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Running a business

When's The Time To Go Pro?

icon freeThere is a fine line between a “hobby” and an addiction, and costume-making is no exception. Most people drag out the sewing machine a few times a year, perhaps to hem that prom dress, make some curtains for the kitchen, or make a Halloween costume. But the thrill soon fades. Half-finished projects are shoved in the closet with the intention of eventual completion, and life goes on.

Considering that you have subscribed to Your Wardrobe Unlock'dTM, my guess is that you are not a weekend-warrior seamstress. If you are anything like me, you probably require a separate room just for your sewing sanctuary and storage of your many beautiful fabrics. You may even be contemplating quitting your day job so you can start your own business making and selling costumes.

If costume design and fabrication is your addiction, you have two choices: Seeking help in Germany, 1951

1: Seek help! Just kidding. But you may want to give yourself some rules. Costume-making can be a very time consuming, labor-intensive, and expensive hobby. If you don't have enough time, money, or determination to turn those supplies you have been hoarding into magnificent garments, you may just be engaging in self-torture. It may be time to get real with yourself, and your restrictions. Consider budgeting your time and money so you can enjoy your hobby guilt-free. For example, decide to spend no more than $50 a month on supplies. Vow to complete one project before investing time and money into a second project. Dedicate time to your craft. You may want to promise yourself that you will enjoy three hours of sewing twice a week. Evaluate your other obligations to determine appropriate guidelines for your situation.

2: Follow your bliss. Turn your hobby into your job! I can think of nothing more rewarding than getting paid to do what I love most. I believe that if everyone did what they love most, we would all be happy and fulfilled, the economy would be sound, and the world would be abundant in beautiful creations and innovations. The sad truth is, most people hate (or at the very least “tolerate”) their jobs. They do what they love only as a hobby and only when they have nothing else more “important” to do. That breaks my heart.

Turning your “hobby” into your career can be a very frightening endeavor. Before you give your boss and your spouse the big speech, take the quiz to find out if you are ready to make a living as a costume-maker:

  • Do you hate your day job and secretly fantasize about creating amazing costumes?Gold-Embroideress, 1826,  Vasily Andreyevich Tropinin
  • Do you need a way to justify your "eccentric hobby"?
  • Do you spend all your free time researching drafting, sewing, and costume history?
  • Do you refuse to pay retail for supplies?
  • Does the idea of writing off all your costuming supplies, storage space and work room on your taxes makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside?
  • Do you refuse to put your sewing machine away "between uses"?
  • Do you make secret buys for drafting books, patterns and notions, and hide them from your family?
  • At the end of the day, tired and bedraggled, do you creep into your little sewing corner to sew into the wee hours of the night?
  • Do people continually ask you for your business card?
  • Do you find you have no time to sew but it's all you really want to do?
  • Do you feel like a sellout? Is your life is slipping away from you? Are you are fed up working for other people or being "just" a home maker?
  • Do you know you can do a better job at costume-making than most of the costume-makers you see online and in stores?
  • Can you separate yourself from your creations?
  • Do you constantly challenge yourself to improve?
  • Have you stopped using commercial patterns?
  • Does everything you see inspire a new design idea?
  • After selling a garment, have several people asked you to make another one for them?
  • Does the idea of investing every cent of your profit back into the business make sense to you?
  • Are you are willing to work for $2 an hour until you are established enough to demand your worth?
  • Are you are ready to set your own personal taste aside to make "what the client wants"?


If you answered “YES” to all the above questions, you may be ready to take your hobby to a whole new level!

But wait! Hold onto your tailor's ham. Don't go cash in your 401k just yet. You probably have rent to pay and mouths to feed, right? Please read on.

How to Go Pro and Get Over your Fear of Failure

About ten years ago, I got lucky. I had what some might refer to as a nervous breakdown. I was a single mom caring for a special-needs child, working retail, and attending fashion-design school. One day it all became far too much to handle. My body just quit on me. I couldn't do anything anymore. I was forced to drop out of school, quit my job and go on disability. It took me several years to get to the point where I could sew again.

After several failed attempts to pick up where I left off, I decided I would Maria Yakunchikova not go back to retail.

I was determined to do what I love most (corset making), on my terms, and in my own time. It was a struggle, but I was lucky because I received enough money from disability to pay the bills while I worked to build my corset business from the ground up.

Had I not hit rock bottom, I might have remained complacent. I would have completed fashion school and would probably have a very stressful, high-paying job in the industry. That's not what I really wanted to do. My disability was my true self telling me I was going in the wrong direction. It was time to get off the roller coaster, and listen to my heart.

You may not yet realize that you are not truly happy in your current career. Your job and other responsibilities probably keep you just busy enough not to really “feel” much at all. You just go, go, go, day after day. If you are anything like me, there is a little part inside you that wants to create all day long, not just on the weekends. That part of you really needs to be respected, nourished, and heard. You may be filled with ambivalence and doubt. It's one thing to be exceptionally good at a hobby. It's an entirely different thing to rely on that talent to pay the bills and still make you feel fulfilled, but it certainly can be done.

There are many ways to go about turning your hobby into your primary source of income. My advice: continue with caution and follow your bliss no matter what.

Changing your life to do what you love is scary. There's no doubt about it. There is no need to fear anything if you take it slow. Your journey will be different from mine. There is no one “right way” to go about starting a costume design business. Much of the time, you will just be making it up as you go along, but you still need a general plan. The best plan for anyone, in any situation, is to start where you are now.

 

Start Where You AreFishermans wife sewing, Anna Ancher, 1890

Stick one toe in the water.

Don't Invest In Brick-&-Mortar.

Don't just quit your day job and take out a big business loan.

Start by allocating space in your home as a workspace. Don't invest in an offsite shop or office until you absolutely have to. Start with the supplies you have now. Use up all those fabric scraps you have stashed around your house. Invest in new supplies and materials only to complement what you already have. The last thing you want to do is spend a ton of money on a huge inventory of materials.

Make Only What You Know You Can Sell

Make a few creative sample garments and post pictures online. Etsy is a great place to set up your store front. Ebay works too, but if you do use Ebay, I suggest posting only your most unique items and directing shoppers to a secondary location (it's easy to build a simple web site for your business) for the rest. Build a presence online. Most of my clients find me on the corsetry forums on LiveJournal. Make each garment when it is ordered. That way you will never have to worry about housing a garment you can't sell. You can also stock very popular items that are quick and easy to make. The trick is to make only what you know you can sell. If your item is unique, well-made and practical, one image can potentially bring in unlimited orders.

Be Sure To Have Some Fun

The hornet fancy dress ballgown, March 1884Focus on the garments that sell best and are the most profitable. You may find yourself making the same chemise repeatedly.

To keep things fresh so you don't get bored, allocate time to make one cool new sample every week or so. Even if you don't get tons of orders on that item (it may not even be practical to make more than one), the sample will sell (at least to cover your expenses), and you will have had some fun.

It's important to let yourself have some fun, otherwise you may begin to resent your hobby. The last thing you want is for your hobby to become a terrible burden.

Remember, you are following your bliss. Make something crazy just to get it out of your system. After all, you are in charge.

When you offer more variety, clients will be less likely to order the same thing over and over. You will always have your “bread and butter” staple items, but be sure to liven things up with something fun and exotic whenever you start to feel bored or burned out.

Reinvest Profits and Keep Track

Use the money from each sale to buy supplies. Make a habit of it. Each time you sell something, use the money for supplies and expenses. Try teaming up with other costume-makers and organize group buys for staple supplies. For now, you aren't really making a profit. You are just breaking even. You still need to get a business license and keep track of all of your sales and expenses. Just because you aren't making a profit does not mean you don't have to file taxes. The best thing about filing taxes is that you get to write off all of your expenses!

Allocate More Time To Your New Job Reading the fine print

Before long, you will receive more orders than you can fill on your day off. That's when you can begin to cut back on your other obligations.

Since you will be making less money at your day job, you will have to turn a profit from your creations. Most of the money should be reinvested in the business. For a while you are going to have to become a bit of a minimalist when it comes to buying things for personal use. Pull back to the essentials. Be sure to keep good records.

Once you start making enough money to pay yourself a wage, consider taking out a business loan (but only if you need it). By this time you will have proven success and an established reputation, so you can create a convincing business plan. I would advise against investments in any sort of brick-and-mortar work space or a boutique for a while. It's way too much overhead. If you can, dedicate a room of your home to your business. When you sell online, you have the entire world as potential customers. Put your efforts into designing a cool web site instead of investing in a fancy boutique. I rented a home with an extra room and I write off the space on my business taxes.

Sewing in a home in 1893. From the danish magazine: Puk, no 45 from 1894Don't Do It All Yourself

Contract out the jobs you aren't so great at (for me it's accounting and administrative work) so you can focus your talents and attention on designing and sewing. At this point, you may even want to hire someone to assist you with sewing. I suggest you pay them in piecework, so you don't have to deal with all that employer legalities. Be sure to read up on the laws so you stay above-board. It's a good idea to invest in business books and be sure to dedicate time to educating yourself. Most really creative people aren't all that great at administrative work, but it still has to be done.

Invest, But Not Too Much!

Continue to invest in your business. It takes several years to become well-established and reputable. For the first few years, try reinvesting as much as you can. Many new businesses fail because owners don't realize they aren't going to make a real profit in the beginning, and they don't reinvest in the business. The more money you invest in your business, the cheaper you can buy supplies (because the more you buy, the less you pay per item), which means a larger profit margin in the future. Be careful not to buy too many supplies though. If you have enough supplies and equipment, there is no reason to keep hoarding it unless you plan to hire garment workers or clone yourself. I like to buy supplies in bulk, and sell what I can't use right away. It's better to have money on hand than several months worth of supplies crowding your work space.

Quit Your Day Job! Choosing the Wedding Gown,by William Mulready

By this time you have a whole room dedicated to your work, and half the garage filled with fabric. You have a waiting list longer than your arm, so you can raise your prices to meet demand. Now it's time to quit your day job!

Be sure you have all your licenses and tax paperwork in order so you don't get slapped by the government.

Make sure you don't slack off. Working for yourself is more than an 8 hour a day job. It's an around-the-clock job and you are the responsible party for anything that goes awry.

Do whatever you must to keep your work exciting, rewarding and most importantly, manageable.

Congratulations! You have a strong customer base, you can pay your bills, and you are doing what you love! All your supplies and expenses are tax deductible and you are being paid to follow your bliss! Hey, now you can justify that eccentric hobby! No more sneaking around. :)

A Note About “Competition”

Competition can be intimidating. Fear of competition can prevent you from following your bliss. Please remember that there is no other person on this planet just like you. When your creations come from your unique vision and skills, no-one on the planet can compete with you. Sure, they may have a similar product and they may even copy your work, but they will never be you and they can never duplicate your creations. Seamstresses, 1904

Most of the “stuff” being sold out there is manufactured in huge factories by underpaid employees, using low-quality materials. You have a unique talent and skill. You don't have to compete with Wal-Mart, and you don't have to compete with other costume makers. There are enough customers for all of us. Thanks to the Internet, the WORLD is your customer base! If you make what you love, someone else will love it too and will be happy to pay you what you ask. We needn't fear competition. We should embrace it, because from competition comes inspiration and motivation.

My sincere hope is that every one of you will follow your bliss, create from your unique self, as only you can, and find prosperity and happiness as an entrepreneur and artist.

Do what you love and the money will follow!

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