Simona, can you describe your business model?
I call it demi-couture, halfway between ready-wear and houte couture: for each model I produce three or four specimens, they are ready-made garments but can be replicated with some variation and/or difference in measurements.
The main point is the exclusivity of each design, which can be customized if needed. Still, I want to put each customer in a condition to leave my store with a product, and that depends on me, by the amount of ready-made models she finds in my atelier.
Right now this is a business model that works. I know, however, that it must be perfected. I have to increase my visibility and I have to get an e-commerce platform.
Can you describe your production process?
I usually make first sketches, then I explore and touch my fabric samples: that inspires me to complete the design. Then I complete the drawings, prepare a technical sheet for each model, and design the pattern; then the model goes to manufacturing.
Do you regularly prepare samples?
Yes, actually a basic collection has two types of samples: a high fashion one and a basic one, both inspired by my customers’ body types. I prefer to suggest my models to clients, rather than following their requests (though, sometimes, to make them happy it ends up like that).
What do you mean by a basic collection?
They are archetypal models (tube dress, pencil skirt, classic pants, and blouse) that I prepare in both black and white colour, with good workmanship, and quality fabrics. Depending on the model, I decide which sizes to prepare; I know my customers and what’s good for them.
You have worked with big fashion brands, what did you not like about that world?
I noticed a total lack of attention to the collections, that is, to the actual products. I got tired of the pace; the only thing that counts is speed, being fast. They don’t give value to garments, to work done by people, or to the idea behind it. In my opinion, if an idea is used and thrown away, it is an idea without value.
How does being a small business penalize you in comparison to big brands?
I’m expected to produce according to the schedule defined by the big brands, but I simply refuse: I have other production schedules. I would like to have a better access to new fabrics and technologies (such as technical fabrics, thermal stitching, weareables, etc.), but that’s also because I’m geographically remote.
Would some sort of virtual marketplace within TCBL help you?
I do not think so, because ideas come from looking and touching fabric and accessories; it’s hard to interact with a virtual representation. Instead, I would like to attend fairs, but also in decentralised places, not always in Paris or Milan.
Do you have trouble in finding skilled people?
The difficulty is that girls (unfortunately, in this field we always refer to the feminine because it is very rare to see men interested in this work), either come from industry production – and sew fast but lacking accuracy, and lack an awareness of human proportions – or they come from the tailoring tradition, which means they are familiar with pattern making but they are very slow.
Your prices are very reasonable considering the products’ quality.
These prices are sustainable for me, but that’s because I am very fast and precise in pattern making. Hitting the right pattern, in fact, saves you a lot of money, because you don’t waste time in trials and adjustments.
Have you ever tried to make your patterns with a digital program?
Once I collaborated with a large company that offered a pattern making service, and it used the Lectra™ programme. Unfortunately, at one point the company closed, without giving me the possibility to get my models back. The problem is that I have no economic benefit (nor the physical space) to equip my atelier with all the equipment needed in a system such as Lectra, so I have to depend on someone to do this service for me. I don’t like depending on others at all.
Do you think a more frugal digital pattern making program, such as MacroGen or Valentina Project, would help?
I followed your Webinar on MacroGen and decided to buy it, but so far I have not found the time to try the trial license. I think that for basic models it might be valuable. The fact is I’m very quick in pattern making on paper, so I do not have a strong incentive to change my method.
What benefits do you see in TCBL?
I feel the need to network with people who do my same job, in Palermo, Italy, and Europe. Above all, I would like to overcome the mutual distrust that is characteristic of this trade. I really hope that TCBL can do this, as long as there are opportunities for physically meeting.
Do you see the possibility of collaboration with other ateliers in TCBL in garment production?
I have already done this. I once sent unfinished garments to a Spanish client and she found a local Atelier willing to complete the job. It was a nice experience.
With a trustworthy relationship between various independent designers, do you think it a production network would be possible?
Yes, but remote production requires experimentation. I am willing to experiment; the important thing is to explain your construction and manufacturing method. If you establish a cultural understanding of how to do things, it can work, though quality remains an issue. Certainly, it’s easier to experiment on site because you have more control.
What expectations did you have for innovation in TCBL Labs?
I really want to have access to technical fabrics and I hope TCBL can be a bridge to access to technological innovation in the field of textiles. I would like to work with 3D printers, wearable fabrics, open source jacquard machines, etc. I see that ARCA here in Palermo is being equipped in this sense and I think it’s wonderful.
Do you like to use natural fibres?
Many people tell me they are allergic and cannot wear synthetic fabrics. In those cases I’m forced to send them away, because even when a fabric is labelled 100% cotton, I know that is not always the case and I don’t want to take responsibility for it. I am only able to satisfy these clients using fabric woven by people I know personally.
Would it be useful to have a supply chain quality certification?
I think that, at the moment, certification of the supply chain would be more useful for me than for my clients. I still do not see a great awareness about natural fibres, except in cases of intolerance and allergies. I try to be transparent for an ethical reason and because it’s better to work with natural fabrics, but at the moment I do not have the tools to really judge.
What do you think about natural dyeing?
It is a beautiful field to explore. In some cases, I have tried to use coffee (Italian coffee has a very dark colour) to dye fabrics. In my store I have a silk dress painted using leaves, the work of a local artist; this experience involved a nice synergy between her and me.
Would you be interested in using digital archives of fashion history?
Yes a lot. For example, for the last collection I was inspired by the magazine “Le mode des femmes de France 1920”, which I found online. An extensive and well-equipped online library would be great.
What is the vision for your business in five years?
I think I will raise prices, because I sell on my own and quality is improving. I don’t think I will use advertising, at least not with traditional channels. I think that well-made products can be promoted by world of mouth. For the rest, I dedicate very much time and attention to my clientele; I am communicative and affectionate with them.