From time to time when I am holding a market stall, I will overhear two folks chatting and one will say to the other something like “Oh, you know, I could make one like that for you. Don’t waste your money.” I smile. I offer to help them do it, if they’d like.
I have people tell me my garments are made from tablecloths and old jeans, as if I didn’t realise it. I laugh and smile.
I know full well there are people out there who see what I’m doing, who are biding their time, waiting to see if there is money in it, people who can sew way better than I can, who will wait until I’ve made my mistakes and paved a way in the market before they step up and take their own risks and start up doing something very similar. People who will look at my photos and try work out how something is done, who will struggle to come up with different aspects of their enterprise, so will subtly borrow from aspects of mine.
I know this, because I have done it. I do it now.
And here’s a secret. All smart businesspeople and artisans will do it.
When you begin to break your ground as a woman in business or in your chosen field, those who would like to do the same, are perhaps planning to, or who are on a parallel path will be watching. And it’s hard when you’ve done a massive amount of work and it seems like someone else is trying to ride your coattails, copy your model or short cut to success using ideas or concepts you created. I know.
I’ve had people – not strangers, friends – consult with me covertly as if they were a potential client, then the very next week turn around and set up a business providing the exact same service to the exact same market. It’s confusing, hurtful, angering even.
Then, I have also had people, close friends, people I have helped and supported and given willingly of my knowledge and creativity, accuse me of stealing their ideas and clients and opportunities, when this was in no way way my intent. That is no less and hurtful.
But you know what? All that looking around us in suspicion and worry is a waste of energy and time.
And the fact is I spend a lot of my time looking at Pinterest and Instagram, getting inspiration and ideas for what I do, gleaning info on what’s hot and what’s not. Sourcing ways of putting things together and looking at photos of others creations.
And I put my stuff out there too, hoping to inspire others.
Of course, I don’t expect others to give me their business information, Dress patterns, client databases. I don’t ask, and I would not respond to those who want this stuff from me. But I would help another woman who was afraid to take the last few steps into her success when her journey is so clear and her capacity so strong it’s thumping her in the face.
I no longer care if people think they can do what I do. I’m sure they can. I look at what others create and I am arrogant enough to believe I can do what they do.
In fact, the only difference between me and the folks who say they could easily do what I do, is that went and I did it and they did not.
There is no copying, there is no stealing when it comes to what I do. Others do not have the relationships and the fun with my clients that I share with them. My creations give my clients joy and laughter and confidence. Others can copy my clothes, undercut my prices, market to my customers, but they cannot be there in that moment when my client and I share a connection through my pieces.
There are more ideas than there are grains of sand on the beach. The important thing is the experience which transpires between the creator, and the one who is moved by the creation. I want my pieces to help my clients realise their inner suspicion they are creative, they are not invisible, they are right to be confident, and they can have fun. My desire of that my creations give women permission to bring out the best parts of themselves. I want to join with them in agreeing they are beautiful, and need not be afraid to draw attention to themselves. I long to help women feel they can dress themselves the way they feel; with colour, creativity and fun.
Please, please copy me, but only if this is your mission too, because in the end, for me, it’s not just about fashion. It’s about spirit, heart and soul.
So if someone messages you asking for your commercial recipe, your special formula, your unique pattern, thank them for taking the time to notice what you’re doing. Remember, they believe you have something they don’t, and this is the only way they know how to get what they think is missing from their business. But you and I know different. They have everything available to them to make their enterprise a success, because it won’t be a special ingredient or the way a dress is cut that does it. It will be the way they make their client feel. It will be the experience people have when transacting with them. It will be because of the beliefs they affirm for them, and the creativity they inspire in them. Remind your new friend they need to believe they have everything they need to do this for their clients, and if they don’t, they’re looking in the wrong place. Then blow them a virtual kiss, wish them well, and go back to trawling Pinterest for your own inspiration. Joking. Not joking.
In the end, selling and buying, trade, is about people. And people are full of insecurities, fears and foibles. In business, we will get hurt and we will offend others, just as we will in our personal lives. And when I say commerce is about people, I do not mean we cannot be what we’ve come to know as “professional” – run our enterprise profitably and with integrity. However, let’s not lose sight of the end game. When we are all sitting together in the nursing home, or on the beach in Bali, or whatever, it’s not going to matter whether we both published books about rare beetles in Africa, or both made face creams sold wrapped in bamboo leaves picked by barefoot eunuchs in a secret rainforest. Let’s all just have fun. Let’s all just make a living doing what we love. And let’s all remember, there are plenty of ideas and customers and money to go around. Stay in your lane. Smile for your competitors. Keep your cool. And for goodness sake, remember we are all in this together.