Why do we designers / tailors have SUCH a bad reputation around here?!
Chei! We “tailors” have suffered! Lol! This seems to be the constant song around here! Why oh why are we now the SI unit for lies, dishonesty and disappointment?!
I was still talking about this same issue on the Martwayne Facebook group a few weeks back (yes we do have one for sharing ideas, seeking advice on anything fashion related that is bothering us and also asking for critiques on our work – you can click here to join us Join our Martwayne Facebook Group) and made a mental note to write about this topic. I had procrastinated on it for so long until I saw this meme on Twitter:
… and I said to myself “okay nah… enough is enough. It’s high time I addressed this on the blog”.
Yes oh… I won’t lie.. I laughed and laughed when I saw it! I really could not stop laughing. But as hilarious as it is, and sad as it is to admit…. it actually is true! It is a really serious issue around here! And truth be told, this awful reputation is really wrecking our reputation as professionals – and believe it or not… our businesses as well!
You will notice that I keep using “we”. Yes because around here, anyone who churns out clothes for people on a bespoke or customised level is called a “tailor” regardless of whether they are a fashion designer or a seamstress. So for the sake of this article, I am lumping all of us together and of course using the term “tailor” very loosely.
I have been on both sides – on the customer side and on the designer / tailor side as well. I have been both a victim and a perpetrator (if that is the correct word to use). Victim because that was the real reason I went into fashion, perpetrator because I also held on to people’s clothes and at some point even offered refunds simply because I could not deliver on some of the work in record time. So I am not here preaching to you or casting stones.
But one thing I can tell you for free was, for every single time I did not deliver, it was because I was sooooo eager to please, I simply could not say NO even when I knew I could not deliver. You know around here, saying no is sometimes misconstrued as incompetence. So for the sake of being seen as a superhero, I would take on the work and work myself into a frenzy until I finally broke down! Or worse, found just anyone who could sew lines together and they ended up wrecking my work even more! I can never forget when I had to repeat a particular jacket 3 times or when I missed a very good friend’s wedding simply because I did not want to disappoint someone who wanted to wear that jacket that weekend! Not only did I not attend the wedding, I still did not deliver so what was really the point?!
But then again, the disappointment our customers face even go beyond not delivering! Most complain that even after wasting so much time, the clothes are crap! The finishing is awful and the clothes just do not fit and they wonder why on earth it took you so long to deliver crap! And yes, I have been there as well! The sheer horror on my face when my tailor delivered clothes that were only big enough to fit a barbie doll!
So being on both sides of the fence and from talking to designers on things that go wrong – and yes everything that can go wrong does go wrong – I thought it would be good to talk on just 5 things that could perhaps save us from this constant embarrassment and insults we keep getting from everyone!
Image from https://loanscanada.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/5-tips-mortgage.jpg
So here are 5 tips on keeping your sanity, your reputation, your customers and of course your bottom line in check!
1. Never promise on what you know you cannot deliver on!
Yes no matter the puppy eyes they give you, do not give in! You know why?! When you do not deliver, they will not admit or even care that they gave you the clothes only 2 days before! And why should they?! You agreed to deliver so they are holding you to it!
By now you should have an idea of the number of jobs you have on ground and how long it typically takes you to deliver. Whatever time it takes, please add an extra week or two to it?! You know why?! Because anything and I mean anything that can go wrong can go wrong when you least expect it! Your generator can break down, your machine can break down, your tailor can break down, heck even you can break down! Does the customer care?! NO! They don’t! And really, they should not!
Have that policy in place and stick to it! Anyone who knows they have a wedding and they want you to churn out the clothes for them should bring it 2 or even 3 weeks before not 2 days before the event! And no don’t think offering them express “this one time” will work! If you can deliver once, it automatically means you can deliver again and it will never stop!
As I learnt in KPMG, it is better to under-promise and over-deliver than vice versa! Stick to your guns always!
2. Always insist on a fitting!
Yes many of them do not like coming for fittings I agree. But I always say, it all depends on how you portrayed your business from Day 1. Someone on the Group stated that when you ask a customer to come for a fitting, they seem to think you are not good enough – else you would get it right one time!
You know what I say to that?! How many brides sit at home hoping the dress fit one time?! Aren’t they the ones who keep harassing you that they want to try on their dresses just in case anything happens, it can be fixed before the day?!
Fittings are standard practice globally! Can you see? This is our very own Deola Sagoe fitting a dress. Will we say Deola Sagoe is not good at what she does or do we think she is incompetent?! Far from it! We all know she is GREAT at what she does but guess what?! She still has to do a fitting so errors can be corrected before finalising the dress. If she still does a fitting despite how fab she is and her client can still come in for a fitting, why can’t you?!
Please please please insist on a fitting. You are better off someone thinking you are incompetent and you then dazzle them with the perfection of your work than you being embarrassed they will think you don’t know what you are doing and then you prove them right! If they don’t want to come to you, then please go to them. You can even bill them for it! But guess what?! If things go wrong, then like @cherox said, they will stay up all night thinking of how to lynch you! And put it up on twitter! And you will be lucky if they do not call you out and wreck your reputation! So you are better off being safe than sorry!
3. Please document all discussions and agreements!
I cannot stress this enough! In fact better still, sign a contract or an agreement if possible! This is key if you want to save yourself and keep your sanity! In fact, ensure that contract even has pictures of what you both agreed! Honestly, you will save yourself a whole lot of headache! Because some customers will come halfway through and claim they never asked you to use red thread. Then it now becomes a “he said she said” matter. Something else I learnt from KPMG. Document everything! Screenshots, snapshots, signature under the very design, everything! And that contract must include a penalty for gaining weight or losing weight or changing your design half way though the order.
And please, collect 85% of your money upfront. But also put in the contract that if you mess up, they get something back – because it won’t be fair of you to collect all the money and then mess up!
But yes, documentation is key! I cannot stress it enough! And if they don’t want to sign, then you better ensure all your conversations are via WhatsApp, email or Blackberry so you can take screen shots as evidence in case things go wrong! Honestly it will save you like you cannot imagine!
4. Please EDUCATE your customer!
In fact I couldn’t have said it better myself!
Most think they know how things work! I always tell my students – especially the beginners “I bet you now have a renewed respect for your tailor right”?! And the answer is always the same – YES! Many clients think they know but they do not know! You need to tell them – actually teach them how things work!
If you are working with an invisible zip, tell them the pros and cons of using the zips and how to actually work an invisible zip so it does not break.
If they bring you a style to copy – well first if I were you, I would politely refuse to copy. But if they insist, you need to let them know if the fabric or their body shape will not work with the design. And either bow out or let them sign a document with a disclaimer.
If they bring a design you do not understand, please bow out if you cannot create it. Never ever EVER use your customer’s work as a practice run! Always create a sample first just to see how it will work out and if you cannot deliver, please return it. I remember during my sister’s engagement, she had given a lady in Canada her engagement outfit to create for her. After a week or so, the lady returned it saying she could not work with the fabric. I ended up churning it out for her. Was my sister disappointed in the lady?! Probably. Did the lady save herself?! Yes! There really is nothing wrong with saying “I don’t know”. Yes it might be tough yes and yes they may think you are not that good but trust me, you are better off walking away from the project rather than diving in and getting seriously burnt!
And last but not least…
5. Please have a conscience when sewing for your customers!
Your clients deserve a well made garment no matter how little they paid for it! Do not close your eyes to a bad stitch or awful finishing! You might think they do not notice but they do! They probably don’t say anything because they feel that is the best they can get around here. Sometimes I turn clothes over and I am SHOCKED at what I see on the inside and you want them to pay you and not scream at the work?! How?! They paid for a service and they deserve the best! Please give them a top-notch outfit!
Okies that’s about it! Of course I could go on and on but I will stop here! It will take a very long time to rid ourselves of this reputation but if we start one day, before we know it, the effects will be felt and our customers will appreciate it!
Here’s wishing you a good start to the week! 😀