OCOC BLOG


Sustaining yourself as you grow

Keeping yourself going financially is a common problem for most of us when trying to establish ourselves as working corset makers. I'm not going to pretend to have all the answers or to have cracked it myself, but will give you my pragmatic opinion based on my experience and that of many people I've spoken to. 

I've read quite a few blogs and articles saying 'pack in your job!' 'Go for it 100% and throw it all into your business' and so on. I've also read many of those 'I started my business in my shed and now it's a multi-million pound empire' articles. Sometimes you read them and feel inspired, but often they leave you feeling inadequate and doubtful. Please don't, but instead read between the lines. Is that shed attached to a big house because hubby works in the City earning 6 figures? Is the person prepared to throw in 100% to their business fresh out of college, used to living in a dive eating baked beans and could always go back to mum and dad if they had to? Very, very often the people who can throw it all in have a back-up income. It might be an obvious one, like a partner with a good job. Or less apparent, like a family member helping out indirectly or a nest egg.   Are they even telling the truth or does that old adage - fur coat and no knickers - apply? Things may look wonderful and so they should if the person has any idea of marketing.. but it doesn't mean they are doing well behind the veneer.

Nothing wrong with any of that , and I'm not saying you can never be that person on your own terms.. but the point is, don't use others as a benchmark and be wary of hype. People don't tend to be forthcoming with that sort of information so before you judge yourself against them, keep in mind that you don't know their circumstances. Give yourself a break: Beating yourself up because you can't be superwoman/man is pointless, and, in most cases it's based on a myth. It's like hating how you look because you don't match up to a photoshopped model.. it's not real. What's real is keeping a roof over you head, food in the cupboards and your sanity intact. Being sure of yourself, your goals and your priorities.

dandruff wee.jpg

Where are you now:
If you are starting straight from college, with nothing much in the way of responsibilities then in many ways you're in the best position. You're hungry, you likely have support and you have nowhere to go but forward.
However, many of us come to this industry as a second profession, perhaps after working for a few years. That means you probably have commitments. If you have a mortgage or rent to pay and if perhaps you've been the one solely or half responsible for it and nobody else can take up the slack, then you need a steady income. Some downgrading of lifestyle is easy enough to swallow, but going backwards is pretty unpalatable to most, and some level of maintenance is needed. Nobody wants the worry of repossession. You can't create beauty whilst stressed out your senses about paying the basic bills. Starving in a garret is not romantic, and besides, garrets are premium property these days!  In other words, financial worries can stifle creativity and prevent you from doing your best work.

So, what is the reality?
Corsetry is a slow business. It takes time to make a corset and it takes time to build up a business. There are a tiny number of people who can whirr out great RTW and can build a sustainable business on that. But those people usually have years of experience under their belt and have, over time, developed systems and procedures which maximise profitability, affording them more options and the ability to sell good corsets at lower prices.  On the other hand, it's hard to compete with the factories - it has been done, and I take my hat off to those who can do it. However, if bespoke is your thing then be prepared for the long haul, I reckon it took about 3 years for people to find me unprompted and in any numbers. It varies depending on many factors. Therefore, to sustain you and allow you to grow (if you're lacking other backing) you''re going to need some sort of supplementary income.

Now firstly I'm going to say - there is no law that says you have to do this full time! Either straight away or ever if you don't want to. That is a choice. Three clients a year is as valid as thirty, or three hundred if it works for you.

Secondly, make sure you know your reasons. If you want to make lots of money quickly, bespoke corsetry is the wrong business!  If you love creating beauty, then go for it.

Remember those two points and then decide your priorities. Is the day job a career in itself, or is it there to support your own goals. I suspect for most of us, it's the latter. That is something you have to keep reminding yourself of, as it's very easy to forget.

Full time or part time?
I've done the full time work plus business thing, it's bloody hard. It can be done if you restrict your workload, but as soon as your client numbers grow you knacker yourself and you start to resent the day job as wasted time. Nevertheless, it let me get started on my own terms.  I could finance myself without hardship while building up equipment and materials. Essential for me, as there was little or no opportunity for external funding, especially as I'd passed the 'youth' start up category. So, Working full or part time and building a business is do-able if you make the choice to accept limited clients or if you find a business model that allows you to choose your pace.

(After doing the full time plus business for a while, I then had my lucky shot. I got made redundant. I'd never have jumped so the push was needed. I had enough redundancy to last me a year covering my existing commitments. So, I spent a year promoting and doing wedding shows etc. Making samples as well as some orders. However, after 8 months or so the stress kicked in.. the fear. The redundancy money was finite, I hated feeling like I had to account for my every move to others. I was not able to support myself from sewing at that stage. So.. it was time to look for part time work.) 

Is part time the answer?
For most people, yes it is. It allows you to move from limited part time to more or less full time sewing depending on your hours commitment, whilst getting a regular pay packet to cover the basics.
I know a lot of designers and creatives, some pretty successful. Many of them outside corsetry. The vast majority require a supplementary income. Part time, although not a walk in the park, is the simplest solution. It removes the stress of bills, and it gets you outside and among other people. Also, as hours tend to be more flexible, it may be easier to decrease hours as your business requirements increase.

The trick, in my opinion, is to find something that feeds back to your business. Whether that's in skills gained, contacts made, or something as simple as a useful staff discount. I went into bra fitting as it seemed natural as I was used to visualising fit and had no fear of an intimate fitting situation. It also has the same transformative end result as corsets, and as that's my main motivation, it clicked for me. I also knew it would be a skill that would help my corsetry, so it was a mutually beneficial arrangement. Retail has it's drawbacks, but it's worth it for the trade-off, and its the easiest and most accessible option for many. And it's not likely to suck you in and change your priorities.

I know a milliner who is now stocked in Harvey Nichols among others and whose work has been worn by the great and the good.. While he was getting established he worked as an assistant in a well known trim retailer. Another acquaintance is a stylist who runs fashion events and also is an usher in concert venues. I have friends who run Graphic Design businesses, supplemented by part time jobs in printers.

While Julia was establishing Sew Curvy she found part time work with an employer who gave free job related training in photoshop, illustrator, and web development - however, Sew Curvy in itself was only ever supposed to be the 'day job'  for her corset making business Clessidra - a business she still has not developed to it's full potential after 6 years. Gerry trained people in pattern making software when she was in the UK and I know makers who work in legal firms, on receptions, in fabric stores.  

Other folk,  like OCOC founding fellow, Marianne Faulkner land lucky, and get to work in somewhere utterly relevant like Dark Garden. But even if you can't find a direct link, think laterally. Could a job in a museum provide daily inspiration and perhaps contacts. Fashion retail lets you see trends and gets you used to what people look for in their clothes. That desk job might offer training in web design. Or that fabric shop give you a great staff discount. Now I know in this climate, beggars very often cannot be choosers. But it's something to keep in mind when weighing up options - making connections relevant to your business (plan) is as important to your business as anything else you do to make it successful.

But if I need to work, I've failed!
Never, ever think that. If anyone tries to shame you for that then they should look to themselves, not you. Nobody else can walk in your shoes. A few years ago a friend indirectly and unintentionally made me feel really bad about working part time, leaving me wondering if I wasn't committed enough. Then I realised how different our circumstances were and how mine worked for me and benefited me. There is an argument often given that desperation will fuel success. Perhaps you're the type of person that will work for, then great. I'm not, that sort of worry would leave me catatonic with fear rather than driven. Do what is right for you. It is all a step towards the goal. And you might even enjoy it.

Other ideas:
Of course there are other self-generated options that might raise money. Perhaps you could, like Julia, create your own 'day job' as she has with Sew Curvy.
What other skills do you have? Or how could you apply your talents?
Could you teach? Write? What else could you sell that's related or complimentary?
Although these may not be ideal for steady income, they can be if the time, place and application is right.

There are the traditional sources such as loans, grants and investors. However, the banks aren't lending, grants only apply to very specific cases or age groups, and investors tend to want a faster return than bespoke corsetry can give.

Look around you and use the creativity you have. Look at people in very rural communities. Most of whom have a portfolio of jobs to keep them going, both paid and freelance. More and more people are finding that having several strings to their bow is a necessity these days.

Angelo Trezzini :   A Tired Seamstress

Angelo Trezzini : A Tired Seamstress

One final point
There is no denying that dissatisfaction at work can be soul destroying and can colour the whole of your life adversely, but before making major decisions, check your motivation. There IS a tipping point where it becomes necessary, even essential to give 100% to your business (if that's what you want and if you're sure it's viable) and that in itself is a massive leap of faith - but get it wrong and you could regret giving up a good career or income prematurely.  Get it right and you'll wonder why you didn't do it sooner - Catch 22!

So, in summary:

  • Don't be put off by what you observe, it might not be as it appears on the surface.
  • What fits one person may not fit you.
  • Be prepared for the long haul, there are no sudden shortcuts.
  • Think about whether you really want to be full time, or whether part time, limited clients or a completely different business model would work better for you.
  • If your full time job gives you a cushion, and lets you pick and choose and buy what you need (and buy time) then stick with it if you are able until it's too much. 
  • You are not a failure for needing a reliable income. Don't be shamed into thinking that.
  • Decide your priorities and keep them at the forefront of your mind.
  • Try to find part time work that feeds something back to your business if you can, however loosely.
  • Be creative about what else you can do to raise money.
  • If you get to the point when you believe you can be self-supporting then carefully think through your motivation, priorities and support structure.

As Neil Gaiman said in his his 2012 speech 'Make Good Art', keep heading towards the mountain.
I'll add.. if working lets you wear comfier shoes to get there, or provides the odd timesaving ford across rapids, then all to the good. If it starts to take you off course, then have a rethink.


Negotiating the Photography Minefield

This article first appeared in Foundations Revealed in 2013

I think I’ve given myself a job here but I’ve volunteered to help steer you through the complicated area of photoshoot types and photography usage rights and some associated issues. Now I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on this. I’ve encountered few problems personally as most people I’ve worked with have been great. But I’ve had a lot of discussion on it, have chatted with some knowledgeable photographer friends and thrown in some of the experience from my previous life in graphic design.

So, to start with we’ll have a bit of an overview then break down the types of shoot set ups you might be involved in. Look at the pitfalls and benefits of each then I’ll run through some of the things to ask and things to watch out for. And also talk a bit about how to cover yourself. Now I want to stress that I’m based in the UK. I’ve tried to avoid anything too legally specific as much as I can, and have stuck with general advice, but do some reading and check up on the laws in your own part of the world. Copyright law does differ.  There are also differences as regards things like emails being accepted as written contract. So check that out.

The first thing I’m going to stress is this; find yourself a photographer that you can build a good working relationship with. It’s far easier to give and take and to approach a photographer you get on well with.  A photographer could be the most wonderfully talented artist, but if they’re a pain in the backside to work with then they aren’t worth the headache. Believe me, there are lots of very good photographers out there so finding someone, or even a few, you can work with happily, whom you can trust, shouldn’t be that difficult and is definitely the key. Because the bottom line is that your photographer should take the lead with this situation, should guide you through and should make all the terms clear. However that sometimes does not happen, hence this article.

The main thing to remember is this:
The photographer always retains copyright.

This applies no matter what type of shoot it is. To purchase the copyright you’d have to be paying a huge amount of money and it would need to be specially negotiated, it rarely happens. What you are getting is usage rights, sometimes quite specific ones. Remembering that and knowing how far those rights reach is the key to avoiding disputes. Even on a paid shoot you are in effect paying for the photographer’s time, not a product that you then own. The use of the results is still controlled by them. Think of it more in the terms of music, rather than a tangible product. Now the fairness of that is another issue and is a subject that causes a lot of arguments. But for the moment we’re dealing with the situation as it stands.

Before you start
Prepare yourself. Familiarise yourself with the types of shoots. Think about what you want to use the images for and where you will want to use them. Also think about how you want them to look and gather references and prepare a moodboard.  I quite often make-up a Pintrest board, usually a private one, which is easy to add collaborators too and allows everyone to see your thinking. Of course if it’s a collaborative TF shoot that may not be appropriate or it may need to be considerably compromised.

Shoot types
TF, or TFP or Time for Prints/Portfolio
This is probably the first type of shoot you’ll encounter. You may be approached by a photographer, by a model or you may spot a casting on facebook or Model Mayhem etc. The point to these shoots is that every person involved gets creative input and everyone gets images at the end and nobody gets actual monetary payment. As soon as one of those elements shifts out of whack the potential for disagreements sets in. The best TF shoots are truly collaborations.

Benefits:
Low or no cost (other than your own costs)
Testing out people you may want to work with again
Unexpected results

Cons: 
Lack of creative control
Unexpected results
Images may be watermarked/branded with a logo

Usage: Usually pretty strictly portfolio, non-commercial. Stretching to social media sharing with full credits.  Equal for every participant. Many photographers will be fine with some other uses as long as the credits are in place. But always always check. Make sure your photographer is trustworthy and on the same page as you. If they get payment for that photograph at a later stage then in all fairness they should pass something back to the rest of the team. However that can be rather tricky to control. The thing to remember is check and credit, credit, credit. Credit everyone, credit the model’s auntie that sent cakes, credit the cat… ok I’m being facetious, but you get the gist. And make sure everyone else does too by the way.

An example of compromise on a TF shoot. The hair was something June wanted to expoeriment with, and although I wouldn’t have suggested it I did like the results. Image Jade Starmore, Towzie Tyke Photography Hair & Make-up: June Long Model: Melanie Long

An example of compromise on a TF shoot. The hair was something June wanted to expoeriment with, and although I wouldn’t have suggested it I did like the results. Image Jade Starmore, Towzie Tyke Photography Hair & Make-up: June Long Model: Melanie Long

TF mark 2!
(made-up name) Now, and this is when it gets complicated, TF shoots can started to diverge from pure and equal collaboration. It may be the photographer has a strong idea and wants people to help with that, or the make-up artist has a look they want to produce for a graded unit at college. Or it could be you, as a designer, that has a specific idea. But everyone must feel they’re gaining something for their portfolio to want to participate. The complicated bit is sometimes this set up can veer into situations that should really be paid and this can be contentious. There is too much of a culture of working for nothing across the creative industries, and TF shoots can be a red rag to a bull in some arenas. However if everyone is gaining something from it and knows where they stand then it usually works fine, especially if it’s a team that likes working together. However in all fairness, the person driving the idea should do the legwork for locations and in most cases shell out for any studio, travel expenses etc.

Pros:
Low or minimal costs (other than your own) unless it’s you’re idea and you take on costs

Some creative control

Cons:
Compromise unavoidable, you aren’t paying as such after all
Potential for disagreement
Possible watermarked/logo branded images

Usage:  
Same as before.
Non-commercial for all.
Credit.

A shoot conceived, driven and funded by the photographer Rob Scott of  CSD_Images, celticshadows.co.uk.  Costume design by me.  Modelled by Kasumi Noir, who also  made the beautiful hair ornament.  An example of thoroughly  crediting all involved... and making  it look good into the bargain.   

A shoot conceived, driven and funded by the photographer Rob Scott of  CSD_Images, celticshadows.co.uk.  Costume design by me.  Modelled by Kasumi Noir, who also  made the beautiful hair ornament.  An example of thoroughly  crediting all involved... and making  it look good into the bargain.

 

To Loan or not to loan
From our point of view the most hands off version of this is the simple loan. Now this is a minefield all on its own and should be approached with extreme care. As soon as you make your presence known as a corset maker you will be approached with requests for loans. Usually from models and often miles away in another country/state/continent!  It is VERY easy to get bitten with this so work out your comfort level with it and proceed with caution. I’m not going to tell you what to do and don’t do as different things work for different people. But I will tell you my own personal conditions.

  • I don’t loan to models unless I know the photographer and it meets my other terms below
  • I don’t loan to anyone out-with reasonable travelling distance.
  • If I can, I prefer to attend the shoot
  • If I haven’t worked with the person before I charge them a deposit which I refund when the garment is back with me in good condition.
  • I make sure they sign something detailing the items they’ve borrowed and make sure I have their full contact details. This could be anything from a simple delivery note to a full release document. Depends on circumstances and your own approach.
  • I check who they are, who they’ve worked with etc. This is where networks come in.

These things are borne from experience. For instance, once when I started out I loaned to a very famous website that features alternative pin-ups.  This required me posting to the US at my expense to a known creative person (even has her own Wikipedia page) and in return I was to get the items featured in a video shoot, be credited and get a banner ad (which I supplied) on their very high traffic website. That fell through and it was to be a shoot instead which I would get shots from and the items returned. I never got the shots, nor did I get the items back. I think I got the banner ad, though I never saw it, as I did have spike of traffic to my own site. I emailed many times and got no response. Eventually I wrote it off to experience. So now nobody short of a major publication gets anything unless I could physically go to their door to demand it back!

Attending is a similar safeguard. I’m in effect acting as bodyguard for what might be a very expensive pile of garments! And I’m there to lace up. I’ve had one too many shots back of badly laced, or loosely laced corsets when I’ve not been able to hang around. Also it means if a model is being stroppy about wearing a corset (and some are) you’re there to perhaps leave it loose laced until the last minute, and ensure she doesn’t just swap it for a comfier outfit once you’ve left (has happened to me).

If you can’t attend then a returnable deposit means you at least have something to cover specialist dry cleaning (again, ask me how I know!). It also is an incentive for them to get things back to you promptly. Also the borrower should be paying any postage if they aren’t collecting in person (insured of course) and you really want the photographer to have insurance that covers sets/props/ costume.

It is a great way of getting a variety of shots for your facebook page with minimal cost and effort. You get to try out photographers too. But, it’s a gamble. There are shoots where you can’t use a thing, others where you love every one of them. But for no or mimimal cost it can be worth it. It’s just up to you to weigh up the options carefully and work out a way of handling it you are comfortable with and what level of control you need. For some that’s a flat out no to loans, which is fine too. Remember though, that should Vogue call you up looking for a loan for a spread then you’ll probably throw caution to the wind and that’s fine (and at that level you’ll be expected to). If you want proper exposure you sometimes have to learn to not be too precious about things because sometimes the opportunity is far more important than some slight risk to a corset. You can probably remake the corset but that sort of chance may never be repeated. So, it’s a balancing act, be cautious but don’t cut your nose off to spite your face.

Pros: 
Trying out creatives
Low or no cost
Experience
Surprising results you may not have thought of yourself

Cons:
Risk of loss or damage
No creative control
The possibility of your work being out there, badly  presented in bad photographs Images never appearing Possible watermarked/logo branded images

Usage:
As TF, very much at photographers discretion. You may only get shares on facebook and never get anything  sent to you. Or you may get a dropbox full of them.  Be clear about what you want from it.

A fine example of a loan that went better than I could’ve hoped. Styled by Holly Megan Baxter (a designer in her own right, currently half of the team behind the Hardwear brand), photographed by Gabriela Silveira. Modelled by Victoria Middleton. Hair by Heather Nelson and make-up, Stefanie Carroll. Shot at Chatelherault in Hamilton. As you can see it was successfully submitted to and featured on the Vogue Italia website.

A fine example of a loan that went better than I could’ve hoped. Styled by Holly Megan Baxter (a designer in her own right, currently half of the team behind the Hardwear brand), photographed by Gabriela Silveira. Modelled by Victoria Middleton. Hair by Heather Nelson and make-up, Stefanie Carroll. Shot at Chatelherault in Hamilton. As you can see it was successfully submitted to and featured on the Vogue Italia website.

Where things can go wrong:
I’ve linked a case between a photographer and a well known latex designer. This illustrates why you should never lend to the model unless you’ve discussed things with the photographer. Even when lending to a stylist it’s wise to make some contact with the photographer involved if you can. Because remember, the photographer will hold the copyright. Get the information, you don’t want to land up in court.
http://www.epuk.org/News/1006/

Remember that it isn’t just the photographer that could cause a problem regarding usage, it’s any member of the team, it could even be you! So ask about anything you’re in any doubt over and stick to agreements made.

Trade
Neither free nor conventionally paid. A small section as it varies too much according to circumstance to really give advice on. But we make a desirable, valuable luxury garment. Many models love corsets, some photographers do too. A shoot in exchange for a corset is a viable and relatively common way of working. Just be sure every party is happy with the equality of the transaction (including you). As for usage rights etc, I would treat this similarly to a paid shoot as you are giving a corset as payment, if it’s for the photographer. If it’s for the model then it’s an arrangement purely between yourselves. So that’s the free and trade variants, now to paid.

You as the client
Now a paid shoot is a different beast in many ways and in some it isn’t. If you commission a shoot you are the client therefore you brief the team creatively to the degree you want to. You have approval on location, model, styling. You get the shots you request and only you have the use of them. Unlike TF shoots, the other parties (photographer, model, make-up artist) don’t get to share images randomly unless you, the client, want them to. However, you do not get the copyright and your usage rights are not limitless. You must, MUST, clarify what the usage is with the photographer. In writing preferably. In the UK an email counts, but check that applies in your locale. If there is no contract then you’d be as well doing TF. I’ve broken down the main areas  you may need covered for usage.

I’ve broken it down to web and print. I would also add to establish how long these rights are for and if there are additional rates required.

Now this may all seem unnecessarily detailed but believe me it will be worth checking if  you land with a strict by-the-book photographer who throws a flaky on you for making a genuine mistake! It should be the photographers responsibility to ensure you are aware of the extent of your usage rights, however that often does not happen.  Sod’s Law guarantees that the time you don’t check these things will be the time something happens, so cover yourself.

An example:
You pay for studio lookbook type images. Everyone is paid, however you have no written contract and nothing informing you of usage rights. At short notice you get a phone call from a high profile media outlet asking to use one to promote you in relation to an even you are participating in. You say yes. The next day you are contacted by an irate photographer complaining about the use of the shots and their name not being credited on them.

Are they in the right?
Legally yes, morally I’d say no. The usage rights for those paid for lookbook shots do not automatically cover you for their promotional use on a third party website. That is a different category of rights. Crediting the photographer would not have solved that but probably would’ve smoothed the water due to the publicity gained. However, there was no contract, the photographer did not make the client’s licence to use clear, but as the copyright automatically resides with the photographer the lack of a contract means they are still covered but you are not.

Result: the photographer has lost a client and gained a reputation amongst the client’s peers as unpleasant to work with. The client has images she has paid for but feels uncomfortable about using but has gained a valuable bit of experience.

Lesson: if you’re paying out money (and it can be a tidy sum) get a contract.

Having paid shots that you are clear on your rights with means you have something to hand so you take advantage of those no time to hang around opportunities with complete peace of mind, such as this BBC coverage of the Oxford Conference of Corsetry. Even professional product shots like these are invaluable to have to hand and are a low cost option.

Having paid shots that you are clear on your rights with means you have something to hand so you take advantage of those no time to hang around opportunities with complete peace of mind, such as this BBC coverage of the Oxford Conference of Corsetry. Even professional product shots like these are invaluable to have to hand and are a low cost option.

Models
In addition to your own rights check the model release/agreement has been arranged, which should be a given, but…

A model has rights over the use of their image. So that should be covered by a written agreement too. A model release as such is not actually needed legally I’ve been told (UK). What they should have though is an agreement of their own regarding the usage etc. If they’re an agency model that should be covered, but the agency may have some controls over usage that affect you, so another thing worth checking. Cover yourself too, you don’t want a model having power of veto over a shot you love on a paid shoot. Be guided by the photographer.

While on the topic of models, ensure she is over 18 and able to give permission herself. You don’t want an angry parent chasing you down. Especially for a corset model.

Graphics
I would also clarify if the photographer is ok with the image being edited in any way by a party other than them and if they are ok with graphics use such as adding logos, removing backgrounds, overlapping text and so on. This should fall under categories already mentioned, but again, never hurts to check, especially as some photographers have real issues with this.

Now as a graphic designer this is a bone of contention for me. I have altered and adapted countless photos in my previous job. I fail to see how you can design anything other than the most basic brochure or a poster for instance without touching the image in some way. Whether it’s to add a logo, crop or do something more complex. I also can assure you any image sent to a publication will have some sort of image correction done to it to maximise compatibility with the press and paper stock being used. Many photographers seem blissfully unaware of this. But it’s definitely worth sounding out their views on what you can and can’t do to the image in a graphic design context. I do appreciate that an amateur could really mutilate an image and that a photographer may not want a pink sparkly model’s name over it for instance.

Other things to consider
In addition to the usage categories described above you’re going to want to agree the number of images, the format, the size. Also practical matters like what happens should one of the team not show up (these apply to TF shoots too).

When it comes to it, a professional and experienced photographer will be reasonable, knowledgable and will guide you through all this and it should all be obstacle free. It’s in their interest to make sure you’re clear on your mutual positions. The problems mostly seem to come from those who are more amateur than they believe themselves to be or who have egos that overtake their abilities.

Covering your own back
Remember you need some protection too. You’re entitled to ensure your brand cannot be misrepresented, and on a paid shoot that the image has some exclusivity to you. Make sure that is established. Make it clear what you need and what you want to use the images for. You don’t need to cover and pay for every eventuality (you can always get back to them later) but don’t limit yourself either. If the photographer isn’t supplying anything then draw up your own contract, or at least ask questions in emails that you then keep on file as proof the conversation took place (see note in paragraph 2 about your own country’s legal position). If you are in any doubt about any aspect then get legal advice.

On TF shoots be careful who you work with and keep an eye on the future use of the image. Nobody wants to see their corset on an ad for a strip club a year later, and it’s happened. Trouble is, protecting yourself against things like that can be tricky. However that garment is your property, your brand is your property and you don’t want a situation to arise that implies an endorsement from your company. If it’s a worry, get it in writing, you are entitled to impose your own conditions on any loan or TF collaboration.  If that’s not acceptable, move on to another professional. It’s your business too, and remember of all the creatives involved in a fashion shoot, designers are the minority and therefore in demand. If photographers want to shoot fashion, they need you. Corset makers are even more of a rare beast. I did read one photographer say that he’d tell anyone who asked him to sign something to take a running jump! Not a constructive attitude. But as above, if a contract would not be appropriate at least get it in an email.  If things do go wrong then you do have redress in some instances. For instance, if it is used by another corset company you may be able to pursue them for ‘passing off’. However this is going to depend on location and individual circumstances. Again, seek legal advice.

The very fact the photographer retains the copyright potentially puts the other creatives involved at a disadvantage. The photographer very definitely holds the cards. Now in most cases that is fine. Most people are trustworthy and a dream to work with. But nothing is guaranteed. The only way you can maintain complete control is to take the pictures yourself , but obviously that is not ideal, there is no substitute for professional shots. However it’s no coincidence how many designers start out with straight, self-taken, mannequin shots on their websites and in their Etsy listings. If you have a decent camera, an eye for lighting etc you can pull this off. However, for modelled shots and when you want to step up your professionalism, you really do need the real deal. And to be fair, professional product shots are usually far superior to your own efforts.

The thing to remember is this: Unless you really are working with amateurs/ hobbyists everyone involved is a professional trying to earn some sort of living and everyone has costs. You have probably sunk a small fortune into getting those collection samples made, as well as your time (sanity!) and the cost of maintaining your skills. The photographer has the upkeep of equipment, the upgrading of skills and a considerable amount of time editing. The model has to maintain her physical self and keep on top of her skills (never underestimate the value of a good model). Make-up artists and hairdressers have their materials and time spent creating and perfecting the concept. All parties should respect that in each other and work out fair agreements for all. Pay when you need to pay and expect reasonable rights to the results when you do. When it’s TF, compromise and allow everyone their input. Most of the time it works great, and having the knowledge to back it up helps that to happen. 

A self-taken effort by me, passable but not great.

A self-taken effort by me, passable but not great.

Some useful links:
These are UK links, mostly passed on to me by a photographer friend, but check them out, once you know what you’re looking for you should be able to find ones relevant to your location to double check your particular position.

A note on contracts in the UK. As far as I know this will be similar in the US but please check. http://www.bluefinprofessions.co.uk/news/an-exchange-of-emails-could-create-a-binding-contract

An overview of licensing and copyright for photographers http://www.photoassist.co.uk/fullarticle.asp?ano=1161

This is helpful in seeing how categories differ http://www.londonfreelance.org/feesguide/index.php?language=en&country=UK&section=Photography

The copyright law website:
http://copyrightservice.co.uk/copyright/p01_uk_copyright_law

It’s worth contacting the Law Society to get hold of a IP solicitor in cases of dispute and/or when forming a contract with a major company.
http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/
https://www.lawscot.org.uk/
http://www.copyright.gov/title17/
http://international.lawsociety.org.uk/ip/americas/610

Tools for keeping track of images you have an interest in:
http://tineye.com/
https://www.google.co.uk/imghp
http://www.picscout.com/ (for stock photos).

Best Practices: 3 Quick Tips to a Better Website

As I write my weekly column for The Lingerie Addict, I'm thrilled every time I get to feature one of our Oxford Conference of Corsetry alumni. Seeing the modern generation of corsetieres graduate from enthusiastic dabblers to passionate entrepreneurs is pretty exciting. As you transition from a Facebook fanpage to a professional website, here are a few things to keep in mind. (I'm leaving the design stuff pretty out of this installment - with Alison on board, I don't think I could do the topic much justice!)

I know it's a lot of work to launch a website. It's important to remember that a website will continually be in a state of evolution. You can't wait until it's "done" or "just right," because there'll always be something to change, update, improve. Figure out what the minimum of content you need is and start with that. Too much information will just confuse your clients anyway. That said, here are some tips, focusing on things that are often forgotten in creating a site.

  1. Location, location, location - I shouldn't have to hunt through a bio, about me, contact page, Facebook page, and Etsy store looking for your location only to eventually track it down on your Model Mayhem page. Make your location easy to find. You don't have to spotlight it on your front page unless you feel an innate connection to your home base, but it should be in either your about me or contact page, if not both. In a craft industry, clients like to support not only artists, but local artists. Plus, corsetry is an intimate experience and nothing can beat an in-person consultation and fitting.
     
  2. The second thing I look for is the date your brand was established. I realize that's a fuzzy line - is it when you made your first corset or made your first sale? For me, I chose the year I named my line, Pop Antique. Either way, let people know. It's always the most shocking to me when legacy brands (those established 15, 20, 25 or more years ago) don't include their launch year. Even if you just launched, that's okay! That means you're "up-and-coming," maybe even a new corsetry prodigy. It's often the brands that I see seemingly come out of nowhere that excite me the most with a fresh perspective. Re-branding is a good way to reinvigorate interest, but remember to make a clean switch to your new name and marketing strategy, and do mention your former name in your company history.
     
  3. Have some pricing guidelines clearly posted. An Etsy store may be easy and affordable to set up, but from what I hear, it's not the best sales tool these days. At least, not at this price point! A professional website is a must, and most of them make it easy to integrate a shopping card/web-store. I use, and LOVE, Squarespace. It's affordable and easy to set up. When an Etsy store is barren, it's sometimes hard to gauge whether the person is on hiatus or inattentive, and there's no way (as a client) to gauge your interest in that person's style and price point. Even if you're stuck on using Etsy for actual sales, or only do bespoke and therefore have few standard prices, try to have some basic pricing guidelines easily available on the website. You could put this on a page called, "Pricing," or, "Investment," something that will feel intuitive when seen in a menu. Don't confuse your portfolio with your pricing information. Clients easily fixate on specifics and will have a hard time understanding what parts of a concept are standard.

With all that said... I do have one design tip. When in doubt, simpler is better. Go with clean, easy to read formatting and fonts.

Now that you've got your website spruced up, don't forget to submit to the new Alumni Directory!

Marianne Faulkner

How to get to OCOC

Are you wondering how to gather funds in order to get to OCOC next year?  Our Business speaker for 2015 is Fiona Pullen, owner of online sewing resource The Sewing Directory, and author of the number one Amazon best selling Craft Business book "Craft a Creative Business".  Here Fiona gives tips and ideas on how to raise money in order to gather funds for any project, not just getting to OCOC.

Fiona with fashion icon, Zandra Rhodes, October 2014

Fiona with fashion icon, Zandra Rhodes, October 2014

How will you afford to go to Oxford Conference of Corsetry?

Tickets have just gone on sale, you’re looking longingly at the photos of past events and wishing that you could go to the Oxford Conference of Corsetry.  You know it will be great for your business, the networking, the new skills you’ll learn, getting professional photos for your portfolio.  However not everyone has £650 sitting in their account ready to spend on an amazing weekend away.

So how can you fund your trip to the Oxford Conference of Corsetry?

Shift that dead stock
Most of us have items we’ve made or bought that just didn’t sell like we expected.  You are reluctant to drop the price because you still believe that perfect buyer is out there.  However, it is taking up space and energy that could be devoted to products that will sell much quicker and easier.  Have a big rummage through and find that stock that has been sitting there for ages, reduce it down, promote your big sale, share pictures across social media, let them know it’s a flash sale (to encourage immediacy) and get it sold.  Put those funds aside to help fund your trip.

Upsell
If you can include a little extra in your sale those extra bits of income could help fund your trip.  If you sell corsets could you offer matching accessories so you can sell 2 items per transaction instead of one?  If you’re selling your products as Christmas gifts could you charge a little extra for gift wrapping?   If you teach corsetry could you offer your students a little discount on another course once they’ve booked one, so you sell 2 spaces instead of one?   Or maybe a bring a friend offer?

Increase your profit margin
This is a bit of a trickier one, there are 3 ways of increasing your profit margin.  You either need to make your product faster (thereby decreasing the amount of time you put in), reduce your materials cost or increase your product costs. 

  • a) With regards to reducing the time I’m going to assume most of you have been doing this a while and are working to full productivity.  If you are still fairly new then do take the time to learn new techniques, study and read up on different ways of doing things to see if you find any shortcuts.  Have you tried batching if you are making several of the same item?
  • b) When it comes to the cost of materials many of us stick with the suppliers we found when we first started a business.  But it does pay to look around and see what else is out there, you could look at trade publications or attend trade shows to see what other suppliers there are or do some online research.  Even if it knocks just a couple of percentage of your costs over a year that can add up to quite a big saving.
  • c) Increase your product costs. Can you justify increasing your prices?  Could you aim at a market with bigger budgets, or use unique supplies that people are willing to pay a little extra for?  Has your skill level grown and your products evolved since you first priced them?  Have you looked to see how your prices compare to your competition, if they are charging more than you then perhaps you could get away with a small increase too?

Big promotional push!
It is the perfect time of year for a big marketing push.  Market your products as the ideal Christmas gift, step up your social media campaign, send a few reminder newsletters, send press releases out.  You may be too late for magazine coverage but perhaps you could get something into the local papers?  It might be worth looking at some low cost advertising like Facebook ads, or speak to complimentary businesses about cross promoting each other’s products to help reach a new audience.  Can you display flyers at Christmas events?  Could you write guest pots for relevant websites to help get your name and products out there?  People are planning to spend a lot of money over the next 5 weeks so make sure your products are in their mind whilst they are spending.

Hopefully I will see you at OCOC in August where I will be speaking about search engine optimisation and how it can help people find your products.

Written by Fiona Pullen, owner of The Sewing Directory and author of Craft a Creative Business.