Careers in Sewing – Designer/Maker/Shop Owner

Have you ever considered a Career in Sewing? Do you dream of ditching the 9-5 and pursuing your creative dreams? In this blog series we will be posting interviews for a range of different sewing jobs to give you a taste of what possibilities are out there. Today we interview Rebecca Coyle who runs Love and Squalor a clothing shop in Glasgow that designs and makes her designs in house.

Can you tell us about your job and where you work?

I studied Production Arts and Design at The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland where I specialised in costume construction with set building as my minor subject. I loved learning both disciplines but I was definitely a better seamstress than I was a carpenter so I went into costume making after I graduated. I worked on a freelance basis for about 3 years in theatre and events but I always knew that I wanted to go out on my own so I decided to open my shop, Love & Squalor. That was two years ago now and I am so happy I took the plunge! It is so scary at times and the to do list is never ending but it is all worth it!

What is your background and how have you ended up working where you are?

My shop, Love & Squalor, is in Glasgow’s West End and consists of a large studio space and a shop front. In the studio we make and design all of our own clothes and then we sell them in the shop. We also stock some other ethically made brands. Having worked in theatre, I was used to working with really tight budgets so had to compromise on ethics and quality a lot. Costumes were quite disposable and I really wanted to be making things which were built to last. I aim to produce clothes which are timeless and will suit women of all ages. I love the idea that clothes can look better the more they are worn and that is what we strive for.

What do you do in a typical day?

My days are quite varied but typically I will start the day with all the admin and boring stuff! I am not very technical so would much rather be working with pen and paper or needle and thread than sitting behind the computer! I then move onto either working on new designs or making up a batch of something to go out in to the shop. Our studio very conveniently, has a window out to the shop so I can keep an eye on the shop while I sew and pop out whenever a customer comes in. When I first opened I was the only maker so I would draft all the patterns, grade everything, make all the stock as well as running the shop. I realised pretty quickly that this wasn’t sustainable so I started looking into hiring another maker. By chance, I got chatting to someone in the shop who said she was studying fashion technology and was looking for work. I asked her to come in to work for a week there and then and it was the best decision I ever made! Gloria would come in on a Saturday during her last year of university and has now been full time for the last year. This has definitely helped with productivity and has freed me up to work on more new designs and get our website up and running. We now offer sewing classes too so two evenings a week, I teach a workshop in the evening. I really enjoy teaching people how to sew and I’m always amazed by the effect it has on people! Everyone always comments on how relaxed they are after a class and they are always so proud of their new me-made garment!

What are the best and the worst bits?

The best bit is being creative every day. I love coming up with ideas for new designs and thinking up new ways to drive the business forward. For all I was creative in my last job as a costume maker, I was always making someone else’s design. That was great for my skills as a maker but now I love getting to design everything too. I love being able to create the full package- the space, the clothes, choosing the other brands we stock and the atmosphere. I love giving the customer a full experience when they shop with us.

The worst part of the job is the uncertainty! The high street is quite precarious right now across Britain so I feel we always have to be on top of things to keep the business going. I don’t think that having a good product is enough anymore to sustain a shop so I am always trying to think of new ways to engage our customers, be that with collaborations, events in store or workshops. On top of our already busy schedule, this can be hard, but I do love it!

Did you always want a creative career?

I have  wanted a creative career for as long as I can remember. I wanted to be an architect or a portrait artist for most of my childhood but when I got my first sewing machine aged 12 I think I was pretty hooked! I was torn between studying fashion and costume right up until I went to university but I am glad I went down the route I did. My course was almost all practical which I loved plus my experience as a wardrobe supervisor has helped me manage my own time, work autonomously and stick to a budget, all of which are so important when starting your own business.

What qualifications, skills or experience did you need to get your job? Have you continued to train since starting?

I had some help from Business Gateway which is a fantastic free service in Scotland where I was assigned a business advisor. Having not come from a business background, it was lovely to have someone to run ideas past and to offer me support in the early stages. The only training I’ve done since opening the shop was going to a website building class. Creating my website was not something that I ever thought I could do, but the one day class was great. It is amazing how much you learn on the job and how you constantly surprise yourself.

Do you have any tips for someone looking to get into the same thing as you?

I would always say that before launching your own business you should make sure it has a very clear identity. I think that creative people by nature are very inquisitive and can be easily led down rabbit holes but you have to stay true to your brand. I would also advise you to stick to your instincts. Everybody will have advice for you and you can’t possible listen to everyone so you have to learn to trust that sometimes you know best!

If you could do anything else what would it be?

I would love to be a potter! I took some classes in the past and absolutely loved it. It’s so therapeutic and I love getting my hands dirty.

What is your favourite sewing tool and why?

I have a pin cushion which fastens onto my wrist and I wear it almost all the time. On the rare occasions when I don’t have it on, I absentmindedly try to stab pins into my wrist because I’m so used to it being there!

What are you sewing right now/will be your next project?

I am working on a collaboration with a local artist, Alice Dansey-Wright. Alice has designed a print which we are going to make into a limited edition run of bags and purses. We are also going to make a few of our pieces which Alice is going to hand paint. Alice and I have worked together before on a coat which was part of a design exhibition last year so I am really looking forward to working with her again.

In terms of selfish sewing, I don’t get to do much of that these days but I am going to a wedding next year and I would love to make myself a Bianca Jagger style suit. If I start now then I might get it finished in time!

Follow Rebecca on social media here:  Instagram

The model: Felicity Coyle, and all photos are by Emma McBride.

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