The pure joy of fashion, I remember that, before my perception of it was tainted. I remember the joy of touching fabric, running my fingers over it, feeling it in my hands. I remember that pink silk damask fabric, the pleasure of turning it into knee length pants, followed by the red high-wasted slim ankle pants and then a similar pair in black. I remember the thrill of knowing I was onto something. I couldn’t sleep! I stayed up all hours and rose early to thumb through fashion magazines, wondering what I should make next, feeling like the sky was the limit.
Some of the outfits I recall making – that green-black-white plaid three piece with pleated skirts work outfit; that purple-green blouse and pants my sister Beatrice so dearly loved; the monochrome pink-purple lose top and pencil skirt; the red pencil skirt to go with the red-black sweater top; and that colourful pink and luminous green number to go with my then luminous pink canvas sneakers –oh how I loved those sneakers; the African print in a discreet brown –I guess I’ve always avoided bright busy colours, preferring colour-blocking and monochromes; that’s still the case to date.
And then one day the lights went out. It was a difficult time. A careless comment from the very person I needed to be most proud of me and of everything I was creating with my new-found passion for fashion. I remember how my heart got heavy… that this –fashion– was all I could do, that this was what I would do, that this was all I was ‘good for’. That I had failed, that I wasn’t good enough for anything else but fashion. That now I was stuck. Add a visual painted of me ‘repairing’ clothes for customers outside the local shop, something I resented to my core that after a while I never took in repair work for all the years I immersed myself in fashion.
Designing had become a dirty word, and now I disliked fashion. I was ashamed of it. It meant I was a failure, I wasn’t good enough, I had fallen short. It was now a constant reminder that I was less-than. The joy was gone, yet the gift remained. And with the growing client base, the discipline was there. So I diligently practiced my craft, got better, improved, made good money and even branched out into interiors (my first project was overhauling our home by designing and making new seat covers, matching curtains, nets, and seat pillows. It was a big project but the results were gratifying. I had done it and I was proud of it).
There was anger there too. Damnit I was good at this. Why was I being made to feel less than? Why was something I excelled at still being regarded as failing? However long my client list grew, I was still a failure. I jerked up my prices by about 300% in a bid to close down my client list. This worked but I only ended up with a whole new set of clientele at a whole other level. My frustration was growing and I was touchy about it. I was defensive about my craft, feeling judged, even slighted. I remember showing a client the door and giving her money to refund her fabric purchase because she had questioned my design. I was self-conscious, felt like everyone thought me a failure. Hurt people hurt people.
That cloud hung over me until I went to work in accounting, a move that was approved of; I was now finally going to be okay. Oh well. Fashion loved me anyway and followed me along with finance. I couldn’t put the pen or needle down for long. I worked the 9-5 but thoroughly looked forward to coming home in the evening to play with fabric and to mold it onto the body.
Working on my wedding dress and the bridal entourage outfits opened the door to yet another level of fashion design; now I was playing in the big leagues, so much so that I left finance to focus fully on fashion. After all, I had made something of myself, graduated accounting college, even held down a job. I worked on fashion even as my life transitioned and new circumstances tried to dictate what direction my fashion endeavours would take. “No, I don’t want to just sew and make lab coats because that pays well, I want to design clothes –fancy ones at that”, I remember thinking and saying. In my mind, I had the location of my new boutique picked out already, and it was going to be a fashion powerhouse.
My circumstances changed, and I made the practical (fearful) choice to focus on finance. Until now. The journey continues…
ღ Helena Grey xo