Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Oh, good question!
When I first started this company, I could have never imagined having other people do sewing for me. I have a wretched time every asking for help, and I have an even harder time admitting that I can't do everything, every time, perfectly, without assistance. It felt like I was declaring that I wasn't "good" or "strong" enough. Thank the heavens, I've come a long way, learned the HARDEST way possible, (which is by actually DOING it!) and I spend nearly every second of my extra brain time trying to figure out how to keep the products better and better quality, how to anticipate the needs of the customers, and how to use our resources to keep the prices reasonable and NOT lose money.
Several years ago, if you would have sent me a picture from a video game you were playing, asking me to make an elaborate corset that was nothing like I had ever done, with a bunch of detail work, hardware, and customizations for your body, I would have gladly taken on the project. From there, I would have spent several hours cutting, re-cutting, laying pieces on a mannequin, re-drawing the base lines of my corsets, and drafting sizes JUST to get the thing cut! Then, I would have spent a goodly amount of time scouring the internet for the exact right fabrics, custom ordering them, being too much of a weenie to ask the customer to pay shipping and handling even for their custom fabric, and then DESPERATELY trying to make the exact piece the customer had in mind. Because I was the only seamstress, and my husband had plenty of corsetry to cut, we would both just work along, I wouldn't REALIZE how much time had been sucked up, and ultimately, I would actually LOSE money trying to do this customized piece that I only charged something like $160 for. Ahem, there is a reason why the customers from 8 years ago are still loyalists today. They got in on the ground-floor, as it were.
Fast Forward to today! No, I don't do elaborate custom orders, especially because we simply aren't in the right economy for charging $900 for a single costume piece. Not only that, but I've also learned A LOT about my abilities and how they align with my machinery, my patterns, my methods, assembly line styles, and my skills. I still do all of the dang sewing on all of the dang corsets, but I do have an extremely talented seamstress that I'm training to do the insides right now, and after a bit more, she'll be able to do the corsets from start to finish. It still stresses me out beyond reason to have to be this quality nazi, but luckily, I've figured out how to explain and draw sketches well enough that the process can be done perfectly if time and thought are put into it.
I have two extremely skilled girls that are sewing together my skirts, bloomers and blouses. I say extremely skilled, because I want you to imagine for a moment how FREAKING AWESOME you would be at playing piano if you put 6-10 solid hours in, 5 days a week, for months and months. The great thing about assembly lines (Thank you, Henry Ford, my "business crush") is that one person can get REALLY good at one thing, seeing as they do it all day long, and that's where you get consistency, quality, and a perfect finish. Plus, the workers get better, quicker, and more..awesome..er. This is why the "Oh, I'll just make that corset myself" ladies STILL kill me TO THIS DAY! So, you would rather spend your valuable time and stress levels plowing through a pattern that you've only ever made once?
Let's put it this way, when you by a corset from me, you get FOUR TO FIVE highly skilled workers to expertly craft it for your body and shape! These people have thousands of hours of experience, and have done that ONE LITTLE part of the corset probably 100,000 times. (you'll be sitting there grasping, profaning, and cursing for hours.) You get my knowledge of EVERYTHING that doesn't work for corsetry, *cough* which is a vast amount of detail, and you get my patterns that have been revised for women's bodies so many times that they hardly resemble our originals.
OH, blast, I NEVER got to the original question. I'll address it here, as simply as I possibly can. Friends, we have the prices of our raw materials raised on us every year! The steel for the grommets has gone up (I'm spending $500 MORE per batch than I was just 3 years ago), the price of fabric has risen, steel boning prices have gone up about 40%, and that is only just a handful of our problems.
As a business owner, you have a couple of options when you get your profits knocked down by rising prices. Here's just a few of the painful details:
* You can find other supply sources (this is a crap-shoot. I can't even begin to tell you how HARD it is to find a quality manufacturer that is easy to work with, prompt, well-priced, and understanding of your needs. Plus, we try to buy from the United States where ever we can. I love my country, and I want to keep jobs here. Thus, these companies are....difficult to find. It's not a simple google search. )
*You can raise the prices on the customers (This is extremely hard for me! Every festival I go to, I still get the extremes. It's either an educated person that is incredulous about how CHEAP we sell our corsets for or it's someone who doesn't know much about the world of corsets and costumes, and thinks the prices are outrageous.)
*You can shut the company down and give up. Honestly, this happens a lot.
*You can fire employees. *sigh* I believe a lot of you know about this.
*You can find ways to save money or time..seeing as time IS money.
As you can imagine, this last option is the one that we have chosen. I wish I could convey to you how I work my GUTS out and burn my brain and emotions while trying to figure out ways to save time and money. The buttons in the bustle skirts is a GREAT example. We used to pin every fold, go through, and stitch the folds down. This is time-consuming, especially when you're battling pins that like to find their way into your fingers. Putting these metal post buttons through the folds solved a couple of problems! It cut down the working time by about 15%, which is HUGE in the production world! It also means that if you're wearing a bustle skirt and you accidentally take a step back with your 7 inch stilettos and catch them into one of the folds, the skirt WON'T have a part of the bustle ripped out.
Stitching together the folds was good and sturdy, and a bit more subtle, BUT stitches do technically poke tiny little holes into fabric. You guys may not know this, but with how rivets work, there is a part that looks like a nail that is essentially hammered into and crushed at the end, flaring out into the round part of the button. The buttons that we got actually have SCREW heads, which I'm super excited about, so there's several layers of "resistance." It doesn't actually poke a hole...it presses the fabric up into this super tight vacuum of crushed metal. Pretty brilliant, eh?
Holy Junk, this got long! I've GOT to get sewing! I have a pile of faux leather peacock vixens, some full length Buccaneer coats, and some more lace applique corsets that I'm working on. My sewing machine space looks like...well...hell. Anyhow, I love you ladies! I'm grateful for you, and I pray my brains out for you and the ability to love your own bodies!