Friday, September 10, 2010

Bad Customer, No Cookie!

I just found out that my nightmare customer is a recurring theme in the lives of other historic seamstresses. Thankfully I can say "no" to this one quite easily. I really think we need a black-list for PITA's, history of non-payment & general harassment.

It's really important to those of us who re-create these garments that they be:
1. correct
2. durable
3. beautiful
4. well made

...We all try really, really hard to make what you (the customer) wants. Most of the time we manage it. Sometimes we don't. These things happen... not very often, but they do happen.

But occasionally there are individuals who can't be pleased. No matter how hard you work, how many times you re-make an already perfect garment, how many hours you put in, how long you research, how many times they approve (and then change) the design... they will never be happy.

There are customers who will actually yell at you. Yes, they will yell, scream, holler & sometimes swear, I even had one physically threaten me (over a coat, people! over a coat).
Before you can even send their money or fabric back to them they will call the BBB... they are on the phone bitching before the lady at the post office can stamp the package. They will call or write to whatever powers-that-be to tell them just how much you suck. They will send hate e-mail, hate mail, trash you to every other professional in the business.
There are customers that are soooo nice until they turn into rabid dogs.

These are the people who make us just want to quit. These are the people who (even if they are right - technically), make those of us who sew want to throw our hands up in the air & say "forget it, I'm just sewing for myself now."

Here's the thing: seamstresses are human. We love our jobs. But we are overworked, severely underpaid & these things take time. Once you add in the sheer volume of garments & customers that we work with in a year, there are bound to be a few things that don't work out. I'm sorry for that. Truly I am. I will fix it. But I may not be able to fix it this month... maybe not even next month. Heck, I'm booked into January right now!

I understand if someone isn't happy. Occasionally I'm not happy. If it's my fault I will do whatever I can to make it right. But for goodness sake, read my Terms & Conditions, understand that I'm not making these things in China or Mexico, I don't have a 6 figure bank account... (I'm lucky if I've got a 3 figure account).
Being yelled at by you on the phone or e-mail is not going to get your garment sewn any faster... no, I can't make the fabric supplier ship that stuff any sooner, nor can I make the button guy cast any faster (he's got a backlog too). Nor am I going to make customers who ordered well in advance wait longer because you want your stuff for the end of this week.

As to the non-payment thing... it's quite upsetting. Those of us who craft your beautiful clothes work very hard. A dress takes an average of 10 hours to sew... by machine. Never mind the hand work, design work, fabric prep, fabric cost (...5-10 yds!).

A man's suit takes 2 or 3 days. A pair of breeches is 5 hours start to finish. That's 5 hours of my life plus materials ($20 in buttons alone) that you just stole from me. And no, I don't have a spiffy insurance policy that will pay me for "that kind of thing." It's just me here, with a sewing machine, scissors, needle & thread.

That literally takes food out of my mouth, literally doesn't put gas in my tank & there's half a day of pay that you took from me. For what? a pair of pants that I'm only charging you $65 for? WTH man, this isn't Walmart! I don't keep a slave in the basement!

I do this because I love it. I sew for you because I enjoy your company, I love the sport & have a true passion for history. I'm not asking for an arm & a leg ( I just want them measured correctly). I'm asking for a fair price (a reduced one at that), so you can play toy soldier on your weekend off. I'm asking you to pay me for my material, my time & probably a little bit of my blood too.

I get blisters, muscle cramps, sometimes I can't move my hands on the weekends, sometimes my whole arm goes numb from working on the sewing machine, or doing repetitive motions wile hand sewing. I stay up for hours researching garments & fabrics & weaves & history of economics so that I know what I'm talking about. Do I always remember? Nope. Can I always get tow cloth (not in North America I can't... and btw, if you've made it this far in the rant & know where I can get tow cloth, please tell me!).

There are few things worse than having someone walk out of your store with something you worked so hard to create & later finding out that they gave you a stolen credit card number, or wrote a bad check. Even worse is "I'll pay you the rest later" and they never do... what a betrayal of friendship & camaraderie.
Nothing leaves my store now unless it's paid for. I'm sorry to the rest of you for that, but promissory notes & credit cards will reserve the item, but they will not buy it until I know that money is in my account.

And it's the same people over & over!

Which leads me back to the desire to have a black-list.

I hear the same things from my seamstress & tailor friends... same people again & again. C / S / M didn't pay me... M is a total PITA... P yelled at me & sent the garment back.

Normally I don't let this stuff get to me. It's just that this incredibly talented & wonderful seamstress (who's work & blog I haunt) may be quitting because of this horrid customer, who I've had bad experiences with. Everyone I know who sews has & she's actually made 2 seamstresses throw in the towel. She's not a bad person, she's just a terrible customer! Which somehow makes it worse. I don't want her to sink a 3rd ship.

Please check out Lauren's blog,
it rocks.


Lauren R said...

I am so overwhelmed by your entry, and so thankful that you've spoken out against this. Thank you a thousand times and then some!

Keith said...

I was going to say that I can't understand that sort of behavour, but actually I can. Some people seem to go out of their way to be.....unpleasant(?).
I think if I recieved clothing made from synthetic material I would certainly send it back. Sewn with synthetic thread and I would send it back. Other than that what is there that can't be fixed. Certainly no need for any unpleasantness.

Gail Kellogg Hope said...


You are welcome. You did very well in your return post.

BTW, isn't that stomacher I made for her awesome?!? She was less than thrilled.
I would love to use one of your photos, mine didn't turn out.


Gail Kellogg Hope said...

2 words: burn test.

Always burn test before sewing now... I just bought some "wool" for a tailcoat & it was lovely... too lovely. Burn test showed it was 100% polyester. So now what do I do with 5 yds of blue poly? Beats me, but it's not going in my store... maybe for a costume, but not for historic clothes.

Then there was the 100% silk I would have sworn was poly... but the burn test said "silk" so beautiful clothes were born of it.

If you aren't sure you can trust the seamstress / tailor / supplier, request a fabric swatch. There are plenty of bits & pieces left over from cutting. Unfortunately with suppliers, now you mostly have to pre-pay for swatches, and home businesses can't keep cutting pieces off of sometimes limited supplies.

In any case, I love most of my customers... the exceptions are thankfully far & few between!

Stephanie Ann said...

I was upset when I heard about this. It's weird, normally people ordering these garments are people you see at events wearing them. We all kind of "hang out" together you'd think the customer would be more understanding. Well, soon she will have to learn to sew herself because no one will sew for her.

Katy Rose said...

WOW! You hit the nail on the head! I've had a few customers that are happy right up until you finish the garment and then not so much. I've since quit sewing for all people and only sew for a select few. I also require a deposit which is half of what the expect garment will cost. I charge 30 an hour. The way I see it, they are paying for the 4 years I spent obtaining my fashion degree. I know I am good, great even! And if they don't wanna pay for that then they can go to someone else and they can deal with the head ache. You get what you pay for. Home sewing is not necessarily cheaper and it's time us seamstresses who know what they are doing start charging for it. Just because you work out of a home doesn't mean you should sell yourself or your craft short.

Gail Kellogg Hope said...

After receiving an e-mail from an interested party regarding this post, I would just like to clarify that I am talking about multiple individuals, who have & will continue to remain unnamed on any public forums that I have control over.

If someone wants to dig & find out who I /may/ be talking about, it is not out of the realm of possibility, but I will not be held responsible for assumptions based on initials (some of which I chose at random) listed here.

Private forums are a different matter & what is said there is & will continue to be private.