So firstly, apologies that it's been a while since my last post. My excuse is that I've been working! Real, paid, grown-up working! You see whilst I get my Muklet on, and get this business going, I still need to pay for the proverbial bread and butter. (My husband occasionally apologises for not being a banker and keeping me in the style he thinks I could become accustomed to. (The truth is I always preferred the scruffy arty types around the Lower East Side to the suited and booted ones around Wall Street).
If you've been following my blog you'll know that since being made redundant last December, I've been struggling to find another design job that I'm passionate about and that would get me home in time to see the boys before bedtime. Well after six months of looking, guess what? Two came along at once!
I love designing clothes and accessories. It's all I've ever wanted to do. I knew from around the age of seven that I wanted to be a fashion designer and that's when I got my first hand-cranked sewing machine. By my 14th birthday my parents had realised this wasn't going to be a passing phase and gave me my wonderful Pfaff Hobbymatic. This machine carried me through making dolls clothes and toys, to costumes and cushions for GCSE textiles, a final collection for my degree in Fashion Design and most recently, my first batches of Varsity Tees and Cushions for Muklet. It's only in the last couple of months that this trusty friend has been retired to my mum's house and replaced by a brand spanking new Janome (maker sewers will appreciate this machine porn talk!). Once again the machine was thanks to Mum, this time investing in her entrepreneurial daughter.
I'm not ready to abandon the fashion world entirely yet. I've made a conscious decision to focus on freelance work to give myself flexibility and maximise the time I spend with the boys. And I've been very fortunate to land a couple of projects I'm really excited about and to be working with people whose company I genuinely enjoy.
I've had some particularly interesting conversations with my coworkers. As women of roughly the same age who have all worked for both big and small brands, we seem to be in a similar place in our lives. In my 20s I thought I knew it all and had the world figured out. With no commitments or major responsibilities, I could invest all my energy in work and my social life. In my 30s I'd figured out who I was, who I wanted to be, who I wanted to spend the rest of my life with and where I was headed next. Now getting close (very close) to 40, I know what balance I am striving for in my life. I don't feel I need to prove anything to anyone anymore. In my career as a fashion designer I've worked the long hours, made the sacrifices, put my stamp on the brands I've designed for. I've also seen behind 'the green curtain'. It's awesome to love what you do creatively, but fashion can also be a beast of an industry if I'm honest.
This time I've felt that being a mother has definitely counted against me in my search for a job. I've been very clear in interviews that I would mostly need to leave work on time as I have a family. I don't see any point in not being up front about this. When I see things like 'looking for someone who lives and breathes the brand' in a job description, I read 'you must basically work your life around this job and be ready to cancel your plans at a moment's notice if we decide to change the collection for a zillionth time and need you to get the updated designs out asap' (and breath!). So if there are candidates who are 10 years younger, don't have kids, and are asking £10k less then me, then for the most part I'm headed for the 'no pile'.
That said, I am now working with some awesome people. One company not only has women with a similar mindset to me, but the whole culture of the place is open, supportive, non judgemental and what can be most rare when you're working somewhere 'trendy', it's not cliquey!
The clients I'm working with are smaller brands but with big plans. I've discovered this is where my passion lies. I relish identifying opportunities in the market, getting in the head of the customer and hopefully delivering a compelling wardrobe that she will want to buy. I joined most of the big brands I've worked for at a time of change or growth. I was part of the initial team at Lauren, Ralph Lauren that relaunched the brand after it was brought back in house in 2002. I joined Jack Wills at a time when they were still relatively unknown and based out of a large tin shed in West London. And I got my teeth stuck into Barbour after an old colleague went in to head up the women's and children's ranges and got me onboard to help focus the brand and grow their markets in the UK and Overseas.
Through working with these smaller brands I'm continuing to learn and develop. I'm starting to understand more about how you grow a company and why you would choose to seek outside investment or remain a privately held company and reinvest capital to grow your business slowly. I look at Barbour, still a privately held company. They've been around 120 years so they seem to be doing alright!
It seems I'm not alone in this 'slashy' style of working – in my case Design Consultant/Founder of a Kids' Brand (and of course rather fried parent). In the last two months I've crossed paths with five designers and developers all freelancing at the same time as running their own clothing label. In fact many moons ago on my student placement at M&S I was fortunate to work in the room next to Orla Kiely who was working as a freelance Childrenswear Designer whilst building her business with her husband.
I recently enjoyed reading this article about 'Slashy working' on The Pool.
Keeping one foot in the fashion pot keeps me connected with the industry and helps me develop as a designer, a creative, a maker and hopefully a successful business woman!