Renée Lacroix is a Canadian-born, London-based pattern cutter extraordinaire.
Having originally studied back in Canada for over 6 years, focusing on womenswear design and technical/pattern cutting skills, she came to London in 2010 to complete a Masters in Sustainable Fashion at London College of Fashion. As many graduates do, she then set up a womenswear label with a business partner. While they were setting up the business, Renee took on pattern cutting jobs to help with cash flow. Before long, she realised that she had a growing business in pattern cutting, taking more and more of her time. This led to her establishing the London Pattern Bureau late in 2015 properly.
Utelier caught up with her to find out more.
What made you decide to start your own business?
I’ve wanted to have my own fashion line for as long as I can remember. I was lucky enough to find someone who was on the same wavelength during my time at the London College of Fashion, so we became partners and started working together while we were still studying.
As with many start-ups, we couldn’t afford to pay ourselves and knew we had to look for part-time jobs. A friend of mine was looking for someone to make her collection for a fashion show, so I started working for her and things started picking up very quickly. There’s a lack of technical knowledge amongst the fashion industry, which is why pattern cutting is in such high demand.
In 2015, when my partner and I decided to shut down the label, I saw an opportunity to transform my freelance services into a proper company. It’s only been 10 months and I’m proud to say I now provide employment for two full-time staff and one contractor.
How did you add new clients to turn it from a part-time job to full-time business?
I started by creating a website and advertising using Google Adwords. Being a member of the Ethical Fashion Forum, I also had the chance to introduce London Pattern Bureau during their annual Source Expo event, which brought us great exposure. We also occasionally put up posters in fashion schools across London. And of course, personal recommendations and word of mouth are always great ways to grow our client base.
Who are your clients currently?
They are a very varied bunch, ranging from the ambitious design student who wants to commercialise their final collection, to the full-time professional who has a great product idea but isn’t quite sure how to bring it to market. The only thing that they have in common is that they are all start-ups.
Even though we mainly cater to Londoners, we recently started getting orders from abroad: United States, Canada, Thailand and even Qatar! We just finished developing a collection with a very talented designer in Finland. It demands great communication skills, but if both parties are organised, the process is actually quite smooth. First, we arranged a Skype meeting and discussed all her designs in detail. Once the toiles were ready, she flew in for a fitting and the final samples were sent by courier.
Related reading: What makes a Perfect Fitting Session?
One of my favorite things about this job is actually client meetings. I get to meet so many people from all different backgrounds and walks of life. They come to us with their ideas and their dreams, and we do our best to make them a reality.
Do you have minimum requirements?
No, we are very flexible and don’t have any minimum order. Very often clients want to try making 2-3 styles with us before placing a bigger order. We are constantly expanding our comfort zone and recently started working with activewear and swimwear. My new motto is: as long as it’s made with textile, we’ll give it a try!
A common order we like to work with is 10-piece capsule collections. In the future, I would like to develop an ongoing relationship with fashion labels, have fewer clients but bigger collections. I think it’s very important for designers to find a compatible pattern cutter they can rely on and go back to them season after season to ensure a continuity in the fit and design details.
How do you charge for the work that you do? Do you have packages or do you charge per hour?
In this industry, time really is money, so our pricing is directly based on the time it will take to carry out the work. Naturally, the more intricate a design, the more expensive it will be.
For pattern development, we work on a flat rate per piece and sampling is charged at an hourly rate. I normally can give our clients a pretty accurate quote based on their sketches, as I know from experience how many hours something will take to make.
For example, I know a trouser pattern – which also includes a toile, a fitting session and a set of alterations, will take approximately six hours to make, whereas a fully lined blazer can take up to eight or nine hours.
Do you work with a team or alone?
I’m lucky to have found a talented and dedicated team to do all the graft. I have a full-time pattern cutter and a studio assistant, Adriana and Amrit, both of whom work closely together to produce our patterns and toiles. Then there’s our sewing goddess Zanete, who has a good few decades of experience and never fails to deliver samples of the highest quality.
What do you wish clients knew more about before they came to see you? What frustrates you with new clients?
The vast majority of our clients are very competent and friendly, but some of them can be very hard to work with, especially those who come to us with absolutely no understanding of the industry and are unreasonably demanding. We recently had a client who wanted to have a 12-piece collection done in two weeks! They don’t understand that product development is a lengthy process that involves many different people and components.
Another frustrating element is when clients come to us with very tight deadlines, which we always do our absolute best to deliver on time, but then when we are ready to start sampling they don’t have the fabric or trims ready, and it feels like we have rushed for no reason.
Fabric choice is also a recurring problem. Many people don’t understand the difference between woven and knit fabrics, which is a crucial element in pattern development. When we start a pattern, we always take into consideration the type of fabric and cut the toile in a cloth of a similar weight, but if the designer changes their mind and chooses a different fabric, it changes the final look and we have to reconsider everything.
How long does it take you to turn around clients’ requests?
It really depends on how busy we are, but in general, I have to say we have a very short lead time. For small orders of one or two pieces we can normally deliver within two weeks, but for a 10-piece collection, I would allocate four to six weeks from start to finish. Very often any delays stem from fabric and trim being delivered late.
Finally, what fashion categories do you specialise in?
We work across all categories – womenswear, menswear, childrenswear – including sportswear, leisure, and swimwear. The only product type we don’t really deal with is ladies underwear and corsetry, as their construction is very technical and we don’t have the machinery to do it.
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