Friday, March 5, 2010

The pros and cons of working with a passionate person

I'm an emotional thinker, and I know that. My older brother always affectionately told me that I have no settings between 0 and 10, meaning that either I'm a completely happy bright person, or I'm a dark ray of depression and woe. I've tried for years and years to become a more stable, logical thinker and to channel my out-of-control emotions into positive outlets. I married a naturally optimistic, easy-going, resilient man and he definitely helps keep me on track, yet lately I feel like kicking cans of jello through windows while screaming out profanities that no one even ever thought of while shoving chocolate down my face and crying miserably. The other day, as I was screaming obscenities into the universe, I grabbed a pair of scissors and just made several gashes in the corset I had just finished. I know this all sounds like the acts of a serious lunatic, but maybe that's what I am. I just have such a huge amount of pressure on me lately, that I feel as if I'm moving through putty as I walk to my sewing machine.

My lovely customers make orders, and they only have that one order on their mind. They're excited about that order, and hope that the package will show up in the mail soon. When I get the orders, especially when they all come in huge batches, those orders and customer needs play in my mind like a nagging, disappointed soundtrack on a continuous loop. When I go to sleep at night, they're still there...all of the things I need to get done, all of the demands, all of the deadlines. When I wake up at 5 in the morning, they're playing louder than ever. This is one of the reasons I hired my sister to answer all of my emails and etsy conversations, because I would read them, and the whole entire emails would play in the background of my head, not just their orders. Plus, there's that unfortunate passion that I have about the product. Someone would ask me why I used fiberglass rods, and instead of saying, "Because they make for a great product and will never bend or break." I would launch into my theories about good posture and how I searched for months to find someting that I thought would be suitable and meet my needs, and how my brother was making his foam-padded battle swords with fiberglass rod cores and how I figured that if the rods could stand up to repeated literal beatings, then surely they would hold a woman's stomach in and onandonandon. I'm so passionate about what I do and everything that goes into it, that it melds into strong emotions, and those inevitably come pouring out when I write. If any of you ever get emails from me and think,"Wow, that was very abrupt and to the point!" that's because it was dictated by me, but simplified and typed out by my sister.

So, back to the whole issue of me needing anger management, I just wanted to make a formal apology if I've pissed any of you off, or if I've offended you, or really let you down. Just today, I told a customer I would not take her order because it was stressing me out so badly with all of her needs and emails, and she didn't exactly seem too happy. I tried to explain that I was leaving for a festival in 4 days, and then traveling for the whole last half of March, but I guess really, at the end of the day, you guys just want your corsets and you don't care about my stresses and come-aparts. That's fine, and I understand more than you know, because once again, when you launch into all of the reasons you want a corset, along with all of your body issues, along with your deadline for your event and your budget needs, those go right into the playlist in my head and continue in the loop until your order is done and sent off.

I guess the moral of the story is that there are great BENEFITS to working one-on-one with your bodice designer, and there are great DRAWBACKS. It's really great that you can explain your needs to someone, tell them about your body type, give them measurements, and vent a little to them, and they will take it all in, really consider and work the order over in their minds, and put all that passion into a lovely quality piece made just for you. It's a good thing that you can lose weight, have a corset that doesn't fit and send it right back to the maker, who will alter it and ship it back and then it will fit perfectly. Imagine doing something like that with a pair of jeans you got at JCPenney. Imagine going in a year later and saying "hey, the button popped off because I've worn these so much, so I was wondering if you could replace the button and also maybe take them in at the waist and hips?" They would look at you like you were a crazy person. However, I get those kind of requests all the time. I just barely altered a bodice down for a woman who had dropped 30 pounds. She sent it to me, I altered it for $10, and shipped it back to her the same day I got it in the mail. I loved hearing her story about how she had lost the weight, and I applauded her efforts and expressed my amazement at her fortitude.

I just hope you guys can remember that when you're getting a product from our company, you're not working with some nameless faceless robot of a seamstress. There's my face...right up there. I'm a human, and I'm trying soooo hard to be the best I can be, but lately I am in over my head, and I'm acting out emotionally. Please forgive me if I haven't processed your order like a big company would, but also remember that the big company won't give a damn about you tomorrow, and I will, with passion.


  1. Michelle, you're welcome to vent to me any time :-)

    I know how I feel during faire season and I'm guessing that I don't do half the business you do. Between Etsy, traveling to and from festivals, applying for festivals, keeping up with inventory, making sure we have enough display pieces, and dealing with a rather difficult Panther Primitives tent, it is a stressful life indeed.

    You're doing a great job. Your customers love you. When we go to festivals, we find all of the ladies in Damsel In This Dress and get pictures together. Ta-Daa, corsets bring people together.

  2. Well, crap. I wish I would have read this *before* I sent you a message (via Artfire) inquiring about the status of my order.

    Seriously, I can wait, I just wanted to know what was going on with my order, and now I know. I don't wanna wait, of course :) but I know how it is, and I don't really need my corsets NOW.

    Thanks for all of your lovely work. Just looking at all of your sites, even when I couldn't buy anything, inspired me and made me happy.


  3. I love all the new stuff you just added to Etsy -- I wish more of it would fit me! I've been thinking for awhile now that one of your custom corsets might have to be this year's Gift to Self.

    I think it's great that you have this much passion for your work. Just don't drive yourself too crazy!

  4. HUGS!!!!!!!! You are wonderful! Your corsets are wonderful! You are an amazing, strong, passionate, creative bipolar (?) genius which is why we all love you, your corsets, your blog and your store! I will never, ever buy my corsets anywhere else, and I'm so glad that you are a real person, with real emotions. More hugs... hand on shoulder...hang in there... stay with us... (passes over DARK Ghirardelli CHOCOLATE, a Starbucks Frappucino and some kleenex).

  5. Wow, sweetie, its ok! Listen, you make a quality, handcrafted product in a world that is used to being able to demand anything they want anytime they want because companies don't give a rats rear end about making some third world little girl work overtime to get it to them for cheap.
    *pant, heave, snarl, stop before the ranting starts*
    Anyway, in a world where people are used to being able to be jerks because the person on the other end has no choice to listen to their whiny bs and give them whatever they want, you are going to come up against this kind of thing. Remind yourself that they are a product of unfeeling rampant consumerism and let it roll off like water off a ducks back.
    And if you actually manage it let me know, because I have never mastered it myself. Still trying though.

  6. I think you do an admirable job and are entitled to vent now and then. I made *one* Medieval jacket/dress on commission and it was a nightmare - the bride kept me waiting for months on her choice of fabric and kept changing her mind about what she wanted. I have now vowed I will NEVER do a commission garment again. And you do them all the time. I look forward to the day I can order one of your corsets - and will savour the delicious anticipation of the arrival of my package (no matter how long it takes, it will be worth the wait!).

  7. Michelle, you keep doing more than one thinks possible. It's great that you're so passionate about what you do. Not many people are, and look how miserable they are all the time. I think you're certainly entitled to have a break, or to say "No, I can't do that because of travelling/faires/too many orders/whatever."

    One of the great things about buying a corset from you is that you really are a real person at the other end. And if someone can't accept that, if they can't see that other person, just a drone, then they don't deserve one of your lovely corsets. You have a life and a family beyond corset-making.

    Don't let those nagging thoughts get you down. YOU'RE DOING A GREAT JOB!

  8. Michelle, as your customers we are very very lucky that you still provide such custom personal service considering the volume of work that your business now does. Believe me, I thought about that many many times over the past week prior to my email yesterday. I also often wonder if the day might soon come where you either do away with the custom option and just start doing 'what you see is what you get' sales, or the cost of custom items goes WAY up. Not that I'd like to see either of those happen... but I imagine you'd still have a booming business either way, and your health and sanity isn't worth sacrificing if that's what it comes down to.

    I've only been following along for the past 6 months now, so I don't know what your yearly schedule normally looks like, but I really really hope you work a big vacation in there somewhere! You NEED vacations - read this is you're hesitant: http://stress.about.com/od/workplacestress/a/vacations.htm Close down the site, ArtFire, & Etsy (or post only the stuff that your sister can ship out) and set that email to respond with an 'on vacation, try again on x/x/x date' message, and get away for a week, or 3 or 5. Oh, and DON'T warn us ahead of time, or we're more likely to just swarm you with that many more orders in the time left, and that would be the last thing you'd need before getting away to relax. :p If we can't be on the ball enough to order things well in advance of our deadlines, that's our own fault and it would serve us right to have to be the ones to stress over it instead of you once in a while. ;)

    Come for a visit in the White Mountains if you want a really boring, quiet place to relax. We've got several spots you can hike up, see a gorgeous view, and scream your head off for a wonderful release.

    Chin up Michelle, you've got a huge fanbase that loves you to bits. Don't be your own worst enemy!

  9. Michelle, I think you're absolutely amazing and once more I want to say that I love the suitpant corset I bought a couple of weeks ago from you, that not to mention I got in 2 days, which was extremely pleasing and I was so excited. My boyfriend was also very pleased when I came out of the bathroom after 7 or so minutes of trying to lace myself up (Kudos to those who can do that without help!).
    I love your work, and I will proudly wear my outfit that I bought from you last year to the Norman Medieval fair in a few weeks time!
    It's stressful doing commissions and dealing with customers and wanting to do your best for them, I'm in an artist alley every year at a couple of conventions, but no where near as much as you do or as tough as creating the amazing products you do. I hope after the festivals this month you can take some time for yourself with a nice cup of tea (or irish coffee ;) ) and relax.
    See you March 26th!


  10. You are awesome. I am glad to know that I am not the only creative person who gets overstressed and looses her cool. (I had my own little meltdown this weekend sitting in the car refusing to go into church because I was just so emotionally wrecked. Poor hubby.)

    Someday soon I will be ready to order a corset and I will be patient because I know that you are awesome and crazy busy and that you will take care of my order in the best possible way.

    DO take a vacation - even if that vacation only involves turning off the computer for a week and snuggling in your own bed with hubby and the kids every day. You need it. You deserve it. You'll work better, faster and smarter when you "come back"

  11. I haven't ordered something in a while, but every time. (Every. Single. Time.) I wear your corsets, your bodices, anything by you, I get tons of compliments! I want you to know how much you and your work means to me, and how much I appreciate it.

    But, seriously, your health (mental or otherwise) > my pretty corset. *YOU* are who we love, your awesomeness of corsety goodness just comes from you and your creative genius.

  12. *Sending mental hugs and lots of light and energy to do with and use as you please :D****

    To date I own about five of your corsets, three skirts and have given other corsets as gifts to friends. And they are ALL just gorgeous and top notch!

    So sorry about all of this stress though. I greatly admire your work, who you are as a person and your work ethic. Also your customer service skills are above and BEYOND that of anyone! Your art is beautiful like you and one can see it all the way down to the fine stiching. Thank you for sharing your honesty and beautiful corsets with the rest of the world!Wishing you a good faire season and many hottub thearpy soaks for the body and soul and some good chocolates as well. (At least that is what sometimes gets me through the day) Thank you for all that you do!
    ~Amara, a fan for life

  13. Michelle,
    As someone who owns one of your corsets, just ordered 3 pre-made (those have already shipped) and one custom from you, I have to say that I feel your pain and am in no way in any rush for my custom one! Please, take your time. Get your sanity back. I ordered it for an event in September. Really, it's cool.

    I think you are astounding seamstress. I look at your etsy every day looking at the new stuff that is being put up. The first thing that I did when I re-gained employment was to purchase 4 corsets from you and I want a million more. I want you to be happy and healthy and rested.

    I must admit that I had an email exchange that kind of made me wonder what was going on because it was nothing like the ones that I have had before with you, but I totally understand what is happening now.

    I wish you luck and mucho money and great times at your fairs this year and please, take some time out for yourself. It's a wonderful product and I look forward to buying as many more as I can afford, but they are not worth your health or your sanity!

    Hugs and I hope that you feel better soon!

  14. The ladies above are absolutely right. While we completely, ravenously, obsessively love love LOVE your corsets, you are a human being, and that's the most important thing. Anyone who can't respect that you aren't an automaton needs to calm down and admit that their insane deadline is THEIR OWN fault, not your responsibility to accommodate! It is incredible (and very rare among artisans) that you go through the customer service effort that you do, on top of the incredible order-to-arrival timeframes. You could easily place a mandatory 3+ week waiting period on everything, and still keep us real ladies happy.

    Your pieces are thoughtful, durable, GORGEOUS, and addictive, and I really don't think your stuff would be NEARLY as desirable if you weren't the passionate artisan that you are. Everyone worth their salt has to have a little spice too, don't you think?

  15. Oh sweety! Deep breath. It's ok. Don't let needy customers take advantage of you or take your joy away.

    I have worked in customer service on the phone and in retail, so i know how retardedly demanding people can be. Yes you provide a service but it's up to you to dictate the terms and limits of that service. If you need a break, then say so! if you need a bigger lead time on custom orders, then do it; people will just have to adjust. the world WILL NOT end if they don't get their order tomorrow, and you will still have your sanity. (and we will still have an awesome seamstress!!)

    Your corsets are revolutionary, and I will wait as long as it takes for an order.

    Have you thought about a standardized order form for custom orders? Or a clause that states you can (at your discretion) charge extra if a customer has changed the order to many times. Rule your business, don't let it rule you. :) *hugs and copious amounts of chocolate*

  16. Michelle,
    I haven't had the privilege of owning one of your fantastic corsets yet, but I hope to very soon. The thing that draws me more than the awesome designs is the wonderful, passionate, real person behind them. If that passion makes you a little crazy at times, it is also the quality that creates such wonderful products loved by so many and you wouldn't be the amazing person you are without that passion.

    I agree with all the posts here and also add that you need to refuel that passion with time for yourself. As women who fill many roles, we need to be 'filled' ourselves. Take care of yourself and the rest will follow!

    Lots of blessings and peace, and lots of passion to you and yours!

  17. I own one of your corsets, which I believe I bought a year ago. I just wanted to say that you were so friendly and sweet working with me and I appreciate it so much! You are an amazing person, who is under a lot of pressure. Just wanted to give some words of support.

  18. This comment has been removed by the author.

  19. I totally hear you Michelle! We are all passionate about certain things we love and when someone expresses the least bit of interest in what we have literally poured our hearts and minds into creating, we feel this compulsion to make them as excited about it as we are. Unfortunately, most people tend to shrug it off with an "Oh, okay. That's kinda cool." and never truly appreciate the hours upon hours of work and research and learning that has gone into this object, whatever it may be.

    Take knitting, for instance. You know those horrid-colored, misshapen sweaters with the picture of what looks like it could be a bunny or something? These are the types usually made by grandmothers and bestowed upon family members at Christmas time. They are quickly stuck in the farthest corner of an unused drawer and never see the light of day. What the recipient doesn't know is that that hideous sweater probably cost around $100 in yarn and supplies and took the entire year to make. Before I was taught the craft, I thought you just moved the string with the sticks and it magically made a scarf, you know? I didn't care how it happened, I just wanted someone to make one for me. I didn't understand why weeks would pass and whatever I wanted still wasn't finished. I adore knitting now and love when people ask how I do it. I show them and they get all excited, so I teach them the beginner stitches. Most knit for maybe a week or so and quit, never to pick it up again. It's quite disheartening to see someone toss away a hobby that has brought me so much happiness. See? There I go.

    Anyway, I hope you know that we ladies truly value the one-on-one attention you give to each of us. A seller like that is one in a million. It takes a strong person to put up with all the shenanigans you indubitably have to deal with.

    We love you and greatly admire your work. I think I speak for all of us when I say that you ought to take a well-deserved break, even if only for a day or two. Hire a babysitter, purchase copious amounts of Lindt truffles, and watch all the best versions of Pride and Prejudice. :)

  20. My mom used to own a small clothing business doing new age clothing. A universalist minister asked her to custom make a litigation robe. After many meetings, where Mom made things exactly to the woman's many and rapidly changing specifications, she didn't like it and didn't want to pay. These days we do no custom work when we craft.

    This isn't me telling you to do less custom work or for less, because I have a 47 inch bust and a 36 inch waist, and if I ever want anything to fit over my boobs and make my waist look awesome - custom is my only hope. This is just to say custom is hard, you are allowed to put limitations on your time and energy so you can devote yourself to your art without going frickin nutso. It's a hard business, you're allowed to make it easier on yourself.

    Oh, and I have no middle settings either - its calm and giggly or fury of the ages. Nice to meet a sister of the Pele clan :)

  21. but the simple beach wedding dress is sure to get the best for you.You want every detail and wedding and dress every element to be picture perfect,it goes without saying then bridesmaid dresses that when you are planning and searching for your perfect wedding gown, you want something unique designer wedding dresses something different, and something that shows the world your individuality evening dresses These designer wedding dresses are fabulous because of their high quality wedding gown