Gareth Owings is an outfitter. He’s a tailor, leatherworker, and costumer. He builds his own rigs and presses to make that custom piece for your Speculative Fiction adventure.
I met him at ConCarolinas where he won the unofficial Darkcargo Hallways Costume Contest.
He answered some questions for me on design, tools, and doing what you love.
He can be contacted through the Other Worlds Outfitters Facebook page or via email: email@example.com.
Design is a funny thing. Most people can tell you if it is good design or not, but very few can tell you why. I don’t have any formal design background, but [good design] is all around. Same with my inspirations. I find that form follows function. I want depth of detail, but it has to make sense. When I craft something for myself it’s frequently about expanding my technique, and playing with an idea that appeals to my whim. Other times it’s finding that unique item of fabric and designing the project around that feature.
When I’m dealing with a client, the process is a little different. People come to me with an idea they want, sometimes it’s very detailed, other times it’s just a seed of an idea. Either way I sit down and talk about what the client wants.
Recently I had a client who wanted a coat for a Warhammer 40K Inquisitor, [and] other than he wanted a long coat and the colour palate to stay red black and silver, he had no real specifications. We sat down talked about what kind of use the coat was going to get, and the features that should go in in to it. For me one of the biggest delays was finding just the right fabrics, especially for the main body of the coat. He settled on black for the shell of the coat, now it would have been easy to find a any plain black, but I knew it had to have the right weight and feel to flow well, and I did not want a plain black fabric. I needed texture to keep it from looking like a void.
That’s one of the things that I think separates a dedicated clothier-costumer, from the casual– the understanding of how the choice of materials effects the finished product. You specifically mentioned my filter mask– that’s one of those cases of luck. I’ve always thought that the shell of a particular vintage microphone would make a great mask (maybe that was left over from Star Wars, I seem to remember one droid having something similar where the mouth would be [Editor's Note: perhaps a 21B Surgical Droid]), I just lucked out to find a broken toy that was based on that microphone. A case of finding a cool piece and building around it.
At the moment I’m not making a living off of this, I’m in the process of transitioning to being a full time crafter and designer. The business side is one I’m still trying to learn, fortunately, I have a good mentor in one of my former bosses. The big advantage I have in this Transitional stage is that my old line of work is in the entertainment industry, and is very flexible in terms of time.
The first step in placing an order with me is get in touch with me- though Facebook, my email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or talk to me at a convention or event. After a preliminary discussion, phone calls and sketches go back and forth.
Frequently at this stage, I am quite willing to tell a potential client that there may be more cost effective options, this is especially true when people ask about replicas. Not to say I won’t do replicas but making things screen accurate takes more time hence cost, and frequently many of the more popular costumes have small companies ( or larger ones for that matter) that specialize in those costumes. The other side is when my quote exceeds their budget- in those cases, I do my best to point them towards resources, that while might not be “perfect”, might approximate what they are looking for,while staying in their budget.
That may seem a little counter intuitive, but my thoughts are if I can help some and establish a relationship, then in the future when they have another idea, they’ll come talk to me.
One thing that I like to talk about that some clients are uncomfortable with is what works for a body type. So far no one’s walked away at that point, but I’m in the business of making people look good. Certain cuts and styles work differently with different shapes. I feel that anyone can look good in the right clothes and part of my job as a designer is to make sure my garment makes them look good.
Once a design is a approved by the client, a delivery date and a cost are settled on, and a contract is drawn up, a deposit between one third and one half of the total price is made, and I start the purchasing phase, acquiring any materials I don’t have on hand. Frequently photos will be sent of potential fabrics. Once approved, the project goes in to the work queue, based on amount of work and delivery date. I send occasional photo updates, and when possible arrange for at least one fitting. Once the project is finished, and approved via photo, or in person in the case of a in person delivery, the remainder of the price is paid and the garment is delivered.
Necessity, I suppose, there are skills I don’t have or I feel are not up to a particular job in which case I farm tasks out to other artisans. Largely growing up, I had a wide range of interests, and learned the basics for many skill sets. I’ll blame my time with the Society for Creative Anachronism for fostering the sense that being a “renaissance man”; studying a wide range of subject in depth, and learning an assortment of skill, was preferable to the more modern concept of specializing. My time working on films and in technical theater, encouraged a diversification of skills.
Ooh, just one tool? That is a really tough one. I suppose if you take this to the ultimate expression, I could still make clothes and build props with only a good knife. A little more realistically, I currently run two sewing machines, and want a third. In a pinch though, it’s my Viking Sapphire I’d rather have. A high-end consumer multi-function machine just has more versatility, even if it lacks the power of single-function industrial machine.
Will we see you at Dragon*Con?
I will be at Dragon*Con, and I’ll be handing out the new business cards
I started sewing to fit into a group (the SCA). Over the last ten years, I’ve been making clothes for myself that I feel represent me. Many of my friends and clients are DJs, Sideshow and Burlesque performers, Burners, Musicians and Artists: all people who are projecting an image or an identity. Now, I think more people with less glamorous occupations feel they have the same right to have an identity that hasn’t been pushed on them by the media. At the same time the popularity of some of the period dramas, like Mad Men, has led people to realize casual isn’t everything, and that some things are timeless.
I wish I could say I do it for the love of it, but honestly I’ve always felt I need to enjoy what I do for a living. When internal politics forced me out of my previous career, several friends suggested I try doing costuming and clothing. So I’m making a go of it and seeing where it takes me.