Story By Kate Proctor, Founder of Sew Creative
As an outsider looking in at a beautiful business, it can be easy to assume that the journey to success has been simple and linear (this in itself can be quite daunting if our own paths don’t feel that way!). But so often, behind a successful business is a courageous woman who is committed to following her passions and making it work, no matter what twists and turns there are along the way. And this is Kate’s story. Now proud Founder of the incredible Sew Creative, an inspiring studio offering sewing classes and fabric in the heart of Altrincham, Kate has been true to doing what she loves for years, which has led her from NYC to London, and from working in schools to working at Vogue. Between teaching her popular sewing classes, Kate and I sat down for a coffee to chat about her journey to founding Sew Creative.
“I HAVE THIS DREAM…”
Leaving college at 18, Kate was in a boat many of us can relate to. Post-GCSEs (where she’d been a good student and worked hard to do really well in achieving great results), she felt the effects of leaving her comfort zone after being separated from her friendship group, starting a new college, and navigating her next round of exams. And when it came to choosing her degree, Kate didn’t feel like one particular profession was calling out to her (a truth that is so real for the majority of us, but those few who know from the age of 10 they are destined to be dentists make it seem like we should be aware of or have a ‘calling’ at this time too!). “I looked at courses that suited my grades, saw Primary Teaching and thought, I quite like the sound of that! I did a bit of work experience back at my old primary school and thought, yeah that’s alright. That was literally my thought process!” Whilst she enjoyed the course to some extent, Kate didn’t love it, and acknowledged it’s a hard job to do if you don’t have that passion. Following a skiing accident during her second year that ruled her out of going into university or on placements (she recovered well!), Kate had more time to ponder what she truly wanted to do - and she knew it wasn’t go back and repeat the half year she’d missed. “My partner asked me at the time, so what do you want to do? And I didn’t know. I was at that point where you have no clue. I literally didn’t know what I wanted to do. So we started talking about strengths, and things like that, and I loved art. I’ve always loved art. So I said to him, I have this dream that I want to be a fashion designer. So he said, go and do it! He’s always been my number one supporter, he’s been fab. And he said just go and do it.” Full of what she describes as youthful confidence, Kate decided she would and got herself onto a fashion design degree course.
MCR TO NYC TO LDN
Despite feeling some imposter syndrome about being accepted onto the course and not actually realising it wasn’t just drawing and designing, but physical garment making too, Kate threw herself in and her reaction to the sewing aspect might surprise you… “When I got there and they said you’re going to do sewing and stuff, I was like, oh my god. No! I didn’t really know what I was doing then, so I didn’t really like it. So I had to work really really hard.” Looking back, Kate reflects that she should have asked more questions, but instead she bought herself a sewing machine, and taught herself how to get started. “I didn’t ask questions because I didn’t want to look stupid, but I was looking around at people to see what to do. I should have just said, I’m on this course just like you, could you just show me the basics. I felt like I had something to prove. But now, I realise there is no such thing as a stupid question and you’ve got to just ask.” As the course went on, Kate loved what she was doing, particularly the designing and styling sides where she had the opportunity to work in magazines, and got to explore this further when she went to work in New York City as part of her sandwich degree (a year on placement as part of the course, which she highly recommends to anyone exploring their course options). Whilst learning all about the industry working at a fashion house, Kate was convinced that being in the fashion design industry was where she wanted to be. “The thing is though, there are so many jobs, I didn’t know what to do.” So, whilst still in New York City, Kate threw herself into exploring the industry further and started working at Vogue (amazing!) and decided that working in magazines and styling was something she wanted to pursue a career in. Following the end of her degree, Kate moved to London and did anything she needed to in order to work in the magazine industry, from writing articles to styling. Whilst she loved it at first, the stresses of not getting paid very much and living in an expensive city, and being what felt like one of a million people who wanted the same job, were real and the challenges didn’t come with the magic that New York City had offered.
“I TRIED FOR ANY JOBS THAT CAME UP AND APPLIED, BUT MORE OFTEN THAN NOT DIDN’T EVEN HEAR BACK.
IT WAS SOUL DESTROYING.”
Kate and her partner moved back to Manchester, with Kate reluctant to leave London for fearing it was the end of her career in an industry she loved. With a recession underway, job openings were diminishing, and Kate felt the frustrations that are so relatable when applying for positions. “I tried for any jobs that came up and applied, but more often than not didn’t even hear back. It was soul destroying. You spend hours putting something together, and don’t even get a response.” In order to earn money, Kate took a job as a legal secretary for about two years, but felt the strains of not using her degree, a large amount of student debt from her Primary Teaching years and Fashion Design degree, and general lack of fulfilment to be in a role that she didn’t love. Deciding to do something about it, Kate followed an instinct of wanting to teach again (which she knew she was good at, and had it in her blood with her dad as a teacher and her mum as a TA) and combined this with her fashion experience to become a secondary school teacher in design and technology. “I love the interaction with the kids and teaching people things. Seeing someone learn is a lovely feeling, but the realities of being a teacher are really tough...”
“IN AN IDEAL WORLD, I WOULD LOVE TO HAVE A JOB THAT PAYS ME TO SEW ALL DAY.”
With teaching at secondary-school not feeling like her dream job, Kate recalls saying years ago that in an ideal world, she would love to have a job that pays her to sew all day. “ And to create stuff all day, that would be nice. But I never thought I would ever do it. I thought that’s not a real job! The reality of working in the fashion industry, is that you don’t do anything creative. I wanted to do something creative, but not be tied down. I had this idea that I’d quite like to work for myself at some point and do something creative. And it essentially started by accident.” To earn some extra money alongside her secondary-school job, Kate started to privately teach people how to sew when they asked, and her determination saw her push through the challenges of having quiet or empty classes for three weeks at a table she rented in the local town hall. When someone saw one of her leaflets and suggested Kate try doing classes at Hobbycraft instead, Kate changed her location, but frustratingly people still weren’t coming in to learn how to sew. Feeling deflated and whilst texting her partner to say it wasn’t working, Kate was approached by a customer asking if she offered classes for adults - yes! Then the snowball began. Another customer came along. And another, this time joined by her teenage daughter who gave Kate the best advice she’d had so far - that Kate needed to get on social media and advertise what she was doing. “It can be hard putting yourself out there on social media. You put something up, and you get three likes, and one’s from your mum!” (Relatable!!). But Kate’s advice? It takes time, and now many of her customers come through seeing what they do on social media. Following interest from more people, Kate got a space in an artist studio, initially sharing then getting her own. Things started to get more exciting with her sewing business, but being a secondary-school teacher was taking its toll. With marking and planning late into the evenings each night, on holiday, and at the weekend, plus teaching sewing late into the evenings three nights a week, balance was almost impossible and Kate started to feel less like herself and the challenges mounted up. Three years later, a once laid-back Kate realised how stressed she had become, how run-down she was, and knew it was time to make a change, so she handed her notice in at the secondary-school to focus full-time on her sewing business.
“YOU HAVE TO QUICKLY SQUASH ANY THOUGHTS THAT IT’S NOT GOING TO WORK, AND DO WHATEVER IT TAKES.”
Being able to concentrate on her sewing business and working at full capacity with classes, Kate’s determined streak saw her have the discipline to push forward and take action every single day when starting Sew Creative full time, despite only being held accountable to herself. As a result, Kate outgrew her artist studio space and after a lot of searching settled into her current beautiful space in the heart of Altrincham, which she describes as her biggest achievement to date with a huge feeling of pride as she opened the doors following a complete renovation by Kate and her partner Lee. With more space came more responsibility (and more overheads!), but Kate has been open to learning everything she needs to know as she goes along in order to make Sew Creative a success. Does she still feel like that now? “Yes! There are new things I have to Google and learn how to do all the time!” Being confident she would do everything it took to make it work, Kate was quick to squash any thoughts of it not succeeding, and has been open to adapting as the journey has gone on and move with what the customer wants. The gorgeous range of fabrics for sale, for example, weren’t on offer when Sew Creative first launched, but now they sell not only in store, but across the country via their website too. And it’s not just the physical offerings that have strengthened as the studio has developed, but the sense of community as well. Kate has massive appreciation for the volunteers who come along and help out, both adults and kids (many of whom use their time at Sew Creative towards their DofE awards, and then have the opportunity to help out and get paid for doing the kids’ parties, which they are an important part of).
“MY BIGGEST CHALLENGE? FIGURING OUT WHAT THE HELL I WANT TO DO WITH MY LIFE.”
As we start to wind up, I ask Kate what her biggest challenge to date has been. She answers so refreshingly, “Figuring out what the hell I want to do with my life. Trying to figure out my direction, and balancing happiness with what I need to live financially. And keeping yourself upbeat in the hard times.” In these hard times, Kate turns to walking her lovely dogs Eric and Dotty (“A bit of fresh air does you the world of good!”) and talking to her partner, who has been her number one supporter from day one. She credits being able to do all things Sew Creative largely due to his support, and encourages all of us to keep talking to anyone…parents, partner, or a friend. Sound out any issues, and don’t do it alone. As I listened to Kate’s story, I was blown away by her determination and resilience even when things were difficult, and this was highlighted in one of her final insights, “I’m really stubborn with myself and don’t allow myself to mope around when things are tough. I might not be quite as blunt with someone else! But I tell myself to pull it together, remind myself I have a roof over my head, food in the fridge. It’s not the end of the world, just get on with it!” It’s a reminder of perspective that we can all take with us when we face challenges, and take a moment to see what’s going right for us.
“YOU’RE NOT STUCK ON ANY PATH OR ANY PLAN. JUST FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU WANT IN LIFE!”
So, how does Kate feel now at this point in her career? “For a while in my previous roles, work felt really good at the beginning, but it was short lived. Now, I get up every morning (and sometimes I might want to stay in bed!) but I like what I do!” The enthusiasm to pursue Sew Creative is clear when Kate shares her five year plan of opening a fabric shop close to the studio offering the incredible materials sourced from all over Europe for her growing client base to enjoy. With an inspiring amount of determination, Kate admits that she starts thinking about what’s coming next as soon as she starts to get comfortable (a characteristic associated with some amazing entrepreneurs), but also acknowledges that it’s important to step back and enjoy where she is right now. And if any of us would love to create their own business the way Kate has? “If anyone is thinking of starting a business, don’t think about that mountain you have to climb, because you’ll be halfway up before you realise that’s what you’re doing anyway. So just go for it. If you want it to work, and you’re really passionate about it….it will work, and you’ll figure it out. And it will get better. I’m still working crazy hours now, but it’s nothing in comparison - I can actually have a weekend off now! There’s a hell of a lot more balance. Just go for what you want, and if it’s not right or not the right plan for you - it doesn’t matter. You can always change. It really doesn’t matter. You’re not stuck on any path or any plan. Just figure out what you want in life. It took me a while to figure out what I want, and it might change in five or ten years, but right now, I’m happy with what I’ve got.”
Story by Kate. The advice;
You need to love your job. When it’s flailing, asking yourself where your strengths and passions lie.
Ask ask ask - there’s no such thing as a stupid question.
If you have the opportunity to do a sandwich course, do it and get the industry experience.
If you’re not happy in your job, pivot and follow your interests. You’re not stuck on any path or plan!
Don’t navigate your career alone - talk to someone and share your concerns.
If you want to start a business, don’t overthink it, just go for it and figure out how to make it work.
Thank you so much to Kate for sharing her journey and incredible advice. To learn more about Sew Creative and everything offered at the amazing studio, head over to their website and follow what Kate and the team (and Eric & Dotty) are up to over on Instagram.
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