The devil went down to Portland, he was looking for a soul to steal

He was in a bind ’cause he was way behind.  So he was lookin’ to make a deal.

And whoever lost that deal doomed Vancouver as well.  It is HOT.  Miserably so.  It is after night night and still almost 80 outside. My makeup melted off ages ago. When I got up off the leather couch in my sewing room, it hurt because I was stuck to it. My grandma always said that horses sweat, men perspire, and ladies glow. I’m not sure which could be blamed for me being glued to my seat so that I had to painfully pull myself off of it. I’m a Californian, and this heat is reminding me of being a kid and cursing the existence of summer.

Hot Aria says bonjour au monde!

Not sticky and icky now, so almost time to resume sewing. Finishing a corset, then a fitter for the Belle bodice, then to redo part of the elevator gown, the part I had finished right before finding new photos.  Because that happened.  Years of no new photos, only low resolution photo with the original white flower, and the flash in the movie, and then there is a new photo.  In the words…word…of John Oliver,

 

Effects of tariffs on textiles

Well, I woke up to some greeeeaaaaat news from a few of my fabric suppliers.  Since I like to run Aria Couture with as much transparency as possible, here is another oh-so-fun business post.  Sarcasm is dripping.  March of next year will be 19 years that I’ve had my small business.  It has been through a recession.  It’s been through me being homeless.  (Try sewing without a home–it’s incredibly difficult.) It’s been through me being very sick.  This is the first time I’ve genuinely worried for the future of Aria Couture.

Due to anticipated new tariffs, pricing of fabrics is going up, or, in a couple cases, went up overnight.  The National Council of Textile Organization is actually pushing FOR tariffs, despite the lack of infrastructure in place in America to take over production.  The list of items about to be hit with new tariffs is disheartening.  It includes not only fabrics, but a lot of supplies, including things like bobbins, plastic spools, cardboard spools, thread, all kinds of eyelets, yarn (do you like to knit or crochet?), and more.  Even diaries and journals and notebooks are on the list.  Companies and importers aren’t going to eat these costs.  They’re going to get passed along to the next in line.  This means that I will pay more to buy supplies.  Small things like extra tariffs on needles (they’re metal, and metal is already hit) and corset boning (steel, also already hit) are not overly difficult for me to absorb due to the relatively low cost (an extra $20–steel is a higher tariff–for corset boning  isn’t a make-of-break for me), but fabrics are another matter.

Fabrics are already expensive, and when using many, many yards (I’ve used as many as 300 yards in some gowns), even a dollar per yard very quickly adds up to quite a hit.  That would be the added tariff on fabric that is $10 per yard at a tariff of 10%.  Unfortunately, most fabrics I use aren’t as low as $10 per yard since I use mostly natural fabrics, like silk, which is already notoriously expensive, and I use high quality silk.  No, all silk taffeta isn’t the same.  The bolt pictured is silk taffeta that is sitting in my supply room.  Let’s say I use that fabric for a regency gown, and use five yards.  At a 10%-tariff, that’s an extra $50.  Remember when I broke down the costs of a dress to figure out the hourly wage?  Let’s do that again.  There is a huge reason for this.

Since I compete with seamstresses who use the cheapest available (I don’t because quality is a huge issue for me) and are willing to take just a few dollars per hour, I can’t charge more than I already do.  Typically I charge $400 for a regency round gown in silk taffeta.  At $50 per yard for five yards, this is $250.  At a payment processing fee of 3.5%, that’s $14.  Social security tax is 12.4%, for another $49.60.   I’m down to $86.40.  Due to how much hand-sewing silk taffeta needs, such as hand-sewn hems, I can spend 8-10 hours on a gown fro drafting to finish.  On the lower end, 8 hours, That’s $10.80 per hour in a state with an $11-minimum wage.

But…increase the cost of fabric by 10%.  That’s an additional $25 out.  So I’m at $61.40 for labor, which is $7.67 per hour.

I said there is a huge reason for this breakdown.  Textile companies are already raising prices in anticipation of tariffs being approved.  And it’s not at 10%.  Here is the old versus new pricing of one of the lower-priced fabrics I use.

  

This is what I woke up to.  Depending on whether I buy 1 yard or a full bolt, this is an increase of between 29% and 44%, and yes, it is in response to the tariffs according to the emails sent out about this.  Yes, this is higher than 10%.  A little known fact is that the US is one of the world’s top exporters of raw cotton and raw wool, and when that goes into some of these countries, like China, it’s getting hit with tariff, which raises the costs for manufacturers there.  Even without US-added tariffs, this alone would increase prices here.  But when the finished yarn and fabrics are sent back here, it’s getting slammed with higher tariffs (textile tariffs are already typically between 14% and 62%…yes, 62%…and these new tariffs are on top of that) on a higher cost.  This is double-tariffing, if not triple in some instances.  Tese higher rates are potentially disastrous.

Let’s apply a difference of 29% to my little breakdown above on the assumption that this will be the new normal.  Instead of $250 for fabric, that would be $322.50 for fabric.  That leaves $13.90 for labor, which is $1.73 per hour.  My options would be to work for that little, or to raise the cost of that gown by $72.50, or try to find middle ground.  Commissioners don’t take kindly to increases in costs.  I’m still competing with people using the cheapest supplies and who are willing to work for peanuts.  For some brevity, $13.90 is enough to Amazon Prime a container of peanuts with $1.81 left over.  Literally peanuts. Wages for most Americans is either stagnant or falling.  How can I raise prices when wages aren’t going up?

Thankfully, I have some time to figure things out thanks to doing something that other seamstresses told me was a waste of money.  Why buy more than is needed for current commissions?

This is some of my stash.  The case to the far right there is all silk, and the rest are cottons, all bought at prices not yet affected by tariffs.  So I can keep my prices stable for a while.  But after that, I just don’t know.  If I’m lucky, fabric suppliers will only raise prices by 10%.  I can justify doing this for $7.67 per hour.  But $1.73 per hour is too close to the line that there’s a risk I’ll lose money, especially on Etsy sales (the fee just rose to 5% and includes 5% of shipping, so take out $20, and I’m losing money out of pocket).

By the way, don’t think that store-bought clothing is safe.  These tariffs apply to that as well.

I don’t know what to do, folks.  I can keep prices as they are until I’ve gone through my stash, but beyond that, what should I do?  I just don’t know.  Since this has the ability to affect everyone reading this, I think it’s only fair to welcome input, whether through comments below, through my Contact page, or through my Facebook page.  Should I raise prices?  Keep them the same?  Compromise on quality of fabrics or production?  Keep everything as is and hope for the best?  Please let me know your thoughts.  Thank you.

Decreasing quality in supplies

In the past, I’ve alluded to declining quality in fabrics and trims as the options dwindle.  Well, I have a very clear example of that that I think shows up in photos.  See, usually, when I know I will use a lot of a supply, I will buy full bolts of fabric or rolls of ribbon or trim, often enough to last for a couple years at least, if not more.  This is how I’m able to provide the same lace for many corsets, or the same fabric for many robes.  So I miss the small, incremental slips that acclimate people to changes over a longer time, and get to see the full leaps.

Tonight I didn’t have enough of an eyelet trim I needed for a corset, and ran off to the store.  I managed to find the same patterned trim, but it felt…thinner.  I bought just what I needed for this corset.  If the quality was slipping as much as I thought, I didn’t want to buy a full, pricy roll as I’d rather find something newer and high enough quality to meet my standards.

Well.  Well, well, well.

The lace is indeed much thinner.  The lace on the right is the older lace.  There are three notable differences.  First, yes, the cotton is definitely thinner. This isn’t meant to be delicate, in which case thinness can be good.  The second is related to the first.  Take a closer look at the space between the flowers.  In the newer trim, there is more pulling.  The cotton fabric isn’t substantial enough to handle the embroidery without stabilizer, though the older fabric could.  The third irks me to no end.  The edge of the older lace is pretty clean while the new lace has frayed edges.

Here is a closer look at the fabric and the embroidery.

I’m pretty sure that you can tell which is which.

Do you think the cost is going down to reflect this, or even staying stable (which would amount to the price going down due to inflation)?  Either of those would be mildly acceptable.  But no.  The price has nearly doubled.  Since I usually buy full rolls, the rolls I have in my supply room have the prices on them.  So I’m not relying on memory for this.  Fairly recently, I shared how the cost of fabric is drastically increasing as choices shrink.

Fewer choices, rising costs, decreasing quality.  Sometimes I want to rip my hair out over this.

Why are seamstresses undercutting each other?

More and more, I’m seeing seamstresses undercutting each other in prices to try to get business.  This is really sad, but it’s due to people expecting us to compete with cheap prices out of China.  The reality is we can’t do that.  The costs out of China are often less than the cost of even cheap, poly fabrics that we seamstresses can obtain.  I’d like to go over the expenses of one of my dresses, and that one that I will use is my Tim Burton/Disney Alice in Wonderland dress.

The cost of the French cotton organdie, which I bought in Paris, that I used is 60€, which is about $75, and the child-size took 5 yards.  $375.  The cotton for the layer underneath was a total of 50€ for the full piece, about $60.  I got the striped fabric for the petticoat on sale, and paid just under $50 for it all.  The horsehair braid (not really made from horse hair) was about $80.  The buttons were another $35.  The rest of the notions, such as the cording I used as the core for piping, the embroidery thread, the stabilizer, etc., was about $50.  Stabilizer an embroidery thread are not cheap.  So we’re at about $650.  I very much underestimated it in my Etsy listing, now that I’m adding it up.  In silk organza and silk taffeta instead of the organdie and fabric I used for the petticoat, the differences would be about $$200 total for the organza, and $180 for the taffeta.  This is a savings of only $105.

So let’s use the lower price, $545 in silk instead of $650 for the French fabrics because, frankly, probably no one else happened to be in Paris and to have found that fabric, making that purchase an anomaly.  Right now, I have this gown listed at $1200, which leaves $655.  The child-size took about 60 hours of skilled labor.  Before all taxes and Etsy and payment processing fees, this is a whopping total of $10.92 per hour.  Most Walmarts are now starting at a higher pay.  Self-employed people have to pay the full 12.4% for social security tax alone.  Employers pay half, when your pay check comes from an employer.  Our expenses, such as the fabrics we buy, or the fees we pay, are no longer tax-write-offs.  So we now have to pay tax on the entire total we charge, in this case, $1200, even though the amount we earn after supplies an fees is less than half that.  But let’s just deal with the social security tax.  $148.80 is the tax owed now.  That comes out of that $655.  $506.20.  Payment processing fees are on the entire amount as well, and is about 3.5%.  There’s another $42.  Etsy fees are about the same.  Another $42.  $422.20 is the net, before even considering income taxes.  So, after just a few fees and one tax, this is $7.04 per hour.  Even if you want to try to say, “but everyone’s wage rate is before any taxes come out,” please remember that no one else has to pay taxes on the supplies.

But if you insist, let’s add that $148.80 back in.  At $571 after the payment and etsy fees, this is still $9.52 per hour.  A fair wage would be $25 per hour, especially since we have to absorb all the taxes on even the supplies, and this would put a dress like this at just over $2,000.  The absolute most I’ve seen it listed for is $1,500.  About $16 is better, but still very low when you start knocking out about 7% for etsy and payment fees, which is another $105, and then $186 for the full social security tax.

We also pay processing and etsy fees on the shipping, and we have to pay taxes on that shipping since that is no longer able to be written off on taxes either.  We also have to buy the machinery that is needed (my embroidery machine was $5,000 alone…).  We have to pay for maintenance, and for the extra utilities, and for the studio space in our homes.  $9.52, and we have to pay for so much out of that.

Yet I’m seeing this particular ensemble being listed at $1000, even $900, and one listing for $850, and these are all in silk.  Take a look back at how much the supplies in silk cost.  $545.  Before payment fees, taxes, or anything else, that listing at $1000 is going to be $455 after the supplies.  I’m a faster seamstress than many, but let’s still use that 60 hours.   $7.58 per hour.  At $900, that’s $5.92 per hour, and at $850,  that’s $5.08.  Again, this is for skilled labor, and is before payment processing and etsy fees.  My $9.52 per hour seems like good pay compared to $5.08, but it’s still $1.48 below my state’s minimum wage of $11.  I’m in Washington State.  In Oregon, a stone’s throw from me, minimum wage is $10.25.  So not only does Walmart pay more, literally every job pays more.

I’ll be blunt: When prices get low enough, there’s an incentive to start using different fabrics, such as poly organza, and hope that a client doesn’t know the difference.  I wouldn’t dream of doing this, and will even tell my clients how to tell the difference if they want to know, but I personally know someone who does this on occasion, and justifies it as “she’s paying me almost nothing for my time, and I really need to make something out of this to be worth it.”  No, that’s not okay, and she has gotten mad at me when I’ve told her she’s risking the reputation of this industry by making seamstresses appear untrustworthy if one of those clients find out, but it is a risk that you take when you start to look for the lowest price, or when you try to influence a seamstress who is already making so little to keep going down in price.  I’ve literally seen some things listed for less than the cost of the stated fabrics and fiber contents.  Barring someone destashing or using something they’ve had in their stash for a while (as I do on occasion, and I will openly state that as the reason I’m listing something for what it is), I can nearly guarantee you that you aren’t going to get what you’re paying for, and that those are probably seamstresses who are not making enough to get by, but who don’t want to give up on what they love to do, and so are hoping you won’t know the difference between a silk satin and a silky satin that they listed as a silk satin…or it may be possible that they found a cheaper polyester listed as silk (follow that link to see a chilling example of a very-well-known fabric store, one of the world’s largest and best-known, titling a polyester fabric as silk), and are hoping to use that as plausible deniability.

So please, when you’re looking for a deal, please keep in mind that many of us are already working for less than minimum wage, and then have to pay income taxes and social security taxes on not only that wage, but also all the fabrics and supplies we have to buy.  So please, please, do not try to get us to underbid each other.  It’s not fair to us.  We deserve as much of a living wage as anyone else, or at least minimum wage, especially considering that we pay taxes on even the supplies we need to buy.  We do this because we love to do it.  But here’s the catch–even if someone were to not pay taxes as required, this is still less than pre-tax minimum wage.  No one making minimum wage is only going to take home $5.08 per hour, yet that is the pre-tax for at least one seamstress, and that’s before the processing fees that she can’t get out of because, whether she’s using Paypal or Square, that’s taken out automatically.

I have friends making baby tutus for $15 with $5 in supplies.  That’s about $4 after shipping and fees, and even then, they’re being told that someone else will do it for $14, so will they take $13.  (There are a lot of Facebook groups for custom-makers to support each other, and yes, we discuss these things in furious detail.)  I know people making custom die-cut invitations for $3 each, or $2.50 if you buy 50 or more, and are being told that’s too expensive.  Folks, I made my daughter’s birthday invitations this year, using my die-cutter, and it cost me about $2 each, and that is just the card stock I had to buy (the gold–I had the parchment on hand and don’t count that in the cost) and surprisingly-expensive, surprisingly-short-lasting blades.  I made 60.  It literally would have cost me less to have someone else make them and use their labor than I spent on just two of the supplies I needed.  Something’s wrong with that, with them being told $2.50 or $3 is too much.  It’s really too little.  Thos invitations and tutus are almost an act of charity.  Yet $3 an invitation is too much.  $15 for a tutu is too much.  $1200 for a dress is too much.

I implore you, please do not try to get us to undercut each other.  I will not play along.  I, unlike some others, can survive losing a commission.  My husband’s income supports our household necessities, and I’m in a very fortunate position for that.  Some others aren’t so lucky, and would rather take $5.08 than nothing because they can’t afford not to, and they can’t because of how much prices are expected to be dropped when labor prices are often already below minimum wage.

It’s disheartening.  And yet we’re still expected to try to undercut each other.  And some do, because they can’t afford not to.  Please, folks, don’t expect us to work for less than you’d accept for your skilled labor, especially considering we have to pay high taxes and payment and etsy fees on even the supplies.  Doing what we do is already an act of love, and a bit of pride, but mostly of love.  Please, in return, love what we do enough to not make us have to undercut each other.

Gift Card FAQs

Q: Why are gift cards paper cards?

Two main reasons: So you can gift them to someone else if you choose, and because digital gift cards are a hassle to keep track of.

If cards were digital, and someone were to gift the code, what do you think happens when one person redeems it, and another person tries?  Unfortunately, it reflects on me to not honor both, especially if the person the purchaser gave it to uses it first.

A paper gift card is harder to duplicate.  You do need to keep track of them and not lose them.

 

Q: How can I redeem a gift card?

You need to return it to me.  Make sure to redeem using a trackable method, and to take a photo of the card with “REDEEMED” written on the face with the card number visible in case the card gets lost in the mail.

 

Q: Can a gift card ever be digital?

No.  However, what can be done is you can pay for an item for someone else, and we can get it on my schedule at the time.  I’m not set up to keep track of digital gift cards on an open-ended basis.  So if you want to give someone a digital gift card, contact me and we can set that up as a commission right away instead.

 

Q: Can I use multiple cards on an order?

Multiple full-price cards can be.  Promotional and discounted cards are limited to one card per item.  So you can redeem two promotional or discounted cards that are for different items in the same commission, but not the same item.

 

Q: Do I need to use a card all at once?

No, but there is a caveat to this.  You do need to return gift cards to redeem them, but if you are willing to pay a new shipping fee out of the balance (see the next question), I can issue a new card for the remaining balance, or sent a new card with your item.

 

Q: Why do gift cards have a shipping charge more than $7 when it just takes a stamp?  Bigger places like Amazon don’t charge shipping.

I used to not charge a shipping fee.  A good while back, I paid out of my own pocket to have gift cards sent using delivery confirmation.  DC used to be a mere 35 cents on top of a stamp.  Then the post office nixed that, and started charging more than $7 and consider them to be Priority shipments.  So I went with the next least-expensive tracked option, which was certified. I came up against the problem of people not being home, cards being returned, and then either having to refund them, or pay again, from my own pocket, to send again.  Since this was a headache for all involved, I stopped paying for tracking for gift cards.  That’s when I came up against the big problem of people claiming to not get cards, me reshipping, a new claim of not getting them, and me having to refund them.  As a small, very small, business, I can’t afford to sent out hundreds of dollars in cards, especially twice, and then have to refund them anyway.  Those cards are still valid.

The new solution is to charge a delivery confirmation fee to the purchaser of a gift card.  These can be left in your mailbox if you aren’t home.  Amazon and other larger companies that don’t charge a fee are multi-billion-dollar companies that could afford to take a hit of a few hundred dollars, but they don’t.  Instead, they have automated programs to closely track gift cards, and can cancel them easily and reship them if someone claims to not have gotten their card.  I can’t afford the hits, and I can’t afford custom programs.  Everything I do is manual.

The delivery confirmation fee is to help cut back on this new issue of claims of not getting untracked cards.

If someone still claims to not have gotten a card, and has their bank do a chargeback, I can use the tracking to disprove the claim.  If the bank errs on the side of their customer, I can invalidate the cards associated with that payment.

 

Q: Why can you invalidate card numbers, but not track lost gift cards?

I technically can, but don’t.  This helps prevents fraud.  If someone buys a card, claims it’s lost when they know where it is or gifted or sold it, and I cancel and reissue, it’s going to reflect on me if the cancelled card was gifted/sold/otherwise transferred, and I don’t honor it.  So either I honor duplicates and end up run into the ground, or I don’t honor it and someone who received it from the purchaser is stuck.  Both make me look bad.

As far as invalidating cards associated with a chargeback, if someone tries to use it after receiving it, I can tell them exactly who got a refund and when.  It won’t reflect negatively on me if I have that kind of information.  It will reflect on the purchaser to have given or sold a card they got a refund for.

 

Q: What happens after a chargeback?

Sellers have very little recourse since banks usually err on the side of their own customers.  So anyone who does a chargeback without contacting me first will be banned from purchasing gift cards in the future, and if the card was already redeemed, will be permanently banned from commissioning anything at all from me.

 

Q: Do gift cards expire?

Gift cards purchased at full value do not expire.

Promotional gift cards, meaning those that are 100% free for gift bags and such at various events, do.

Discounted gift cards or gift cards for specific items are on a case-by-case basis.

Expiration dates are addressed on each card.  Cards that don’t expire will state that.

 

Q: Why do some expire, but not others?

A gift card paid in full is cash that’s been prepaid.  The actual price paid for a card does not expire. There are even laws preventing gift cards from expiring beyond their purchase price.

Promotional gift cards are cards I receive literally nothing for, and in fact, lose money since I receive nothing to cover supplies.  A supply item that costs $5 today could cost $50 in a year.  An expiration date protects me from being financially torpedo’d.

Discounted cards depend, and any expiration dates will be disclosed before money is accepted.  The reason is the same as the promotional card.  An expired discounted card will retain its purchase value.  Groupon does the same thing to spare merchants and service-providers from financial harm as their costs rise.

In some instances, discounted cards might not expire, usually non-specific item cards, or cards for items made from fabrics that are a part of my normal stash, such as something made from plain white cotton.

 

Q: Are gift cards refundable?

No.  You need to make sure to provide a valid shipping address.  Returned cards will be mailed again to you.

 

Q: Do gift cards mean you’ll make my order right away?

Unless otherwise specified, all items are subject to normal scheduling.  If I couldn’t rush your order if you were paying in cash, then I can’t rush your order for using a gift card.

 

Q: What if I have other questions?

Please contact me, and they’ll be added to this FAQ.

Measurements

When I need measurements, these are the charts I usually use.  I usually don’t need all the measurements on any one chart, and usually also ask for base of next to the floor.  Measurements can be in inches or centimeters.

When measurements are taken, please be very careful.   Providing incorrect measurements can result in something that can’t be altered well.  Don’t provide your dream-measurements, no matter what.  Incorrect measurements, whether by accident or intentionally (a lot of brides intend to lose weight, but don’t succeed, and I’m not responsible for this) happen with some frequency.  A great-fitting ensemble requires accurate measurements.

Corset chart:

Female-sexed body chart:

Male-sexed body chart:

Miscellaneous chart:

Dresses and trims workshop package, part 1

Madame Nora pondering a pattern alteration for Miss Ruth

Nora of A Baronet’s Daughter Designs and I are co-teaching a workshop on regency dresses and trims.  Today we held part 1, headed by Nora, focusing on construction.  I will head part 2 on February 4th, focusing on some popular trim methods.  We scheduled this workshop a few months ago, and as luck would have it, there were many marches going on and several people who were interested were unable to make it.  All the power to them!

If you missed today’s workshop, you are still welcome to part 2.  Bring a dress you’d like to trim, or just come to learn how to do folded Van Dyke points, shark tooth trim, and more!   Please contact me for a supplies list that is customized according to your interests.

Me taking a brief selfie-break while Miss Mary sews in the background

Please see this page for more information.  We’d love to have you with us on February 4th!  There is a modest per-student fee to cover the rental of the space.  Nora’s and my time is donated.

Today’s event was held at a charming shop in Portland, Pioneer Quilts, as will part 2.  This is the sort of shop that welcomes you with a crock pot of hot cocoa and marshmallows when you walk in from the cold winter air, with a knowledgable, kind staff, and the feeling of a grandmother’s house.  It’s comforting and warm, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that they have a beautiful selection of French General and Moda fabrics!

So as expected, we did have a small turn-out, as might be expected.  However, we still consider to be a success.  Our two students traveled a few hours from Seattle to join us, and quite a bit was accomplished.

Miss Mary tracing out a pattern

Through modifying a custom pattern to fit their measurements, and making muslin testers, and then back to the drawing board, Miss Mary and Miss Ruth, whose pictures are used with consent to being online, learned a good deal about armcythes and fitting busts.  Both of these points are easy to overlook when making gowns inspired by the regency era.  At the end of today’s workshop, each had a custom pattern to take home (this alone is worth the fee) so that they can make more gowns as their leisure.

Also many shenanigans were to be had.  What that entails…well…what happens in workshops stays in workshops.  It involved New Kids on the Block and other bands taking us back to the 1980’s and 1990’s.  Sometimes girls just wanna have fun. 😉

Miss Ruth pinning a couple pieces together

I must comment on Miss Ruth’s machine.  She brought in a beautiful vintage Necchi machine.  Once upon a time, these machines we the “It” machine for couturiers to use.  Everyone from Coco Chanel to Christian Dior used these graceful, beautiful workhorses.  But alas, like so many other well-known brands, the good ol’ days are behind us, and we are left with not even a ghost of the greatness we once had.  Avoid modern Necchi machines, but if you get the chance to get one of the vintage ones, snap it up!  They’re not easy to find, but are highly desirable.

We do hope you’re consider joining us for part 2 of this fun workshop series.  If you missed part 1, don’t fret.  We are planning another for sometime in the spring.  Be sure to subscribe to this blog in the footer of this page to get notifications when that workshop and others are planned.

Madame Nora…being Madame Nora

 

Working “for exposure”

Every professional artist I know, defined as people who bring in most of their income from their good, whether that’s dress-making, makeup, or painting, has been asked to work “for exposure.”  I’m frequently asked to make things for sorority girls to wear to parties, payment being exposure, and their friends will see and want my stuff.  I’ve been asked to make things for magazine concept shoots, payment being exposure, where credit is alway in tiny, faint print in the very middle, where it’s obvious we aren’t actually supposed to see it.  I’ve been asked to make things for kids’ birthdays, payment being exposure, because “Little Darling’s friends will want it and beg their parents for it” (these parties aren’t in the same group as parties for children who aren’t going to see their next birthday–I  absolutely will do what I can for terminally ill children).  I’ve been asked can I pretty please make this elaborate costume for a Halloween party, payment being exposure, since everyone will see it?  The bonus kick there was the time I was asked if I could make something that could be tossed in the washer in case someone got too drunk and threw up on it.  Um…I won’t share the thoughts I had.

Exposure doesn’t pay the costs of fabrics, and in fact, it’s one of the worst insults an artist can receive.  It’s not an honor to be asked to work for free, especially when that free also includes expecting us to foot the bills.  It’s worse than…


That’s a popular meme in the sewing world, but it’s a step up from being asked to work for exposure.  See, when artists are asked to make things for exposure, we are told that what we make isn’t even worth the cost of the supplies.

Now, like my post about the cost of fabrics and having to weed out which suppliers lie, something very public spurred me to write about this touchy topic.  Donald Trump’s ex-wife and still-friend, Marla Maples, is trying to get cosmetology services for herself and their daughter, Tiffany, for free, “for exposure.”  Now this is par for the course for Trump himself, with his record of not paying bills and stiffing those he owed.  But what makes Marla and Tiffany’s brazen attempt at “paying” in “exposure” is that they aren’t even pretending to be interested in paying.  They aren’t ordering something under the guise of payment, then not following through.  They’re doing what so many others do and are openly saying that services aren’t worth anything.   Expecting services or good for free is entitlement of the highest order.  Stylist Tricia Kelly received a veiled threat to her business for refusing.

This is one dark side of being in any artistic field.  If artistic people give in, our reputation as someone who doesn’t value our work enough to charge spreads, and if we don’t, we are sometimes told that others will hear about how mean and selfish we are.  For the sake of professionalism, we are expected to stay quiet about it.  After all, divulging information about personal conversations is a major no-no in any industry.  Confidentiality in conversations is taken as a given.

At least Veruca Salt expected someone to pay. When Veruca Salt is a step up, you’re doing something wrong.

I’m not sure why people see wealthy people are worthy of being paid.  No one would think of asking a celebrity to appear at an event or give a performance for free, on their own dime, “for the exposure.”  So why do so many people think that we small-timers should expect to do things for free?  We are the ones less likely to have the funds to buy supplies like that.  No, it doesn’t work to say that we have the free time, so may as well get exposure.

For one, we aren’t sitting around staring at the wall wishing to be making things for free.  We have family and friends we spend time with, maybe some good books, or we’re using that time honing our skills.  Working, whether for pay or for free, takes away from those things.

Second, unless someone is a personal friend, that person doesn’t know how much time we have available.  I personally usually have a little time to be online during the day because I’m often up until 6am working.  So being able to reach me at 4pm doesn’t mean I’m doing nothing.  Chance are you caught me taking a brief break from homeschooling my daughter, doing some house cleaning, or maybe I’m actually standing in line at the grocery store or am behind the wheel at a red light.  Right now, I’m eating a very late lunch while typing, and then I need to go get my sewing room in order to continue working.

And third, saying we may as well work for exposure than sit there twiddling our thumbs completely glosses over how we’re being asked not only to work for free, but to dig into our pockets to buy what’s needed to do what you want.

Sometimes we’ll work for the cost of supplies if the proposed item is something we really want to add to our portfolios, or if it involves skills we’d like to get to work at on someone else’s dime (i.e. someone else paying for the supplies for us to hone new skills), but this needs to be our offer to make.  We’re the ones who know what will bolster our portfolios, or what we’d like to work on doing better.

Now I know there’s this idea that something costing a lot of money means we’re…

The reality is that a lot of what’s charged goes to supplies.  People in some artistic fields do tend to make decent livings pretty easily.  The seamstresses I know who make the most make a lot of costume-quality things because they need to turn things out fast enough to make $200 for a dress worth their time.  A lot of seamstresses have other sources of income or a spouse who covers most of the household bills (like me).  Cosmetology does tend to be one of the more reliable fields, but that doesn’t mean it’s right to ask for them, or any of us, to give and do things “for exposure.”  There are still supplies to be bought, taxes to be paid, time away from our families and friends.

Asking us to work for exposure is like someone asking you to do whatever it is you do for work for, say, a positive Yelp review.  That’s exposure.  But is it going to pay your bills?  How likely is it going to bring in business you wouldn’t have otherwise had?  Let’s say there’s a chance you might get one new person paying you for business six months down the road since that review tipped the scales.  Is that going to be worth the free goods and services you provided?  Unless you are sincerely willing to work for 100% free, please, don’t ask artists of any kind to work “for exposure.”

We love what we do.  Every artistic person is in it first and foremost for the love of it, but we can’t keep doing what we do when payment is “exposure.”  We simply can’t, just as you can’t work for the “exposure” of Yelp reviews.

Aside from the insult and our pockets rarely being deep enough, we know that exposure is likely to be to others who also want things for free, and they now have a lead on someone who will give things away.  If you still decide to ask someone to make something “for the exposure,” don’t be surprised to receive a curt response, or no response.  We work hard at what we do, and that’s worth at least…

…at least that $50.

A word or 1,257 about pricing fabric

On occasion, I have people who decide to try to verify my pricing by doing layperson google searches for fabric.  I have long discouraged this not for any nefarious reason on my part, but because of how many websites, both small and large, misrepresent what they’re selling.  Something I spend a lot of time doing is checking various public and wholesale websites and ordering swatches to verify what they’re selling.  In 2016, I ordered eight lengths of fabric that were supposed to be silk that all ended up being polyester.   I had a feeling they might, but how amazing would it be to find embroidered silk velvet for $16/yd?  Unfortunately, it was indeed too good to be true.  But those false listings make my pricing appear artificially high.
Now there is a reason I am writing about this right now, the that reason is the currently-live Joann Fabrics listing for Simple Luxuries-100% Silk Yoryu Black & White Packed Dot Fabric (note September 16, 2017: Joann Fabrics finally removed the link.  It’s a good thing, then, that I had it archived.) It’s a lovely-looking black silk dotted fabric, also known as dotted swiss. Now silk dotted swiss isn’t a cheap fabric.  I got some on clearance for $45 per yard.  Ah, now it seems like I overpaid when that listing on one of the nation’s largest fabric store’s website says it’s $30.  Right?

No, I did not.  There are two things to keep in mind.

First, the quality of fabrics varies tremendously.  I’ve seen silk duchess satins what would make you weep for the sheer luxury of them, and I’ve seen some that would make you cry for feeling ripped off by the shameful quality.  I’ve seen sandwashed silk charmeuse that would make you want to get naked and rub that gloriousness all over your skin, and some that’s an insult to silk.  This affects price.  Sometimes the lower quality stuff has a use.  The Goblin Queen gown I’m working on is one such time when a lower quality silk is the better one to use.  The ultra-slubbiness of the silk dupioni is perfect for this, and it was still $24 per yard.  But more often than not, a better quality is desired, and that means a higher cost.

The second reason is this.  Look back at that listing.  Here, I’ll show it to you:

Ah, nice!  Yes, yes!  100% silk, just $30 a yard!  What a savings, especially when that’s the regular price and I paid $45 on sale!  But…BUT!  Let’s scroll on down.

Do you see what I see?  Look again.  Read it all.  Don’t be blinded by the sequins in your eyes (Chicago-reference FTW) on that bargain price of $30 for silk dotted fabric.  Brush it out and look closer.  Here:

Do you see it yet?

Bingo.  For a brief moment, I was excited to think I may have found a new source for silk dotted fabric, but it’s my job to look closer, and there, the catch.  That 100% silk is really 100% polyester.  Now you can see how that $45 I paid on sale per yard isn’t a rip-off.  I got silk.  $30 for that polyester. Joann’s, at least, bothered to mention it somewhere.  Many websites claiming to sell silk aren’t selling silk.  Some do sell real silk.  I don’t deny that at all.  Some absolutely are selling what they claim.  But many aren’t.  My job includes figuring out which is which.  When I give pricing, I give that pricing with the experience of someone who makes it my business to know what sites are honest, and which are lying in their titles and burying the truth further down the page, if they bother disclosing the truth at all.

Another issue with silk is all the art silk saris out of India.  Lovely things, all that art silk.  Perfect for artists!  It wouldn’t be art silk if it wasn’t intended for artists, right?  Too bad there should be a period.  It’s art. silk.  Suddenly it looks different.  Hm, what is it, if not artistic silks for artists?  Artificial.  It’s artificial silk.  It’s usually polyester.  Disappointingly, those $20-silk saris are usually polyester.  Silk saris, REAL silk saris, can easily cost $80-$150 or more.  Each.  Even the vintage ones.  There’s a large market around the world for real silk saris, even at $150.  For real, zardosi silk, that’s a bargain since more saris are about five yards.  $30 a yard for that silk.  That’s an incredible deal.

Since I want my clients to get what they pay for, I don’t play the plausible deniability game that I see go on on Etsy.  I’ve seen gowns made from Joann Fabric’s Silky Solid Silkessence (it even says “silk” in the title, twice!) being passed off as silk.  The sellers either don’t know the difference, of they’re going to claim that, well, the end of the bolt called it “silk essence” (it’s often written as two words on the bolt), so it MUST be silk.  Their low prices are quite often based on what they think is unbelievably cheap silk, when it’s really anything from polyester to rayon to acetate.  By comparison, my prices can seem high, but my prices aren’t artificially high.  My prices accurately reflect real, true, genuine silk.

To make sure you get what you order, I spend a lot of money throughout the year, that I do NOT work into my pricing for my clients, buying fabrics from suppliers around the entire world, on every continent but Antarctica, searching and buying and verifying, then, when I find good silk, checking again later to make sure the quality is consistent.  I call this fabric-hunting.  Fabric-shopping is when I place an order with a trusted supplier.  Sometimes the hunt turns up something great, and sometimes…

…sometimes that silk/cotton blend ends up being…

…polyester.  That is a burn-test to check the fiber content.  $16/yd for embroidered cotton/silk velvet was indeed too good to be true.  I know this because I’ve laid out the money to research.  Eight times in 2016 alone I got something other than silk.  This is part of my job, and I take it seriously to make sure that you are getting real silk, real wool, real cotton, and if you want a synthetic, the best of the synthetics.  I’ve got 18 years of experience doing this as a business.

So this is why I prefer my clients to not try to verify my fabric pricing.  There are too many fraudulent listings out there (again, Joann Fabrics, one of the largest fabric stores in the world, has one such listing live on their website as of this very moment, but then admits the truth further down than most people will read), and too much tricky language.  No one cringes at the price of fabric more than I do. I’m the one who has to break it to people that that dream gown will take $1500 in just fabrics when th budget is $1200.  I’m the one who risks people thinking I’m making it up.  Quite often, I personally eat some of the cost because I feel bad that good fabric costs so much, but I want to add that gown to my portfolio, or someone is so sweet that I really want to make it happen.  I often worry about who will think I’m making up fabric pricing, which more and more often has resulted in me making nothing for my labor by the time all is said and done.

Too bad the ones making things up are far more likely to be the fabric-sellers themselves, from small operations out of China to large stores in America.  Let the buyer beware, but let this buyer–me–be the one to take the risks.

An addition to this post:

Just to make some of you choke, here is what I paid for 100% mulberry silk velvet, at the only place I was able to find the right shade of green that wasn’t too olive, too emerald, or too bright.  I bought 15 yards.  $2,550 for just the velvet for the outside of a McGonagall robe.  Most silk velvets online are actually blends with as little as 10% silk, and many velvets claiming to be 100% silk have a 100% silk ground (the back), but a rayon pile, making their actual silk content closer to 30% total.  All I can figure for why that’s done so much, aside from charging more for the claim of 100% silk, is that they’re measuring the part that’s silk, so maybe that justifies calling it 100% silk to them?  This bottle-green passed the burn test for silk, and comes from a store I trust, one that has since drastically shrunk its silk section.  The pile is silk as well, and that price is actually a great price for mulberry silk.

To search this blog, please see the categories and search feature in the footer of any page or in the sidebar to the right.  This blog does not contain everything I’ve made.  More can be found at my Aria Couture Facebook page.  As time allows, I will move some things from my defunct website here, as well as move creations from my Facebook page here.  I encourage you to follow both this website as well as my page!

 

If you’re here for my Beauty and the Beast costume studies:

To my surprise, tens of thousands of people are, and to make it easier, I’m going to post those here.

Emma’s (“Belle’s) yellow gown from Beauty and the Beast: A Costume Study
Beast’s Ball Ensemble:  Costume Study
Provincial Belle: A Costume Study
Gaston: A Costume Study
Pre-movie costuming thoughts about Beauty and the Beast
Post-Beauty and the Beast costuming thoughts