We Met On the Bus… Part Three
My new job — Designer at last!
It just so happened that the traveller for my new firm knew the bosses at my first one, they traded with some of the same firms in the wholesale trade. I did wonder if this guy had anything to do with my new appointment. I soon got on very well indeed with the traveller as he was the main stay of their business, both in wholesale and retail. He knew the right people. When sunray pleated skirts were all the rage, he knew where to get the pleating done as well as lovely embroidery by a firm close by. Leather belts too. I would get samples sent of embroidery suitable for dress bodices, which I could use with the sunray skirts. So it was more a matter of good pattern cutting and overall style than cleverness of design. Those dresses went straight to the retail within weeks of samples being done. I met the top man at the local C&A and a few days later he was shown the new design samples. His reaction was “Has that little girl done these?” He was quite impressed and a good order made.
New samples were done for the traveller to take around the country. Sales were good. Occasionally rolls of fabric would be bought at a knock-down price and I would have the job of designing something simple, cheap but attractive, to make a good profit. I recall a simple striped blouse made in black and white striped silky material. It had a black narrow velvet ribbon to finish off a fly-away-collared neckline. The rolls of material were used up and every blouse was sold. My quick response to the traveller’s requests meant I got on very well there.
I met reps who came selling buttons and accessories and, most of all, the buyers who bought our designs. This sometimes entailed me going to London with the traveller to meet these important people, so that I could answer their queries concerning required changes and generally use my knowledge and design ability. One firm that had its own label to put on the styles bought from us, had a really snooty buyer (a lady heavily made up to hide — unsuccessfully — wrinkling skin) who treated me with complete disdain. Our traveller hung our dresses along a rail for them to look at. The woman went along the rail, dropping to the floor most of the samples. Then she examined the rest. She picked out a two-piece that had velvet set into the collar and pocket flaps. I knew that the model was cut too tightly on the lay to allow for ‘give-away’ changes, so much so that even the shoulder pads had to be joined. But she asked how much cheaper the garment would be if we used self-fabric instead of velvet for the trimming.
Being honest, I said I thought it would make little or no difference, as more of the self-fabric would be required.
She sniffed deeply, looked down her nose and said, “It must make SOME difference, Ducky!”
The traveller intervened and said that something could be arranged if that is what they wanted to do.
Anyway, we got an order there and elsewhere — a very good multi-store clothing business, which treated me as the young person I was, but with the respect due to me as the seller’s designer. I was still only twenty but learning fast.
Since our marriage, my husband and I had been living at my parents’ house, using an upstairs bedroom as a bed-sit. We were to be there for three years. Not a very happy arrangement but places to rent were few in number and very expensive when any became available. Council property was reserved for those with children and on a points system. Since we did not want children until we had a house of our own, we were doomed to always be on the bottom of the very long housing list.
My hubby was still attending Evening Classes several times a week and studying at other times. I spent three nights per week ironing for the whole household, as my mother did our washing for us. No TV, of course, but we went to the cinema once a week and I read books or sewed. On Sundays we had a ride on the motor-bike (no springing in those days!) perhaps to his old home or maybe visit a relative. But we lived economically on my wages and saved as much as possible until we had enough cash for a deposit on a house. During this time, I travelled on the bus and my husband on the train.
As far as work was concerned, things were going very well indeed by the time Christmas came along. To top it all I found I had two weeks extra pay for a Christmas bonus, something that had never happened to me before then. Not only money but also a huge box of chocolates to go with the bonus! Such appreciation! Alas, I did not know what lay on the horizon!
The picture is just a rough idea of what the early sunray dresses with embroidered bodices looked like. (About 1953-4 onwards) These were made in black finely-knitted woollen fabric. The machine embroidery was of a thread that looked like beaded work when completed.
More to come…