HOW TO BECOME A SEAMSTRESS

With Ella Xanthe Montgomery

Having worked numerous jobs in the industry, Ella is currently working as a seamstress in a boutique dress shop. I wanted to find out a little more about her journey into fashion and whether it is as fickle an industry as people say it is…

What does a seamstress do?

Basically, I help with the cutting and construction of garments.

What does your average day look like?

I work for a lovely lady called Alice, who has her own brand of bespoke dresses and poolsides. Whilst at Alice’s Boutique, I spend my days helping her put together all of her orders. She has roughly between 3-5 to make a day, depending on how busy she is, and everything is made to the customer’s size and measurements. Β Working here has helped me to understand how small businesses are run, and how to keep up with orders whilst maintaining a strong social media presence at the same time.

How many internships did you have to do before you landed your current role?

During my time at university, I worked three internships in a range of different jobs in the fashion industry.
My first was at Elle magazine, where I spent four weeks working in the fashion cupboard. I helped with ordering in clothing, packing for shoots and sending the clothes back afterwards. I worked with PR companies and had to run errands for the staff at Elle. I had an amazing time, and if it wasn’t so stressful, I think I would quite like to work at a high-end fashion magazine.

The second internship was at a PR company called Karla Otto. I interned for a week and a half and helped out during fashion week. I realised that PR companies are not what I thought they were. It was stressful, and I definitely don’t think I could work in PR, although I had a very enjoyable week and got to watch three shows. Doing this internship made me realise why it’s so important to try a range of roles. It can help you realise things about a job you’d perhaps never thought of before.

The last internship I worked was with a childrenswear brand called Paul Dennicci. I spent at their office in Maldon and worked alongside part of the Mothercare team seeing what they did on a daily basis. Paul Dennicci design and make clothing for brands such as Mothercare, George and Debenhams. I got a chance to work on Illustrator, design my own bib, and had my first insight into the industry. It was after this internship I realised I wanted to go into childrenswear and that it was going to be the basis for my final major project.

Internships and work experience are such an important aspect of finding your feet, especially if you want to work in fashion. Even if it’s something you don’t think you’ll like; until you try it, you really don’t know for sure. Plus, most businesses won’t take you on unless you have some sort of experience in the industry.

Did you go to university?

I studied a Fashion and Textiles degree at Colchester School of Art. The course gave me an insight into a range of techniques across both fashion and textiles and also included lessons in Photoshop and Illustrator.

What was art school like?

I think there is this stigma with art schools being a certain way, but where I studied everyone could just be themselves. There were the real arty people who liked to express themselves but no one was made to feel they had to dress a certain way. During our first year, everyone did worry a little about what they looked like, but once we had all settled in, everyone became comfortable with wearing whatever they liked.

What’s it really like working in fashion? Do you need as thick a skin as everyone makes out?

In my current place of work, the atmosphere is very calm and laid back, however, having worked internships at places such as Elle, I would say yes you do need a thick skin! Their days can be very stressful and lots of the girls hardly sleep or have time to eat because they’re running around trying to get jobs done in time. You have to really love fashion to go far.

If you had to name 3 defining moments in getting you to this point in your career, what would they be?

Number one would be the internships I’ve worked. Employers love seeing that you have had experience in the industry and it always looks good on your CV, even if it’s only a day or two.

The second would be the course I studied at university. I learnt a lot, in a range of different subject areas and it really set me up for finding the right course of direction for my career.

The third would be doing my own little thing on the side of work and education. About two years ago, I started to crochet and knit. After making a few bits, everyone told me to start selling them. So from this, I set up a Facebook page, an Instagram and an Etsy website, and I started making handmade baby and children’s clothing and accessories to sell. Hopefully one day I will have my own brand where everything will be handmade.

Did you ever have a mentor in a job? Someone who really made a difference to your career progression and pushed you onwards?

I’ve never had a mentor, but working for Alice has definitely inspired me to one day have my own business. She’s passionate about what she does, and she loves going to work every day.

Have you ever made a huge mistake? How did you come back from it?

Not a huge mistake, but something I wish I could re-do was my pre-collection. I chose to design childrenswear, but I went down the line of fancy dress mixed with everyday wear. Towards the end, I sort of regretted it, as I wish I had worked on just everyday wear in order to improve my skills. At least I know this is something I don’t want to do in the future.

Do you have your own collection?

I started making my own handmade pieces about two years ago, which are mainly crochet and knitted items at the moment; clothing is coming soon as I was waiting for an overlocker! It’s called Ellaxanthe, and for now, I just like experimenting with ideas and colours and creating a few of each design in order to see what people like. I would love for this to pick up and have this as my full-time job in the future. I love the idea of handmade clothing and am inspired by the French brand, Bonpoint.

Have you ever experienced #everydaysexism in the workplace? Can imagine fashion is quite women-heavy?

Fashion is very women-heavy, and at university, there was only one guy in my class of 30. I’ve never experienced any problems (so far) but I can imagine men probably find it harder to get involved as it’s so saturated with females. Fashion is definitely for anyone and everyone, though.

If you could give your 18-year-old self some stellar advice, what would it be?

Maybe the only thing would be to do some more internships and work experience placements, as I would have liked to have explored more jobs within the fashion industry before deciding on one.