to grab a drink before you read, you might need it!

Getting the words down on paper for this particular concern is problematic because is causes me quite a lot of unease and discomfort if I am honest, so although I want to send out positive information and messages on this blog this issue stems from my own distress and I know I am not alone as a designer/seamster with these issues to deal with on a daily basis.

I have touched on this issue many times because I believe that everyone should be paid a decent wage for what they do, especially if they are bringing skills and experience to the table. But sadly, when it comes to garments, we are in a world where there is an expectation of anything for a low price bargain, without any concept of what that means to the designer and maker of each piece.

Of course it is a person’s prerogative to choose where they shop from for clothes and of course budget comes into it and I have even written a free article that you can download from the shop if you would like to know a little more about my views and a few facts on this. However, and here it is in naked form, it is very very wrong to go to any artisan, designer, seamstress or anyone providing a professional, personal service and expect them to work for no money it is downright disrespectful.

Let me explain a little further….

On a regular basis I will be contacted by customers who have seen items in a store and will consider that they want to get the garment made and believe that they should be able to get this garment made for less money than they see it in the store.

Let me give you a couple of examples of actual queries.

  • A $15 skirt in store, customer requiring a cheaper option to be made.

  • A two piece formal outfit for less than $100.

  • A couture wedding gown requiring 4-6 weeks of creation with yards and yards and yards of silk, French lace, beading and embroidery for a budget of $2000

Its all relative….

OK you might think those requests don’t seem so bad at all.

I do understand that these customers come in good faith, that the problem lies with being used to getting everything ‘on the cheap’, an element of using common sense and thoughtfulness towards another human being and sadly and perhaps most importantly that there is a lack of knowledge and education about what these garments actually cost to make.

As this I can do something about for here is my main venue to get information out there.

I would like to briefly outline what the true costs of making a garment actually are…

Seamsters/designers typically charge $40-$50 per hour. I can go and get a job tomorrow for three times that income doing something else. I am a trained professional in more than one area of business and bring all that capacity to Threadelicious, my own business. I am doing this because I am passionate about it and want to run my own business. Through lots of blood (yes every day!) sweat, tears and hard work I still have not yet got my business making a profit.

To make a garment regardless of what it is, bikini, shorts, jacket, gown, wedding dress, you need a few ingredients….

  • Years of training and experience helps if you are putting yourself out there as a professional.

  • An initial Design idea, mood boards, time to sketch. Many designs created are never used.

  • Fabric research and buying time, fabric sampling and testing, this never stops

  • Base Template, moulage and sloper creation

  • Pattern Drafting

  • Fittings and Alterations to the pattern

  • Test garments created, sometimes several until a pattern can be settled upon then a pattern is preserved

  • Fabric and haberdashery choosing and purchasing which for good quality in Australia comes at a premium price whether you buy in country or ship it. Good quality fabrics can be $40 - $100 and upward a meter.

  • Fabric preparation requires knowledge of fibres

  • Fabric cutting

  • Garment Construction

  • More fittings

  • Final touches

This adds up to hours and hours, months and years of work, if you go to a designer/seamstress they are already giving you hours and hours of their time for free before they even see you.

When you buy a garment from the store it has been designed and made following a process similar to that above. However there are usually thousands of each item made so that the costs of design can be spread across each item. It is also an off the rack garment so the odds are that it won’t fit you perfectly anyway.

Think of this, when you go to a designer and ask for a one off garment to be made to fit your very individual body, with your taste of style, design, colour and pattern all thrown in for good measure, 100% of the costs of research and design are attributed to that one garment.

Of course extra to these costs are the usual general business cost that all companies have

  • Time for admin, marketing, research and training and so on

  • Other marketing costs, business cards, expos, online advertising, signage, projects

  • Costs for place of work, rent/mortgage, electric, internet, insurance

  • Costs for equipment, computers, furniture, FPOS machines

  • Vehicle cost, fuel, tax, insurance, maintenance

Its also nice to have some left over to spend on a salary for yourself, although self employed there should be enough left for this otherwise there is absolutely no reason to get out of bed!

Ok I hear you say, ‘so do something else then!’

Well don’t think I don’t think about that every day.

But then who is going to provide these services to the community, because when we talk about garment creation, repurposing, mending we are absolutely talking about a community service role. Already there are not enough people out there with these skills mending, altering and making the beautiful clothes and it is not the right way to go. We should be encouraging these skills not shutting them down. We don’t even teach these skills in schools anymore and the schools left that do offer the subject underestimate our kids and get them to make a zip bag or pillow case and although that may be a challenge for some I understand that and making a zip bag and pillow case is actually good fun and I recommend it for anyone, what about everyone else who is capable of so much more! Local community seamstress/designer is now bottom of the pile when it comes to careers!

OK deep breath….it is not all doom and gloom and it is not over.

So here is my humble request/wish…..

Please please please use your local seamstress/tailor every week just like you would go to your local baker or butchers, consider changing the way you shop for clothes but be thoughtful and conscious about how they can help you and how you can help them.

  • Use them for all your mending so that you can squeeze every ounce out of your garments then get them repurposed.

  • Use them for all your alteration needs so that you can alter and wear those 20 garments stuck at the back of your wardrobe that you have never worn because, you don’t like the buttons or it’s a little too tight or the split is too high or the strap is too long….

  • Swap clothes you simply don’t want with your friends and encourage them to go to your local seamster to get the garment fitted.

  • Use them to get a better fit for that new dress/trousers/blouse you bought new to make it a perfect fit.

  • Use them to help you or make for you your homeware item that you have been dreaming about.

  • Use them when you have a new baby born in the family and need something special made that they can keep for a lifetime.

  • Use them when you need a birthday gift.

  • Use them when you need a fancy dress for a party.

  • Use them when you need a fascinator or purse for a special event.

  • Use them for your whole wedding party and guests when you get married.

  • Use them for special ideas about hen parties or accessories for your wedding.

  • Use them if you have children or adults wanting sewing classes so you can do all of these things for yourself.

  • Use them to talk about that favourite item you have that makes your feel wonderful that you can’t buy anymore that you would love to have more of, they can take a pattern from it, change it to be more to your liking, store your pattern for you and make you one every time you need one in different fabrics and colours whenever you want one.

  • Use them to make all of your clothes, once a sloper or working template is made and fitted to you this cost is divided into every garment they make from you from this point. You will have your own designer making you garments that no one else has that fit you perfectly that are made from quality garments and make you feel a million dollars.

Stop buying hundreds of cheaper clothes that don’t last and don’t make you feel good and that you never wear and instead pay more for better quality, better fitting, better lasting clothes but buying less of them from you seamster you can only create a win win system you become more confident in what you wear and your seamster is able to help you and earn an appropriate wage.

Reduce your shopping in the big high street stores, shop local keep your money in your community and help a local family business. If you do this you can feel courageous and content that you have made someone’s heart skip a beat when they got your order, that someone is dancing a little jig because they can now pay a bill, that someone is having a conversation with a family member because all their effort is paying off and they are making their little business work. But do this with respect and understanding and commitment to paying the right price for their precious time because every person has value.

Take care everyone and take care of each other.

Love and Light


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