How to Order Handmade Lingerie & Corsets
Buying handmade is awesome. As an independent, one-woman business, I not only create a handmade product but I try to support other indie handmade designers as well. Sometimes, when trying to order from other designers, I even find myself falling into the same pitfalls that can cause me frustration when coming from my own clients! Today I'm going to talk about the process of communicating with a designer who creates a handmade/made-to-order product.
Have an Idea of What You Want
Let's say you know what you want, but not from whom you're ordering it. Figure out your unique needs first, then find the designer who serves them. For example, if you're looking for a conical rib corset, you probably wouldn't jump straight to Pop Antique, because I specialize in my signature "cupped rib" shape. (By the way, if you are looking for specialty corsets, definitely check out last week's post of 10 Specialty Corsetieres.)
Do Your Research on the Specific Maker
So you've settled on The Thing you want. What Thing that already exists in the designer's made-to-order line or custom portfolio is most like The Thing you want? It's okay if it's a hybrid of multiple styles! Have a clear concept of which parts of each style you are drawn to and which don't work for you. Don't muddy the waters by saying you want seven conflicting concepts. Real example: a latex designer getting a request for a "diaper romper thong and ruffled shirt that can be worn discreetly under the clothes." It's OK to not have the whole concept figured out, of course - the consultation is a back and forth process, and you have to trust a designer's aesthetic expertise at a certain point. A designer is not just an assembly line for your vision.
Also, do your research on that maker's website. Read their FAQ and shipping policies. Don't expect them to repeat basic information that is readily available on their site during the course of your consultation. They probably will, or at least link you to the relevant pages, but time spent on the consultation repeating readily available information is probably added into the price at some point. If you don't see certain information on the site, mention that in your correspondence: "I couldn't find this info on the site, [insert question here]?" That way, we'll know if we need to change the way the information is found or displayed.
Communicating During Consultation Emails
Know what you want. Be clear and succinct. Double check the size chart and if you have any questions, ask the maker - exchanges are rarely possible on made-to-order goods. For me to get started on a corset order, I need the following information: Style, size, and fabric. I will also need a shipping address and a deposit.
Sometimes I get emails that aren't for immediate orders, which is OK, too. But if you know you're not ready to order right away, let the designer know that you're just doing your research and putting out feelers. If you are ready to put down a deposit or pay in full immediately, make that clear as well. Try to use the same system and vocabulary as your designer around the ordering and fitting process. I use "high hip" and "full hip" for my size chart, so when I read "illiac crest" and "low hip" I can't be sure if we're measuring in the same place.
Don't haggle over the price or tell the designer they are "too expensive" or "overpriced." It is okay to ask if the designer ever does sales, if you ask politely and don't demand/feel entitled to a discount. Also, for corsets in particular (other high-ticket and/or long turnaround may also fall into this category), most designers will do installment plans. Don't worry about coming up with the whole sum right away - a deposit of 50% or 30% will get you officially in the queue, and the balance just needs to be paid off by the time your order is picked up or shipped.
If you're working with an international designer, you will be the one responsible for customs fees, as decided by your local government. If you're working with a local designer, you'll have to pay sales tax. (In the USA, you'll have to pay state tax if you're in the same state, city tax if picking up locally. Out-of-state clients don't pay sales tax.)
If a designer has a process outlined on the site or asks certain things of your communication, try to follow those policies. It minimizes confusion and wasted time on the designer's end. (Remember, time spent not making stuff still has to be accounted for in the price of a product!)
Try not to change your mind seven times, but if you do change your mind about something, let us know ASAP before work has started and it's too late. Changes may be possible but are likely to incur an additional fee. Fit adjustments for bespoke work should not fall into this category, unless you have changed size/shape - for example, lost a lot of weight, taken up waist training, or gotten pregnant.
Get a feel for how often the designer responds to email. If you haven't heard back for a few days or a week, especially from an initial contact, it's okay to give a little nudge. If you've been corresponding already, keep it in the same thread to bump it to the top of their inbox. If it's a first contact, you might've gotten stuck in a spam folder or buried by mistake - try again. Trying to stay on top of emails and also actually make the products you're emailing about can be one of the biggest struggles a designer faces!
Every designer has a different turnaround, and it may vary based on the product. Certainly full bespoke will take longer than a standard-fit made to order. If you have a particular due date (say, for a special occasion or a trip), be straightforward about that immediately. Rush turnarounds may cost extra. If your order is supposed to be completed in four weeks, don't email at two weeks to ask how it's going. Chances are, it's not that it takes four weeks to make your order - it's that it takes three and a half weeks to work through the orders that came in before yours.
Indie Designers Are People, Not Machines
There's a little discrepancy in each product. A certain level of QC, or quality control, is absolutely to be expected, but there are a lot of variables that go into place. And the level of QC you should expect is directly proportionate to price point. Just because a product is "expensive" for your wallet doesn't mean it's overpriced for the level of work that goes into it. You can't have a butter-smooth custom corset with a 7" waist reduction for $200. Sometimes the overzealous standards of the community can be really offputting to designers - a good corsetiere is inherently detail oriented and a perfectionist. Jenni of Sparklewren once quipped the following to me, regarding corsetmaking and client expectations:
"It needs to fit, it needs to not fall apart, and it needs to be pretty."
-Jenni Hampshire, Sparklewren
In other words, manage your expectations. We want to make you happy, but don't expect the sky on a plate.
If there is a real problem with your order, let us know! But please keep it polite and professional. I once got an email with the most jarring subject line: "Am I being ripped off??" The problem with this client's order was primarily that she was skeptical of the spiral steels in her corset - she thought I had cheated her and used plastic boning instead.
If there's an issue, you can start by responding in the same thread where you've been communicating, rather than starting a fresh one. Try to take out subjective terms and instead use objective, quantifiable phrasing so we can really get to the root of the issue and process how to fix it. For example, use specific, directional vocabulary and measurements/reference points on the garment. If you are rude and aggressive, it takes up that much more of our mental energy just to respond, let alone do anything about it.
Most of the indie designers making handmade lingerie and corsets are one-woman businesses or little more. We are our brands, and we take them seriously and personally. We get that you're unhappy and we want to fix it, but we're only human and sometimes a harsh email can feel like a blow to the face that just makes us want to hang up our fabric shears and cry under our blankets. Despite what you may have heard about squeaky wheels, a polite and friendly tone is actually more likely to expedite your service.
So go forth and shop small this holiday season! Just remember that the "hand" in "handmade" is attached to a real person... one you've probably chosen to work with for their unique talents and point of view. Your designer, in turn, is grateful that you're enabling them to do this unconventional thing that they love and be an independent designer.