Supporting Oliver and S
I don’t post here very often (trying to avoid too much computer time to concentrate on sewing and children) but I do visit regularly. I was recently struck by a comment from Liesl in the “Wish list” thread in response to requests for a teen line of patterns. To paraphrase (I hope you don’t mind, Liesl!), she said that the market for teen patterns is too small to make it worthwhile. She goes on to say: “the volume of Oliver + S patterns we sell allows us to do only slightly better than break even. That’s the honest truth. We don’t make enough of a profit on Oliver + S patterns to be able to support a family.”
I really can’t get this out of my mind. It seems so wrong that people can make millions out of sweat-shopped clothing lines but the people that produce a product of exceptional quality and ethical integrity can not reap the same financial rewards. I realise that market forces are at work and the number of people that want to sew their children’s clothes is minute compared to the number that want $1 t-shirts from Wal/K-mart, but it still seems fundamentally wrong.
I have run my own business and I always looked to Oliver and S as the kind of company I wanted mine to be, albeit in totally different industries: known for a superb product with a strong community of brand ambassadors (some would say evangelists!).
But running a business involves considerable financial risk and high levels of emotional commitment – especially hard when you have a young family. Frankly, there are easier ways to make a living. In the end, the juggle of business, family and my husband’s job became too much and I sold my business last year.
I think Liesl’s comment struck me mainly because I thought: “Argghh! What if she gives up too?!”. I am sure she and Todd are made of stronger stuff than me, but I’d be bereft if a day came when there were no more O+S patterns to look forward to and learn from.
I suppose I just wanted to flag again that, if we want the choice of really great independent products and services, we do have to use them and champion them.
Laura xchicmamainedh @chicmamainedh
Thanks for posting this Laura, I had no idea! I am a huge fan of the Oliver + S brand and would be sad if it no longer existed. Although I have to admit I read the blog almost daily, but I only own 2 patterns. As a mother of boys it isn’t worth the time, effort, or money to make my own cargo pants that I can buy for $20!
Anyway…thanks for the insight. I will definitely feel less guilty the next time I spend $16 on a pattern!Pink Zipper @Pink Zipper
I too was pretty sad to hear that such a wonderful product was not supporting Liesl’s family. I have bought every Oliver +S pattern I own directly from Liesl and I always tell others of the patterns when I can.
There are so many wonderful small businesses run in the crafting/sewing community. I hope that we all can make the best effort we can to support them.
Yes, huge fan here also and quite disappointed at the result that producing patterns is so expensive and doesn’t give back the dividends Oliver and s deserves. I would be the first in there picking up teen sized patterns as my nearly eleven year old has now outgrown the size 12 and I am forced to size up!
As far as sewing trousers are concerned, my sister says the same thing about sewing for her son but because he destroys his clothing she isn’t going to bother sewing for him until such time as the care is there to prove it worth the effort. Me on the other hand just enjoy the process of sewing the pattern and seeing my children wearing what I have made.
I don’t know what I would do without such a fantastic set of patterns as Oliver and s, they re truly wonderful and buying the, direct should help surely.MimmySews @MimmySews
While I understand the economics of Liesl’s comments about preteen / teen patterns, I would love for her to publish at least a couple of them as tests. Here’s why:
1. It is hard to find junior sized clothing that is tasteful and cute. Much of what I see in stores is really tacky and inappropriate for young preteens.
2. Girl’s shapes are maturing faster and in some are just built bigger. So at 10 or 12, they are fitting into the tacky clothes that are not age appropriate at all. (See item 1) My five year old grandgirl wears girls size 7 – 8 clothes!
3. With Project Runway, more girls are becoming more interested creating their own looks. Fashion is art. Sewing is part of fashion. We need to encourage the art and craft of sewing.
4. Large pattern companies don’t publish user friendly patterns. Oliver and S does. Girls like the idea of sewing, but they don’t want their creations to look “homemade.” I think Liesl can create easy to sew patterns, that encourage good sewing habits.
I also enjoy O and S patterns. I think Liesl is helping the resurgence of sewing. The patterns are easy to follow and you do get a well engineered garment at the end. I spend more time in redrafting the pattern and choosing fabrics than in actual construction time.
Keep up the good work, Liesl!brenda1652 @brenda1652
As a farmer I can truly understand this issue. Buy local. We can’t say it enough times or in many different ways. If we want our economy to flourish, then buy local. As far as competing with cheap clothes, well many folks need to reevaluate just how many clothing items they truly need. I grew up in the 50’s and early 60’s, a time of prosperity for the middle class. Still, we had one wardrobe of clothes for school, as a girl I had 6 or 8 or so skirts and a few jumpers (which I made in 4-H) and about as many sweaters and blouses. We had one very good pair of school shoes, and last years’ gym sneakers with holes in the toes were relegated for play. Once we got home from school, off came the school clothes (you parents who have kids in uniforms understand this) and on came play clothes. I will put a word in here about how great it is to have school uniforms, such a cost saver and no morning dress issues either. AND play clothes were just that! The legs on the pants were “high waters” the tops of the jerseys were stretched out and/or stained, the knees of the pants always had patches on them (folks need to relearn patching for kids pants!). We could get them as dirty as need be. Take a look at your kids’ wardrobes and reevaluate what they need and just what values you wish to teach them. I raised 4 kids, I do understand the need for kids to feel they look as good as their friends, but my kids loved going to yard sales and resale stores, as did their friends. Less clothing around makes housework so much easier, truly. Young kids of 5 on up can sort laundry and put clean clothes away, dirty clothes in hampers. Kids of 10 or so can run the machines as well, just ask their Home and Career teachers! They actually learn this stuff in middle school, since Home and Careers is now only offered in the middle schools. As far as not wanting to sew for kids when buying is cheaper, well as a formerly single mom of 4 who worked waay over 40 hours/week, I understand that only too well. But, again buying second hand for play clothes and having one or two nicely made dress clothes works well (yes I did sew for all 4, 3 boys, one girl as well as for local theater groups). Another issue: teach your kids to patch and repair their clothes. Very young kids can learn to sew on buttons, in fact they LOVE to sew on buttons, kids over 8 can sew a seam, and all can learn to use a sewing machine to sew a straight line. If time is an issue (wow, did I understate that one!!) try pairing up with other moms to teach these skills. We all know that kids learn better from adults other than their parents (why is that?!). Anyway it can be done, pare things down to simplify your lives my overworked young parents, the lessons you teach your kids will go a long long ways. And I am so sorry for those who lose their businesses to the times, but your spirit of ownership is not lost. I have been in and out of the sewing for profit business many times over the years, thanks to eBay and Etsy, I have also taught my kids by example. You young parents have so many choices to encourage the future generations to become self sufficient as well as supporting local efforts. I am so excited to read this blog, your enthusiasm for the so called home arts is so exciting, so encouraging.Get the kids involved, Their enthusiasm will equal or surpass your own. Try giving home made clothing as gifts, pull on play pants in rugged repurposed fabric (thinking of sandbox pants here) and lazy day skirts would work well. Forge on my dear friends, and Liesl, we will do all we can to help you. my dear friends, please go support local agriculture, local shops, and on line American businesses.wendy @wendyls
Well said, Laura and Brenda! Across the board, if we want to keep enjoying the products that are created by independent artisans, growers and all kinds of makers of things then we need to a) put our money where our mouths are and b) spread the word. And why not tack on c), which has something to do with re-evaluating our ‘needs’ vs ‘wants’ and putting our values into perspective. Time to shake off the sense of entitlement and wasteful tendencies brought on by the last several decades of over-consuming.
I know a lot of self-employed artisans, and they’ve all developed masterful juggling skills in order to continue with their craft. They mostly hover on the cusp of financial uncertainty and have let go of that kind of ambition. Their passion for their work and the satisfaction derived from it are what keep them going. I’ve seen a number of them reach a certain level of success and recognition, increase their overheard and re-fashion their business in order to meet demand, but remain financially in more or less the same boat. They go to great lengths to keep on doing what they love (and what we love!) but need all of the support that they can get.
One of the few things that I love about social networking (sorry, old school here) is how it allows independent makers to reach a larger audience, and vice versa. The other thing is the genuine sense of community that can grow around a company, such as Oliver + S. The creative spirit, shared learning and contagious enthusiasm is so vibrant and so, so valuable.
Brenda, Liesl isnt local to me as I am Australian but we don’t have anything here that fits the bill so I will support regardless of local or not.
Mimmysews, your reasons are my reasons too! Thankyou for putting them so elquently.Nicole @motherof5
What gorgeous support!Sarvi @Sarvi
Brenda, I love your comment about value and evaluating what we need. I was just remarking yesterday to my husband that a nice wool coat of mine is still my favorite. People thought I was nuts buying such an expensive coat on a secretary’s salary, but now it’s down to about $50/year, and with 10 years of use it still looks and feels amazing. Needless to say, if I’d bought a $50 coat each year, would I still have any of them? Shoes likewise — my fancy heels scored at a post-New Year sale seemed like an insane extravagance even at 80% off — they’re down to about $9/year and look incredible (and make me feel incredible).
How much is too much for a sewing pattern? O+S in both sizes is more than most PDFs on Etsy or what have you, certainly more than the 99c sales at JoAnns — but what is value? Will I still be sewing these when my younger siblings and cousins have kids? When I’m a grandmother? Will my kid sew from them? My grandkids? Theirs?brenda1652 @brenda1652
Oh dear, I certainly did not mean to shut out our dear Aussie friends! By all means, buying from small businesses and artists supports the values we are trying to teach our families, no matter where that artist and/or small business person lives in the free market world. I guess the point is to look at how businesses operate, look again at needs vs wants and then discuss these things with the kids. When I volunteered on board the Clearwater a few years ago, (America’s Environmental Flagship http://www.clearwater.org) kids boarding were amazed at how few personal items each of us crew members had on board (one small backpack per person), how few dishes, no TV’s, but yet we had everything we needed or even wanted, and the fun and satisfaction in what we were doing was apparent to all the kids. Kids are open to these lessons if we have a mind to teach them. (and those in NY, bring yourselves and the kids out to visit Clearwater on the Hudson!).Jennifer1568 @Jennifer1568
The building collapse in Bangladesh sounds horrible. There was an author on NPR talking yesterday about the social an environmental impact of Americans’ addiction to cheap clothing. She said that garment workers in Pakistan make $36 a month. She said that rivers run the color of the dye used when making cloth. Gap, Walmart, and Disney are 3 companies she named that profit from the poverty of the 3rd world. I woner how the fabric that I buy is made.sayiamyou @maraya
I was thinking of this show as I was reading through the comments, Jennifer.
If anyone is interested, here is the link to Terri Gross’ interview on Fresh Air: http://www.npr.org/2013/05/02/180557959/ethical-fashion-is-the-tragedy-in-bangladesh-a-final-straw
I like to think my daughter’s wardrobe follows an 80/20 rule, with the majority being handmade. I would much rather make what she wears. She enjoys sitting with me for sewing time and I love seeing her happily wearing something in which she was part of the creation. She is considerably above average in height so to buy her RTW means I have to move into inappropriate clothing.Liesl GibsonKeymaster@liesl
Just popping out of my Quilt Market/fall pattern prep hole to say Thank You! to everyone for these generous thoughts. I can’t tell you how much we appreciate your support!
I think we can blame the victorians and their need for an Industrial revolution that helped to put a stop to the handmade market, or at least minimalise it. I am super glad there is a resurgance.
As to those poor people in Bangladesh, my heart goes out to the families and survivors. Maybe there will be an inquiry into building conditions and maybe it will also help the country to move out of the minimal pay for maximum output pay situation and we can see a possible end to the poor conditions some sewists are up against.
Brenda, of course you not shutting us Aussies out. Really when you think about it we are as local as they come, being already a part of the sewing community of the world.
Liesl, long live your creativity! After all, isnt this how the great fashion houses started? Dunno just assuming there. Cant wait to see the reveal of the next lot of patterns.
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