The Sewing Academy @ Home

Women's Clothing Discussion => Dresses => Topic started by: Trish B on June 27, 2017, 06:31:12 PM

Title: loaner closet
Post by: Trish B on June 27, 2017, 06:31:12 PM
I have a question or two for anyone involved in maintaining a loaner closet.
What is your target audience for the clothing-new volunteers or established volunteers?
Do you encourage volunteers to assemble their own wardrobe?
 We currently have 2 loaner closets- one at the site and one for our Friends group, which I am in charge of.

If any  of you have a few minutes, I am doing a little research on loaner closets and would appreciate it if you could answer a few questions.  I will post a short summary here when I am finished. Please p.m. me if you would be able to help.  Thanks a bunch! trish B.

Title: Re: loaner closet
Post by: Elizabeth on June 27, 2017, 10:10:16 PM
Just some thoughts gathered from observing closets around the country:

It seems to work best to focus the loaner closet on new volunteers, encouraging and aiding them in getting their own full wardrobe up to speed within one or two seasons. Long-term use doesn't end up being loans--they're permanent gifts, and there are no funds coming in to replace the items when the single volunteer wears them out entirely.

It also seems to work best to do some sort of cleaning/use fee with them, to provide for future replacements. In that sense, it becomes more a lending library with a small fee, rather than simple loans---or, still a loan, but with some interest. :D The presence of a small use/replacement fee can help fund the closet long-term, and also can encourage people to gear up with their own items as soon as practical.

Some items, like sunbonnets and shawls and aprons, are multi-size enough to be easy to stock in a loaner closet. Other items, like undergarments, are more personal, and really do need to be individual.

I've seen some groups host sewing days, where volunteers learn to make their own simple garments under the tuition of an experienced sewist. I've also seen "pay to play" arrangements where volunteers do pay a moderate rate to have things sewn for them--I tend to think this conditions people to see custom sewing as something low-cost, which it isn't, so it's not my favorite.

Another option is looking at sponsorships and grants from the community to provide funds to outfit entire volunteers; the grant/donation-funded items stay with the loaner closet for their entire life, but the volunteer doesn't bear the financial burden of custom garments.

Some groups have a lending library of patterns, which has its own whole host of struggles and benefits.

Title: Re: loaner closet
Post by: Sarah Olson on June 28, 2017, 06:30:09 AM
Our group is a hobby group, rather than volunteers for a site, but the loaner closet purpose likely translates.

The closet is focused on being able to get people into clothes quickly so they can "try out" the activity before putting in the expense and time of sewing their own clothes, and allowing them to spread out purchases (for instance, get a corset quickly, but we can loan you a hoop for a while) so they don't have to have 100% of a wardrobe before starting. The end goal is absolutely to get everyone into their own clothes. We also host balls, so the loaner closet can be helpful in letting someone still be fancy even if their resources haven't expanded to formal dress as yet, or to have a friend/partner join them for just that evening.

We definitely have sewing days to help new and experienced sewers alike progress in their skills. The secondary benefit is just the time spent together - this is one of the best times to build friendships and learn the history and culture of the group. I would imagine (and hope!) that that would be true across any organization.

The one exception to this for us is really children's clothes. Given the frequency of kid-friendly events (handful per year) and the growing speed of kids, it really hasn't been a problem to have an indefinite loan through that particular size.

Title: Re: loaner closet
Post by: Elisabeth M on June 28, 2017, 10:15:18 AM
A little unrelated, but I am part of a dance group that loans folk costumes to our students every year - 75 or so students currently, though at one point we had well over 100.

Every year we have problems with people returning their outfits in a timely manner, or losing portions of them and not caring. If you don't sew, clothes are pretty replaceable! Losing an apron for your 6 year old's costume might not seem like a big deal to you - if she loses a tshirt, you just buy her a new one. But to a organization, it's a BIG DEAL. We only have so many, and every year, we were losing multiple costumes.

Our solution? We still loan out the costumes to each and every student for free. However, they have to pay a $20 deposit per outfit. It is returned at the end of the school year when we collect them. It's a big enough chunk of change to be an incentive to return, but small enough that it's generally not a financial impediment. We have had a much better rate of returns and have reduced the time we spend hunting down those that didn't return their outfit. Bookkeeping wise it's fairly simple and our nonprofit's auditors fine with how it's run.

Another key point - have a catalog of everything you keep and an estimated cash value, should you have to make an insurance claim or go to civil court.
It's never been an issue for us but our organization makes sure that everything is cataloged for that purpose.

TL:DR - Consider having a deposit system. $20 is an amount that worked great for us. Make sure you keep good records.

Title: Re: loaner closet
Post by: Trish B on June 28, 2017, 05:57:22 PM
I think the million dollar question is probably HOW do we get volunteers into their own clothes.  We have people that have been involved for years and still wear loaner clothes. Some volunteers have worn out their clothes or only have clothing for one season and borrow from the closet. There is no incentive because there is no fee. Many of the ladies just want a dress- when we mention starting with underpinnings and working up to a dress to create their own wardrobe they are not interested.

We have sewing circle at our site every week, except once a month we meet  from 2-9 p.m. at the little chapel our society owns. We do handwork at the site, and use our machines at the monthly meetings at the chapel. We offer sewing instruction and support and have even tried special project nights, such as sewing petticoats or  sunbonnets, clothing care, whatever. No interest.  I plan to try a few more special project meetings on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, and then I don't know what else to try. Part of the problem is probably education so I have put links in our newsletter to articles on appropriate clothing, but they don't seem to help. Who could not help but be convinced with the Best Bet Wardrobe article in SA Compendium?? :D

Title: Re: loaner closet
Post by: BetsyConnolly on June 29, 2017, 02:11:36 PM
Perhaps a good option is to have an official lending "agreement" that states the amount of time they can borrow an article of clothing, and that once their loan has expired what their options are (make their own, buy used, or pay someone skilled at making the item like a dressmaker or milliner). You needn't even ensure that they sign anything - a verbal agreement may suffice. The point being that they then know what the expectation is at the outset. I think sometimes it's also helpful to set out the expectation that this hobby costs money, and that at some point they will need to invest at least a bit of money in outfitting themselves. If you state from the outset that the expectation is for them to have their own clothes, there's no chance for misunderstanding or confusion...ideally :)

You may consider coming up with a list of recommended vendors, so that people know where to go to purchase things. That way, there's no excuse for them to say they didn't know where to go/who to buy from. Perhaps if someone lends clothes, they need to commit to either making or purchasing clothes, and then commit to coming to a certain number of sewing days in order to get it done? Not sure how well that would work, but it's a thought.

I know so little about your site/group and what the politics are, but it may be a case of needing to gird your loins for an honest talk with members who are abusing the lending closet. If Helen isn't complying, what's the incentive for her to get back into compliance? Is it part of the rules of being a volunteer or member, and thus they risk being asked to leave until they comply? If there's no consequence to them wearing loaner clothes for years, there's no incentive to change.

Title: Re: loaner closet
Post by: Trish B on June 29, 2017, 05:52:17 PM
Thank you all for your comments. Most of these along my line of thinking. I am hoping though  to get some hard numbers to present to our group so that I can write some sort of guidelines for loans. This is a great discussion, but it would also be of help to find out how things work at other sites in actual practice. I don't really think people are abusing the system- I just think we have never really had a system and possibly need one.
      I have repeatedly offered resources for obtaining clothing and offered to help people sew their own. I don't push- I let them know we are available and then it is up to them.  However, I won't bypass the underpinnings and just help someone make a dress.
       Kids clothes are not so much of an issue. Those  little stinkers can outgrow clothes by two sizes overnight!  I have been trying to add kids clothes  so we have more sizes available.  
   Elisabeth- thanks for the suggestion about an inventory record. I have been working on creating one, and haven't gotten it completed. I need to get on that. Many of our clothes are donations and not the best but we have added some new things. It would be a shame to lose the clothes and not get any insurance reimbursement to replace them.
Again- if anyone can answer  a short survey of your actual practice, here it is:
1)   Is there a deposit  (refundable)?
2)   Is there a fee (not refundable)?
3)   Is there a time limit (per event, per season, etc)?
4)   Who does the sewing?
5)   Are any clothes purchased from a vendor and if so, where?
6)   Who is responsible for determining the appropriateness of loaner clothing donations( the whole group, a committee, or the person in charge of the closet)?  
7)   How do you get volunteers into their own clothing?
8)     Is there any education required on appropriate clothing, such as at an orientation?
Thanks and keep the comments/ suggestions coming!   trish

Title: Re: loaner closet
Post by: Trish B on June 29, 2017, 06:51:50 PM
The smiley should be  a number 8.   I tried to change it  but couldn't .   oops!    trish

Title: Re: loaner closet
Post by: Miss Whitlock on August 09, 2017, 02:30:56 PM
I run the closet we have at the farm here, although I wouldn't call it a lender closet. We have mainly kids (9-16 y.o.) who come and volunteer on a weekly basis, who borrow outfits and return them to the closet at the end of the same day. We do have a few adults that I help costume as well. Since I am the one that cares about looking authentic, I end up managing the costumes and pestering people about what they are wearing, and it sort of works because that way we can have people who are interested in the other aspects (like running a store or learning to blacksmith or hanging out with their friends or whatever) and they can still look reasonably nice.

So, in short: our target audience is our consistent volunteers. We lend costumes daily to new or repeat volunteers, and we lend costumes seasonally to volunteers that come at least weekly.

I don't actively encourage volunteers to build their own costumes, although when they want to I work to help them find patterns, materials, etc. and understand the standards we are trying to uphold here. That is the hard part: they tend to think that any old dress will do, and I have to go back and teach them about what and why we are doing things more fussily than that.  :)

I don't have a fantastic tracking system going, although it is something we need and that I would recommend building from the start. It is a little hard to know what information is important, but I am currently going with the idea that we need to know how much we spend on materials, who has a seasonal outfit loan, and how much of each sort of item we have. (I try to keep a stock of dresses, petticoats, drawers, aprons, shirts, hats, and bonnets, and I want to add chemises and maybe trousers and coats)

We also have a few wild card influences: we have a publicly funded school program, where approximately 20 kids every school year come and get a loaner outfit that becomes their at the end of the year, so we lose 20 outfits annually but it provides us with about $100 for each kid to reinvest into the costume closet. We also have a day camp during the summer, where we costume the campers in these outfits, so I am sort of required to have enough outfits (usually lots of dresses etc.) of a fairly accurate design. With these, I need to maintain a bigger closet than I otherwise would, but I also have some dedicated resources out of the operating funds that makes replacement and growth a little bit easier.

Your other questions:
1)   Is there a deposit  (refundable)?  No, partly because these are kids and partly because we have other dedicated income for replacements etc.
2)   Is there a fee (not refundable)?  No, these people are volunteering for us.
3)   Is there a time limit (per event, per season, etc)? Generally each loan is daily, unless I personally assign a person a costume for the season. In theory... sometimes costumes walk away for a season and come back on their own.  ::)
4)   Who does the sewing? We have some amazing volunteer seamstresses, and I get paid to sew as well. I do the fabric ordering and the pattern selection, to ensure things stay on the lines of authenticity, but I confess we do lose a small amount of control of that in exchange for the amazing hours and hours of help these people provide.
5)   Are any clothes purchased from a vendor and if so, where? I am currently purchasing most of the men's stuff from vendors or just from China if I think I can get away with it. I am hoping to progress away from that however: getting our closets to a maintenance level and then having volunteers do the sewing if possible.
6)   Who is responsible for determining the appropriateness of loaner clothing donations( the whole group, a committee, or the person in charge of the closet)?  I am responsible for that, and if I don't want people wearing it, I check with the other managers just to make sure, and then it either goes to Goodwill, or if the fabric is usable our scrap bag.
7)   How do you get volunteers into their own clothing? I have no idea, but when they spontaneously do it on their own, I start a conversation on fabrics and patterns so that they can do it in such a way that I will still want them to wear it around the farm.
8 )  Is there any education required on appropriate clothing, such as at an orientation? Uhhh, this is something I wish we did, but we currently don't. Mostly just the small site logistics: I am the costume lady and I am not always there to talk to whatever new volunteer happened to come by. I did draw up some signs about how to put dresses on, but other than that education tends to be word of mouth and/or me scolding some poor soul who didn't know any better.  :-\

I like our model of very-short-term loans; I can keep things clean and ensure things are being worn correctly, for the most part. It does have it's flaws though, and I am not sure how it will work out if we get more adult volunteers. I like the idea of simply having a huge closet of dresses that would fit most women, and just doing my best to convince regular volunteers to get corsets etc. I think I would even be happy if they didn't want to own the corset, and we kept it to be used by someone else who was reasonably the same shape and size. Not ideal, I know, but it seems like it is potentially the best way to get large groups of rotating people to look fairly decently period correct.

Just my musings there though.

If you are interested, one thing I have figured out a bit is how many of each garment type (and what sizes) we need for this sort of setup. It may not be remotely relevant to your site and closet setup, but it is information that I cherish simply because it has worked for this method.  :)

Good luck!  8)