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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Deep Thoughts From Goosie: Custom Boutique Growing Pains

When your handmade and/or custom boutique small business begins to grow it can be a wonderful, long-awaited sense of accomplishment. Finally reaching that pinnacle of having buyers know who you are, and that you produce a great product is much deserved after so many hours upon hours of hard work. When you reach the point where you begin to develop a following that ensures a constant flow of sales as well as buyers who seem to hang onto every new item you create and they wait with baited breath to snap it up~ this can be EVERY designer's dream. . . or can it?  What happens when we get too busy? What happens when we have to start saying no? What happens when we have to turn down requests for custom orders because we are just too swamped to take on anymore? 

This is a critical decision which needs to be made by every designer...
 Say No or Hire Help.

Many of us out here in the trenches~ designing & sewing, creating and crafting work so hard. We can be so obsessive and meticulous about even the tiniest details of the quality of our handmade and custom boutique items. For me, Goosie, it became a very unnerving situation to even consider giving up some of that "control" or "creativity" to someone else. It didn't matter if they were skilled, just the thought of not doing it myself, Even if they would be following my instructions to a tee. Using my instructions, patterns, personal one-on-one teaching of my techniques and using my designs down to the letter drove me insane. I felt as if I had to watch over their shoulder every minute, and this was my DAUGHTER and my NIECE I was having help me~ it soon became an insanity inducing experience, even though they were doing a fine job and the quality was practically as if I were doing it myself. . Some designers opt to say No to hiring any form of help in their studio, even cutting pieces of patterns from fabric~ and this in turn can increase the demand for their products~as well as the prices of their items too because buyers are willing to wait and PAY for an original created personally by them, as only they could create. Here are some questions I'd like to ask to see where everyone is at these days on this subject:
  • Do you think it is acceptable to hire someone to help to do the sewing, or crafting? (and would YOU, if faced with greater demand than you were able to keep up with?)
  •  Do you think any quality is lost when we farm out our "piece work" to a helper? 
  • Have you had any experience (good or bad) doing this? 
  • Are you too nervous to even try this because your name rests on the quality?
  • Have you been burned by a less than qualified sewist you hired to help you out? 

Another situation to consider, many times we hear of some designers cranking out enough items for things like Zulily showcases (Such sites often request 1,000 pieces made by 1 designer at a time for a special sale)

 As a participant in many designer discussion groups, I sometimes hear of certain designers sewing an enormous quantity of dresses (or sets, skirts, bows etc) a day. Many times I wonder HOW on earth they do it?! Not only does it take A LOT to run a custom boutique or handmade business alone, but many of us are work-at-home parents who also have the responsibilities of a family ~or we even hold down part-time or full-time jobs outside the home too!
 It baffles me, and I wonder, when do they sleep?!

 Some questions that begin to roll around in my head when I hear about these "over-achievers" are below (I bet many of  you have wondered the same things too!): 

If you're a buyer, and see some designers cranking out soooo many designs on a regular basis; do you question the quality if they are producing the quantity they are cranking out? or do you assume they are just really super efficient and organized at what they are doing?
As a buyer, would it be a deterrent, or a turn-off if you found out a designer you buy from was farming out part of the sewing duties to hired help instead of doing it all themselves?

Here's an "Ethical Question" to consider: Do you think it's borderline dishonest for designers to NOT disclose they are using hired help? We've heard of some designers never admitting they have hired help, and that seems a little sketchy to me (no judgement, just a fleeting impression I have)~ Am I the only one that feels that way? 

Occasionally a designer may break into the "big time", and their lines get picked up by a big retailer or several brick & mortar upscale boutique shops and the demand is much more than 1 or 2 people could ever keep up with, and they turn to a manufacturer who will sew their garments for them. (Sometimes in their home country, or sometimes they send the designs overseas to be cut, sewn, finished &  produced less expensively with the returned product being sold by the designer). Would you still consider them "custom boutique" designers if they turn to a manufacturer or "factory-type" team to pump out the items their customers are clamoring for? I'll be honest, sometimes, I wonder if they're "selling out" BUT if faced with the same situation, I wonnder if I would, in fact, do the same thing?? I mean,  that is a measure of major success, isn't it? Isn't that what everyone who starts sewing for others dreams of?  

Another question, I'm pondering~are handmade & created one-at-a-time designs always better in the end? or is the "designing" the most important part,(meaning the originality of your vision for what you're sewing/making, how you mix design elements, fabrics and embellishments)~ rather than the task of the actual action of the sewing?? This has been something that has been on my mind for a while, and I'd love to hear what readers think on these topics!!!

We have enabled "anonymous" comments so if you aren't comfortable commenting with everyone knowing your identity, you're good to go! :) 


  1. I've spent time thinking about this topic before. I do EVERYTHING myself for my business. I like it that way. I, personally, would rather stay small and continue to make everything myself than hire another person to help with the creative/sewing aspect. For me, being the one to actually design and put together each item is what makes my business truly "handmade". I use specific measurements for all of my clients and give them something that fits their child. I have been approached by Zulily in the past, but the idea of having to close my shop for 6 months while I sew generic store sized dresses in multiples just doesn't feel true to what I've worked hard to establish my business as... "Quality clothing made with love and kisses". I put my heart and soul into each piece I create and keeping my business small allows me to keep it that way. It works for me. ♥

  2. I have thought about this... and honestly can not afford to hire anyone to help me. I am very lucky that I have a wonderful man in my life who will sit and cut entire rolls of tulle into whatever length I ask him to on his days off... My 9 year old does cover hair clips so that saves a little time, and I do have a couple locals that I know I can go to if I truly need help.. I however, rarely make any one tutu dress more than once (with the exception of Snow White the Evil Queen, basic Tink and Pinkalicious) all my fairies are different and I pride myself on that. I choose to stay small and have just me for the most part doing everything. If I know I can't handle something, I will send them to another couple of girls that I know make things up to the standards I hold. If I don't get any larger than I am as far as business goes.. I am okay with that right now as well. But that is my own personal choice.

  3. Designing is the most important. Like you I have to do everything myself! If I needed help I would look for another stay at home mom or mom who has the same values as I do. I will say no unless I can produce a quality product. Also I would not hide another employee from the customers. I would add her to the business! Yes, I wonder all the time how in the world do some boutiques turn out the amount of product that they do! I know I certainly could not! Honesty is the best policy!