Suzie Turner, a Couture designer from Brighton talks about the challenges she faced whilst building her brand and shows us that in the face of adversity having belief in yourself, your work and standing strong is the most valuable asset.
TELL ME A BIT ABOUT LIFE GROWING UP?
I grew up in the heart of Brighton alongside very loving and hardworking parents. One of my best memories of learning how to sew was sitting with my mum hand sewing curtains.
She had a massive luxury curtain order and was convinced it would be impossible to finish by the deadline. I persuaded her that if we worked hard together we could. We took the order and worked night and day sewing these curtains until the full order was finished... I think I was ambitious from a young age!
DID YOU ALWAYS WANT TO WORK IN COUTURE?
I can remember wanting to be a stunt woman! I left school at 15 with no qualifications and I remember walking into a job centre not knowing what I wanted to do at all. Unfortunately being 15 and too young for employment I was told to go away and come back later. Whilst walking out of the job centre, I felt completely overwhelmed seeing all of the jobs displayed on the wall, none of which I had the skill set for. The last card I saw on the wall was for a tailor, immediately I knew I could do that job.
When I walked into the tailors he told me he was looking for someone experienced. Like a fearless teenager, I said I would work for free until I was good enough. Thanks to my Mum and the years of sewing curtains, I found myself with a full time job within three days and was his fastest machinist!
When I started to make money every penny I earned went to paying a pattern cutter to teach me everything she knew. This lady still works with me and has done for over 20 years. I strived to perfect the skills I had learned and adapted them into dresses, which slowly led into creating couture pieces.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO MAKE LUXURY DRESSES?
I have always been extremely passionate about my craft and so this became a natural progression into couture. I love the creative freedom of couture and not being restrained by a budget.
When I started Suzie Turner Couture, the vision was to make a brand that is built on the foundations of true craftsmanship and made to the best of our ability. I always wanted to make one of a kind art pieces that are admired not only by the wearer but by the onlooker too. This is still my goal today. We are always trying to be the best that we can possibly be and push the boundaries of craftsmanship by delving into detail.
It is also really important that we keep every element of production and creation in-house in the UK. Through keeping production in the UK, we are able to retain these skills by teaching and sharing them.
YOU WORK IN ONE OF THE MOST COMPETITIVE INDUSTRIES; WHAT LIGHTS YOUR FIRE?
The love of the craft is what keeps me going. It is a purpose beyond passion and the purpose is solely driven by the benefit of the client and the desire to develop and teach. This is far greater than the need to feed my desire to be part of an industry.
I adore all aspects of my job, however, the most enjoyable part is the journey that I take with a bride throughout the creation of her gown. Seeing her on her special day with family and friends is magical and I treasure the time spent on the creation of each gown with my amazing team.
IT HASN'T ALL BEEN PLAIN SAILING... WHAT HAS BEEN THE GREATEST THING YOU'VE OVERCOME?
It definitely has not all been plain sailing and as most business owners will tell you, whilst the storms do come to an end so do the calm waters. Everything passes in time, so we just have to prepare for the next wave. I read a great saying once which has really stuck with me - when in deep water, become a diver.
I think that the greatest thing I have overcome is managing to still be creative whilst keeping overheads down and surviving in the world of couture without investment. I'll never forget the year we launched in Harrods, I really thought we had finally made it... it had always been a dream of mine to see my gowns showcased and stocked in such a prestigious store next to so many incredible designers. However, at that time, the luxury sector had its toughest year and every last penny I had was tied up in the collection I created for Harrods. I was then pushed to make a choice in regards to the growth of my business, take on investment and lose the majority share in a company that I'd put my life effort into or exit Harrods and walk away in enormous debt trying to survive with zero cash flow. For me it was an easy choice, I had to keep my company, so I chose the latter. Times got tough very quickly after that.
I had to, unfortunately, let all my staff go, except one who kindly agreed to help me for free until an order came in. I lived in my studio and couldn't afford an oyster card or food, so I lived on rice and pasta. I remember a good friend had a jar he saved pound coins in which he gave me to help me out... there was £380 in that jar which I had to make last 6 month.
Every day I woke up crying thinking how am I going to get myself out of this situation... it just seemed impossible. However, I had a deep faith and knowing that everything will unfold exactly as it should. Tough situations have a way of forcing you into surrender and acceptance, so I decided to take it day by day and keep creating new pieces to at least keep moving forward in a positive direction.
As it happened, after a very tough 6 months of living on porridge and pasta a life-changing order came in at the final hour. It was a huge relief and the best feeling in the world to be able to put my finances back in order and concentrate on the skill that I had taken so many years to perfect.
It truly was the greatest challenge we overcame, however, I know that sleeping on that pattern cutting table is never too far away, and this is something that I always have to remind myself.
HOW DID YOU MANAGE TO STAY MOTIVATED THROUGHOUT THIS?
For a creative person, your imagination is your best friend! So when things get really tough and your mind tells you that you will never make it, that you are not good enough, the imagination is what keeps you going.
I would always imagine images of the final outcome of a beautiful gown and get inspired by thoughts of a father seeing his daughter on her wedding day, a bride smiling at her wedding gown in the reflection of a mirror before she walks down the aisle or somebody getting photographed on the red carpet.
Everyone needs motivation and I am lucky because I am surrounded by a fantastic team of people. External motivation however only lasts for a moment, true inspiration comes from within and that is what kept me going.
When my mind is telling me the worst outcome, my imagination feeds me ideas of what can be if only I just keep going. I watch my imagination and try not to listen to my thinking mind. I hold a vision of the bigger picture and visualise the final outcome, whilst I focus on working on the details.
WHAT'S ONE THING YOU WOULD CHANGE IF YOU COULD?
With many of our gowns taking thousands of hours to create, if I could change anything it would be to slow down time. I have so many amazing ideas in my head but trying to find the time to produce them all in our London atelier can be tough.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHER PEOPLE SCARED TO FOLLOW THEIR PASSION?
My advice would be don't be scared to create your own story. When you are telling someone your story, how do you want it to sound? Do you want your story to be 'I never did... I never tried..?' Or would you like to look back over your life knowing that even though the journey was tough (and for me, it has been a very long road), it has made you who you are.
You have only got one life and if you are lucky enough, you may possibly experience many lives in one. It is better to start with what you are really passionate about and if that passion is driven with a purpose beyond self, and you do it with all of your energy and vigour then you have given it your best shot. If that doesn't work then try something else, but just keep moving forward - call it your second chapter!
WHAT HAVE YOU GOT PLANNED FOR THE FUTURE?
We plan to keep developing new techniques and continuing to make future vintage gowns that will be admired by many for years to come. Our dream is to one day create an academy where people, who may not get into University because they are not academic but have the passion to learn, would be able to come and train in this craft. There are a lot of people out there who are incredibly talented and just aren't given an opportunity. We would like to create those opportunities. This is something that's very important to me.