Monday, March 23, 2020
There are some things milliners can do during the Coronavirus crisis. Here are my suggestions.
Many individuals and businesses can already tell you; COVID-19 has the potential to take everything. There are a lot of new guidelines about how we should be living for the foreseeable future. I’d like to talk about my view in regard to millinery.
Many millinery businesses like mine have already seen a decline, and I am increasingly worried how far this may go and what consequences will result. I’m in a position where talk to a lot of people in our industry and see a lot of what happens. So, I wanted to put my thoughts down in the aim of shedding a bit more light on some areas you may not have considered.
Millinery in Australia is reliant on horse racing for much of its income. With the banning of public events, we have seen a dramatic downturn in people buying hats. Existing customers are cancelling orders, and new orders and purchases are becoming rare. We are all uncertain when racing events will be allowed to resume, but it doesn’t look like it will be soon.
This may be a perfect time to look at how we can promote the wearing of hats in everyday life.
If we don’t support one another, many small businesses integral to our industry will be gone. Every millinery business in Australia is small; most are solopreneurs and employ very few people. Even though the industry is diverse there are things we can do to offer support at all levels.
Below are my thoughts on who we can support, and how. Maybe you have some of your own, and I think we should discuss them. It’s only by talking openly and honestly with each other that we avoid resentment and misunderstanding that can appear in times of stress.
There are relatively few who can say that making hats is their only form of income, but there are a few. Some of these milliners also have shop fronts, which usually means rent to pay. Some have partners who can contribute to their family income. Hopefully, they can get buy with that reduced income and access some assistance through small business assistance rolling out.
If you’re in this group, you will most likely at some stage need to rely on the generosity of others, including governments, landlords, banks and clients to keep you going. Don’t be afraid to reach out (especially to clients) and tell them where you’re struggling. Sure, some may be in the same boat as you, but others may not.
It’s important to ask yourself what you can do to solve other people’s problems. This can open you up to new opportunities for income you didn’t think about before. Who can you collaborate with? How can you put your skills to a different use?
How can the rest of us support these milliners? We make hats too. Aren’t we all in the same boat? Perhaps consider whether you need to sell your hats to survive. If you don’t need to sell them, then don’t. Instead, if you have a customer, refer them to someone you know needs the work. Some of these milliners offer lessons; if you can pay for one, then it’s a good idea.
Millinery ‘on the side’
The vast majority of Australian milliners fit this category. These milliners make and sell hats to clients, but it is not their only income. Some sell a lot of hats; some sell few. They may have a job other than millinery. Most work from home and rarely will they have space rented apart from popup shops in ‘season’.
The level of income support your millinery is supplying to your household will depend on the support you need. In many cases, if your business were to stop until this threat is over, then there is little reason you can’t pick up where you left off when it’s all over. Many a milliner has told me that their millinery income is their shoe fund. If this is the case, then you will survive without new shoes. I’m not suggesting you stop making hats. Quite the opposite. If you are able, then consider supporting other businesses that can’t do what you can. Refer them a client, do a workshop (online if you can’t in person), buy some supplies and make some hats for yourself or to sell when this is over. You’re most likely in a good place to just bow out for a while.
What can we do to support these milliners? There are so many online groups. Many of us already use them. They are a great way of talking about issues, getting help on hats, or just sharing what you are doing with your community. Be kind to one another and help where you can. Career milliners and suppliers remember: if these milliners are making sacrifices for you, then the least you can do is share some knowledge.
If you’re a student or hobby milliner, you may have trouble attending classes or getting supplies. You can reach out to other more experienced milliners for some help. Many will have more time on their hands and might look forward to the interaction. If you are having trouble with supplies, or you are not sure, then I encourage you to contact your suppliers. They will know what they can and can’t do. They may have extra services you can take advantage of. Above all, if you are able, please buy some product, or do a workshop. Other businesses are relying on you to survive.
How can we support these milliners? Be free and generous with your knowledge where you can. Encourage sound techniques, honest and constructive critique, foster learning and good relationships.
These are the people and businesses who procure your products: millinery suppliers, block makers, hatbox suppliers. These people/businesses usually have a shop with rent to pay and often staff. They rely on milliners and the millinery industry to survive. For most of them, reducing their income by a lot would mean the end of the business. They would lose their livelihood and have to let down people they employ. Not only do they supply your business/hobby, but they are a wealth of knowledge and support for the industry. Losing them would change the industry for the worse.
What can you do to survive? It’s similar to the things listed above. You will most likely at some stage need to rely on the generosity of others to keep you going. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your clients and tell them where you’re struggling. How can you help other people with their problems? Rack your brain for more ways you can serve your customers. Email or ring your accountant for a chat about opportunities for businesses of your size. I have a hard time keeping up with all this and understanding if I’m eligible, so ask someone who knows.
How can we help our suppliers? Quite simply put, buy stuff. You may not have orders/classes/hats to make at the moment, but can you still order some materials and make a hat? Can you afford that block you were going to buy? If so, then please do. If you can’t find what you are looking for, then ring. Maintaining websites and technology can be time-consuming at the best of times. With added stress, we can easily overlook things.
Want some advice? Ask them. They probably know or can point you in the right direction.
Don’t be surprised if something you want is not available. I have had supplies delayed because of Covid-19, already. If things get a lot worse, then what we have in the shop may well be the last we have for a while. We will all have to find ways of making do with what we can get.
Thanks for taking the time to read. As always, feel free to contact me for advice, questions and orders.
As a supplier, I am in the process of initiating measures to reach customers who are in isolation. Things like virtual workshops, online open workrooms will hopefully be here soon. I’m working on a new website as I have been for some time.
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