Feb 152015
 

One of the reasons for closing The March Hare was, weirdly, the popularity of the Wednesday March frocks above all other things in the shop.  With the travelling and the work involved in actually running the shop, there just wasn’t enough time to make sufficient garments to keep up with demand and have a proper range of sizes and styles in stock.  Closing the shop, renting a workshop and concentrating on the made to measure side of the business seemed to be the way forward.  And it was.  It definitely was.  No question about that.

But it did close the main window on the world and plenty of people, both local and visiting, were very sad about the decision.  There has been a lot of feedback on this.  It’s a difficult one, because many of the people who mourned the disappearance of The March Hare had never actually bought anything in there; whilst they loved the style of the shop and clothing, it has to be said that not everybody had the budget or time for a made to measure, especially given the length of the waiting list.  So, realistically, the shop had to go.

When I closed it, the plan was to do some outside events, retro fairs, etc and maybe the odd pop-up shop, but swapping the huge 4×4 for a 2-seater sports job made the logistics of moving rails, mannequins and stock problematical and Miss Wednesday is still unconvinced that giving up her beloved Snippy (the hairdresser’s car) will end in anything other than driving misery.  So she’s bimbled along, making the made to measure and having a lovely time, but not getting out much and missing having that window on the world, which was good, albeit expensive, advertising.

On Tuesday 10th February, at 11.41 am,  a short Facebook message pinged in from a friend with a shop in Looe.  “Have you got a number I can call you on please?!!!”

This was either sent to the wrong person or a cry for help.  Number duly provided and Sharon called to explain.  She was opening another branch of Lovely Lane Interiors in Polperro on Saturday 14th and had already advertised that there would be some vintage clothing but that the person providing that part of the offering had been unable to go through with it and she wondered if there was anything left from The March Hare that could be put into her new shop to fill the gap.

Er, no.  Not really.  It is all made to measure now and any samples tend to get snapped up quite quickly.

One hour later, however, Miss Wednesday was in the workshop and Wednesday March Ready to Wear was under way!  It is not a huge range at the moment, given the timescale (3 days!) but there are plans for it.  The first pieces were delivered to Sharon at the new shop on Friday afternoon and will be added to as quickly as possible, whilst still providing the normal made to measure service.  The full range should be in place by Easter.  No pressure…!

Retro style frock with novelty print on white background

A bad picture of the first WM Ready to Wear design! Meet “Chessie”. Round neck, scoop back, gathered skirt. Ta dah!

Chessie is the first ready to wear design.  She’s simple, classic and classy.  The garments in the range will be offered in standard sizes (S, M, L, XL) and limited to one in each style/fabric/size to start with to maintain some exclusivity, certainly until we can gauge the demand.  But who knows where this may lead?

Chessie is priced at £85, which is considerably less than the made to measure garments and is currently available in a beautiful print of Edwardian ladies.  The fabric is designed and printed in England and the frocks are made in Darkest Cornwall – how’s that for Buy British?!  Grab one while you can.

Wednesday March Ready to Wear is currently only available from Lovely Lane Interiors, Polperro, Cornwall.  Drive to Polperro, park up in the carpark (do NOT be tempted to drive right down as it is very narrow and access is restricted to essential vehicles only) and wander on down the quaint main street.  Lovely Lane can be found on the right hand side, past The Kitchen restaurant and next door to the ice cream kiosk.  The sign is more easily spotted on the way back than the way down so keep your eyes peeled.  Inside you’ll find all manner of glorious furnishings and goodies to tempt you, along with some rather nice frocks and petticoats and a vintage tea room offering Cornish Tea and Coffee.

Interior shot of shabby chic interiors store

The Lord Mayor of Polperro, having opened the new Lovely Lane Interiors store there. WM Ready To Wear just behind him to the left! Photo stolen from Holiday Cottages Polperro

Meanwhile, Miss Wednesday is slaving away on the next design.  Watch this space…

Nov 092014
 

Last week’s blog post proved a tad controversial in some quarters and an eye-opener in others.  I wanted to get people thinking and it seems – certainly from the stats on my various social media accounts – that I’ve achieved that.  But following on from my whinge about the swamping of the market to the detriment of the smaller (and more ethical) businesses, here’s the next part of the problem.  Read, digest, discuss.  I like a good debate.

I whinged at length about the flooding of the ‘big cheapo brands’ drowning and washing away the smaller ones.  Why is it such a problem?  Surely, if the smaller brands can’t compete – and much of life is about survival of the fittest – then it’s their own fault, isn’t it?  Well, no.  Not when the playing field is so uneven and the public so reluctant to open their eyes and see what is actually happening.

I’m all in favour of choice.  If we all wore the same thing, life would become incredibly bland.  I love life’s rich tapestry and I’m all for plenty of choices in the marketplace.  The more the merrier in my book!  I’ve never wanted to look like anyone else (except, perhaps, Isabella Rossellini, but even then not in her clothing choices).  Individualism is a good thing in my book.

But the World Domination Plan of the big cheapo brands actually ruin that.  Way back when, in the “good old days”, most basic staples were – relatively – more expensive than they are now, making people have to think more about how they spent their money.  They had a finite amount of money (credit was rare and credit cards hadn’t been invented) and had to really budget and consider – crucially – just how long a purchased item would last and whether it was worth the money.  People expected to pay a fair price for a fair product.   The throwaway society hadn’t been invented.  I wonder what my Great Aunt Gladys would think of life now?  She was a tailoress and made most of my family’s clothes.  My brother had properly tailored long trousers to wear to school in the winter (we’re talking late 50s and early 60s, when many young schoolboys had to put up with short trousers all year round) and Aunt Gladys taught my mother to recognise quality fabric, good construction and finish and garments that would last, even if they were a little more expensive.  My mother, in turn, used to flip up garments in shops when we went shopping and a sharp intake of breath would ensue if seams, hems or finishing weren’t up to scratch.   If you could afford better quality, then you bought it because it offered better value.  Clothes were worn time and time again and expected, with the right care, to last.  In order to “ring the changes”, people became inventive and wore them in different ways, with different things and added accessories.  This creativity seems to have all but disappeared and now people just want new clothing all the time and equate cheapness with value.  This is a fundamental flaw in reasoning.

Of course, not everybody can afford to pay £100 upwards for a frock.  I realise this.  I know plenty of people, however, who screech at the very idea of paying even £75 for a frock but those same people go out shopping every Saturday, coming back with bags full of clothes from the main emporia of tat.  I’m willing to wager a fair wedge that if you add up the cost of the garments in their bulging wardrobes, it would far outweigh the few items I buy each year.  I think it’s also a fair bet that (a) if you work out a ‘price per wear’ value for those garments, they are likely to be considerably more expensive than my treasured and well-worn stuff, (b) most of them will be much, much newer and (c) a high number will have never been worn at all.  I have garments in my cupboard that date back to the 1980s.  My classic Burberry mac, for instance, dates from circa 1983.  I’m not its first owner and probably won’t be its last as it is still going very strong and I have a list of people who want me to leave it to them in my Will.  I have a scarf/shawl I bought from Harrods for the exorbitant price of £12.50 back in December 1984.  The friend with me at the time was horrified.  I wonder what she’d say if I pointed out that I still have it and still wear it.  My favourite coat dates back to 1989 and still looks a million dollars when I wear it.  It was expensive but I have worn it and worn it and worn it and it will go on for many years yet.  Hell, it should see me out.  I might even be buried in it!  Well, if it isn’t spirited away by one of the people who have already “put their sticker on it”.

I also realise that many people see no reason to buy one quality frock when they can buy, say, 4 cheapo ones for the practically the same money.  Why buy one of mine, for example?  Well, because mine are individually made to order and tend to fit the purchaser, for a start.  I’ve seen a lot – and I mean a lot – of the cheapo frocks, that people bring in to me, asking if I can “make them fit”.  I’ve looked, I’ve been horrified and I’ve turned every single one away.  No.  I can’t sort them out because the cut and manufacture of the dresses isn’t up to scratch in the first place.  The reason they poke at the neck is because the neckline has just been turned over and, basically, hemmed.  There are no linings, no facings, no understitching; nothing to ensure the neckline works properly.  Looks lovely on a mannequin but doesn’t work on a real body.  At least, not when that body does something ridiculous like, er, move.  And the reason there’s something not quite right about the waistline is because the manufacturer has shifted one or more pattern pieces off the grain of the fabric in order to squeeze out more dresses.  Woven fabric is solid in two directions.  When you start cutting across those threads at an angle, the fabric starts to move and becomes stretchy.  This is fine when it has been deliberately cut on the bias as part of the design (much of the beautiful, slinky fit and draping of 1930s clothing is achieved this way) but when it’s not meant to do that, it becomes a problem.  How many tops – t-shirts especially – have you seen where the sleeves have twisted, especially after washing?  It’s because the manufacturer has skimped and cut the fabric where it shouldn’t have been cut instead of using a bit more fabric and doing it properly.  It’s “never mind the quality, feel the width” again.  Does it really  matter with a £2 t-shirt from Primark?  Well, yes.  It does.  You add up the price of all those rubbish t-shirts you’ve worn a couple of times and then had to ditch because they’re unwearable.  Maybe you could have bought one that was well-made in a quality fabric that you would still be wearing – and looking good in – several years down the line.

Of course, if you persist in buying only the cheapo stuff, you may not have that quality option in future.  Not unless you’re willing to shell out a lot more money and I do mean a lot.  At the moment, we have a middle ground with excellent options  – check out Miss Fortune and Lady K Loves  for starters – in between the exploitative cheap stuff and the expensive brands.  But if the cheapo brands win out, the middle ground will simply disappear so there will be no real option for buying quality unless you can shell out a vast amount of money and your chances of purchasing anything other than mainstream fast fashion will be virtually nil.  Not everybody wants to look the same but at some point they may have little choice and that would be disastrous for both the alternative scene (which encompasses more than just vintage/retro) and the planet, as resources are plundered with no regard to economies, the environment and the lives of the people being paid so little to produce sub-standard rubbish to satisfy the first world thirst for more.

Please don’t let that happen.

Nov 022014
 

Last week, I read a status from a friend on Facebook that really struck a chord with me:-

“So hard when my business is struggling and I keep seeing my friends liking and sharing posts from one of the main cheapo, poor quality, overseas made brands that are putting me out of business.”

Ouch.  I feel that pain.  Because it’s happening a lot.  And I’m seeing it from people I thought actually cared about the same things I care about.  About supporting British business and industry.  About buying the best quality they can afford and thinking about their purchases rather than, “Never mind the quality, feel the width”.

It actually makes me feel sick* when I see someone I consider a close friend helping advertise these fly-by-night companies, who mostly import cheap copies from China and have them labelled as their own designs.  I think about the friends and contacts I have in the fashion industry who have worked hard to build up their retro brands and doggedly stuck to their principles – having everything done in the UK and doing their bit to support British manufacturing, even though it undoubtedly costs more – also feeling sick as they watch their friends and customers marketing this stuff for those companies who don’t give a hoot about ethics, supporting this country’s economy or even about the customers who adore the retro/vintage/rockabilly/psychobilly look and scene.  What will these “brands” be doing when the whim of fashion turns to something “new”?  Where will those people who are longtime devotees of the look get their clothing then?  Because I can assure you that those big, cheapo brands are bandwagon jumpers and they will drop the current look for the next big thing quicker than a yummy mummy with the whiff of a new “designer” fragrance.  They haven’t worked long hours perfecting their craft, their designs and their skills.  They haven’t searched and researched in order to bring you quality products manufactured with integrity.  They copied the ideas of those designers who put in the hours and work, handed them over to sweatshops in far flung lands, no doubt squeezed the margins on those factories and are now flooding the market with “their” products.

Woman in retro frock at desk and frowning

Miss Wednesday sweating blood in her workshop. Doing the stuff that isn’t sewing. Yes, she’s grumpy.

I’ve noticed a huge change in the pages of Vintage Life magazine since some of these “brands” started swamping the marketplace.  The pages are now filled with “look books” from the likes of them and most of the smaller advertisers have disappeared.  Where have they gone?  I shudder to think.  There used to be at least 8 pages of “classified” adverts for smaller British brands.  Now there are 2.  And while we’re on the subject of advertising, you know all those features with pretty products from different companies?  Little pictures of delicious items that the magazine have been clever enough to track down and want to share with their lovely readership?  Doesn’t work like that.  In order to have your product included in one of those “What we’re loving this month!” features, you are expected to pay a lot of money.  It doesn’t look like paid for advertising but I can assure you that it is.  And it’s expensive.  Most of the smaller companies can’t afford it, which is why you see the same few big names cropping up time and time again, including some from the US.

So there’s the irony.  Those big companies with their huge advertising budgets who are swamping the market, are also getting the “liker and sharers” to do their advertising for them.  Double whammy!  How they must rub their hands with glee.  “All we have to do is offer one of our cheap as chips products and thousands upon thousands of people are spreading the word for us!  It’s cost us, ooh, less than a tenner!  Result!”  And that’s if they do actually give away all the frocks they are offering…  There’s a lot of fakery goes on with Facebook.  Plenty of accounts aren’t actually real.  It’s a huge problem.

The boutiques are also hit by the swamping tactics.  As the market becomes flooded with these wares, the smaller, middle-ground companies get pushed out and people expect to buy a frock for £24.99 so the boutiques have little choice but to stock those products instead.  Obviously they need to shift a lot of those products in order to pay the rent and overheads on their premises, let alone make a living but if that’s what the customer demands…  Of course, it isn’t long before the boutiques are forced to give up and close their doors.  This is happening all over the country, which is taking away jobs and livelihoods and removing choice from the consumer.

So please, think about what you buy and think about what you’re “liking and sharing” on social media too.  Consider the wider implications of your actions because those ripples go a long way and their consequences may well not be to your liking.

Next week, the importance of that choice.  And coming soon there will be a links page entitled “Miss Wednesday Loves…”  It will be chock-a-block with loveliness of excellent quality and wonderful design and, frankly, spilling over with integrity, although not in a “flappy sandals and knit-your-own-yoghurt” way.  Your go-to resource for all the things that – gasp! – Miss Wednesday cannot provide.  Watch this space.

 

* It should be pointed out, however, that whilst it is a horrid feeling, it’s tempered by the knowledge that none of the people I consider friends will have done this maliciously and therefore it’s never made a blind bit of difference to my feelings towards them and their friendship.

 

Winter Is Coming!

 Frocks, Style, Sustainable fashion, Wednesday March  Comments Off on Winter Is Coming!
Aug 242014
 

What do you mean, ‘it’s only August’?!  It’s decidedly nippy out there and this morning was positively autumnal up here on Beastly Bodmin Moor.  So my thoughts have turned to warmer things, ie knitwear, tweed, furry stuff…

As my friends know, during the winter (which in my book runs from mid-August until at least the start of June), I am usually draped from head to foot in cashmere, tweed and, well, not to put too fine a point on it, animals.  Mostly as by-products of the food industry (ie, sheepskins, reindeer pelts, etc) but sometimes this involves the pelts of long-dead critters, sacrificed in a by-gone era when people’s sensibilities were very different and central heating hadn’t been invented.  (I’m not going to add insult to injury to the poor thing that died in the name of warmth by throwing it away like disposable rubbish.  That’s my point of view but I know others feel very differently on the subject.  And you don’t want to know what I’d do to the utter bastards who shoot things for fun rather than food or self-preservation.)  And sometimes the animals involved in my pursuit of warmth are still very much alive.  I’m frequently found on the sofa, buried under a large, gently snoring, shaggy, grey rug, also known as a deerhound, often with a couple of smaller rugs in the form of Mr Tigglesworth and the Weasel, (a Ragdoll and a Norwegian Forest Cat) for good measure.  Well, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.  And it does get very cold up here on the moor, especially when the wind’s in the wrong direction and the blasted Rayburn’s gone out.

Deerhounds all over the furniture

Still from the 1945 movie “I Know Where I’m Going” with Mrs Potts and her “half starved hounds” just in from a bracing walk and throwing themselves onto the sofas. Could be Miss Wednesday’s house on any given day…

But to cut away from that charming, domestic scene and get to the point of the post, I was actually wondering what other people who like ‘vintage’ stuff tend to do for winter wear?  More than one person this summer has asked about “winter stuff” and said that they struggle to find anything “retro” (eg, 1940s or 50s style) in anything other than summer frocks.  Really?  Oh.  Please don’t make me take up knitting.  You wouldn’t like the result.  Hell, I don’t like the result and, frankly, it’s a waste of decent yarn.

So, what do you want, then?  Give me a clue?  Tweed?  I like tweed.  Tweed is good, as is wool serge and flannel.  Full and circle skirts in wintery fabrics?   Lovely.  Pencil skirts in tweed?  Easy peasy, lemon squeezy, just say the word.  Coats, suits and jackets?  Well, we can talk about it.  I’m happy to talk about it.

Knitwear?  May I respectfully direct you to either my beloved Brora, purveyors of the best cashmere with plenty of perfectly proportioned cropped styles that work beautifully with waisted outfits and full skirts, or the rather wonderful Miss Fortune, who has been supplying me with delicious knitwear for a couple of years now and has been seen photographing some decidedly nifty nordic-patterned knitwear lately.  Keep an eye on her.  I intend to…

I have been attempting to persuade a very talented friend to take up the challenge of recreating 1940s knitwear on a bespoke basis.  She’s thinking about it.  From under a nice warm pile of whippets.  (We do like our pointy dogs!)

But seriously, please let me know what you’d like.  I’ll probably be delighted to make it for you.  At the moment, I keep busy with what are, to me, summer frocks all year round but I know I don’t wear them in the winter and surely I’m not the only person who’s part lizard?

Just don’t ask for trousers.  Unless they’re old fashioned style jodhpurs.  I’m thinking about those.  Some days it gets a bit drafty walking across the moor in the teeth of a howling gale with my skirt up round my ears…

Woman and deerhounds silhouetted against the sky

Mrs Potts walking the hounds whilst clad in a fetching kilt/skirt, just as I do.

And if anybody’s actually interested in seeing more of the mad woman and the gorgeous dogs, the best bit of the movie can be viewed here on YouTube.

 

Some things never change…

 Sustainable fashion  Comments Off on Some things never change…
May 042014
 

Following on, briefly, from last week’s blog on the subject of the disgraceful state of the garment industry in certain parts of the world, it has to be said that the UK garment industry is not what it was.  Britain used to have a proud and excellent textile industry, ranging from spinning and weaving the fabric to cutting, stitching and finishing some of the highest quality products in the world.  Alas, such hives of industry are now few and far between.  In our quest for more, more, more and paying less, less, less, we have inadvertently scuppered ourselves and lost jobs, money and, above all, skills along the way.  Now, when a small company (eg, me) is looking for skilled machinists – even one – it’s a fruitless search, especially in Cornwall which, to be fair, was always more about fishing, farming, mining and, er, something else anyway.  (“Fishin’s scat, farmin’s scat, minin’s scat – back to wreckin’ then, me ‘andsomes!”)

“But what about the Great British Sewing Bee?” I hear you ask.  “There’s a whole host of excellent sewers out there and in this economic climate, surely they’ll all LOVE to work for you?”

Er, no.  Not exactly.  Because sewing for a job – doing anything for a job – isn’t quite the same as doing it for pleasure.  And sewing is usually paid on piece work in order for the worker to get the best possible wage from their skills.  So, if you’re being paid £25 to stitch a frock, if you make it in 4 hours, you’re around the minimum wage mark.  Do it in 2 and you’re laughing.  Especially if you haven’t had to leave your home, pay for childcare or anything associated with actually going to work.  But, alas, this kind of mindset, along with the necessary skills, has been lost.  So I’m still stuck, making my own.  Beavering away in a small, dark, room for pretty much less than minimum wage, when you take into account all the hours I work.  (Whatever.  I’m happy!)

A couple of summers ago, a well-spoken lady came into my shop and raved over one of my dresses.   “Oh, it’s lovely!  It’s absolutely exquisite!  I must have it!  How much is it?  Is it terribly expensive?”

I informed her that the “exquisite” dress was £89 made to measure especially for her.  Her face changed.

“Oh, I don’t think I want to pay that much for it.”

“That’s fine.  I don’t think I want to make it for anything less.”  She was slightly surprised at my stance but then spotted some scarves that had been hand-knitted by a friend of mine.

“Ooh, I’ve made hundreds of those with my knitting group!  I wanted to set up my own knitwear company doing, you know, hand-made things but my husband said that I’d need a really good trade account with a supplier because after taking into account the cost of the yarn and time it takes to make things, I’d only be making, like ten pounds a garment!”

You don’t say…  My reply?

“Welcome to my sweat shop.”

With that, she left.  Which was a blessed relief, because apparently rank stupidity isn’t a legitimate reason for murdering someone.

Of course, the serious point to this is that by investing in something that was proudly Made In Britain, you are supporting not just the person who made it but the economy, country and future of us as a whole.  Because there are people who are dragging our manufacturing industry back from the brink.  As the workers in other parts of the world are requesting fairer payment for their skills, companies here have been discovering that it can actually be more cost-effective to manufacture here.  The machinists we have left are more skilled and faster; sadly, they are a dying breed and it’s time we made more of them.  This can only be achieved by putting our money where our country needs it most.  Buy British.  Support British.  Talk about British.  Promote British.  We can do this.