What is By Harriet all about?
I take it for granted that everybody who happens across one of my social media posts or briefly clicks on my website will of course know what I’m about, what I do, why I do it, why I’m good at it etc. Bonkers really! I don’t really remember ever stating it out clearly so why on earth would anyone know so here goes.
WHAT IS “BY HARRIET”?
By Harriet is my business and my passion. It started as a side hustle hobby when my now nearly 19 year old son was a toddler and became my full time business and income following maternity leave with my daughter, now almost 14.
WHAT DO YOU DO?
There are 3 key elements to By Harriet. The first two, bridal and millinery, were there from the very start. I made a tiara (my own) and then a fascinator (with a lot of jewellery along the way too). My handmade orders are pretty much a 50/50 split. As such I’ve never really known what to class myself as. Although I’d studied art at A Level and was a fairly competent seamstress I’ve had no formal training in my “craft”. I’m self-taught and so imposter syndrome took hold and even now I struggle to say I’m a “milliner”. I don’t think there is a title for a bridal accessories maker and “designer” always sounded pretentious and grandiose. The third element I mentioned is selling pre-made pieces that I buy in to retail but more about that later.
WHAT SORT OF BUSINESS IS “BY HARRIET”?
I’ve tended to link myself to the “Wedding Industry” (I do hate that term but it is what it is). I think it’s because wedding shows gave me an instant access to brides and their mothers whereas I’m not sure where I’d have begun from a purely millinery standpoint, I find the world of fashion is just too big and scary to contemplate. I love the theatrical, dressing up, statement making and attention grabbing, but in reality I’m quite a contradiction who lurks happily makeup free, in yoga pants and a sweatshirt (if you’ve seen my Instagram). I’m more about keeping it real in my day to day social media behind the scenes stories rather than the deceptively curated world of Insta perfection.
I started much the same as most of the hand makers of accessories, I liked making pretty things, so I’d say primarily By Harriet is a handmade small business. It’s always been a ridiculously competitive sector with a high turnover of small businesses but I’m proud to stand alongside a number of other talented creators I respect hugely, whose businesses have endured by focusing on individually hand making beautifully crafted quality pieces for their clients.
I never really do this but I need to purge, I need to explain what By Harriet isn’t first of all, for you then be able to appreciate what it is. Scroll down to below the indent to avoid should you wish, I’d completely understand!
A lot of new accessories brands pop up, with brides to be, thinking it will be a fun way to earn some money and good luck to them, the best of them hopefully go on to thrive (trust me, it’s not that easy). Many others however, (way too many) surface that purport to be hand crafted but years of experience and insider knowledge mean I (and other industry peers) can instantly recognise the pieces as being from Alibaba and DHGate, mass produced Chinese wholesalers. Etsy and Not On The High Street are also awash with these cheap imports masquerading as “Designer Handmade”, it makes my blood boil. I suppose I could admire their marketing chutzpah, it’s certainly never been my strength.
I could disappear way too far down that infuriating rabbit hole so I’m going to have to stop myself getting too side tracked, suffice it to say such “Designers” actively give the “Wedding Industry” a bad name. They are misleading brides who believe they have a handmade design. Their pricing leads brides to have unrealistic expectations about the cost of handmade, as they may sell a piece for £90 that costs them £7 (very realistic example of these types of traders pricing practice) but for a small creative business to buy such materials and make a comparable piece it may need to be retailed at £150+ with minimal profit after labour, packaging and overheads. That has to raise some serious questions. I’m not saying that such products shouldn’t be sold, it is a personal choice for each bride, however if you shop in a designer artisan boutique because that is important to you, you don’t expect to be sold Primark products. Speaking of which, Primark are selling some moon and star hair slides at £1.99 a set , the same pieces are being sold by multiple others in the industry for over £20 a set and way beyond, buyer beware!
All that said, I don’t obsess about this for hours now like I used to, it wasn’t good for me. I tend to keep my head down and focus on what I do, not others. I can’t change others behaviour, all I can do is just ensure that I’m able to proud of mine.
WHAT IS SPECIAL ABOUT HANDMADE “BY HARRIET”?
As I was saying before I digressed, I just liked making pretty things and became pretty good at it, but over time that has changed. I still like making “pretty things” but I’ve discovered a real flair for understanding and knowing what will suit individual clients and their particular occasion, be that accessories for a bride or millinery for a mother of the bride (or groom), wedding guest or race goer. Some of this is undoubtedly as a result of years of experience, much of it though is a deeply rooted gut instinct that I didn’t appreciate I had, but that now continually becomes more and more finely honed.
Over the years I’ve encountered ladies of all ages, shapes and sizes. As they say variety is the spice of life. I’m inherently a problem solver and this variety has allowed me to deploy this practical bias with my strong instinct.
I’ve worked with alopecia suffering brides, ladies recovering from chemo with very sensitive heads, and wheel chair bound clients who don’t want to be lost under the brim of a hat and excluded from the merriment above them.
I love working with frustrated older brides who don’t want to dress as a “princess” bride but rightly, would rather embrace the woman they are now, it’s great to be able to walk them through options they didn’t realise they had, then seeing pictures of them looking radiant afterwards.
I love working with tom boys or ladies who haven’t a clue where to start and helping them find something that works for them, designs that don’t try and morph them in to stereotypical brides or mothers of the bride.
I like showing ladies who feel they can’t wear hats and headpieces with glasses or short hair that they can, it’s simply the case of trying the right designs.
I love helping ladies discover that they do suit hats or headpieces after years of believing they didn’t, they just hadn’t tried the right things.
I love ladies who have a strong vision of what they want and striving to make that vision a reality for them, especially ladies going all out for ladies day at the races.
I’m honest with people. If something isn’t going to work or suit someone I’ll tell them (even if it means the potential loss of a sale) and offer a reason and a better alternative suggestion. I believe most women prefer this friendly frankness rather than being flattered in to spending on the wrong thing.
I see some clients in person but many I never meet other than via email, phone and Skype. Whether I meet them in the flesh or not it is equally important for me to get a proper understanding so that I know what I’m creating for them is the going to be right. Don’t just take my word for it, I love these quotes from past clients, they mean so much and I love looking at them when I’m having a confidence wobble.
“Harriet was absolutely wonderful and she was able to interpret exactly what I wanted before I really knew what I wanted myself! I would highly recommend her to any bride!!”
“Harriet was so knowledgeable and down-to-earth friendly that she made me feel at ease and she inspires confidence - she really knows what will look perfect on you ....”
“Harriet’s ideas and suggestions were far better than my own and she knew instinctively why the pieces I was originally looking at would not suit me and picked up a piece that I would never have looked at. But then when I tried it on - ’Bingo’ - that was the one! Harriet knew this immediately - fantastic!”
WHAT ABOUT THE THIRD ELEMENT, THE READY TO WEAR?
Years ago I used to do jewellery parties as a way of taking along my millinery pieces to display and advertise, whilst earning money, rather than paying out on pointless advertising (it costs hundreds and honestly doesn’t work). I found some good suppliers along the way and often sold jewellery to clients who visited the studio. I also sold the ready to wear pieces when I did the National Wedding Shows (I don’t now but that’s another blog post) and over the years expanded to include pieces that ladies were asking for like the feather wraps and boleros. I’ve added most of them to my website but there are still more to come, in particular the hair accessories.
WHY SELL PRE-MADE ACCESSORIES WHEN YOU MAKE YOUR OWN? I HEAR YOU WONDER
Well it comes down to that old practical thing again. I’m realistic, I’m financially “cautious” (half Scottish, half Yorkshire) and I’ve been there, done that and got the t shirt when it comes to weddings. I had 5 bridesmaids and it costs money. I’d happily make you anything you wanted to pay me to make but I don’t really feel that I can make many bridesmaids options at a “sensible” price point.
I don’t charge a premium because something is bridal, my costs are based on a simple forumla of materials, labour, etc, so there is no easy way to make cheaper pieces for bridesmaids (I’m not the most brazen business woman you’ll meet). In my studio I’ve a number of great bridesmaids ready to wear hair piece options that won’t break the bank, over the next month or so I’ll be adding them to my website too. I’m contemplating some sort of discount system for multiple purchases of the same item as I do that at the studio, you’ll have to stay posted or DM me if you want details before then.
DOESN’T THE RETAIL ELEMENT CONTRADICT MY EARLIER RANT?
I NEVER ever misrepresent these pieces as handmade or as my designs, I’m explicit in this. My biggest issue is with the misrepresentation of what the product is, the lack of integrity. I don’t charge excessive mark ups on these items either they are sold at a fair and competitive price. that said I don’t have the buying power of the likes of Debenhams.
SO WHY SHOULD YOU CHOOSE OR RECOMMEND “BY HARRIET”?
I make quality products served with knowledgeable and practical advice, beautiful things for real people, and I want to continue doing so for as long as I can.
I BELIEVE THAT IRRESPECTIVE OF OUR INSECURITIES, EVERY WOMAN DESERVES TO LOOK & FEEL COMFORTABLE, CONFIDENT, & FABULOUS ON HER SPECIAL DAYS. I’M HERE TO HELP THAT HAPPEN FOR YOU
I’d best wrap this up, it’s been a ramble, I feel like I need to offer a reward to anyone who’s got to the end. I hope though that this has given you an insight in to what By Harriet is about.
I’ll tell you what, leave me a comment if you’ve read it and I’ll do a little prize draw in about a month.
Until next time
PS. I wasn’t joking about the comments and the draw!