The Dark Side of Doing Business in the Creative Industry

Miss Universe Nationals Gown - Manar Sham
Miss Universe Nationals Gown - Manar Sham

“This is probably the biggest mistake I’ve ever made in my life and going forward, everyone should sign a contract if I am making something for them” explains Manar Shams, an emerging fashion designer from London, Ontario who was not correctly reimbursed for designing a stunning white and gold luxurious ballroom gown for a beauty pageant contestee she had previously worked with.

The Dress: The bodice has hand embroidered Laurel leaves and hand-painted feathers that melt from gold to white, finished in a glossy varnish for a metallic effect. The skirt of the gown has three layers: white silk, patterned metallic gold silk bought from Paris, and hand-beaded lace on top. There are 9 rounded pleats that are covered in fluffy white feathers for an “angelic” effect.

Unfortunately, the dress was returned soiled from tan-stains and dirt from an outdoor photoshoot leaving Manar feeling helpless in the situation.

Discussing transactions first as an artist

Many creatives are passionate about their craft which sometimes leaves no room to think about the business side of things; “I was so focused on the design, that I put the transaction last. I didn’t follow up about payment, and I didn’t request it until she was done using my dress.” Manar explains. You all probably know how that feels to not want to seem too ‘salesy’ and pushy. In an ideal world, as a creative business, you shouldn’t have to watch your back but it seems that the most common mistake that designers make when starting out is to assume that everyone is going to behave well.

About 30% of the working-age population work for themselves, with 58% Of freelancers having experienced not getting paid it shows how universal this issue really is. It’s not only the problem of getting paid but the feeling of helplessness for those self-employed, which can lead to stress, depression and anxiety.

Thankfully, Manar reached out to social media and with a breadth of unlimited support from her network, who empathised with her experience, she was given a lot of advice that she wanted to pass on to other creatives.

What can freelancers do to protect themselves?

Here are some quick tips to research into prior to closing that deal. It can save you and your client the embarrassment of miscommunication when any issues arise.

  1. Talk value, then talk price.
  2. Never undervalue your work
  3. Write a contract and include everything you are offering.
    Include things like the terms of use along with anything that would be an additional charge, like revisions, and the payment conditions. Then get it signed by you and, most importantly, your client. A contract will also ensure both parties are serious.
  4. Establish your rights
    As soon as you create something it is by law yours which you should document. If you work for a client you may have to hand over these rights so including this in your contract would be beneficial for both parties.
  5. Ask for a deposit
    Taking a 50% down payment is a great way to secure some finances to show your client is serious. You can charge the rest once the project is completed to showcase your credibility and trust in your work.

We’ve also written an advisory article: Don’t Have a Contract & My Client Won’t Pay me.

Onwards and upwards

Despite going through this experience Manar is pushing past these setbacks to look forward to implementing the lessons learnt as a talented designer. She has filmed 40 hours of footage for the making of the beautiful Miss Universe ballgown and will be releasing it early December on her own YouTube channel to show the process from sketch to finished design. Her channel was created as a source of creative inspiration and to educate people on all the work that goes on behind the scenes. We are really excited to see what’s next install for this talented superstar of a fashion designer and will be covering more of her over the next following months. 

Header Image: Fashion illustration drawn by Manar Shams

By Becky Liu

An avid explorer, learner and adventure finder. Becky's favourite thing in the world is learning. She also loves blogging as it's her safe place to document and explore thoughts, dreams and ideas. Spends most of her days daydreaming, creating, internetting. Current important things to her: art and design thingies, experiencing new stuff and learning more about people and the world we live in.

2 comments

  1. Lovee the interview! Manar’s dresses are so nice!
    A contract is so needed working with clients so you don’t end up doing more work than initially agreed

    Can’t wait to see more interviews Becky xx

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