I’m wearing my bullet-proof underwear today, so I’m going to put it out there. Three posts back, Michelle noted that Blue Ginger Doll, an “indie” pattern company, seems to have shut down with little or no notice. Sure enough, when I went to the site, it has a little closed sign hanging on the page. I have no affiliation with Blue Ginger Doll, and I don’t know the owner/designer, so I have no idea what may have happened. I have linked to their patterns from Gorgeous Fabrics on occasion, but that’s the extent of it. Hopefully everything is okay with the owner. I never want to see small business owners go through bad things (voice of experience talking here). But it got me thinking about the general ebb and flow of companies, pattern companies in this case.
Round about two years back, it seemed like there was an explosion in the number of patterns being offered by new companies. I’m not talking StyleArc or HotPatterns, both of which have been around for several years and whose designers have industry chops. I’m talking about patterns offered by bloggers who may or may not have had design training. They seemed to come flying out of the sewing blogosphere (SBC) like fireworks on New Years. There were tons of reviews on blogs, there were calls for pattern testers all over, there were blog tours, there were hordes of me-too iterations of certain patterns.
Then it died down. And of late, some of the independent pattern companies seem to have fallen off the radar. I’m not going to mention any names beyond Blue Ginger Doll, but I’m sure you can come up with your own list. Here’s what I think happened.
Too many beginner styles, not enough beginners.
It seemed for a while that we were seeing many of the almost-exact-same patterns cropping up from different blog/design sites. Easy skirts, easy tops, pajama bottoms, headbands. All were introduced with the goal of getting newbies into sewing. I love it! I applaud it! The more the merrier when it comes to sewing.
The problem arises when saturation sets in. There are only a certain number of beginners out there, and there are a sh*t-ton of pajama bottom patterns. It’s hard to justify paying $20 for an a-line skirt when you can buy the same pattern (not on sale, mind you) for $3.99 from New Look. Add to that the attrition rate when a newbie sew-er hits a wall or runs up against fit or generally gets frustrated, and you quickly run out of customers. Which brings me to…
Cute idea on paper, crappy execution IRL
Ever been seduced by the soft lighting, beautiful backgrounds and cute posing of the model in some of the photographs of independent patterns? But after purchasing the pattern, you discover that the bodice makes your boobs look saggy (thanks, I don’t need help with that), the sleeves are drafted so no matter what they won’t hang correctly, the skirt is cut in such a way that it makes a skinny little thing look like she gained 20 lbs.
There’s a reason fashion designers – most of them, anyway – go to fashion design school. There they learn not only how to sketch and use CAD software. They also learn things like proportion and balance, and technical skills like grading and dart manipulation. Very few of us are born with the innate ability to drape or design a piece of clothing that will look good on bodies of different sizes. And…
If it doesn’t look good on the “designer” it won’t look good on me.
There are two parts to this. First, there’s the general design. I’ve seen some patterns modeled by the designer that look, frankly, awful on them. Yet fangirls heap adoration on them while 97.8% of the blog reading public is thinking, “Whut??” Second, even if the design is good, the construction is so poorly done that it causes The Pressinatrix to Clutch Her Pearls and Fan Herself. If a pattern’s photograph has puckery seams, dimply darts, uneven necklines and wavy hems, it is not ready for prime-time. And that kind of shoddy construction reflects a lack of respect for the customer. If a designer can’t be bothered to put in the work to make their design look fabulous, why should they expect anyone to buy their pattern?
Does it age gracefully?
This question has two meanings. First – is the style one that will look fresh a few years later? That’s a really hard thing to accomplish, and kudos to those who can design looks that do. The second meaning has to do with the wearer. A certain style may look fantastic on a recent college grad who is starting out. But how does that look translate to that same person 4 years later when she is looking to move into a more senior position? Many of the early SBC patterns were designed by and for a young demographic. I applaud that, we need new sew-ers! But we all change, and our wardrobe needs change. Which brings me to…
It’s a dragon that needs to be fed, constantly.
Fashion is almost literally a churn-and-burn industry. Way back when, there were two “seasons” in fashion: fall/winter and spring/summer. Now companies like Zara and H&M are releasing collections – not looks, collections – every 5 weeks. It’s the same with pattern companies. The big ones have Early Fall, Fall, Halloween, Holiday, Winter, Early Spring, Spring, Early Summer, Summer… and it goes on year after year after year. If you’re a one-person shop, that’s a pretty daunting schedule to try to keep up. Even 4 seasons a year is a lot. Something has to give, whether it’s the quality of design, or the health of the designer. You know that adage, “the reward for hard work is more hard work?” Yeah, this.
It’s a piece of clothing, not a lifestyle.
Have you ever noticed that the biggest lifestyle brands out there don’t offer clothing lines? Martha Stewart, Real Simple, Jonathan Adler – not one of them. Ralph Lauren could be considered an exception, but he doesn’t have a TV show and he doesn’t publish magazines or books. He just has a team of designers who do all the work under his umbrella. Alabama Chanin is probably the closest thing to a lifestyle brand that also designs clothing, but the aesthetic is geared to a narrow audience. A narrow audience who has lots of time to do hand-sewing, or has the disposable income to purchase hand-made-in-America goods. Lifestyle brands are aspirational. Maybe people aspire to wear a-line skirts and hoodies. Not people I know. Designs with a slight edge and beautiful, unusual details? That’s aspirational.
So, is there a shakeout in the “indies”? Perhaps. Certainly the number of patterns released from the SBC seems to have slowed from the flood of a couple of years ago. It’s probably fashion Darwinism at work. Some will survive, others won’t. Others will come on the scene, and perhaps one or two will be the Next Big Thing. I do hope that we continue to see new pattern designers, and I hope those pattern designers come out with cool designs that appeal to many. Because when they do, that means…