Author Topic: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?  (Read 1556 times)

shelivesthedream

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Ive been thinking a lot lately about what I want out of life, and one of the ideas I keep coming back to is starting a small womenswear line. Id love to design a line of dresses aimed at professional women (lawyers, bankers, that sort of work environment) that are discreet, stylish, easy to wear and easy to care for. Something that you can throw on with the same ease a man puts on a shirt and suit in the morning and know it will look good (without being ostentatious or sexy) all day, and then you can machine wash and tumble dry at home. But something thats been thoughtfully designed with a good fit and lots of those little details a discerning eye will appreciate. Something timeless and resilient, both aesthetically and practically. Maybe eventually expanding into eveningwear (with long sleeves and pockets!) if it went well.

Im still at the mulling stage at present, but I wondered if anyone here had any ideas about how to start small and lean and bootstrap it. I have FU money but I dont want to risk it all on something that might not work out. Id rather start small (and maybe even stay small) and work my way up gently. Lots of womenswear advice involves designing a collection (of whatever size), having it manufactured (lots of money upfront), and then trying to sell it (either to shops or direct to customers). Obviously one of the problems is that even if its only one dress in one colour to begin with, youve still got to make it in different sizes. Would there be any merit in making-to-order? (But Id have to hire that out as piecework as I wouldnt be able to guarantee to be available at the time as I have freelance work myself.)

I do have a friend who I think would make a good business partner (on the finance and marketing side, and is also my ideal customer) if shed be interested, but she has a full-time job which Im not about to suggest she quit to follow my pipe dream. Another reason to start off slowly. I'm planning to sound her out in a week or two, but it would be nice to have a firmer idea of what she might be getting into.

Do any of you have any advice for ways I could bootstrap such a venture and lower the risk involved? Id be happy not to make a massive profit, and happy for it to never become my full-time job, but its one of those bucket list things that I would really love to have a go at.

Lepetitange3

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #1 on: July 15, 2017, 12:40:39 PM »
Well there always Etsy.  Start super small and make on demand and then if you see enough interest and profit, then transition into manufactured.

lexde

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #2 on: July 15, 2017, 03:16:58 PM »
I was actually posting in my journal last week about how I wish I could just have a uniform. 10 outfits that would last several years if cared for that weren't too flashy but aren't frumpy either. As an attorney, you would make my life SO much easier if you can pull this off and I would be happy to advertise for a worthwhile product (after trying it myself) in the womens' legal networking groups I am a part of. I know I'm not the only one seeking this holy grail.

I agree to start to-order and then scale up when you get traction.


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shelivesthedream

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #3 on: July 15, 2017, 03:30:54 PM »
That's so good to hear, lexde! Not flashy but not frumpy is exactly what I'm going for. I really do believe I could pull off the design. The business side... I dunno. Part of it is working out how to make production economical on a very small scale initially. If you don't mind me asking, how much would you pay for a "holy grail" dress? One that ticked every single box? Also, what are your boxes?? What would the perfect dress be like?
« Last Edit: July 15, 2017, 03:34:20 PM by shelivesthedream »

lexde

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #4 on: July 15, 2017, 03:41:17 PM »
Honestly as a mustachian I think my numbers might be skewed low! I'd probably pay about $100 tops and that's if it would last. I've seen dresses in others' closets for 3-4x that though. I think it's important to narrow down your demographic even more (upscale for earners, or more basic wardrobes for office wear that won't break the bank). You need to visualize every aspect and have a clear path carved out I think.

If it was durable, came in several basic colors (at least black, charcoal, merlot, and aubergine), was comfortable and flattering, and came in slightly different styles so it doesn't look like I'm copy/pasting my work week (even though that's totally my goal) I'd drop $1200 on an 8- or 10-piece wardrobe.

Then again if the product was perfect you could likely get a lot more than that!

My "perfect dress" boxes would probably be: color and slight cut variations (necklines etc), comfy for all day wear, cool/breathable, basic but stylish, quality materials (good stitching, quality zippers, etc), and durable. Machine or hand wash would be a plus, too. I'm guilty of occasionally tossing dry clean stuff in the wash and carefully pressing it but I know that's really not the way to go.


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Lepetitange3

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #5 on: July 15, 2017, 03:59:27 PM »
I would wear this too, and I'm "work" from home (I'm FIRE but I have hobbies that pay sometimes).  But I don't like to do the usual mom-yoga all day thing except for when actually working out lol.

If you had a stylish uniform I could pop on, you'd have my money too.  I would say it being some kind of stretch-knit with a good drape is important so it flatters all body types.  Also breathable!! 

I think I'd pay $100-200 for something like what you're aiming for if the quality was there.  I also vote for navy in a basic color pallet.  Also pockets.  Actual pockets stuff will fit in.  Also to consider, I don't like to wear anything much shorter than knee length.  So not frumpy but I've aged beyond any desire to be perceived as sexy.

KMMK

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #6 on: July 15, 2017, 04:14:27 PM »
I'd contact Madge (Miss Madge?) - I can't remember what her forum handle is - someone help me! She had a dress company for a while.

I agree, if you could give me something that:
- looked professional enough
- was still comfortable
- was easily washed and dried
- had pockets

I'd be all over that.

I agree about the length - I don't want shorter than knee length either.

And I'd want it not too low cut and enough shoulder coverage, and thick enough material, that I wouldn't have to worry about what I was wearing underneath - bra or camisole-wise.

Edited to add: Googling dresses is depressing. There's a reason I only have one that I wear for business over and over. Everything is either a style I wouldn't wear, a colour I wouldn't wear, or too short. There isn't the right combination. Never mind trying to have pockets.
« Last Edit: July 15, 2017, 04:24:18 PM by KMMK »

Lepetitange3

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #7 on: July 15, 2017, 05:02:33 PM »
Not to mention skin-tight?  When did skin-tight become business appropriate? 

madgeylou

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #8 on: July 15, 2017, 05:49:01 PM »
I'd contact Madge (Miss Madge?) - I can't remember what her forum handle is - someone help me! She had a dress company for a while.

Hey that's me! My company was similar to what you are describing -- we did one style of dress (a simple shift) made to order for each client. We used vintage and eco-friendly fabrics only, and it was a lot of fun!

Some of the challenges we faced that you might, too ...

First and worst -- people are terrible at taking their own measurements. Like, hilariously bad. We sometimes had clients who were dissatisfied with the fit of their dresses, so I'd ask them to measure again and get 1-3" difference from what they sent me the first time.It's a tough thing to navigate because I never knew if they screwed up their measurements, or if I screwed up their pattern. There was no way to know, but I had to fix or replace each unsatisfactory dress.

Another issue --in my experience,  fabric is either expensive, or shitty, and wildly variable from lot to lot. I remembering ordering 5 yards of this beautiful double-knit wool to test with, then placing a larger order a few months later, after I'd built a patten around that fabric's drape, weight, and stretchiness. The second lot was completely different from the first one -- much thicker and stiffer. I was heartbroken, but other folks in the fashion industry told me it's a problem even for big suppliers.

I would suggest looking around on Etsy to see what the more successful clothing sellers are doing. To me, it seems most of them are working in very simple, boxy shapes in knits, mostly, with defined sizes, to make it less necessary to do anything custom. Custom is very time consuming.

That being said, if you do decide to offer customizations, there are software packages you can get that produce patterns for particular measurements ... I would advise getting one of those if intend to offer custom fit at all. I developed my own but it took me a while.

Hope this helps! It's a fun and demanding business but it would be so cool to see you carve out this niche for yourself!

shelivesthedream

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #9 on: July 16, 2017, 01:47:48 AM »
Thanks for replying, madgeylou! Do you remember what your initial investment was in terms of time and money? What did you have to put in before you sold your first dress? My vague plan is to do standard sizes but sell by bust/waist measurement, not by 8/10/12, and to have a "soft" (stretchy) or slightly adjustable waist. (If nothing else, I certainly go up a dress size after eating a big dinner!) I hear you on people being terrible at taking measurements, but at least it's standard sizing? Also, if you don't mind me asking, what sort of prices were you charging and what sort of money were you making? And why did you quit?

In terms of boxes to tick, I'm hearing:
- professional colours (primarily black, grey, navy, also burgundy, maybe a mid-blue, forest green, camel)
- proper functional pockets
- high neck, long sleeves, calf-length, fitted but not tight
- not see-through
- washable (I had been thinking of majoring on cotton shirting if I could find some that's nice and thick - sort of menswear with a twist thing)
...which is pretty much the list I had. It just boggles my mind that the high street fails so badly. Please let me know if you have anything else!

I'm also not sure how plain to go. Like, I'd been thinking that what I want is to create the perfect plain pattern and then alter it up to make it look different but still have the same fit. Kind of like theming the dresses. For example, imagine one themed around a waistcoat with contrast collar and sleeves and a double breasted bodice. Or another themed around a suit with a central contrast panel and little lapels either side. But obviously each dress would be quite distinct so people would be able to tell if you wore it two days running! Should I go plainer? I guess I could offer a cheaper plain option and then "themed" ones for more.

In price terms, I'd been thinking more expensive. In the UK, Hobbs is a standard nice-ish high-street work-appropriate chain (that manages to make stuff way too tight or short and doesn't do pockets...) and they retail for average 150. I had been thinking 200-300, on the basis that Hobbs doesn't tick the boxes and isn't for keeps and people pay 150 for that! Also, seems like I'd be able to make the business side work (based on some "I reckon" numbers) for 200-300/dress.

shelivesthedream

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #10 on: July 16, 2017, 01:52:42 AM »
Thanks so much for everything you've said so far, and please let me know if you think of *anything* else!

Villanelle

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #11 on: July 16, 2017, 03:05:53 AM »
There's a women's dress company out there (blanking on the name) that offers customizable elements, but still standard sizes.  So in one dress, you can have 4 length choices, 5 sleeves, and 3 collars, and you order a size 8, below the knee, bracelet sleeve with a peter pan collar (or high v-neck, or whatever).  I am not a seamstress, but it seems like having the same body of the dress and then different components from which people can choose would allow you to have one basic pattern, but still allow people to tinker with it to their taste, and also to make the dresses different enough that their wardrobe doesn't look like it's a dozen of the same dress. 

madgeylou

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #12 on: July 16, 2017, 10:56:46 AM »
Villanelle, I think you're thinking of e-Shakti. They do some nice work -- with customizable elements of the design and also custom sizing.

Shelives -- my business partner and I did several months of testing our pattern algorithm at our own expense before we sold anything. Then we launched with a Kickstarter that sold out in one day! That gave us $5000 seed money and also some good feedback on our beta dresses before we really launched.

We were selling dresses for $150-200. Sometimes we'd have sales so folks could get dresses at around $100. Our seamstresses got $50 for cutting and sewing each dress. Then there was about another $50 in fabric and notions and overhead costs for each dress. So we made $50-100 on each dress. Sometimes I'd sew them myself to save money on subcontracting, too.

When I closed the business, I was making enough to pay my bills (around $2k a month profit) but I really didn't want to run a dress making business -- I wanted to work on the tech side, to figure out a way to get measurements other than people measuring themselves poorly, and to build a platform for designers to be able to easily offer custom fit clothes. I couldn't get funding for this, though, so I decided to close the business and get a real job again.

If you're not doing custom, then it should be easier -- at least you'd be able to do easy exchanges if the fit wasn't right. My company was committed to serving underserved segments of the fashion market -- mostly plus sized women -- which was the reason I started the company in the first place and which also made our job more difficult.

You might want to check out a company called Universal Standard. They are offering well-made clothes in simple, cool designs, and they sell direct to customers (rather than going through retail stores). They are killing it -- I think their sales have grown something like 1000% over the last year. They are targeted to plus size but there's probably lessons to be gleaned from them for straight-size offerings, too. Their customer service is AMAZING, which is super important when getting folks to decide to take a risk buying clothes online.

One more thing that threw me for a loop -- people are legit crazy about their bodies. If you offer sleeveless, someone is going to ask for sleeves so they can cover their "disgusting arms." If your dress hits at the knee, someone will ask for longer to hide their "fat knees." And so on and so on. Like, almost every day I'd receive requests from women that were about these topics.

And it bummed me out in a major way, because I'm not that crazy about my body, fat though it is, and I honestly didn't realize how mental many people are about made up things like cankles. It was so overwhelming to me to stare into the gaping maw of how much many women actually hate themselves that it inspired me to write my book. Being a human woman -- it can be tricky!!

shelivesthedream

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #13 on: July 16, 2017, 12:20:33 PM »
Madgeylou, this is such great info, thank you so much! I am so grateful that you're willing to share! If we were in the same country I would totally bring you round some homemade biscuits!

I have significant experience of how crazy women can be about their bodies. Things that I didn't even realise were "a thing" to hate. I'm kind of fine with my body (apart from my gnarly feet :)) but it bugs me that it's so hard to find non-exposing clothing, even from classic middle-aged brands like M&S. And the no-sleeves-no-pockets thing... I have heard that so many times! I don't understand why retailers don't listen.

How did you manufacture your dresses when you were just starting out? You say seamstresses - were they outworkers you gave the fabric and patterns to? You made to order, right? How did you manage production so they were done in a timely manner? And you must have bought fabric and notions upfront, right? How did you know how much of each kind/colour to buy?

PoutineLover

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #14 on: July 18, 2017, 02:51:24 PM »
I know of a small local designer who makes everything in house with her team of seamstresses. She sells online and in store. She designs an item, makes a run of it, and does small alterations for free (I think). Once it's all sold it's gone, but sometimes she restocks popular items. There are always end of season sales with the leftover pieces. She also makes customized items on demand. Her prices are fair, more expensive than generic stuff but still affordable, especially considering the quality. I think that if you had one really good design, and could produce a run of it to sell on etsy, you would get an idea of the demand without too much investment, and then you could start scaling up.
I would totally buy a dress like what you described, for me it would have to be comfortable, flattering, modest enough for work but not frumpy, pockets are a huge plus, and easy to care for (machine washable, no ironing). Ideally something I could bike in too. Let us know if you end up going ahead with this!
(this is the shop I'm talking about http://lustreboutique.ca/en.php)

madgeylou

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #15 on: July 18, 2017, 05:53:39 PM »
How did you manufacture your dresses when you were just starting out? You say seamstresses - were they outworkers you gave the fabric and patterns to? You made to order, right? How did you manage production so they were done in a timely manner? And you must have bought fabric and notions upfront, right? How did you know how much of each kind/colour to buy?

On the seamstresses -- I had a friend who was a costume designer for a local theater and sewed for me during off times to top up her pay. She suggested a friend too, so then I had 2. They were my main folks. I sewed a lot, too, some months when I had more time than money.

I'd see each of them once or twice a week to pick up the last batch of dresses and give them the new fabric, thread, notions, and pattern. I'd put everything in a big ziplock bag to keep it all together. Sometimes I'd cut the pieces out for them, in which case they got paid a bit less (I think I paid $30 for me doing the cutting, $50 if they did it -- cutting is a pain in the ass). I told customers to expect their dresses to ship in about 2 weeks and almost always made the deadline.

On notions/fabric, most of our sales were dresses made out of vintage fabrics we sourced on eBay, etsy, and Pittsburgh thrift stores. We bought batches of thread and zippers in neutral colors and just used them up as needed with the vintage fabric. I'd say 90% of our sales were vintage, so there wasn't a whole lot of opportunity for standardization.

Hope it helps!

lhamo

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #16 on: July 18, 2017, 11:36:52 PM »
What you want to do sounds like a more customized version of what this company is doing:

https://mmlafleur.com/

I heard an interview with the founder recently -- I think it was on Farnoosh Torabi's So Money podcast.

The custom clothing space is tough -- there was a wonderful business profiled on the podcast Startup that was founded by a woman who started making custom suits for butch women after she had trouble finding a good-fitting suit for her wedding.   She really threw her heart into it, but just couldn't make it financially -- they recently did an update and I was so sad to hear she had close her business and was still paying off debt....

Well I'm the Debbie Downer tonight, eh?  Sorry.  I guess what I am trying to say is I hope you can make a go of it, but it is a tough tough market so be sure you go in with your eyes open to the finances and limit your exposure.

Wherever you go, there you are

shelivesthedream

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #17 on: July 19, 2017, 03:13:02 AM »
This is all SO SO helpful! Thank you so much!

I think the business I would like to run would involve having a very small core line (maybe one core dress made in four different plain colours - navy, black, grey, camel) and then limited editions of other designs and fabrics. All machine washable with sleeves and pockets and below-the-knee hemlines! I will pitch at 200 for the core line and 300 for the limited editions, aiming at city-type women. I am aware that I will need to have a spectacular product for people to want to spend that. All sold in standard sizes (no custom fits!) but by bust/waist rather than 8-10-12 (personal crusade of mine...) I will provide extensive guidance on how to take those simple measurements!

So, the sketchy plan is as follows...

- Chase down my friend to see if she would like to get into the business/marketing side of it. If not, I have a backup friend. If neither, have a serious talk with myself about whether I want to do this on my own.
- Decide what kind of financial investment I'm willing to make up front (for: materials, sewing, photography, packaging for posting)
- Spend a loooooong time developing an absolutely brilliant first dress, cutting the pattern and sourcing materials
- Hire a photographer to take some awesome photos (I have a friend who might model for me)
- Make a small run of them in one colour (I know how I can get in touch with some freelance sewers through my current work) --> either by having them made upfront or by getting all the fabric and notions in and having them sewn up to order. I should not do the sewing myself because it will stress me out hugely and I will mess it up because of the pressure. If I can find somewhere to cut out, I could cut out myself.
- Do website (probably on shopify - I have done websites before so am confident I can do this myself)
- Sort out email list and maybe some social media (I suck at social media, I should not attempt it personally)
- Make sure I can ship to Canada and the US :)
- Start shouting and see how it goes! Try and get feedback from everyone possible. If it goes well, roll the profits over into making more colours of the core dress and/or a limited edition (and more sizes if there's the demand! I reckon I'd start with 32/34/36/38 - sorry, larger ladies), rinse and repeat.

I would totally buy a dress like what you described, for me it would have to be comfortable, flattering, modest enough for work but not frumpy, pockets are a huge plus, and easy to care for (machine washable, no ironing). Ideally something I could bike in too.

What makes a dress bikeable? Length? Skirt width? Something else?

Sometimes I'd cut the pieces out for them, in which case they got paid a bit less (I think I paid $30 for me doing the cutting, $50 if they did it -- cutting is a pain in the ass). I told customers to expect their dresses to ship in about 2 weeks and almost always made the deadline.

How complicated were your dresses? By which, in a roundabout way, I mean: how much did they make per hour? I feel like what I'm going to design will take a while to make up (all them pockets!) and I'd like to pay piecework not by the hour so I know how much it will cost me, but I'd want to set a fair rate.

shelivesthedream

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #18 on: July 19, 2017, 03:21:47 AM »
Well I'm the Debbie Downer tonight, eh?  Sorry.  I guess what I am trying to say is I hope you can make a go of it, but it is a tough tough market so be sure you go in with your eyes open to the finances and limit your exposure.

Thanks for the advice, I need every bit I can get! I'm very concerned not to invets too much at the beginning.

Playing with Fire UK

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #19 on: July 19, 2017, 05:59:10 AM »
+1 for pockets.

For a dress to be good for cycling, I find the fit across the bum to be most important, the issue I have is as the suit fabric folds over the seat and around my hips, it stresses the seams and pulls into my hip crease or abdomen (does that make sense?). It needs a certain amount of give in the skirt, but a step-through bike is fairly forgiving. I'm not above hitching up a skirt to go over a cross bar ("men's" style bike), that could be just me. If I could wear a dress and ride a Boris Bike I'd consider it a winner and deal with my own cross bar bike.

I work in the City, even as a mustachian, I'd totally pay 200 for a dress that would last and wash well, BUT, I don't know how you (not you, but any seller) would convince me that your dress would last (rather than be advertised as hard wearing and washing well and then look terrible after a couple of washes). For a dress that I could put in a suitcase and then wear at the other end without ironing I'd pay 300 and give you my firstborn child. But again, I don't know how you'd convince me that it would actually do that, rather than just being advertised as such (I've been stung before). A charcoal or dark blue would be my ideal colours.

I'd need so much help with the measurements, the thing I think I have trouble with is how tight the tape should be, and should I be breathing in or out (bust measurements - not a clue!).

Lepetitange3

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #20 on: July 19, 2017, 06:32:28 AM »
She convinces us with a cute time lapse YouTube video of someone doing all those things with the dress.  And then her early adopters stellar reviews convince everyone else :)

shelivesthedream

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #21 on: July 19, 2017, 07:16:35 AM »
She convinces us with a cute time lapse YouTube video of someone doing all those things with the dress.  And then her early adopters stellar reviews convince everyone else :)

Brilliant! And basically yes on the reviews. A few brave people will have to take the leap first.

To be honest, the first thing I'd do is simply convince myself by making one and wearing it a lot! But there are real things that one could do: wash the fabric two dozen times and post before and after pictures. Draw attention to construction details like felled seams. Absolutely have a video of someone actually DOING stuff (cycling, lifting something down from a high shelf without the shoulders riding up to their ears...) in it. I have several friends who work in the city, so maybe I could convince them to be in the video and tell all their banking/lawyer/doctor friends in exchange for one of my prototype dresses, then get pre-orders (maybe via Kickstarter?).

Playing With Fire UK:
Yes, I know exactly what you mean! I have a skirt that does that. Feels like it's pressing on my femoral artery!

I hadn't put so much emphasis on non-iron in my mind, but now I'm thinking maybe I should? I wear shirts a lot and a quick whizz with an iron doesn't seem like that big a deal to me. But maybe a video/photos of it coming out of the tumble dryer relatively crease-free should be on my list!

I know I am going to have to spend a lot of time developing my first dress pattern and finding some decent fabric. But I am getting so excited about this! I have reserved a book about starting your own dressmaking business from home at the library. It's got amazing Amazon reviews. Hope it comes in soon! I am also realising that there are so many things I want this (potential!) business to do: to explode bullshit number sizing, to produce practical clothing, to make women feel like they look good without having to look sexy, to use environmentally friendly fabrics and packaging, to pay people a good wage for skilled work... It's kind of overwhelming. But I think the fact that I'm not going to *do* anything until I've made one perfect dress for myself and tested it will give me time to mull all this over and stop me trying to run before I can walk. I'm shy about selling things so I know I need something I can really believe in.

I also just thought how awesome it would be to be on Woman's Hour talking about this in a few years' time... Niche goals :)

MsSindy

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #22 on: July 19, 2017, 07:21:20 AM »
I've also had visions of a clothing line for petite women.  I did a lot of research and ultimately decided I could make a hella lot more money working 9 - 4, with much less stress and worry.  Now, I may dip my toe in the fashion world once I retire and do it on a more limited basis... and maybe even just do it as a non-profit (still throwing around ideas!) .... or I may just go hiking everyday  :)

Anyhow, what gave me an incredible view into the details is Kathleen Fasanella - The Entrepreneur's Guide to Sewn Product Manufacturing. http://fashion-incubator.com  Totally worth spending the money on her book - very detailed and eye-opening; also her website is a wealth of information.  Happy reading.

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #23 on: July 19, 2017, 08:30:07 AM »
Ugh, I want this so bad.

PoutineLover

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #24 on: July 19, 2017, 08:34:04 AM »
For me a bikeable dress has to be long enough to cover my ass while riding, and not tight around the legs so I can pedal comfortably. Something breathable and that doesn't show sweat very much. I just mentioned the ironing thing cause I don't have an iron, but I think most people do. I don't have a super fancy job now so I haven't really needed one, but I think your target customers likely do have irons. And since you mentioned environmentally friendly packaging.. the store I was talking about sews little bags from the scraps to put the clothes in, and then I use those bags to organize my sock drawer. I've always liked that there's no waste. Oh, and one thing about fit. It's so hard for me to find clothes that fit me around both the waist and the hips, presumably because stick mannequins are straight up and down and don't have an hourglass shape. If you can solve that problem, I'd wear it every day.

BabyShark

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #25 on: July 19, 2017, 08:49:06 AM »
. . . I just mentioned the ironing thing cause I don't have an iron, but I think most people do. I don't have a super fancy job now so I haven't really needed one, but I think your target customers likely do have irons. . . .  Oh, and one thing about fit. It's so hard for me to find clothes that fit me around both the waist and the hips, presumably because stick mannequins are straight up and down and don't have an hourglass shape. If you can solve that problem, I'd wear it every day.

Edited because I don't bike to work (facepunches all around but I haven't ridden a bike in 16 years after a nasty spill when I was 10...) but I own an iron and a steamer, and while they're great (I mostly steam things), not having to worry if my clothes are wrinkled in the morning is a godsend.  I would definitely prefer my nice clothes to be wrinkle free.  One less thing to worry about in the morning.

And yes, PoutineLover I have the hardest time too!  If it fits my waist, it's SO tight around my hips, and if it fits my hips, it looks baggy everywhere else.

Lepetitange3

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #26 on: July 19, 2017, 09:09:17 AM »
Yes... this may not be what everyone else is referring to but my issue is I have a sizeable behind ;) straight sheath dresses don't work well....

Playing with Fire UK

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #27 on: July 19, 2017, 10:24:31 AM »
She convinces us with a cute time lapse YouTube video of someone doing all those things with the dress.  And then her early adopters stellar reviews convince everyone else :)

Who was that (male) TV news presenter who wore the same exact suit every day?

There is a range of pants (underpants) called exofficio that has a story of people travelling 17 countries in six weeks with two pairs of pants (washing and wearing).

Could you combine these into both product testing and advertising? A lot of those 'challenges' you see are bullshit, but I could see this one working.

I agree that non-iron may be a step too far. I have an iron, and am required to iron but greatly dislike to iron.

Ugh, I want this so bad.
+1

shelivesthedream

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #28 on: July 20, 2017, 02:17:30 AM »
You guys, something great happened last night! I went to a market research discussion and got talking to this man afterwards as we were walking to the same station and turns out he's an ex-fashion journalist so I kind of jokingly mentioned my idea and then he started giving me feedback and we ended up sitting in a cafe in the station for 45 minutes while he talked to me about it! Mainly on the marketing end, but also just about the whole concept and small fashion lines in general because he knows lots of designers with their own small lines. I've taken the receipt for the coffee I bought him and started my new accounts envelope :) And he gave me his contact details so I can get in touch with him for another chat when I'm a bit further down the line. I asked him right as we were leaving where on the "definitely yes" to "definitely no" scale he would answer on the general question "Should I try and do this?" and he said "definitely yes". He said I had a really clear mission and market and brand, and it was good I hadn't been to fashion school and was just trying to create a miscellaneous fashion line because I obviously had a real purpose. Yay! Yay! Yay!

Unfortunately I'm just about having to start dealing with day job stuff again, but there's a week in early September I've pencilled in as pattern week. So I can so some gentle research (staring at random women in the street and a lot of time on Pinterest :P) until then so I can work out exactly what I want to do, and then actually have a serious go at cutting the pattern. And then maybe I can take photos and ask my MMM focus group for feedback!
« Last Edit: July 20, 2017, 02:19:16 AM by shelivesthedream »

Lepetitange3

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #29 on: July 20, 2017, 02:22:30 AM »
I am down for more!  You can definitely do this :)

shelivesthedream

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #30 on: July 20, 2017, 02:24:47 AM »
On fit...

I'm pretty pear-shaped, so I'd envisaged a semi-fitted top, a fitted waistband, and then a free-ish skirt (certainly not 1950s wide, but a bit gathered/A-line). Based on a 5 second google, kind of like this: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/e8/fd/28/e8fd28dafc1181304e4f75c232c4989f--fall-fashion-trends-autumn-fashion.jpg ...but different! I'm not going for a vintage look at all, but see the collar, the long sleeves, the longer length, the belt but not skintight...

On ironing...

One of the things that makes me hesitate about non-iron is that as far as I'm aware, non-iron finishes on things like shirts are achieved with an industrial chemical process. I'm mulling over the feasibility of being all organic. However, something to investigate!

shelivesthedream

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #31 on: July 20, 2017, 02:25:45 AM »
I am down for more!  You can definitely do this :)

One of the things I talked to the extremely nice man about was how incredibly risk-averse I am. Had to avoid outing myself as a Mustachian! But I really need to persuade myself that I don't have to wait until everything is 100% planned and predictable.

Villanelle

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #32 on: July 20, 2017, 06:35:46 AM »
On fit...

I'm pretty pear-shaped, so I'd envisaged a semi-fitted top, a fitted waistband, and then a free-ish skirt (certainly not 1950s wide, but a bit gathered/A-line). Based on a 5 second google, kind of like this: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/e8/fd/28/e8fd28dafc1181304e4f75c232c4989f--fall-fashion-trends-autumn-fashion.jpg ...but different! I'm not going for a vintage look at all, but see the collar, the long sleeves, the longer length, the belt but not skintight...

On ironing...

One of the things that makes me hesitate about non-iron is that as far as I'm aware, non-iron finishes on things like shirts are achieved with an industrial chemical process. I'm mulling over the feasibility of being all organic. However, something to investigate!

I don't know how dressy you want them to be, but what about ponte?  It generally washes very well, doesn't need ironing, and is very flattering and forgiving.

That silouhette you posted would be great for me, an extreme hourglass.  Very busy, very hippy, proportionately smaller waist.  However, I absolutely will not (and really, can not, for the most part) do anything with buttons on the chest.  They pull and gap.  Part of that is my bustiness, but even on lest chesty women, it seems like chest buttons are a bad idea as either the top is so large that it's unflattering, or it can pull when they are leaning, reaching, and bending.  My $.03!

shelivesthedream

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #33 on: July 20, 2017, 06:51:30 AM »
On fit...

I'm pretty pear-shaped, so I'd envisaged a semi-fitted top, a fitted waistband, and then a free-ish skirt (certainly not 1950s wide, but a bit gathered/A-line). Based on a 5 second google, kind of like this: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/e8/fd/28/e8fd28dafc1181304e4f75c232c4989f--fall-fashion-trends-autumn-fashion.jpg ...but different! I'm not going for a vintage look at all, but see the collar, the long sleeves, the longer length, the belt but not skintight...

On ironing...

One of the things that makes me hesitate about non-iron is that as far as I'm aware, non-iron finishes on things like shirts are achieved with an industrial chemical process. I'm mulling over the feasibility of being all organic. However, something to investigate!

I don't know how dressy you want them to be, but what about ponte?  It generally washes very well, doesn't need ironing, and is very flattering and forgiving.

That silouhette you posted would be great for me, an extreme hourglass.  Very busy, very hippy, proportionately smaller waist.  However, I absolutely will not (and really, can not, for the most part) do anything with buttons on the chest.  They pull and gap.  Part of that is my bustiness, but even on lest chesty women, it seems like chest buttons are a bad idea as either the top is so large that it's unflattering, or it can pull when they are leaning, reaching, and bending.  My $.03!

I'd kind of discounted ponte somewhat earlier in my thinking process, but for reasons which are now somewhat redundant. I will re-input this into my mental matrix! Maybe something to test on some willing victims when I'm further along: ponte vs shirting.

Is the chest buttons thing just because most shops have like three buttons from neck to waist so you end up with massive gaps between them? I'm personally a big fan of the way buttons look, and seems to me like if they were close enough together (every 1"? every 1.5"?) you wouldn't get the straining gappy problem. But as a non-busty woman, I ask you, a busty woman: am I wrong?

Lepetitange3

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #34 on: July 20, 2017, 07:45:50 AM »
I'm busty as well.  Buttons are hit or miss. Some companies sew a flap that goes behind the buttons which eliminates gaping.

Trying to attach pics so you can get an idea what I mean...

Villanelle

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #35 on: July 20, 2017, 08:49:57 AM »
On fit...

I'm pretty pear-shaped, so I'd envisaged a semi-fitted top, a fitted waistband, and then a free-ish skirt (certainly not 1950s wide, but a bit gathered/A-line). Based on a 5 second google, kind of like this: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/e8/fd/28/e8fd28dafc1181304e4f75c232c4989f--fall-fashion-trends-autumn-fashion.jpg ...but different! I'm not going for a vintage look at all, but see the collar, the long sleeves, the longer length, the belt but not skintight...

On ironing...

One of the things that makes me hesitate about non-iron is that as far as I'm aware, non-iron finishes on things like shirts are achieved with an industrial chemical process. I'm mulling over the feasibility of being all organic. However, something to investigate!

I don't know how dressy you want them to be, but what about ponte?  It generally washes very well, doesn't need ironing, and is very flattering and forgiving.

That silouhette you posted would be great for me, an extreme hourglass.  Very busy, very hippy, proportionately smaller waist.  However, I absolutely will not (and really, can not, for the most part) do anything with buttons on the chest.  They pull and gap.  Part of that is my bustiness, but even on lest chesty women, it seems like chest buttons are a bad idea as either the top is so large that it's unflattering, or it can pull when they are leaning, reaching, and bending.  My $.03!

I'd kind of discounted ponte somewhat earlier in my thinking process, but for reasons which are now somewhat redundant. I will re-input this into my mental matrix! Maybe something to test on some willing victims when I'm further along: ponte vs shirting.

Is the chest buttons thing just because most shops have like three buttons from neck to waist so you end up with massive gaps between them? I'm personally a big fan of the way buttons look, and seems to me like if they were close enough together (every 1"? every 1.5"?) you wouldn't get the straining gappy problem. But as a non-busty woman, I ask you, a busty woman: am I wrong?

On a bespoke piece, if the buttons were placed close together, it would probably work.  But on anything else, it would either have to be absolutely giantly over-sized in the torso, or there is simply no way the chest will fit well enough that buttons won't pull.  When things don't have buttons, they are a lot more forgiving.  So if you are doing 100% bespoke pieces, it would matter less (though years of shopping would have leave me hesitant so I'm not sure I'd buy, unless *maybe* the return policy was super generous).  But if it it is standard sizing, there is simply no way.

If you are set on buttons, do you think faux buttons would look cheap?


shelivesthedream

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #36 on: July 20, 2017, 09:07:17 AM »
OK, here's a left-field idea: what if the bodice were double-breasted? Would that make a difference? I'm not going to die on the button hill, but I personally like them and would like to make them work if I can.

I'm busty as well.  Buttons are hit or miss. Some companies sew a flap that goes behind the buttons which eliminates gaping.

Yep, I know what you mean. I think it's called a placket.

Lepetitange3

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #37 on: July 20, 2017, 09:41:32 AM »
Honestly, I'm nursing right now so I'm down for buttons as long as the world doesn't seem the bosoms in between them. 

To look put together again /easily/ sigh....I would gladly pay the 200 pounds.

Villanelle

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #38 on: July 21, 2017, 05:05:49 AM »
OK, here's a left-field idea: what if the bodice were double-breasted? Would that make a difference? I'm not going to die on the button hill, but I personally like them and would like to make them work if I can.

I'm busty as well.  Buttons are hit or miss. Some companies sew a flap that goes behind the buttons which eliminates gaping.

Yep, I know what you mean. I think it's called a placket.
Generally even worse for fit on a large chest.  You aren't going to be able to please everyone, of course, but I'd think you'd want to be as generic, with regard to body type, as possible, so it's worth at least chewing on. 

shelivesthedream

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #39 on: July 21, 2017, 11:17:27 AM »
OK, here's a left-field idea: what if the bodice were double-breasted? Would that make a difference? I'm not going to die on the button hill, but I personally like them and would like to make them work if I can.

I'm busty as well.  Buttons are hit or miss. Some companies sew a flap that goes behind the buttons which eliminates gaping.

Yep, I know what you mean. I think it's called a placket.
Generally even worse for fit on a large chest.  You aren't going to be able to please everyone, of course, but I'd think you'd want to be as generic, with regard to body type, as possible, so it's worth at least chewing on.

I've certainly added "different body types (particularly large bust)" to my beta testing/"challenge" list! It's a really helpful thing to have pointed out to me and to think about!

Are there any other physical things y'all wish you could do in a dress! A couple of my personal checklist items are: climb onto a chair, go up an escalator with zero chance of flashing anyone behind/below me, get something down off a high shelf, run for a bus. Also added: cycle, have a large bust and move arms!

shelivesthedream

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #40 on: July 21, 2017, 11:18:50 AM »
Another question (thank you so much for helping!): if a dress had pockets, what would you put in them? (Affects size, number and placement.)

PoutineLover

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #41 on: July 21, 2017, 12:20:08 PM »
Another question (thank you so much for helping!): if a dress had pockets, what would you put in them? (Affects size, number and placement.)
Mostly cell phone, sometimes wallet and/or keys

Lepetitange3

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #42 on: July 21, 2017, 12:25:14 PM »
The phone, dear god I want pockets that hold a phone.

thesvenster

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #43 on: July 21, 2017, 12:27:55 PM »
Has Ali Baba been mentioned for producing your clothes?

GoConfidently

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #44 on: July 21, 2017, 12:50:26 PM »
Pockets- phone, keys, maybe a small wallet. Mostly they need to be the right size and placement to comfortably use for my hands. I hate awkward pockets.

Are you thinking long or short sleeves? I think there's a reason so many retail dresses are sleeveless - sleeves are hard. If they're short, I hate it if they're the wrong length. Cap sleeves can be fine but I usually add a sweater over them. Mid-bicep can be fine as long as there's enough give for easy movement. The worst is that in-between length that sticks out on the outside and looks like it was made in home-ec. Does anyone else know what I mean? Personally, I love 3/4 length sleeves and hate full length ones because I have to wash my hands a lot during the day. I also live where it's hot most of the year and the a/c in public buildings is set at arctic temps. And I love a thick ponte material because it doesn't wrinkle throughout the day and is comfortable.

I like the idea of a shirt dress in that style, but I wouldn't pay your target price point for a shirt dress. I think you need a higher quality material if you want to charge more. Double breasted anything reminds me of a bad 80's Laura Ashley dress I was forced to wear as a pre-teen. I would also stay away from buttons. They're either going to look cheap or cost you a lot, and they'll slow down the production time.

madgeylou

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #45 on: July 21, 2017, 01:13:31 PM »
The phone, dear god I want pockets that hold a phone.

Same!

One thing you could consider is to encourage people to get their dresses tailored locally, and leave enough seam allowances and deep enough hems to allow for that. That way length and sleeves could be easily altered, side seams reshaped, etc.
« Last Edit: July 21, 2017, 01:26:56 PM by madgeylou »

BabyShark

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #46 on: July 21, 2017, 01:24:01 PM »
Yes pockets pockets pockets!  One of the things I whine about most to my male coworkers is that they get pockets in everything.  It drives me nuts that women's blazers don't usually have inside pockets for say pens or to put their phones or business cards.  I know we can't have them on the breast but even on the inside near the hip would be great.

Playing with Fire UK

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #47 on: July 21, 2017, 11:42:55 PM »
While we're dreaming, a pocket where everything doesn't fall out when you cycle would be great. Maybe a hidden zip (I have no idea if this is practical, but I have a shirt that has a hidden pocket and I love it).

Contents: phone, business cards, pen, notebook the size of a phone.

shelivesthedream

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #48 on: July 22, 2017, 05:47:59 AM »
I feel your phone pain, y'all. I have an iPhone 4S, which is way smaller than the 6 my husband has, and I struggle to squeeze it into most of my non-homemade pockets. Pockets on stuff I've made are big enough to hold my phone in one, keys and wallet in the other, AND fit my hands comfortably in them at the same time. I LOVE being able to go out without a bag if I don't need to bring anything else.
 
...so two pockets would be enough? I'd been wondering about side-seam pockets *and* some kind of welt or patch front pocket but that now seems like overkill?
 
Has Ali Baba been mentioned for producing your clothes?
Thanks for the suggestion, but I think I want to start very small, and I definitely want to produce in the UK. I know freelance sewers through my work, so I think that's where I'll start out.
 
Are you thinking long or short sleeves?
 
I like the idea of a shirt dress in that style, but I wouldn't pay your target price point for a shirt dress. I think you need a higher quality material if you want to charge more.

Definitely long sleeves. I know fit will be hard but there are enough sleeveless dresses in the world already!
 
And I am fast realising that sourcing a good fabric is going to be the single hardest thing. It is going to take a LOT of samples to find something that hits the sweet spot of quality while also not being so expensive that I have to charge a bajillion pounds to break even. And I am now recalling my issues with ponte I just cannot seem to find any that is mostly natural fibre. Afaik its just a manufacturing technique and theres no special reason it couldnt be made out of cotton with a small amount of elastane, but its just ALL polyester. And I am not making a 200 dress out of polyester.
 
Also, whoever suggested the fashion incubator website: wow. It is amazing. I am reading through all the posts and will probably end up buying the book a bit further down the line. She is so knowledgeable and up front about everything, especially about how to ensure manufacturing quality.

One thing you could consider is to encourage people to get their dresses tailored locally, and leave enough seam allowances and deep enough hems to allow for that. That way length and sleeves could be easily altered, side seams reshaped, etc.

I have kind of been thinking this, actually, but have been mulling over where would be a reasonable place to leave extra allowance while also not making seam-allowance-sizes different everywhere and having loads of extra fabric flapping around unnecessarily. Deep hem, obviously, and then I was thinking if I don't have a CB seam, I could do 1" seam allowances on the side seams, splitting the waistband with a side seam there too. So basically they'd be made up and a whole front and whole back and then seamed together in one down each side. Would it be overkill to extend the extra seam allowance into the sleeves? I have skinny arms so never have problems with tight sleeves, but I am aware that some women have more going on at the biceps than I do! Also, is 1" crazy much? I've done a lot of sewing for theatre costumes and the rule is basically never cut any fabric off ever, so I think my perception of excessive fabric may be warped :)

While we're dreaming, a pocket where everything doesn't fall out when you cycle would be great. Maybe a hidden zip (I have no idea if this is practical, but I have a shirt that has a hidden pocket and I love it).

Contents: phone, business cards, pen, notebook the size of a phone.

Yes, please dream big! I can make this stuff happen! Maybe not a hidden zip pocket, but there could certainly be a smart little flap on the pocket that can button closed (yes, buttons again... I just love them!) with two buttons.

former player

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Re: Advice on bootstrapping a small line of professional womenswear?
« Reply #49 on: July 22, 2017, 06:37:50 AM »
I would have been way up for this when I was working.  Still might be, as an easy way to move from dog-walking clothes to city-respectable.

On the wish-list -

1.  I'm busty: I agree no buttons on the front.  A side-zip works for me.

2.  Pockets: an essential selling point.  Patch pockets rarely work on a skirt.  I used to have a lovely skirt that hid the pockets in draping at the front of the hips - (a bit of draping does a lovely job of disguising any body issues).

3.  Three-quarter sleeves are my preference - they hide a lot without being frumpy, and pick up the dirt (office desks, conference tables and keyboards can be filthy) less than full-length.

4.  Very high necklines don't work on the very busty, as they overemphasize.  But no cleavage either, please.  Mid-way between collarbone and cleavage is about right for almost everyone.

5.  If you could include a chocolate colour for those of us who don't do black, that would be great.

6.  A wash and wear fabric would be ideal, with wash and iron next in line, dry clean only last.

Best of luck.
Be frugal and industrious, and you will be free (Ben Franklin)