Last year, ones who met me and found out I sew asked me the ever known question “do you do alterations?”. Some even assume upon me telling them I sew that I automatically will fix their outfits. And finally I’ve had a person actually tell me, rudely, “well if you don’t do sewing for others what’s the point in telling people you sew?”. So today I want to talk about saying no and being confident in your talents.
I have encountered many situations when sewing for others. First and foremost I had to decide if that was something I wanted to do in the first place. Then I had to hone my skill, because let’s be truthful, tailoring and mending skills come with practice and knowledge of sewing and clothing. The reality is, if you’re truly good at sewing enough to fix or alter an outfit or garment, you should be charging tailor prices. Tailor prices are not cheap, but people are. I’ve encountered people who say, “well it’s just a small hole you can fix it easily” (and if it’s so easy, I think to myself, why don’t you do it?), or they say “the tailor wanted to charge me x amount, I figured you’d do it cheaper”.
People get really bold when they approach you for a service. They mean well with the things they say but in reality you are viewed as a cheap deal to people who speak to you like this, not a full service. And these are unprofessional people you don’t want to start business with.
Another thing I’ve encountered is that sometimes people don’t know their own budget. Because of that I undersold myself a lot. Once I started working for a bridal shop doing alterations, I learned a LOT about cost. Brides will pay $40-120 for a hem or added lace to the bottom of a dress. Granted the work sometimes reflected the cost, but I was in awe that people would pay so much money instead of just getting a dress with the hem already altered. What I learned from that experience is that people who know what they want will pay whatever they can to get it. That doesn’t mean these people are just spending money on anything though, they recognize the quality of what they are paying for. Sometimes this isn’t the case when you’re working in RTW alterations. A person can come to you with a large split garment or rip, you charge $20, and they say that’s expensive. Interestingly, these very words can come from the same person who went to the $40 tailor. Or the person who said they’re open to paying any price.
Remember when I said I undersold myself? I used to lower my price for people to get business mending their clothes because I wanted business and needed extra money. And then a small task would take hours to complete because I’d have to turn that garment inside out and move mountain and valley to close that hole, or tedious hand sewing.
Because of this, I stopped underselling myself. Honestly, I hate alterations. I barely do them for myself. I realized then, knowing that fact, if people asked me then I would charge prices that reflected a large fraction of tailor’s prices because I was in fact TAILORING their garment. I didn’t get many flies with that vinegar, believe me.
However I did get one really awesome client who valued my work, knew what she wanted and was upfront in her willingness to pay that. We had a professional relationship where I was the worker and she was my customer and it went successfully well putting extra cash in my pockets for my worth without any strings, excuses or issues. THAT is the type of client you want to do alterations for.
Recognizing your worth
The fact of the matter is, sometimes creating a whole new garment is easier than mending one. If you’re not into that I suggest not taking on tailoring. However, being a seamstress for mending taught me a lot about clothes and how to work with a garment rather than think it useless.
Remember, there is nothing wrong with simply declining a project or alteration job. If you don’t sew for others, that’s your choice and nobody can tell you you’re obligated to make something for them. That fact alone doesn’t make your hobby less important, it actually makes it even more valuable. There is also nothing wrong with declining due to low expectations of price. If you feel a person doesn’t see your value, you wouldn’t want a work relationship with them. Don’t undersell yourself unless your talent matches your price.
Also, don’t just do mending jobs for money. If you start mending clothes because you actually like it, that’s one thing. But if you have no experience with working with people or tailoring garments making money will be your only focus and that doesn’t make a good business. It also puts undue pressure on yourself to make that garment look like the price you charged for it, and if you have no experience this can be a time-consuming and difficult task. Make sure you know what you’re doing so you can confidently charge what you’re charging so you can complete work you take pride in.
Don’t be afraid to explain and evaluate things either. I had a friend once ask me why I explained certain price points. Different people call for different strategies. While one person may hear a price as reasonable, another may view the job as simple and not worth it and thus may need to be shown why you’re charging a certain amount. I no longer work for people I have to explain prices to, but that is up to your discretion. You will learn to know your customer.
Knowing your customer can lead you to a better understanding of people. I’ve learned that cheap people are not my customers. To learn that though, I had to learn the worth of my skill. If you cater to cheap people, your word of mouth reputation from them will be that you did the job “cheap” or “affordable”. People who recognize quality and value won’t be looking for a deal on your work, and when you do work for them, THAT’S what you’ll be known for by word of mouth, “quality work”.
A final thought, don’t let people diminish your hobby as a person who sews. Seamstresses and men who sew literally make this world stay warm and clothed and if it was such a trivial easy task, everybody would be doing it. It takes patience, discipline and dedication that most people complain they don’t have which is the reason they don’t sew. You sew because you love this hobby and it allows you to do what you love.
Tailoring can be a satisfying job with the right clientele. Getting the experience, not being afraid to charge what your worth from that experience, and learning the way people work can all contribute to a successful business relationship with others.
I hope these tips helped.
Have you ever encountered people who didn’t see the value of your craft? What did you do? I want to hear. Let me know in the comments!