Self-employed, self-empowered: costume maker

Self-employed, self-empowered: costume maker

Illustration by Brittany Lakin

Words by Lottie Smith

It's a Monday in London, and while everyone I know has gone off to their day jobs, I am alone, in my pyjamas, at my laptop, drinking cafetière after cafetière of coffee (this is not an exaggeration). I'm a freelance costume maker, mainly for theatre and film; I also work as a dresser in a theatre every now and then. I love how different every week can look – this week I'm dressing on Dirty Dancing at my local theatre, last week I was helping to make panto costumes. I adore what I do, but the nature of it means that there isn't consistent work; when filming begins, or a play opens, the makers job is done. This means I can go from working seven days straight to having a week of nothing. With social media (where I find a lot of my jobs) being more prevalent than ever, the need to look successful to your peers is constantly there – to the point that I've avoided posting work enquiries as it's too embarrassing to admit that I'm looking for work. Days like today, endlessly scrolling through Facebook and Linkedin can become incredibly draining, and it's easy to wonder whether you're doing it right, whether you're in the right industry, whether this is sustainable in the long term. 

It's times like now, when I feel like giving up, that it's more important than ever to remind myself of the pros of freelancing – the parts I absolutely love. For instance, the freedom of being able to take days off whenever you need and to choose your own hours is a really great feeling. There isn't much I love more than venturing into central London in the middle of the week, spending a well-earned day off in the V&A and not having to battle with the weekend crowds. Or taking myself on a coffee shop date, seeing other freelancers with their laptops and feeling like part of a secret creative alliance. 

I'm constantly meeting new and inspiring people on similar wavelengths to me, who I wouldn't have the courage to speak to usually. This leads onto another point that I'm incredibly proud of myself for, which is that I've built up the resilience and bravery to start new jobs and work in new studios semi-regularly. I've always been shy and found it easy to stay in the shadows, but being forced to meet new people and ask questions and learn has really helped my confidence. I'm at a place I never thought I would reach.

If you end up with a few days or weeks without work, I've found it really helps to give yourself a routine. Even if you're not going out anywhere, waking up at the same time every day and keeping busy is really good for your mental health. Whether it's job hunting or writing Frizz articles, being productive and setting your own tasks is my biggest tip. This may sound counter-productive, but allowing yourself to wallow when you don't feel up to working sometimes helps more than anything. Occasionally we need to lie in bed and be sad in order to remember why we're doing what we're doing, and that's ok.

On days like these it's so easy to focus on the negatives of freelancing, when you feel like you're completely alone and the only person in the world currently not working or earning. It can feel very isolating when your friends have a regular income and you don't know when your next pay check is coming. First and foremost, it's important to keep reminding yourself that having down days does not mean that you're failing. Sometimes we just need to remember how far we've come, and how much we love our chosen careers. Creative freelancers do have tough times, but the job satisfaction and the art that you bring to the world is so worth it.

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