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Advice Costume News Wardrobe

What are the biggest problems we face in the costume industry?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Working as a freelancer in the costume industry may be an exciting and rewarding line of work, but it certainly isn’t without its problems.

Costume and wardrobe jobs often require the work of freelancers, or those that are self-employed, for differing lengths of time depending on the job and the contract.

While this can be mutually beneficial for the thousands of people working in the industry across the globe, it also comes with its challenges.

We put the call out to our readers to find out first hand some of the biggest problems they face on a regular basis and here’s how they responded:

Being paid on time

This was one of the most popular responses and one of the most worrying, as it is not unreasonable to believe if you complete a contract to a deadline, you should also be paid to a deadline too.

Most people in the UK invoice on the basis of 14-30 days, which means the contractor needs to be able to pay within this frame. Yet it seems this sadly isn’t always the case and people are left to chase their invoices for sometimes upto months at a time.

You are entitled to include a ‘late surcharge’ if you outline this in the terms of your invoice, which can help motivate whoever is paying the bill, but this is clearly an ongoing problem when it shouldn’t have to be.

Reasonable pay

This is another tricky one, and really is dependent on who the contractor is.

In TV – film and to some degree theatre – BECTU have rate cards which show the minimum and average wage for each position on various productions. However, they don’t cover all roles and some people often fall into grey areas, which means they miss out in terms of wage.

And if you work in fashion and styling in the UK, there is no unionised minimum, which often leaves assistants ‘interning’ on next to nothing or on abysmally low rates. In many theatres too, despite the crucial role they play and the hardwork they bring to a team, a dresser’s wage is often at or just above the minimum.

It can also be an extremely precarious task trying to negotiate a fee as a freelance designer or maker working for a member of the public (e.g bridal wear, bespoke fashion and costume commissions). As there is no clear guidance on what to charge for your work and it’s often a balancing act between trying to secure a contract with making sure the value isn’t compromised.

Making sure you’ve signed up to BECTU and are keeping uptodate with changing rate cards and alerting others to any changes too, is a great way of keeping everyone in the loop and fees reflective of labour.

Overworked and underpaid

It’s unfortunately really not unusual to see or hear of people burning the midnight oil when it comes to meeting a deadline, but often there is no extra pay involved…

Thanks to BECTU, if you are working in a theatre, you are largely protected, with missed meal pay if you have to work through your breaks and firm cut-offs to ensure you don’t work back to back shifts. (Although this is often overlooked.)

However, there are many contracts – particularly on a ‘buy-out’ basis – which essentially means a contractor can ask you to work as many hours as it takes to do a certain job, often with no additional pay.

This is a huge concern for freelancers – as many contracts are centred around this – and needs to be addressed. At the end of the day, labour needs and should be paid for properly. Take a look at BECTU’s discussion on overtime for further information and ways in which you can help protect yourself and others to falling victim of unfair overtime: https://www.bectu.org.uk/news/2805

Expectations vs reality

This often links in with pay and is a constant battle, many costume and fashion designers and makers know all too well!

The problem seems to arise when people misunderstand the length of time and labour involved in creating a piece and this in turn results in a clash of viewpoints and potentially a breakdown in communication. Not fun for everyone – and on a tight deadline, there really is no spare time to be wasted!

It boils down to trying to educate contractors (e.g producers, directors and of course, members of the public) the skill and labour it takes to produce your work.  A fim and reasonable agreement on timeframe and fees should be made – well ahead of the deadline if possible – to ensure a smooth running process and eliminate any headache further on down the line!

Finding work

This one consistently tops the polls and is also the hardest problem to solve!

A lot of UK Kozzii readers feel a lot of work gets ‘bottlenecked’ in London too, when there are plenty of great studios and workshops in the north and other areas of the country.

Part of this issue is the cost of travel and accommodation expenses which may occur, which they often have to foot themselves in order to access or be eligible for certain work.

But finding these mysterious and elusive costume jobs is the thing that affects everyone regardless of location and there doesn’t seem to be a finite answer on how to score your dream role!

Many jobs are posted on the numerous Facebook pages and Mandy offer a paid for job search service too, but a lot of vacancies still rely on word of mouth – but if you’re starting out and don’t have the contacts, this is less than ideal!

Connect with our Kozzii community page for any job postings through there too.

So while there are numerous hurdles to tackle in the costume world, there are plenty of silver linings too. If we stick together, we can make a difference and make sure everyone’s rights, rates of pay (and sleep time!) are protected.  

Let us know if you are planning any BECTU meet-ups or if you have any tips or advice on you’ve handled any difficult situations.

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