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Fall 2014, Liane Velasco

San Diego designers find loophole market for custom clothing

Victoria Roberts of WishNow shows off a pink, custom-made party dress in her studio.

Fashion designer Victoria Roberts shows off a custom-made party dress in her studio. Photo by Liane Velasco

Two fashion designers have found a way to create special garments for their clients by using psychological methods and environment-friendly materials.

In a world where instant gratification has become the norm, mass production has inched its way to the front of the fashion race and understandably so. Unless you make a decent amount of money, customized clothing services are hard to buy.

JoAnn Jack, an instructor for merchandise marketing and product development at the prestigious Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, noted that unless a designer is producing evening gowns or wedding dresses, custom work is not worth the time or investment. People want a certain piece of clothing immediately, making custom clothing an extremely difficult business for fashion designers to dive into and survive financially.

“It doesn’t work because people won’t pay for it,” Jack said.

But designers Melissa Hendrix of South Park men’s clothing boutique, Crow Thief, and Victoria Roberts of the dressmaking business, WishNow, have each developed their own unique way to sell their custom services and make a living along with the revenue made from their regular clothing lines.

MULTIMEDIA: Designer Victoria Roberts talks about her love for creating custom fashion designs for her clients at WishNow.

Psychology is applied to clothing

For Victoria Roberts, the face behind WishNow designs, a thorough personality evaluation of her customer is the key ingredient to creating a masterpiece, whether it means coming up with a customized dress with huge, invisible pockets or a ready-to-wear ensemble.

Roberts begins by meeting with her client and getting to know them on a personal level. During their conversation, she learns several things that impact her client’s life; their economic background, social status, education and their likes and dislikes.

As a former psychology minor, she figures out the reason behind her client’s quirks, such as why they like to wear long sleeves.

“Because when they [the client] were a child, they may have been very active and had too many scars,” Roberts said.

Many of the questions that Roberts asks her clients include:

  • What is your favorite color?
  • What was your favorite candy as a child?
  • Where did you grow up?

According to Jack, one glaring problem that many designers who specialize in custom design face is the possibility that their customer will not buy the finished product. But Roberts avoids this dilemma by including her clients in the designing process.

This is what it usually costs for custom services by WishNow and Crow Thief.

This is what it usually costs for custom services by WishNow and Crow Thief. Graphic by Liane Velasco

“The best part is the excitement that they get, because they feel like they’re putting themselves into it,” she said. “People put more love into it.”

After her client’s personality profile is finished, Roberts uses her newfound knowledge to create a dress that is meaningful to her customer. The personalized touches added into the dress-design would leave the client with no choice but to fall in love with it.

“I like to think of each of my dresses like a scrapbook of your personality,” Roberts said.

In the end, the final product becomes an heirloom that would not be easily discarded into a bag of donated clothing. Roberts hopes that her dresses will be passed on to her customers’ daughters, granddaughters and nieces.

“You can send it down like a yearbook or like a keepsake,” she explained, “because it’s not something you want to get rid of. It’s something that’s a part of you.”

Handcrafted clothing is a hit among customers

Gray collars

Crow Thief has a wide selection of eco-friendly threads. Photo by Liane Velasco

When Melissa Hendrix started her business, Crow Thief, in 2008, she began to offer men’s clothing and customization services to customers in need of something a little different. Now her clothing line and custom services can be located in South Park, San Diego.

According to Susan Spencer, another FIDM instructor of merchandise marketing and product development, the creation of a garment takes time, especially when churning out different samples of the same design. But for Hendrix, the process involved with creating a piece was a great opportunity to show clients what they were paying for, which were eco-friendly pieces handcrafted in the United States.

Hendrix uses natural fibers like linen and cotton, as opposed to materials such as rayon.

“People are really starting to begin to crave ‘Made in America’ items,’” Hendrix said. “Eco-friendly things, handcrafted items, that portion of the market is really growing.”

Other major retailers like H&M have already jumped onto the organic bandwagon. Their Conscious-Sustainable Style collection, for example, includes recycled polyester and organic cotton.

Hendrix says she was able to educate the public about the process of creating a garment on the side and give them an experience akin to a time where everything was done by hand. She sees a growing market for these services, calling it a “one-on-one” experience.

“There are a lot of people in San Diego who want that kind of niche,” Hendrix said.

A satisfying business career

Melissa Hendrix draws out a pattern in her workspace.

Melissa Hendrix utilizes her workspace at Crow Thief in South Park. Photo by Liane Velasco

Hendrix and Roberts have both managed to carve out names for themselves in the San Diego fashion world. WishNow is getting ready for the holiday season and the business that comes with it. In 2013, Crow Thief was listed in “The 24 Coolest Small Businesses in San Diego” by Business Insider.

When Hendrix isn’t selling her designs at her boutique in South Park from Wednesday to Saturday, she is working on her craft and meeting with her clients.

There is a one-time pattern fee, so the next time her client wants to design another piece for themselves, they can use the same pattern from before and style it differently.

“I wanted to give people an experience that they wouldn’t forget,” she said. “So I added the custom feature to our services and made ready-to-wear things as well. It’s a lot of fun.”



About Liane Velasco

Liane Velasco is a journalist, blogger and storyteller in San Diego with a passion for fashion, theatre and gender equality.


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