Saturday, August 3, 2013

Beating the Same Old Drum

        It is ALWAYS of interest to me how people interact at festivals and conventions. It's good to understand that I actually GREW up my whole life doing craft type shows. My mom is an incredible artist, and did the cutesy tole-painting on wood that was the pinnacle of 90's craft shows! *SEE PICTURE BELOW FOR EXAMPLE* Ah,  how WELL I remember my dad using the band-saw to cut all manner of shapes out of pine, and my mom spending countless hours meticulously painting, cleaning brushes, letting dry, and basically being more talented than all of the other painters out there.
       I remember her packing all of her wares into rubbermaid containers and driving all manner of locations to do the craft shows with my equally talented aunt. Even as a kid, growing up in an incredibly poor family of eight kids (thus everything was too expensive), I was always startled at how LITTLE she charged for things that took her hours to do. On the flip side, I would wander around to the hundreds of other booths at the shows and feel outraged at how exorbitant prices seemed to be clinging to every little price tag! Even now, I can still hear my mom's voice in my head, "Boo, we can't afford that. Besides, we could just make that ourselves!"
         Years later, I have talked to my mom (who now works the booths alongside me, in a beautiful, ironic circle of life) about this. She told me something the other day that I had never heard before. She explained that, at one of the craft shows, she kept seeing this lady who made adorable little fimo clay animals (like the ones below) and though she adored them, she didn't ever feel that she could afford them. If I remember correctly, this lady was charging something around $10-$25, depending on the intricacies of the little guys. Mom said that she decided one day that she REALLY would just "go home and make them herself." She bought a pile of clay, pulled up her best memories and  mental sketches (this was in the day before people would just snap a picture with their cell phone. Some artists and crafters are very offended by this. In my booth, I welcome it. Sure, guys, try it yourself. ), and then went to work sculpting, poking and prodding. After hours, she had one single animal done that WASN'T completely wrong and ugly....this coming from someone who, once again, is very talented. She proudly put it into the oven and baked it. When she pulled it out and let it cool, its head fell off and there were tiny cracks all over his body. Hmm....

      I've heard vendors talking to each other, absolutely LIVID at all of the rude things that customers and patrons say to them. Most recently, a friend of mine who makes these gloriously full, vivacious steampunk bustles had a customer standing there turning the piece over, snapping pictures with her cell phone, and examining every detail. She turned to my friend and said, "How did you do this part? I am going to go home and make one of these, and I can't figure out how you did this."   Now, I know exactly what was happening in both brains. 
My friend: "You dirty #$#^* F-ing !@^&%. How DARE you??? Of course I'm not going to tell you! I do this for a living, and put my heart and soul into this!!!! The reason you don't understand how I did something is because I've developed the talents and skills to do it, because of my blood, sweat, and tears put into this technique over years of frustrating mistakes and failures!" 

The Lady: "This is really amazing how this woman has done this! I'm really impressed with this work and it must have taken her years to figure out how to do this properly. I really can't afford this, but I bet with some effort, I could make my  own. I wonder if she'll be kind enough to tell me how it's done, so I don't have to go through the painful learning process."

        I know this, because I came from the family who couldn't afford anything. I heard the "we'll make it at home line" on a constant basis. That was really just my mom's way of saying, "Holy crap, I don't even know how we're going to afford milk for the family this week, let alone buy you a freaking little clay animal!"  I appreciate my mom not guilt-tripping and criticizing me for wanting fripperies. I find myself getting really frustrated with my own kids, for wanting the normal, well-packaged and marketed things that every single kid wants at the store.  My mother is much more graceful and patient than I am, alas!

        Anyway, back to the different points of view. I'm ashamed to say that I don't always take a moment to imagine what the person looking at my items might be thinking.  If any of you have ever met me, you know very well that I am not a traditional salesperson in a booth. It bores me to tears, and I don't want to ever come off like someone who is so desperate for money that they'll resort to any slimy sales tactic.  Plus, I believe that if you  have a good product, it sells itself, and when it doesn't, someone truly PASSIONATE about the product can help educate and encourage a sale, as long as they don't awkwardly push it. With that being said, I'm also woefully unprofessional. Some of you may remember the shameful tale of me throwing a gourmet breadstick at a woman's head when she said something I thought was horrifyingly rude. I shouldn't have made the story so funny, and I know that I got some comments on the blog from people who seemed to think that there wasn't a punishment harsh enough for my unprofessional attitude. *sigh* The people commenting had a good point. It was completely INSANE to throw something at a customer's head. I should be like everyone else, and rant, rave, and moan in the comfort of my own home, after I was away from where the woman could hear me. But, I guess there's the strange "double standard"...or at least that's how I would imagine vendors view the phenomenon. We can't be rude and point out that someone is being ignorant and offensive....because that would be RUDE to THEM.   Well, friends, like it or not. It's true. As the business owner, employee, crafter, artist, customer service personnel, sign-holder, and any MANNER of worker, it IS better for your company to sit back and take the abuse. I'm still not good at it. Let me demonstrate with the story below. 

         It's a sweltering hot day, and I'm at a renaissance festival where I've driven 16 hours, taken 8 hours JUST to set up my booth, and I'm beyond exhausted. Running on very little sleep, I was standing in the back of my booth, or rather, leaning on our sales podium, eating a granola bar, and feeling sorry for myself in the un-prognosticated 100 degree weather. The show hadn't even officially started, and I was taking a few quite moments to collect my thoughts, breathe deeply, and remember what the goal of my company is-to try my hardest to make women fall in love with their bodies again!  In walked the very first family of the day, and with them was a slouchy, sneering, pubescent teenage kid. He walked over to the corset rack, pulled up one of the tags, and said, in a sarcastic, disrespectful tone, "What??? A hundred dollars for THIS? That's f-ing stupid! Who would even pay that??"  
        I did the only thing I knew how to do. I picked up a long metal coiled spring that we had been using to hold part of our tent together, and I chucked it at his head, trying to knock off his side-cocked, flat-brimmed baseball cap. I didn't knock his hat off. Also, the metal spring didn't hit him. I'm a terrible shot. There's a reason that, in gym, when we had to split up in teams and get picked by team captains, it ALWAYS came down to me and the stinky kid...and he usually got picked before me.   Anyhow, the current "stinky" kid looked up at me in surprise, muttered a few profanities, and walked off. 

         Do you know what it is? There is a deep human yearning in all of us to be appreciated and understood.  I was just exhibiting my immature need for the exact same thing that this kid needed from the people around HIM! He was trying to figure out the world around him, wanted to feel cool and "better" than these odd people dressing up at this festival that he clearly didn't want to attend. Had I been the best version of myself, I could have said something like, "Hey, I really like your pants. How do you get them to stay on while wearing the waistband that low? Absolutely fascinating!"  (I really have always wondered this...however, reading this sentence out loud makes me sound sarcastic, which can still be biting and mean. I HONESTLY was impressed by the gravity-defying behavior of his jeans.)

        When people say things that I consider "rude", I ought to think of all of the wretched, ignorant things I've said, even sometimes within earshot of the people it could hurt the most. Obviously, we can't all go through life with a constant filter on our brains and mouths, because ANYTHING can offend ANYONE if they wanted to be offended badly enough.  However, endeavoring to keep your words and thoughts full of praise, gratitude, and kindness cannot be a bad goal! Any old fool can be nice to the people who are nice to them, but it takes a really incredible soul to show kindness and warmth to someone who has deeply hurt them. 

        After all, perhaps the customer who is in my booth telling her daughter "No, you cannot get this corset! It is  WAY TOO expensive" is really just a woman with a huge family, struggling to make ends meet. She most likely desperately, fervently wishes that she COULD give her daughter all of the fineries that she's been denied.  And maybe that freckly faced little 8-year-old, annoyed by the unfairness of the world and how poverty of her parents, will TRULY "go home and make it herself" one day.  There is a reason why I have my own company making fine things. I've wanted beautiful, feminine, historical clothing since I can remember.  Granted, the pain and suffering of learning the process of creation and running a business  hasn't been easy, which is why I GLADLY purchase costume pieces, jewelry, hats, tights, and accessories from people who are clearly doing it better than me. I also am able to acknowledge that I truly don't have the time or skills that these people possess, though I wish I did.   But, it's only because of the generosity of my amazing customers that I'm vaguely able to afford anything.  The rich experiences I get from this profession have blessed my life in countless ways. Those blessings are certainly something that I could never EVER "go home and make myself."


  1. While chucking something at someone's head is perhaps not entirely acceptable behavior (you could put an eye out! *gasp*) I do rather love you all the more for it. We have somehow managed to take customer service expectations to the extreme that people old enough to know better are entitled to behave like a 2 year old throwing a temper tantrum and GET THEIR WAY! It makes my brain hurt. Sometimes 'making it at home' is our only option and it's a sort of tribute to the artist. My pockets are all too frequently penniless but I'm clever and stubborn. I made a plush dragon once because I wanted one from an artist so badly but knew I couldn't justify the expense. Mine turned out pretty ok, but no where near as cool as hers and let me tell you, there is NO WAY I could sell one for the price she manages. Seriously. She must be a wizard because I'd have to charge 3x as much to make it worthwhile. So even though *I* can't afford one of her beautiful dragons, I make sure I refer people to her when they compliment mine. I ain't makin' the damn things, that's for sure ;) I like to think that balances out a bit... As an artist myself, I really hate to feel like I'm *stealing* from another artist.

  2. Which is why I buy your stuff. I'm just not good at corsets!

  3. I sadly can rarely afford such nice things. I do however save up my money to do so. I have taken times to learn minor sewing and I know the work it takes to make a corset to fit one person let alone make a corset that makes every women look lovely. This is why I save and scrape and purchase a corset when I can.

    Sometimes trying to make your own is a process that helps you to really truly respect and understand the person who made them in the first place.

    Then there are those like the kid who wants to be cool and all you can hope is that as they get older they get a little bit wiser in the process.

  4. I have been a little nuts about buying your stuff of late. This is because, FOR THE FIRST TIME IN MY life, every last dime does not need to be counted and scrimped, and I have always wanted beautiful things. Yes, i am a corset hoarder and I'm not ashamed! I know how to sew (poorly) but more to the point I am also an artist. I've heard those comments before too, and they are hurtful and rude. If I wanted to I could make *A* corset, sure...I have a friend who runs corset making workshops even....but I have zero interest in making it. That would be WORK and I buy & wear these things for FUN.

  5. I'm a starving college student, with no time, no talent, and no money, but I've admired your work for years. This year I was lucky enough to get both a corset and a full-length bustle skirt from your booth for my birthday(I have an amazing family). I love every opportunity to dress up, but it's become even more exciting for me as now I have the most beautiful, eye-catching pieces. The best part to me is when people ask if I made them myself, which is extremely flattering, but I get to tell these people I got these items from you! Now I promise I'm not trying to suck up. It's just so fun when we go to the Salt Lake Steampunk festival, and head out for lunch or dinner in costume and people stop us every five seconds for pictures or to ask about our outfits. And then I get to brag about knowing of some ridiculously talented artists. Anyway, I just wanted to thank you and say how much I appreciate all your hard work!

  6. You know, there's those that truly appreciate your work despite not being able to afford it, and then there's idiots like the teenager, who thoroughly deserved to have stuff winged at his head. And then there's us mothers who are constantly saying NO to our kids when they want something on a whim (which of course is quite often). :D

    Respect does indeed go both ways, and as consumers we tend to not complement artisans and vendors who create their own products like we should. Even if I have to pass on something interesting to me that I know that booth vendor has made, I will at least say it's beautiful and acknowledge their talent. Lord knows I don't have an artistic bone in my body.

    1. I always tell my daughter to put it on her birthday or Christmas list, or 'maybe later' when it's something we can't get. Lately (she's 4) I've told her we have to save up for more important things and can't just buy toys right now.

      I'm totally with you on talking to the vendors about their product and how amazing it is, wish I could purchase but can't right now.

  7. I seriously thought about making my own corsets before, but I don't follow patterns when I sew, and the thought of spending money on things like boning when I most likely won't ever manage to make a good one really put me off. I can spend money, but only if it isn't going to be wasted!

    Also, I wish I could throw things at people. I'm not a professional in any way, but I was raised as such a prude that I just can't do it. It would make me feel so much more better though...

  8. I've grown up with the same mentality, and have become a multi-talented crafter, but I know there are things I really can't make. And whenever I go to a craft fair, I don't audibly complain about prices, and make sure I have a little money to buy one or two things. But I've yet to be able to afford costume items - usually I get little jewelry items. Someday I'll get one of your corsets, until then I'll drool and enjoy reading your blog! (Also pregnant, so can't wear them now like you!)

  9. I would save money from my tax return every year and set it aside for something extravagant like one of your corsets. Yes, I could make a cheap little thing, that does nothing for my figure and has no boning, which I've done for my first ren faire when I couldn't afford anything. but when I wore it, did I feel special or beautiful. No! I was praying that no one would look to closely at the thing, because I didn't line it...and I was constantly sucking in my stomach, so it actually looked like a corset. Hence, the I save up money now.

    But now I'm past the having to scrimp and save and would rather buy all of my stuff from you, because I feel pretty, I feel special and I want to tell people. Yes, look as close as you want at the workmanship, because you won't find any fault. It's a Damsel in this Dress. I brag about your pieces.
    Which I don't find expensive at all, because I've been to Ren faires in many states. IL/WI. Michigan and Oregon. And you are very reasonable. And if people don't realize that, it's because they are a nob and don't know how fun it is to dress up in a DITD.

  10. I've made my own renditions of other artists pieces for as long as I can remember. I always feel guilty about buying something "I can make myself." But you have a beautiful and well made product and I don't feel guilty about buying that which I have the utmost respect for! I love your work and your constant revising shows how hard you try to please everyone! THANK YOU for not letting "good enough" BE good enough. BIG HUGS.

  11. When I have the money to, I try to shop from artisans as much as I can, although since my budget is so tight I do tend to make things myself quite often, since I have the skills, and a very much non-standard body shape...but there is something wonderful about being able to buy something that someone else has created for me, especially since I didn't have to slave away for hours upon hours making my own pattern on putting it together (boy I am sad that my Damsel doesn't fit me anymore)
    I know my daughter hates to hear that I can make something for her when I can't afford something she wants...she always buys rather than allows me to make her something(she is only 14 and works very hard for her money) She just purchased her first Damsel with the money she earned raising swine for 4-H and is absolutely THRILLED! She worked for 6 months raising that pig so she could get an awesome corset made by Michelle. So even when we can't afford your pieces, we appreciate you and your hard work and know the value of a well made corset.

  12. A pity you didn't hit him square in the middle of the face 8/ honestly. I think it's more brave to lash out and face the consequences. Screw being the bigger person, he had it coming. At one of my jobs I have to stand and let customers treat me like shit all day, because when they walk into a store they think they can treat the salesperosn however they want and get away with it because they have the money, and thus hold all the cards. I say 'fuck THAT shit', and do not give a customer the time of day if they start being a douche. The company I work for disagrees, and think we should allow ourselves to be treated like dirt. Anything for the sale. The company would probably say to us to let the customers rape us, if they could get away with it.

    You, my friend, in your own way, just stood up to the MAN. You take no shit. I respect that. :D Screw political correctness.

  13. Feeling your pain.

    My wife and I run a chainmaille jewelry business, and we have no issue with people who say "I'll go home and make this." It's how our business got started. My wife couldn't afford a headpiece from the jewelry place at the local Renaissance Festival, so she went home and learned how to make one for herself. And we both are willing to teach other people (though we don't want people to _copy_ our designs).

    On the other hand, we despise the people who are appalled by our prices and passive-aggressively try to get us to lower them. Feel free to tell us that you can't afford things (we'll try and help you find something in your price range, as long as your price range isn't "under $5"). Feel free even to dislike our prices. But to suggest to us that a $20 handflower made out of $5 of materials that took three hours to craft is priced about twice as expensive as it should be is insulting.

    1. Three hours and it's only $20? Seriously? Where are you going to be showing next and how do I get there?

      People are funny aren't they? So many consumers are used to the drop-shipped prices from sweatshops that they have no respect for handcrafted.

      My mother's a beader and my father tried his hand (well till he broke it) at chainmaille jewelry - don't worry he's absolutely not competition, his pieces tend toward the rustic and he's a strictly one-off kind of a guy.

      Sorry, back to the point. It's good to vent to like-minded folks and even better to stand your ground against those who don't respect your work even if they were to buy something. Unfortunately as niche business people you are hardly encouraged to proclaim your worth.

      Stand tall Sam, if you don't know your USP (unique selling point) figure it out - if you do, tell your detractors to make 6,000 jump rings and do it their damn selves!

      Removing soapbox now.

  14. Having done my time in retail during the holidays and about to start up fairs for the second time in my life, I have to admit I'm impressed. Actually I'm ecstatic that you missed him, how insulting would it be to have to suffer through a court case cause your bad aim caught him in the eye.

    As for the joy of growing up with a parent that also said, "We can make that ourselves." I am well versed in not spending money for things I can make myself. Unfortunately I'm pretty handy and have the skills to figure out how to make something that has caught my attention.

    Fortunately I'm cleaning the hell out of the lack mentality that runs rampant among those of us who did not have wealthy parents and who have a love-hate relationship with money. I heard a phrase recently "Prosperous Spending" - it means to enjoy what you do spend without feeling guilty about it.

    The intent is to circulate money by supporting people and products that inspire you. To give yourself permission to enjoy your life as you also work to improve it. Pretty sweet if you ask me.

    I know that Damsel in This Dress is one of those endeavors that inspires me. Not only because of the empowering tagline "Everyone deserves to love their curves" (as a copywriter I am truly inspired by it!) but because of the Pro-Personal touch that Michelle and the others bring to it.

    I'm a huge proponent for Pro-Personal relationships! In case you were wondering it means professional-personal, and I won't bother you with my soapbox about that. Anyway, can you tell I'm a novel writer by trade and a copywriter by choice and vocation.

    Thanks to all the peeps at Damsel in This Dress, though I only discovered you in March I am the proud owner of four corsets!!! I'll be even more excited when I can start wearing them (waiting for the outside wold temps to drop down from the 100+ degree days to the mid to low 80's).

  15. I travel for a living, and I try to hit as many ren faires all over the country as possible. I can say from experience that Damsel is perfectly reasonably priced, probably even under priced for the quality of the product. Also, as a person with absolutely NO TALENT in sewing (I made a dress once...it won't fit a human...) I am more than HAPPY to support the artists who make the things I love, but can't do myself. Thank you, thank you, thank you for making me feel pretty! I will continue to save up for more!

  16. Like Anonymous said just above me...

    ...I've seen people charge far more at Renaissance Festivals for corsets I'd consider sub-par in comparison.

    Also, in my experience, I've seen people come into the shop I used to work for where the owner spends dozens of hours carving intricate designs and truly beautiful artwork and people will scoff about how overpriced it is and in a few cases they do take pictures and talk about how they've got a dremel at home and they'll totally carve their own knife hilt themselves.

    He just laughs and says they're welcome to give it a shot.

    But the people who truly know quality are the ones that keep coming back and buying new pieces from him, year after year.

    Uh, anyway. Right on?

  17. Generally put together anything in no hurry. Possessing correct footwear for the specific times need to generally be your precedence. Don store for the wedding footwear in the final minutes, even though look frequent as some brides really feel the footwear would be the very least critical from the wedding working day apparel. They may possibly not understand that deciding upon the best footwear to match their other wedding apparel is just not as effortless as to get other kind of footwear.

  18. Great post. I agree completely with you on all points! :)

  19. My sister makes fine jewlery to sell at craft shows. She suffers the same problems you describe. Mostly because people are ignorant of the price of silver.

  20. If people act like asshats I don't know why it isn't okay to throw stuff at them (there's consequences for every action). One throws beans at Oni to drive them away...

    Perhaps throwing things might not be the best choice, but please don't take abuse from people. Maybe tell them to leave because you have a store policy against rude/'negative' people.

    I always like lurking around and reading your posts. You seem so positive, passionate and full of life. ^-^ Thank you for sharing a bit about yourself. I enjoy the way you write.

  21. The Dallas Irish Fest 2014 is the first time I have encountered your fashions. I am TOTALLY impressed with your skill, design sense and the entirely REASONABLE price you place upon these works of art! I have had many corsets (from the crappy cheap stuff to those of great craftsmanship, costing in excess of $350) and I can say, without a doubt, this is the biggest bang for the buck.
    Please know you have a rare talent and you are truly making THIS woman love her own body.. again!