Studio Visit with Fiona Schofield Millinery
Fiona Schofield and I have crossed paths a number of times over the past 4 years since I opened the gallery in 2014. She’s been a very active member of The Journey Person Collective since its inception; a group of local makers that we work closely with for their tri-annual Handmade Popup. Being a small creative business owner I’ve come to view her as something of a mentor. Fiona is one of the most generous and warm people I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. Working alone can be tough at times, so it’s lovely to catch up with others in similar fields to bounce around some ideas.
Fiona works from home in a studio workroom backing onto her driveway and garden. Double french doors open up onto the camellia lined driveway to flood the room with afternoon sun. Her style and aesthetic is palpable and carries through to the workroom interior. Vintage fashion postcards line the walls, and antiques and collectibles of her millinery trade are scattered throughout the building.
I caught up with Fiona on a sunny September day to talk all things small business and to find out what drew her to this rare and distinguished trade.
Tell us a little about your background. How did you get started in the fashion industry?
For as long as I can remember, design was all I wanted to do. Upon finishing high school, I studied Fashion Design & Illustration at The Whitehouse Institute in Sydney, and on graduating commenced working with Neil Grigg Millinery. I spent a number of years with him, working on high end fashion for boutiques including David Jones; we worked on pieces for theatre, corporate contracts (we used to make all the hats for Ansett Airlines - 1000’s of them!), and my favourite part was the private commission work - making one off custom pieces for social events. I eventually took over the teaching role for the Millinery course at Whitehouse, delivering the course for a few years before I took a slight left turn into production work with Dinosaur Designs. When we escaped Sydney for our tree change to raise our children in the country, I started up my own workroom.
Millinery seems to be a unique and rare trade. What was it that attracted you to this profession?
I liked the freedom of working with my hands but combining my love of sewing and design. During my studies, I found my skills and interests lay more with the accessories than the clothes and Millinery had the appeal of working with my hands rather than on a machine.
You’ve been running your own small business from a workroom at home for a number of years now. Talk us through a typical day in the studio.
I approach studio days with set hours - working from home can be tempting to take a more laid back approach but I’ve always tried to have set work time and home time. I take a cup of tea out the back door and into the workroom and my day starts around 8.30-9am. I stream classic FM to keep me company, and set to work for the day. The workroom is at the end of the driveway and backs on to our garden. I leave the driveway clear so I have a lovely view through the doors to our street, and on warm days, the back barn doors open into the garden which is lovely. I’m a mad list writer. I’m constantly checking and rechecking, adding things to, crossing things off - it keeps me on track with deadlines and the many different tasks that need to be done from ordering, to appointments to dyeing, blocking and making. I try to split my week into days of tasks - appointment days, stock days, customer order days, new development days. There is always something going on and I’m always working on a number of projects at any one time.
Your work varies a great deal, from everyday wear, weddings, spring carnivals and events to restoration, and yet you still have a very unique brand and style. What are your favourite pieces to make?
It’s been important to me to build a strong brand appeal, and I work closely with all my customers to create pieces that reflect our mantra, but also meets their needs. I enjoy the process of creating one off pieces direct with a client, but more and more it’s about being able to deliver work that the client feels great wearing - whether that is a custom piece for the races, a bridal headdress or a daywear hat that fits them well and suits their look. I really am just grateful to be able to work in my chosen industry, in a regional setting and be well supported in it.
Your career and business seems to be snowballing from strength to strength lately. You’ve been participating in markets and popups all over the country, creating stock for shops and boutiques everywhere as well as selling from your own workroom, AND you’ve been featured in Country Style Magazine a number of times. What’s next for Fiona Schofield Millinery?
The business and brand has grown enormously, particularly in the last couple of years, and that probably comes down to having a bit more time and flexibility to give to it as our children get older. It also comes down to a fair bit of hard work, so it’s pleasing to see the growth follow. The brand has grown organically and with thanks to the great clients I work with who represent our work so well. Those customer relationships are incredibly important to sustaining the growth of the business. In terms of what’s next - we’re constantly reviewing and re-assessing what we are doing, how we are doing it and how we can do it better, what more can we deliver and create and desperately trying to find more hours in each day to action the many different ideas we have. My boys would love to see me move the business out of home so they can have my workroom as a games room, but the debate is still on there so we will see what comes!