Happy New Year everyone!! I have a really great interview to kick off 2018 and I’m very excited about it!! For my first interview of the year I’m speaking with the awesome Kate of Phonograph Fashions! Kate is one super cool and incredibly creative woman who makes beautiful vintage inspired clothing and her creativity doesn’t end there – she even makes her own makeup and has a series of wonderful vintage beauty tutorials on Youtube! Amazing!
I hope that you all enjoy this interview with Kate, and do make sure to read to the end for a really cool surprise from Kate!
Tell us about your business, Phonograph Fashions!
Phonograph Fashions is a handmade clothing line. I create a variety of clothing inspired by the early 20th century, with a focus on the 1920’s and a few Victorian pieces thrown in for good measure. Every piece is designed and sewn by me, often taking inspiration directly from historical sources (such as antique sewing books, period magazine illustrations, etc).
When did you start your business? What inspired you to start it and what excites you about your work?
I started my business back in 2013, right after graduating University. I had just spent several years getting a Bachelors of Mathematics and was itching to switch gears into something a bit more artistic. At that time I had already begun sewing historically inspired garments for my own wardrobe. As much as I loved real vintage/antique clothing, it was proving to not be a practical everyday option, so I set to work making myself some casual 1920’s inspired clothing. I adore sewing and starting my own business allowed me spend more time creating and make a bit of money at the same time!
The flexibility of being my own boss has been such a blessing over the past few years. When I started, I was working part-time for a tutoring company and taking some online courses to supplement my degree. My business allowed me to work more hours when my coursework was lighter (and help pay for the courses) and take a step back when things like exams came along. Unfortunately, in 2014 I began to get sick with a mystery ailment. After a lot of medical testing, it appears I have some sort of auto-immune condition that can cause a lot of fatigue. Working for myself means I can sew a lot on “good days” and take more time off when I’m having a flare-up of my illness. This has been so wonderful in terms of helping my health to improve over the last few years and still being able to earn some income. There is no way a normal 9 to 5 job would have provided me with this extent of flexibility in my working schedule!
What is your process? What tools do you like using? Where do you do your work? Can you walk us through a day in your life with your business?
I do all the work for my business in a small dedicated sewing studio in my home. While I have plans to move to a bigger space, my current space is small but efficient with different zones for sewing, cutting, packaging, etc. I usually start my day by sitting on my antique Victorian chaise lounge and responding to any messages or inquires. After a quick coffee break, I then begin my sewing for the day. I love spending time in the studio and there is always a mix of 1920s/30s music playing while I work.
If I have any made-to-order garments or custom orders those take priority, along with any other garments that use the same sewing machine settings/thread. I like switching back and forth between a number of garments, but changing the sewing machine threads/settings takes a while so I try to group together garments by thread colour. My garments are all sewn on a mix of my older-but-reliable sewing machine and my newer serger.
My chronic health issues limit my energy, so I am careful to pace myself during the day, and often break up my sewing work with video editing or some other easy work. If at the end of the day I have anything that needs to be mailed, I package everything up before walking over to the nearby post box. Packaging is actually one of my favourite tasks. I recently designed my own notecards (using antique illustrations) to include with my orders and I always use fabric scraps for ribbon (usually in a material that matches the garment I’m shipping).
What do you love the most about your business?
I love being able to create garments that I wouldn’t normally sew for myself. There are some fabrics that I simply adore but whose colours just don’t suit me, or dress styles that look amazing on other people but which wouldn’t fit in my wardrobe. Sewing for others allows me to create what I want, instead of being stuck creating only what I need or what would look good on myself.
Why vintage? What about it is special to you and made you decide to go into this business?
I’ve just always been drawn to the styles of the past. While I certainly don’t have rose-tinted glasses for the time period, I do find previous decades much more aesthetically pleasing than current styles. Sewing vintage-inspired clothing started as a way for me to have access to the styles I loved, and has become a way for me to share those styles with others.
How do you decide which vintage fashions to reproduce for your shop?
While I usually have a few designs in mind, I normally start by buying fabric and choosing a design I feel that will best work with the material. I prefer to let the fabric take centre stage, so I usually replicate designs that are not overly ornamented with trimmings. There are so many ideas I want to try, so I stock my shop with a mix of standard garments I love making and new one-of-a-kind pieces. Experimenting with different styles keeps it fun and allows customers to purchase garments that are completely unique.
Where do you draw inspiration from for the clothing that you make?
French fashion magazines from the early 1920s are where I take a lot of my inspiration. Many have detailed dimensions, so I can accurately replicate the shape of the original garment. I also have several period sewing books to provide both inspiration and instruction on how the garments were originally made (although normally I adapt them to modern technology). In addition to those, I always keep a folder on my computer when I save images of beautiful vintage clothing I stumble across online. Those photos provide a lot of inspiration for the finishing touches (such as neckline finishes and trimmings).
How do you go about designing your clothing?
I usually start by deciding on a basic style for the garment. Often times I will start with a design from an antique magazine or sewing book, then figure out how to adapt it to modern sewing techniques (a lot of hand-sewing is just too labour intensive). Once I’ve decided on a basic design, I draft a pattern or two and make a mock-up. I prefer to make a mock-up out of the fabric I’m planning on using, so I know exactly how the final design will fit. These garments are usually either sold as a discounted sample item in my shop or end up in my own wardrobe. Once I’m happy with the fit and have tweaked the pattern, I can then start sewing the “real” garments!
When did you begin sewing?
I started sewing classes when I was around 10 years old. My mother can’t sew a button, so she enrolled me in a sewing course for kids so I would at least learn the basics. I then sewed on and off over the years, with it becoming a more serious passion in my last year of University.
What started your love of vintage?
No idea. I’ve just always loved it. I grew up in an old house, so I suppose I’ve always been surrounded by old things. I didn’t start to dress in true vintage until university, but I did buy many modern pieces earlier that had a vintage style to them. There weren’t any places locally to buy vintage when I was young and I wasn’t allowed to purchase things online, otherwise I think I would have started wearing vintage much earlier!
How would you describe your own style?
Eclectic. I just can’t seem to stick to one decade or one style or even one colour palette. I have everything from Victorian style gowns to 1960’s shift dresses in my wardrobe, plus a variety of vintage hats and accessories. I do tend to be drawn to dramatic pieces, and love garments that use a LOT of material (wide sleeves, flowing skirts, massive scarves, etc).
Who or what is your personal vintage style inspiration?
I don’t think I could narrow it down to only one or two. I tend to draw inspiration from quite a wide range of people and sources!
What is your favourite era for vintage?
I couldn’t possibly choose just one! I tend to be most drawn to the decades in the 1890s- 1930s time frame, but I also am very fond of styles from the 1940s-1970s even if I don’t indulge in them as often.
Do you have a favourite vintage era fashion designer?
Madeleine Vionnet, without question! I love her work for how clever it was. She was a brilliant French designer, most famous for her work in the inter-war period. Her garments popularized the “bias-cut”, which is an incredibly flattering way of draping material, and I love her use of very geometric shapes to create surprisingly well-fitted garments. My latest dress design is actually very closely inspired by one of her early 1920 dresses (currently I just have a sample dress in the shop, but I will be adding a variety of different colours and materials in the near future). Her use of geometry really appeals to my mathematical side!
Tell us about yourself!
I’m a 20-something Canadian, with a black cat named Aggie (short for Agatha Christie…or aggravation depending on the day…). I love making things and have to create something every day (be it sewing, knitting, or just making hand cream) or else I get very irritable!
What do you do in your free time?
I am a die-hard crafter. All my hobbies involve making things, such as knitting, embroidery, baking, and making my own beauty products. I also film historical/vintage beauty tutorials for YouTube. Video editing is a lot of fun and something I can do on days when I don’t have enough energy for crafting.
Do you have any words of advice for someone who might be thinking of starting their own business, whether it be in vintage, sewing, pattern making, or any other creative field?
Make sure you love what you are doing and will still love it when you’ve done it 500 times. While I do make a lot of one-of-a-kind pieces, there needs to be a certain amount of repetition if you are going to produce enough product to make money from. I use the one-off pieces to satisfy my creativity, but the reproducible garments are where I make most of my income. A lot of time also needs to be spent on the less-fun stuff (such as inventory, taxes, studio cleanup…). Running a business is not all playing with pretty things and answering emails (although there’s a lot of that too!). The trick is to find the right balance between the fun, exciting tasks and the more mundane-but-necessary tasks.
Do you have anything special you would like to promote to my readers?
Well nothing in particular (although I am totally in love with my new range of Victorian-inspired brocade capes. One of the capes destined for the shop may have been “accidentally” lost on the way and ended up in my closet…) But I do have a coupon code which your readers can use to get 10% off any orders from my shop: just enter the code CATSMEOW at checkout.
Where can we find you online?
I sell my designs over at https://www.etsy.com/shop/PhonographFashions, and can be found on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/thelonghairedflapper where I post historical beauty videos once a week. I’m also on Instagram @thelonghairedflapper and blog occasionally at http://vintageinamodernworld.blogspot.ca/ (I used to post more frequently but now it’s only about once a month).
Thank you so much for allowing me to interview you, Kate, and for the generous offer to my readers! I’m really excited to see all the wonderful things you do in the future and wish you the best of luck! 🙂
For fun, I thought I would end this interview with one of Kate’s wonderful vintage style tutorials – because who wouldn’t want hair like Mary Pickford?!?
I hope you all enjoyed this interview with Kate! If there is anyone you would like to see featured here, let me know in the comments – you never know, you just might see them interviewed here in the future!
Wishing you all the very, very best of everything for 2018. ❤
All images featured in this interview used with kind permission from Kate of Phonograph Fashions.