1. What is the start-up story behind Uncommon Costuming?
Uncommon Costuming was born out of my love of costumes.
I started out doing cosplay for myself, but I love sewing and wanted more projects, so I began making things for other people.
At that point, I decided to officially open a business, starting with making commissioned items and now expanding into what I like to call ‘fantasy streetwear.’
2. Uncommon Costuming, What are three words that best define it?
Creative, bespoke, diverse.
3. What are you working on lately?
Our big push now is to get the Etsy shop up and running.
We’ve spent the last few years doing commissions, but having a shop is an opportunity to sell our own original designs!
4. What are some recent achievements you guys would like to share?
Our biggest achievement this year was launching the website, uncommoncostuming.com. It was supposed to go up last year but suffered so many technical difficulties from bad web hosting that it took until this year to get it all cleared up.
It’s been both a huge relief and a source of pride for us.
5. What’s something that’s always running on your minds?
What the next few projects will be and how to schedule them.
Commissions can range from a single piece that takes two days to an entire ensemble that takes months. And the deadlines vary, so one client might need a piece within a couple of weeks while someone else might be booking a piece for an event the following year.
It can be tricky balancing the time each project takes with their deadlines to space them out in a way that doesn’t make everyone involved crazy!
6. How do you spend your downtime?
Mostly playing video games!
Skyrim is the great video game love of my life, but I’ve been playing through Persona5 lately, which is such an incredibly well-made game.
I also go out a lot because, living in Chicago, the city has a lot to offer; every week there’s an afterhours museum event or a video game playtest or some such.
7. What would you guys spend a million dollars on?
Renting a studio space and upgrading some of our equipment. I’m lucky enough to have space for a home studio, which is wonderfully convenient, but I’m expanding past its capacity now.
8. What three pieces of advice would you all give to others when it comes to life and business?
RUN toward the things you love! Don’t sideline them, don’t leave them on the back burner. If there’s an interest you loved, you will never stop loving it, so you may as well dive in.
Keep balance. I tend to be a workaholic and I think our society encourages that, so it can be easy to let work take over. But burning out doesn’t help anything, so it’s important to take time off.
Be true to yourself. It’s important to take other perspectives into consideration (in life) and market trends (in business), but you have to stay focused on your own vision.
9. What’s one thing you struggle most when building your own brand?
Making our vision clear as we expand the business.
The world of clothing has become so generic and so strictly categorized, but each body is different, and people should be able to dress for their own shape and aesthetic, rather than according to a department store section.
It’s important to us that people know we make what they want – whether that’s a costume or a suit or a shirt – the way they want it.
10. What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?
Scheduling projects early on was a big problem: correctly estimating how long tasks would take, spacing projects out enough. It caused a lot of stress. I quickly learned how to more accurately estimate the time different types of projects would take, as well as how to complete certain aspects more efficiently.
Ultimately, it was a good learning experience because I now know exactly how much I can take on at any given point.
11. What’s a typical day in your life like?
I actually have a day job, so that’s a typical day, but I was fortunate enough to finagle a full-time job that I only have to be at four days a week. I do a lot of the accounting, web design, etc. weekday evenings, and most of the sewing on my long weekends.
12. What’s one of the highlighting moment in your career? Why is it so?
Because I show off costumes at conventions quite a bit, they’re starting to get recognized more, be it online or in person. A couple times in the last few months, people I’ve met at events were already familiar with a costume I’d done and told me how much they liked my designs, which was so flattering.
13. What stops you from throwing in the towel and giving up during those frustrating days of being in this industry?
I remind myself that I don’t have to be here; I chose to be here. There are a lot of difficulties that we can’t avoid, and that can often make them even harder to deal with. I have the consolation of knowing that this was something I wanted to do so much that I chose to do it despite the difficulties.
14. Biggest risk ever taken?
I’m risk averse by nature, actually! I think the biggest risk was starting the business in the first place because I was really very unprepared. I’ve since had the good sense to expand slowly, and that’s allowed me to catch up with myself.
13. Who has influenced you most and been your greatest inspiration?
That’s a tough one. There are so many. I’m endlessly inspired by cosplayers I know, because cosplay often requires sewing, prop making, hair styling, special effects makeup, all kinds of things, and most cosplayers are largely self-taught.
It’s inspiring to see people with such a high skill level in so many areas. It shows me how much quality and creativity a person can achieve when they work at it!
14. How do you go about marketing your business or yourself?
What has been your most successful form of marketing?
Until the website went up, we relied largely on social media, although word of mouth has been our best source of advertising.
Commissioning a piece is expensive and time consuming because it’s being created just that once, to the client’s exact specifications, so it’s a big investment.
Finding someone through an ad isn’t sufficiently reassuring for most people, so getting a personal recommendation instills more trust that they’re going to get exactly what they want.
15. How do you plan to grow your brand/business further?
Having the Etsy shop is next up, so we can begin selling our own designs on an existing platform. If all goes well, we’ll move sales to our own site and hire a designer to upgrade and maintain the site. And of course, we have a backlog of designs to pattern, stitch, and photograph!
16. Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?
I’m a big fan of Castle Corsetry. Corsets are difficult work at the best of times, and they do these fabulous geeky designs that I just love! Firefly Path also does some of the most stunning fantasy themed bridal wear and formal wear. I follow both of them on social media and it always delights me to see their latest designs!
17. How do you achieve balance in your life?
My partner and I both run our own businesses in addition to our day jobs, and it helps enormously to have someone else in the house who has similar demands on their time and attention, so we support each other a lot.
I’m also just an obsessive planner; I used to be a project manager, and still work in that sort of role. Those skills have been enormously useful in scheduling my days to fit everything in.
18. What is the definition of success for you all, and how much of it do you think you guys have achieved?
Oh, we’re so new by the scale of small businesses that we’re a long way from Success with a capital ‘S,’ but we’re making steady progress that’s giving us a firm footing for the future.
I think success in the long-term, big picture sense would be to have a full-time team who are all able to make a decent living running the business. We’d like to continue doing a combination of commissions and original designs because each opens up different opportunities.
19. Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?
Ha! I’ve stopped answering that question. Ten years ago I had just completed my Master’s degree in Egyptology. Five years ago I was working for a semi-conductor company.
So many outside factors cause our lives to change, and right now we’re looking at a point in history in which our economy is changing fundamentally. I’d like to think I’d be running Uncommon Costuming full-time with a team, but who honestly knows where any of us will be!
20. What’s the first thing you guys would say to the world if all attention was on you now?
Wow, that’s a lot of pressure!
One thing I tell myself a lot is to be aware of how every little action I make – what I buy, what I throw away, what I say to people, how I behave – affects other people, whether I know it or not.
So being aware of how our actions affect others seems like a good thing to tell the world!
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