I was so excited to be nominated for two categories in this years Kent Women In Business Awards #KWIBA2017 and I certainly did not expect to be a finalist! I knew the date for the awards evening was approaching, however, as I was busy working on my customers outfits and dresses I wasn't really thinking about what I would be wearing, anyway I thought I must have a dress suitable of a black tie evening right? Actually I was wrong and so thought I would make something special for this big event!
It started with fabric and colour for me and so I decided to take a trip into town where I know there are a couple of fabric shops, maybe not my favourite Berwick Street shops and as I was short for time and definately no time to order online, it was only two days away... so I had to settle for a trip to my nearest town where there would be at least one fabric shop!
There were many colours to choose from and I did have my eyes on the purple, my business brand colour, however the advice from my stylist friend Siobhan Atkins of Wellstyled, was not to have purple for this event, which was some what a relief as I wanted something different and so I considered metallics, bronzes and rose golds which I love, but the fabric was just not inspiring to me for this occasion.
Finally I decided on something more classic and versatile, black. I felt black on it's own would have been too harsh for me so I decided to go for a little sparkle with a silver sequined mesh to give it the evening gown look.
Next I had to decide on a design for myself, I had so many ideas that I sketched out, but it came down to what shape I thought would be the most dramatic but also flattering for me too.
I was also slightly limited by a little thing called time as I only had about 2 days to make my dress from scratch! In that time I had to buy the fabric, design the style, make the pattern, cut out the fabrics and make, fit and finish the dress for the Friday early evening, bearing in mind I wanted to have my nails and hair done... but I would not a little thing like that stop me!
I decided on something with two skirt layers so that I would reveal a hidden skirt and create a dramatic effect when I walked, but was also covered and elegant. Also I love long fitted sleeves and so I wanted make the most of the lovely sequined fabric and had this nearest my face rather than the harsh black satin.
I spent some time working on the pattern pieces as this makes life much easier when sewing a garment together especially when you are in hurry. Once it is cut there is no room for error, if you make something too small and do not have any spare fabric then this will be a problem! I also had to make it bespoke to my measurements, which was fun trying to fit it to myself in the mirror...
Finally the dress was finished after much hard work and a tight deadline, just enough time to get mself ready!
Photogragh above @janemucklowphoto
Above are pictures of me having a twirl in my new dress!
Below are my friends who were runners up in one of their categories, from the left stylist Siobhan Atkins from Wellstyled , next Jane Mucklow from Jane Mucklow Photography and myself, Caroline Bruce designer and dressmaker!
I had a great time, even though I was not a runner up or winner, being a finalist in two categories was an achievement for me and being among so many talented business women who all deserve to be winners was very inspiring! It was fabulous to be part of such a great event and to be networking with all those like minded business women all in one room. What a great excuse for a new dress!
07835 983 018
Spring 2017 has been and gone so quickly for me, so now is the time to show you a few projects I worked on during the last few months.
Below is my spring bride Sara in the beautiful wedding dress I made for this lovely lady. The design has a bohemian accent, I used a delicate hand made cotton lace inserted in the sleeves and bodice and a traditional embroidered broderie anglaise fabric for that vintage look.
Now for something very different and a first for me, but an interesting project nonetheless! I was commissioned to make this set of neck, waist, wrist and ankle ruffles as props for the incredible 'Living Art Show' who specialise in face and body painting exhibitions and courses.
I have again had the pleasure of working for Joan Collins, Mrs Joan Collins as she refers to herself , now a TOWIE star (The Only Way Is Essex) in her own right, as this season she has appeared along side her daughter Gemma! I create the styles that Joan envisions for herself as she has such a creative hand, she loves choosing fabrics and trimmings with me as we build up her wardrobe. For Valentines Joan wanted to create a special window display for Gemmas boutique in Essex, so Joan decided to use a bomber jacket I made for her with the lips print on and along side other seasonal items she put together this shop display!
Apart from my bespoke work, working on my own designs and the KWIB Awards I took part in, I have been working as a fashion studio for the new ethical label Chikezie- Rose. I was excited to be asked to take part in the 12th Screen Nation Awards 2017 in May, after my technical involvement in Miss Caribbean UK 2016 last year for the same label. With very little time but no lack of enthusiasm, Chikezie-Rose and I, agreed to take up the offer of dressing last year's lovely Miss Caribbean finalists, who were due to chaperone the celebrities and guests at the awards on the red carpet at The Plaza Hotel in central London. It was a real privilege, not only dress these talented ladies, who themselves are ambassadors for their own country of origin, but to have been invited to join in this fantastic occasion! There I am enjoying the event and getting some great photos on the red carpet!
Apart from the nine one shouldered African print tie dresses, I also made the mens cravats and ladies pins for the Miss Caribbean UK production team which are pictured below.
After the excitement of the awards event, I was soon busy again creating this beautiful silk scarf. I wanted to donate a special item I had created to Linda Garcias 'Pink Charity Gala Ball', to help raise some money for her chosen charity 'Breast Cancer Now'. I chose this 100% silk crepe de chine geometric print to make this sumptuous scarf, as a luxury classic one off piece for the lucky winner to treasure and enjoy wearing.
The last few months have been very busy for Caroline Bruce Designer Dresses, but in the background there are lots of great things happening with the development of my own eveningwear brand which I will reveal very soon!
I was so pleased to be invited to write a guest blog by the highly talented and lovely Julie Davies of Julie Davies Flower Workshops, The Florist That Teaches, so here it is!
A LIFE WITH FLOWERS, MEET THE CREATIVE
This week I’m handing over my blog to Caroline Bruce. We first met at Women’s Enterprise Kent – a scheme devised to digitally empower entrepreneurial women. Caroline’s post was scheduled a while back and I’ve just updated it to let you know that Caroline is a finalist in the Kent Women in Business Awards 2017 in the arts/creative and entrepreneur categories.
Over to you Caroline …
BRITISH DESIGNER AND DRESSMAKER
Hello, I’m Caroline Bruce, a British designer and dressmaker. My business was born out of a lifelong passion to design, make and sell my own designs. I create bespoke outfits for women who need something unique to wear for a special occasion and can’t find anything off the peg. I also design my own unique range of evening and cocktail dresses. Luxury, glamour and individuality are the essential elements that go into each of my elegant designs.
VALUING CREATIVITY AND SKILLS
I aim to have my garments hand produced here in the UK - embracing slow, sustainable fashion. My fabric is mainly sourced through local suppliers. This ethos is also behind my belief that we should value the creativity and skills within the fashion industry and provide quality training in order to keep the industry alive for future generations.
I don’t know about you - but I’ve always wanted, not only to wear beautiful clothing, but to design it as well! When you’re wearing something special it totally transforms how you look and feel. I aim to capture this magic for my clients. My dresses all have an element of wow about them - whether it’s the movement of the fabric, the way it drapes or the cut. Every piece creates an individual magic for the wearer.
HAND ME DOWNS
I grew wearing hand me downs from my older sisters and watched my mother sew some clothes for me on her hand powered sewing machine. While my friends had wardrobes full of lovely new and fashionable clothes, I really appreciated the few new clothes I had! I realise now, that by playing with the fabric scraps from my own hand made dresses, wrapping them around my dolls and trying to fit the fabric on them, that I was actually figuring out how garments were made.
At secondary school I developed an interest in the arts and decided to follow a creative career path. My interest in fashion, art and design grew into the dream to be a fashion designer. I went to college and learned how to design and make clothes. I completed my diploma and left with plenty of new skills and great hope for the future.
I started my career in London by working as a sample cutter and worked my way up to become a toilist and pattern cutter at Nicole Farhi. During my years as a mother and home maker, I often made garments for myself and my family. I returned to work in the industry several times during those years - assisting the pattern cutting tutor at the college where I’d trained. Eventually I decided to start my own business. And here I am looking back at my first two years in business and building my own future.
NATURE IS A GREAT TEACHER
One of the things I love the most about being in fashion is having the creative freedom to create my own designs. I love being able to make something from just a thought, a feeling or a flash of inspiration. I like finding patterns in nature - a flower or a leaf that gives me the initial idea for the shape of a dress or part of a garment.
Looking at the natural world from a different perspective provides inspiration that can be translated into my designs. I also like to model or drape fabric on myself or on a mannequin so I can visualise the movement of the finished garment, making sure the end product is wearable. Not all my ideas start in this way but I do find that nature is a great teacher and shows me endless possibilities for colour, texture and design.
THE EVOLUTION OF IDEAS
A jacket I designed earlier this year was originally inspired by an image I found of some waves breaking on the shore. I thought the wave ripples could be used as the outline on part of a garment. From here I collected similar images and tried various ways to use the wave design.
Next, I sketched out the shapes and working out how I could create the waves in fabric form. From this the waves became pleats - which I wanted to be soft and full of a fabric to hold their shape. However once I started modelling the design on the mannequin, the look of the crisp flat pleat looked better and this is how the initial idea for my jacket design was formed.
This is just one way in which I explore new ways of using nature to inspire my work. I’m looking forward to creating many more unique designs in the future and never fail to find inspiration all around me. This continual evolution of new ideas is what keeps me motivated and passionate about my own design business and the fashion industry as a whole.
Thank you Julie!
Make sure you click onto the link below for information about Julies 5-Day Free Online Mini-Course!
2017 was kicked off for me with something different, as I was asked to take part in a community event run by the group Ashford Undivided at the beginning of January. This is a group of 'community change makers' led by Georgina Cooper and Francesca Baker, who wanted to give their local community a chance to have their say in a creative way!
My project was just a small part of a very full day of creative events taking place at The Bauhaus Cafe in Ashford town centre. Attendees were invited to take part in various creative projects to help express how they felt about where they live now and how they wanted the community to change for the better. With the affects of Brexit on their minds, how, as mainly young people, would they would like to shape their futures? In small groups they used the arts and crafts workshops to make bold statements of how they felt, for the MP Damien Green to see when he came to speak and to post on their website. MP Damien Green spoke for some time on the subject of the affects of us leaving the European Union and answered many questions, responding to peoples fears for the future.
The workshops ahead of me that day were Make a Postcard, Poetry, Using the Uke, Urban Sketching and then the Question and Answer with MP Damien Green and there was some lovely live music too!
I began my project with a short talk about why and how I am creating my own sustainable fashion business. As I was invited to create a project for the event, I wanted to talk a little about recycling, eco freindly clothing and sustainability within the clothing industry. One of the things I talked about was how to be more eco freindly with your own clothing. Top tips included repairing damaged garments, by replacing zips for example, restyling a garment or reusing the fabric from an unwanted garment to make something completely different! I also discussed the pay and working conditions relating to the factories, where many of the cheap high street fashion stores have their garments made. Also up for dicussion was the fact that globally, we consume 30% more natural resourses each year than our planet can replenish, the fashion industry, unfortunately, is also one of the highest poluting industries in the world. Therefore, I decided to create a project using old t-shirts to either recycle into something else, a bag for example or to use the t shirts provided to get everyones individual messages across for the community and government to see!
Above are some of the group busy creating their t-shirts with slogans that meant something to them. Below left are some of the items we had for decorating our t-shirts and some inspiration I brought along for everyone. Below right is my t-shirt, showing my own words of wisdom!
I just wanted to say thank you to Ashford Undivided for inviting me to take part in this positive, creative and community based event and I hope that the messages of the people will be heard. Create a better future!
2016 is almost over, so now is the time to take stock of all this years achievements and share some of my highlights with you!
I started the year by taking part in my first fashion show at DISTRKT nightclub in central London! I showed a capsule collection I had designed and made specifically for this show, with other new designers invited by LSE Fashion Society. This was an amazing experience and a great opportunity to show a few of my designs to a new audience!
DSTRKT nightclub in London was an amazing venue for the fashion show, with it's long and narrow dance floor it was a perfect catwalk!
Also in February, I was suprised to be nominated by West Kent Housing Association for the TPAS awards, Tenant of the Year for my entrepreneurship. I went with other nominees in our local area to The Hilton, Wembley to attend the ceremony. I had a fantastic time and I was honoured to be nominated and to get that recognition!
April saw the end of the Womens Enterprise Kent course I took part in, such a shame that it had to finish! I met so many amazing fellow female entrepreneurs aswell as making some new friends. We had various seminars, sometimes in beautiful locations and we learnt about marketing our businesses, financial and business skills.
Which leads me nicely on to tell you about the photographer Jane Mucklow, who I met on the course and who took the stunning new images you can now see on my website. We arranged a photoshoot in a local historical site which made an amazing backdrop for my dresses.
During the spring months I had several clients who wanted bespoke garments made and I worked on four weddings, well actually four mother of the bride/groom outfits which I specialise in. In this capacity I create the bespoke garments from the very beginning, from my design through to the finished garment, working on every stage myself. This one shoulder cape dress was a particular favourite of mine, due to the stunning asymmetric design and it started my wedding season off nicely!
One of the highlights of my wedding season was to work with Deborah Turner, image consultant of You Image Consulting, whose client wanted a bespoke dress designed and made for her son's wedding. As Deborah had already worked with this client, establishing the colour palette for her wardrobe and makeup, it made choosing suitable colours and shades for the dress much easier and so we went on to choose a beautiful mocha coloured embroidered tulle with silk satin lining.
Some of the projects that I work on require my technical support skills, working as a creative pattern cutter and as a seamstress or sample machinist. So in May, I worked with designer and fashion industry consultant Carol Rose, to create her daughter's prom dress that she herself had designed and choosen fabric for. I saw the sketch and knew I would love making this dress, especially as we were using stunning African fabric, silk finishing touches and with an elegant back waterfall detail. This dress was actually made up of 46 seperate components that needed to be sewn together! All the outside pattern pieces had to be placed strategically on the fabric before cutting out in order to make the design of this garment work.
I was also thrilled to be asked by Carol Rose, to take part in a fashion show (my second of the year!) at London's Docklands on the Sunborn Yacht Hotel for a Christian ladies website launch! This was a chance to show off my own designs as well as Carols, we each showed three looks. My garments were Dana my chiffon asymmetric dress, Isobel my two piece cape and layered dress and Oriana my silk satin and leather jumpsuit. This was a fabulous experience for me, plus an education on how to put together a small scale fashion show!
I also had the pleasure of working with a couple of celebrity clients during the summer months, one of whom was Joan Collins, no not the one from Dynasty, but Gemma Collins' mum from TOWIE! Joan commissioned me to make most of her holiday wardrobe as she was taking a special holiday in August. Joan loves unusual fabrics and sometimes bold colours and although the dress styles were quite simple, Joan wanted to be creative with them by mixing the colours and textures of fabrics in a unique way. Some fabrics we used were from remnants from Joans' previous projects, but used as part of new dresses we created. Not only does Joan enjoy experimenting with the fabrics and trimmings, she also likes to make good use of eveything that is available to her so that nothing is wasted. This was a new challenge for me and taught me a lesson in upcycling!
To round the year off nicely, Carol Rose ask me to work with her on another exciting project, the grand final of the Miss Caribbean UK 2016 pageant, positively promoting the Caribbean. Carol collaborated with award winning hair salon owner Anastasia Chikezie to create the Chikezie-Rose collection for the event. The designers bought some amazing heritage fabrics and sketched out their initial ideas. I worked again in a technical support role for this design collaboration as creative pattern cutter and seamstress. I was lucky enough to be invited to attend this spectacular event and look forward to seeing it grow in future years!
It made my evening when one out of the two beautiful ladies wearing the dresses I made, Cheniel Henderson, won second runner up prize overall! (seen here on the right)
Some of the carnival costmes for the first section of the pageant were laid out in the dressing room and of course I couldn't help but take a photograph of these!
The beauty pageant marked the end of a fantastic year for me and there was plenty more to tell. I would like to say a massive thank you to all my clients from this past year and for all the advice and support I have recieved from various individuals and organisations. Next year I look forward to growing the ready to wear side of the business, desingning evening wear pieces, which needs to be nurtured too! I hope to see many new clients booking for bespoke garments to be made and the technical support side of my business. Look out for further new developements and have a creative 2017!
Carol Rose email@example.com
Deborah Turner www.youimageconsultancy.co.uk
Jane Mucklow http://www.janemucklowphotography.co.uk/
Thirty years of experience in various roles in fashion and clothing have resulted in me being able to provide the service that I do. The term dressmaker/seamstress is one which seems to reduce what I do to just sewing, I am actually more than just a dressmaker! Although, yes, I sew dresses, that is only a small part of it...
I refer back to a time when probably every woman would sew their own clothes and make repairs to their own clothes, or pay for a seamstress to do it, but times have changed. Apart from the recent resurgence in the interest of dressmaking due to certain tv shows, most clothes are mass produced, even high end designer garments that command the highest prices are mostly factory made. These days most garments are massed produced and one factory worker would be responsible for one process repeated on hundreds of garments each day, for example, one person would just sew the zips in, this is known as piece work. The only garments made by hand now days would be couture, bespoke garments and men's tailored garments that are hand made, from start to finish by one person a tailor or seamstress/ dressmaker and finished with care and attention to detail, also, rightly commanding the high prices that goes with the specialised service. Below are just some of the details of my particular work as a bespoke dressmaker.
Making a bespoke garment or a one off, couture garment can be quite a lengthy process and one that involves a variety of skills practised over many years. I start with the design process and designing a suitable and desirable garment for the client. I always aim to make something beautiful that is wearable, that is why I love making garments, it's a kind of art using fabrics. It all starts with needing to be a clear communicator and trying to assess what your client is actually visualising, I may be sketching an idea as my client is explaining what they want. Many things need to be taken into consideration in the design process. Sometimes the client has a design in mind and obviously I have to respect this, although I need to be able to give my opinion as to whether this will work for them or not. Some of my clients have fitting issues with high street clothes and want something made that will fit them correctly. I have clients who want a specific design and cannot find this on the high street, where as others just want the luxury of having something made for them or have a special occasion and want to look and feel special, without the worry of showing up in the same dress as another guest! If I am designing for the client, I need to show them a selection of designs then we can then discuss what they would like made. A non- refundable deposit is required before any design work can even start and you will see before I even pick up my scissors I have many tasks to complete. It is useful that a customer has a good idea of what really suits them, for example colours, styles to suit their body shape, what suits their personality, what they will feel comfortable in and if it is appropriate for the occasion, as a lot of work will go into making the garment and it has to be right.
The first initial consultation should set out what the client wants made and the design either decided upon and a deposit paid if work is to commence, a set of measurements taken and a time frame of fittings established with time allowed for any unforeseen circumstances.
PATTERN / GRADER / TOILER
Once a design has been chosen, I will take a set of measurements from the client, correctly fitting under garments need to be worn for me to get accurate measurements and the shoes for the correct height if necessary. Next I will arrange to see them for their first toile fitting, a toile being a mock up of the finished garment in a similar but cheap version of the final fabric. From the measurements taken I will then draft a block pattern, not use a shop bought pattern, which is a first basic shape. Next I will use that block to then create the actual style required as a paper pattern. A pattern cutter is a highly skilled position within the clothing indusrty, who works closely with the designer to achieve the required look and fit of the garment and usually has to train for several years to work independently. Some pattern cutters can also grade which means sizing up the original size, usually an 8, into larger sizes, however, when making a bespoke garment I am switching between pattern cutter and grader to create an individual size to fit just one persons body exactly. This is arguably one of the most difficult parts of my job, as everyone is so different! I would then source and buy a cheaper substitute fabric for a first toile which should give a good resemblance to how the style will work when finished. Next I need to cut the cheap substitute fabric out using the pattern I have drafted and then sew it together accurately and press it, but without finishing it entirely as that is not required, as this garment is not going to be worn other than for a fitting. A toile is going to be the mockup or prototype of the finished garment, in which the fit of the garment is corrected and the style is adjusted if needed. If any fitting or style changes are required at this point, I will then adjust the paper pattern and the toile. If there are sufficient enough changes to be made, then a second toile will be made and again fitted until this is correct. It is important for the client to know that any major style changes made after the first toile is made will result in extra costs being added to the final price, due to the required time spent on making changes.
Next I need to make a follow up appointment with the customer and fabric is either bought by the client on my advice, giving them an accurate measurement for what is required or I have been asked to source usually a choice of fabrics for them. I have to make sure that I provide a good selection of fabric samples in various colours, types and weights and also know what price range they are considering. Buying the correct fabric is obviously very crucial, I would not want to spoil the whole design by using a cheap fabric that does not hang or drape as expected, but equally it is not necessary have to pay a huge amount to make a beautiful garment! Another thing to remember is the colour of the fabric, whether or not it suits the client's complexion and flatters them, after all I want them to look amazing in one of my dresses! The chosen fabric then needs to be tested on the sewing machine with the thread to make sure it sews nicely and will press flat. The machine needle also has to be the correct one for the type of fabric, for example , I could not use a leather needle on a chiffon as it would pull and spoil the fabric! I also need to identify wash care instructions for the customer as some special fabrics may only be hand wash or dry cleanable and the iron guidlines are needed too. The other important thing to remember is the other items that may be needed to finish the garment, so I will need to source threads, zips, linings, buttons, fastenings or trimmings, for example a beaded applique piece that may be required for the front of a dress.
When it is time to cut the fabric I need to make sure my cutting table is clean and clear of clutter, then I need to work out the best way to lay the fabric and how to be as economical as possible. This I usually worked out before I order fabric as I need an accurate measurement to know how much to buy, although I add a small allowance for any faults that may be in the cut length of fabric. Laying up the fabric may be quite straight-forward, however if I am cutting a print that needs to be matched or a lace with a scallop edge, the pattern pieces need to be placed in a careful manner to suit the design of the garment. Matching a design when laying the top and underneath layers of fabric and cutting slippery fabric is also a challenge. A good pair of tailors shears is required for cutting neatly as I do not want to cut leaving any jagged edges as this will affect the finished garment by cutting into the seam allowance. I have also to make sure I do not mix up cut fabric pieces or lose track of the right and wrong sides of the fabric as this could be time consuming trying to unpick or re-cut pieces.
For a first toile fitting, I need at least an hour for me to check not only the fit and hang of the garment, but to make sure the look of the design and the proportions are correct on the client, remember that I have translated a sketch into a flat pattern and then into to a three dimentional toile and some times things are nearly 100% right first time but sometimes one or two more fittings are required depending on the body shape and complexity of the style being made. Only once the client is completely satisfied with the fit and style of the toile will any fabric be purchased and then cut. Next I have to make the rest of the pattern pieces, for example linings and facings in which to finish the garment in a good quality way. The way the garment is finished off can make all the difference to the look of the whole garment, for example making sure there are no threads hanging, it is beautifully pressed, the seams are neatened cleanly and lined if required.I then still need to source trimmings and linings for the garment, so for example zips, buttons interlinings and matching threads. Once all is all done, I can then cut the actual fabric using the corrected pattern and start assembling all the various components of the garment on the sewing machine. Sometimes hand tacking is required first dependining on the fabris or pattern shapes used. Sample cutting or cutting out individual garments, is in itself a job in the fashion industry and is a very skilled position especially if the fabric that is being cut is fine and slippery. Making one garment from start to finish would be the job of a sample machinist in a fashion studio and the machinist would have to work closely with the pattern cutter, who would help with advising the machinist on how to put the garment pieces together in the correct way and how the garment needs to be finished. Sewing a garment can take several hours and sometimes many hours due to the fabric or style. When machining especially, I need a high degree of precision and concentration to sew bespoke garments, especially when operating my industrial sewing machine, accidents could happen if I did not focus properly! Machining various processes is an accumulated skill, for instance, I am able to sew a zip into a dress, that is one proccess, I can make a shirt collar, that is another proccess, but there a many different proccesses which make up garments and years of sewing experience produces this skills set. As I am sewing, it is important to underpress the garment each time I sew a new proccess so that the fabric lays flat when it is finished. I also use various attchments to my machine for different functions such as a zip foot.
Fishing garments in the correct way for the type of fabric or style of the garment is a skill in itself and a poorly finished garment can spoil the whole garment. Lining garments adds a quality to the garment but also lengthens the life or wear of the garment.
PRESSER AND FINISHER
The first thing to do is press or hand sew in any interlinings or stiffening materials required and then start joining all the pieces together by machine. There is an order of how I need to construct the garment depending on the style. As each bespoke garment is totally unique, it takes longer to make as I have to figure out the best way to assemble that particular garment, as I am not remaking one style over again as a factory garment is made. Each process in a factory would be repeated by one machinist at a fast pace, this is called piece work. I have to consider which process will need to be done at each stage for the best outcome. Next I decide to how finish the inner seams to stop them fraying, this has to be done in the way that will best suit the thickness of the fabric, so for example if it is a silk lightweight dress then I would join the garment together with french seams. I next join in any facings, zips and linings. Some degree of hand finishing is also required which is also a skill which has to be observed and not used widely in everyday manufacturing.
Once the garment is completed and top pressed I then hang it and cover it to keep it clean and crisp for the client. I usually finish the garment completely before I arrange a final fitting of the garment. Usually the garment is perfect and the final payment is paid, although there may still be minor changes to be made.
It is important to have a good understanding of my clients needs, keep up with current trends and to be flexible, as I never know what is going to happen from day to day and every customer is unique! The process of making a unique garment or outfit is labour intensive and therefore can be costly, however it is a worthwhile investment and the resulting garment will be one to treasure and hopefully be worn over and over again! Many skills are involved in creating a bespoke garment and therefore I am not just a dressmaker!
BUILDING A SLOW FASHION BUSINESS WITH CAROLINE BRUCE
18TH MAY 2016 - By Editor - In FEATURES / DESIGNER INTERVIEWS
Growing up as the youngest of 4 girls, mostly dressed in her older siblings hand-me-downs, Caroline Bruce grew up dreaming of one day having her own clothes. She fulfilled that dream when she left her “nine to five” and set up her own bespoke dressmaking business, followed up by the launch of her own womenswear brand.
Unlike many of her peers, Caroline is growing her business slowly and organically, strategically orchestrating and ensuring professional longevity.
We caught up with her to find out more about her business and journey to date.
Take us to the beginning….what sparked your passion for fashion?
I think the initial interest was from an early age, making clothes for my Cindy doll from the fabric remnants of dresses my mother was making for me on her Singer. This is a family industry! I just loved playing with the fabrics and trying to work out how to shape the cloth around the body in different ways. My mother made most of our clothes, either sewing, knitting or even crocheting things! We didn’t have much money and as the youngest of four girls I was last to inherit any garments and I just thought one day I would love to have my own beautiful clothes to wear. As a teenager, I started to make my own clothes and never wanted to look or dress like anyone else. I was very inspired by the wildness and explosion of creativity of the eighties!
How did you start in the fashion industry?
At sixteen, I began a Clothing Technology Diploma at the Kent Institute for Art and Design in Rochester. This was so I could learn how to design and make a garment from start to finish, which was my initial goal. After completing the course, I left college and the same week got a job as a sample cutter. My ambition was to work my way up in the industry.
What made you set up in business and be a freelance designer as opposed to working within a company?
Staring my own business has been a life-long dream of mine. It has been there in my head for years! Sometime back, I came to crossroads in life and decided to take the plunge and set up on my own, knowing that if I did so, I would never look back!
It wasn’t a difficult decision in the end because I knew I had all the practical skills to be self- sufficient and to design and make any garment from scratch. I knew I could survive. I have created everything you see on my website myself and I have always managed to earn money freelancing as a pattern cutter, sewing etc.
However, my dream has always been to start and grow my own designer label. There is so much opportunity out there for new, creative industries, much more than when I started out. Due to the internet, it is global now. I think the more unique your product is the better chance you have of creating a stand out brand.
One of the things I am passionate about is having the freedom to be creative and having fresh ideas and putting them out in the world. I look in the usual high street shops and just feel so deflated by the lack of interesting garments. I feel a bit disturbed by the effects of mass production and that is why I am creating a slow fashion alternative.
I feel I have been working towards this all my life and now I am creating my own designs. I feel privileged to be doing what I love! Working for various companies, gave me the knowledge and experience I needed to start off and go it alone. I make bespoke garments and this has enabled me the opportunity to create my own range as well as earn a living as I grow my online fashion business.
What challenges have you encountered along the way so far being your own boss?
Primarily, I think cash flow is my main challenge as I don’t have proper funding at the moment.
I am also trying to improve getting exposure and sales business through my website. Having my profile on utelier.com has been a good platform for me. As a result, I was invited to show some of my garments at the LSE Student Union fashion show in Mayfair this February. A highlight for me so far!
At times, I find the sourcing of some fabrics I wish to use difficult. My aim is to use fabrics made in the UK, luxury and preferably eco-friendly materials. This is proving harder than I expected. The bottom line with me is that the product is a beautiful garment and made in the UK. Design and quality comes first!
How do you work with clients- what’s the process usually?
For the bespoke side of my business, a client will usually have an idea of a dress they want made and so I arrange a face to face consultation and explain to them the process. It is important to explain the time frame of making such a garment, as certain things can take longer than expected. For example, finding the client the right fabric for the dress for what they have in mind. I may need to sketch out some ideas for the client. A deposit is required before any work commences and I then make a first toile from a similar type of fabric to the finished garment. I then arrange a first fitting, having sourced swatches to show the client. At the fitting, any style and fit issues will be identified and either the toile will be amended or another toile may be required. The fabric is then chosen and ordered. The final garment is cut and made and then the client will come for a fitting. The remainder of the invoice is paid and if no further amendments are required, the garment is taken away.
What is the one thing you wish clients will know/ be aware of before they contact you and commission work?
The client having a really good idea of what they want commissioned helps me so much. It is also useful if they know what colours and shapes suit them. Providing me with a picture before the consultation is a great help. They also need to be aware of the timescale involved and the necessity of providing a deposit.
You say that you are building slowly a “sustainable fashion business that respects people and the planet”- can you explain and elaborate on this?
I am building a slow fashion business, not fast, mass produced garments. I want to create local employment and keep the business in the UK, building good relationships with the people I work with. I want to create something to be proud of and have as little impact on the environment as possible. I don’t think we have to be hard faced business people to survive in this world. I think it is more about co-operation and meeting mutual needs.
What importance do you place on working relationships with clients and suppliers?
A good working relationship is crucial. Without trustworthy and reliable contacts I couldn’t get on with my job. It is essential to treat others as you wish to be treated yourself and expect the same in return.
To create such relationship, you need to communicate clearly and honestly with people. Be realistic in time frames. With suppliers, making sure you know how long things take to deliver and being clear on any added costs before you order is essential.
What would you say your weakness is as an entrepreneur?
My weakness is not knowing when to stop and have a break.
What would you say is your strength as an entrepreneur?
I am a highly creative and imaginative person. I use my ideas to produce unique designs. I am passionate about what I do and have the practical skills to make my dreams become a reality.
If you could start over again, knowing what you know and with all your experience and knowledge – what will you change and do differently in your career?
I wish I had become my own boss at a younger age and had the confidence to just go for it! I don’t regret it as everything in life happens for a reason but sometimes you just need to take bigger risks and have more faith in yourself!
Have you had a mentor or anyone who has been instrumental to your success and growth as an entrepreneur?
I have been so lucky to have accessed various forms of community support through my local council, the Women’s Enterprise Kentand other sources. This has helped not only build up my support network and my knowledge but my own self confidence as a business woman.
In the near future, I plan to continue my training with a business mentor to develop my knowledge and skills further. I feel a fashion business mentor would help advance my business and help me achieve my dreams.
On a personal level, I have had so much support from family and friends. This has kept me going when I have felt I was struggling with things or taking too much on, which we all have to be conscientious of. I guess I have had many mentors who have supported and encouraged me in a variety of ways.
As a relatively new business woman and entrepreneur, I have been lucky to have many new and exciting opportunities come my way. I was thrilled to be invited to show some of my garments in the London School of Economics Annual Charity Fashion Show in February this year and was not going to pass this up! Having the chance to take part in a show, with my own work, is something I have not been able to do since I was at college and now I was able to show my own designs which I hope will showcase my business and the attract interest in my designs.
I had already made a capsule collection of six pieces (currently on my website) which I was initially intending to show when I was asked to participate. However, I wanted to make more statement pieces to really show what my business and label is all about. The theme of the new capsule collection is "The Power of a Woman", contrasting the strong, powerful side of women, against the softer more vulnerable side. This is depicted using strong shapes in the silhouettes and the use of leather and crisp heavy satin, alongside the soft, fluid lines created by using the crepe de chines. I was inspired to create a collection around strong women, based on the media's portrayal of powerful women in society in general, thus leading me to examine high profile dominant female characters from history to recent times.
Above Satin Pleated Jacket with Peplum /Flare Satin Skirt with Sleeveless Tie Neck Blouse
Above Leather and Crepe De Chine Backless Dress/ Leather and Crepe De Chine Cuff and Cape Dress
Above Hooded Heavy Satin Evening Gown with Flared Skirt
Above is the final line up!
I was so pleased that two of my garments were used in the finale! There were so many talented designers taking part in the show, such an inspiration. I love seeing what other designers create!
I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to show some of my designs and would like to thank the LSE SU fashion show organisers, The DSTRKT nightclub, in central London, for holding the event and to the photographers for the use of the amazing images. Also I have to say a big thank you to family and friends for the support they have given me as I started out and continue to grow my business.They all know it is a passion I have had all my life, so to finally be doing the thing I love the most is amazing for me! This has been a rewarding experience for me and one that has inspired me to keep creating my unique designs!
Me outside DSTRKT nightclub, London, waiting for the show to begin!
From October 2015 to April 2016 I have been taking part in the Women's Enterprise Kent course. I was so pleased to have been accepted onto the programme as many Kent women entrepreneurs applied for but only 30 of us were lucky enough to get a place!
The scheme was a government initiative set up by the equalities office to help promote women in business all over the country, develop their digital skills and grow their businesses, and was all completely free! My local council, KCC, organised the events throughout the six months the programme was running in various interesting locations. Some of the events were open to women who were not on the core programme but still welcome to join in the tutorials, which led to lots of extra networking!
Here is Lucy, one of the course organisers, giving us a brilliant tutorial on Canva, which I enjoyed discovering, as it is a creative platform totally new to me! Much of what I personally learned I did not even realise was available to me and we were taught how to use these tools for our businesses. Many notes have been made as there was so much information to take in and I'm sure I will be applying as much as I can to my business in the coming months and years.
Photograph courtesy of Jane Mucklow Photography
Above is a photograph from a Lunch and Learn session held at County Hall in Maidstone with the guys from Engine Room Web, helping us to create our websites and analyze what we had built already. These were just two the amazing professional speakers we were lucky enough to have expertise advice from. Others included Zoe Cairns,TV social media expert, helping us with Facebook tips, Emma Cox with Linkedin advise, Lucy Hall on Pinterest and Daniel Knowlton on Snapchat, to name a few!
Above at Port Lympne another beautiful photograph courtesy of Jane Mucklow Photography
My most memorable and enjoyable event was the day we spent at Port Lympne in January. This was a huge networking and learning event hosted by the fabulous Eileen Brown, CEO of Amastra and set in the most amazing location on a beautiful sunny day! We had a speed social media session, lots of networking, great speakers including Susannah Schofield OBE and from Allister Frost from Wild Orange Media and some great food!
We had many useful tutorials from accounting to Pinterest, with Deborah Turner owner of You Image Consultancy, to name a few. Above we had a tutorial by Laura Gillespie from Pie Accounts on cloud based accounting which I found helpful!
Here are just a few of us celebrating in the photo booth on the last day of the course at County Hall, we couldn't fit everyone in!
The final event was a treat for us all with more amazing speakers including Hilary Steel editor of Kent Women in Business (KWIB) magazine and founder of Kent Women in Business Awards (and more!), plus Penny Power OBE, who has written the Manifesto for Digital Business Britain, not to mention award winning marketing agency owner Amy McManus amongst others!
All the women on the course were invited to showcase their business during the event and so I took the opportunity to display a selection of my dresses! Also wearing one of my designs!
Me and my dresses! Photographed by the lovely Jane Mucklow of Jane Mucklow Photography!
The final event was very inspiring! Personally for me, I could look back and see how far I have come and what I have achieved! I believe it has had a very positive impact on me by improving my confidence not only within my digital skills, but has boosted my self confidence too! There is so muchto tellthat I have NOT included in this blog, but if you get the chance to learn anything new or are interested in starting your own business then my advice is just do it! Also if you get the chance to take part on this course next year I highly recommend it!
One last note is a massive THANK YOU to all those who organised, hosted, contributed and of course to those responsible for funding the programme, the government and let's hope it is run for a third year and longer!
Close up photographs of my satin pleated peplum jacket (and me below with Louise, another of the organisers of the Women's Enterprise Kent programme) by Nikki Price Photography www.nikkipphotography.co.uk
Tea and cake at every event!