You might remember back in January when I cleaned my closet. (It's sad that I just wrote that sentence. If you do remember this, I'm scared, for both of us. But we'll save that convo for another day.) Anyway, I was excited then because I hung up my 47 skirts, most of which had been rolled up and stuffed in one of those hanging shoe bag things, or were just literally flopping off of every shelf. I'm happy to say that most of them are still hanging today, five months later.
You might also remember, if you've been hanging around Posie long enough, that for several seasons in '03 and '04 I designed a lot of skirts for my product line. These were some of the last ones I did, the Country Girl Skirt (with the big gathered pocket) and the Tweedy Rose (with the big flowers) for fall 2004. This lovely model is Kara, my friend and our sometime-assistant at Ella Posie. These photos were taken by another friend, Brian McDonnell, whose eye for a good shot I really like.
I'd done probably a dozen or so different skirts while I was doing them, mostly designing things I wanted for myself, for the most part, and then making them in sizes from 4-6 up to 16-18 (my size). I made all the prototypes and my seamstress made the skirts, and they sold fairly well but I wouldn't say they, like, blazed a blistering trail out of the store or anything. But then again, what does. Nevertheless, it's amazing to me how many times someone will ask me if I'm still doing skirts or if I'm going to do skirts, and though I'm usually not terribly swayed by requests, I'm starting to rethink the skirt thing. Especially since it is one of the parts of my line that I am confident someone can help me with, and do even do better than I can. Also, the amount of fabric around here is just getting insane. I'm slowly making my way through spiffing up the house and that studio is just completely out of control.
The reason I stopped doing skirts was because fitting people is not that fun. It sort of opens you up to a whole new brand of expectations, especially, of course, if you're not really a clothing designer! Part of the challenge (here I go again) of being a small, indie designer is addressing the expectations that your customers have when they shop for anything, anymore: The stuff must be very high quality, very reasonably priced, very quickly delivered, very cheaply delivered (which is pretty tough with gas prices and in turn shipping prices being what they are), with great customer service. And it must fit. And very pretty packaging doesn't hurt. This is how giant, corporate retailers sell (sort of -- I personally don't think consider my $88 mail-order shirt from Anthropologie stuffed into a plastic bag and envelope "prettily packaged") and as small designers with little web sites that we maintain by hand to sell our things (made by hand) we are absolutely competing. The behemoth manufacturers and retailers who have the wo/manpower, overseas labor, money, and machinery to make things happen in a way that raises customer expectations in general -- they force us to meet the same expectations, and, we do try. Oh, we do!
But when things must fit someone, it adds a whole other layer of challenge. Handbags don't have to fit, little birds don't have to fit, flower pins don't fit, and scarves look great on everybody. I'm really lucky that I have only had maybe three or four returns in the past four years, and usually they have to do with sizing issues. It is also such a pain for customers to have to return things in the mail that I am really loathe to inconvenience them in this way, but what can you do. People tend to also make a lot of requests with clothing that they don't do with other items -- can it be shorter/longer/bigger/ smaller/have the pocket on the other side/have no pocket/be purple. The answer to all of these? No. Nope. No can do. I don't like saying no, but I know it's all I can say here, and stay sane.
I was interviewed for a podcast last week with Jennifer Ackerman-Haywood of the web site Craft Sanity (not sure when the interview will be available, but I'll let you know). This is a fairly new web site that is devoted to podcasted interviews with people in the indie craft industry and it is fantastic. I am completely new to podcasts -- didn't really know what one was actually, but basically you click on the link and then the thing plays, it's that easy -- but I have been working my way through the interviews. Jennifer is a great listener and an intuitive, sophisticated interviewer -- I thought her questions were right on, and in the interviews I've listened to (so far I'm through Denyse Schmidt, Drew the Crochet Dude, and Leah Kramer from Craftster -- I'm beyond flattered to be asked to be among them) I'm amazed to have such an intimate look at the inner workings of these businesses, and hear their creators' stories. I'm a terrible joiner, not one inclined to group endeavors, not one to ask for much help, very rarely do anything other than slog through and figure it out on my own, inefficiently (and loudly, with much ranting and raving) reinventing wheels right and left. Most people who find themselves happiest when alone, making something, are probably like this (though savvier, possibly quieter, with less raving). But as I listen to the interviews, and see where these folks have been and where they are, it's incredibly inspiring to me. Inspiring and encouraging and reassuring. Nevertheless, it is hard not to be struck by how almost everyone, even the much-revered Denyse Schmidt, talks about how it is a struggle to keep everything going. How, although she's been in business ten years, she often doesn't remember to take time to appreciate the "successes" she's achieved because she's too busy worrying about the next thing, about everything else that needs to get done, about how to make sure the whole thing doesn't suddenly disappear. (She didn't say exactly that, but this is sort of how I heard it -- projecting, etc.) You're never just hanging out, enjoying it. Really. You should be, sometimes, but there's usually not time.
It's funny, because she says it in such a lovely, gracious, apologetic, I'm-not-complaining,-really-I'm-not sort of way, but my head was just wagging back and forth with recognition and understanding and sympathy. It might be hard to understand unless you've been there (and I obviously haven't been anywhere near as far as she's been) and have left a full-time, paycheck-paying career to make a go of it -- but she said something like, you know, the more stuff you have going on, the harder it is, but that's what it takes. And I knew what she meant. It "takes" about as much as you can possibly do, and sometimes, more. People have a very romantic notion of what is so charmingly called cottage industry -- and we industrious cottagers are loathe to dispel the notion because it somehow breaks the spell, and we can see in their eyes that . . . it's not what anyone wants to hear. And plus, they're probably not doing exactly what they want to be doing, so they're usually more like, "Okay, well I've gotta get back to the OFFICE, and you can shut up now, please, princess." And so we feel really bad about that. But it doesn't make the work that much easier, when you love it, really. And it takes not only quality of work but quantity of work -- not just quantity of customers (though that's nice) but all these other things like, in her case, notecards, and Amish seamstresses and their brokers, and books, and fabric lines, and employees, and second books, and teaching, and several kinds of product lines -- to keep it all happening. A lot of stuff.
So I'm starting to think -- it's not just me. It's not just me that thinks it's hard, and it's not just hard because it's me, and everything's hard for me because I'm a total loser, etc., etc. I mean, I do think that way sometimes, that it must just be me. But listening to the interviews, which is almost like having a conversation with these people, and doing things like reading Amy Butler's FAQ page again, which you know they wrote only after having to slog through every single one of those issues all on their own, gives me such respect -- a renewed, invigorated respect -- for these women (and men) and makes me more determined than ever to deserve to be doing what I'm lucky enough to do, and make it successful, and even to identify and take time to enjoy the successes as they come, instead of worrying about what else I need to do to make it work better. Some days, more days, I must see that things are exactly as they should be, and perfectly good enough, even -- certainly -- great.