Indie Oxford Interview: Oxford Alterations
Today I chat to Robbie from Oxford Alterations about growing up in Oxfordshire, why he returned, and the best bits of running your own business >>
Tell me about yourself and your life in Oxford.
I grew up in Abingdon, South Oxfordshire. After a hiatus studying and working in London I moved back to Oxford where I met my fiancé, Kate in the Fir Tree pub and now we live in Botley. Kate is an associate professor of Criminology at Oxford Brookes so we have a very varied and interesting network of friends! I spend most of my time between home and the studio in Jericho, in one of Oxford’s wonderful independent coffee shops or in a pub with my brother, a boater and illustrator who works as a cycle messenger for another local indie start-up, Oxwash.
Can you tell me how you started Oxford Alterations?
I studied fashion and textiles at St Martins school of Art and Design in London. After graduating I spent 8 years in London working in commercial fashion design, creating tailoring and casual-wear collections for international brands and department stores. I moved back to Oxford in 2014 to be nearer to my family, and after a few years of commuting I decided to set up an atelier here in Oxford, our first studio being in Osney Mead. We quickly gained a reputation for quality and service, and in less than a year we had opened our studio here in Makespace Oxford, Jericho.
How many people work at Oxford Alterations?
We currently have a team of six specialists, including me. We’re a close knit team and our canal-side studio in Makespace Oxford, which is nearly always humming with activity and conversation. Makespace Oxford is a really interesting project that provides business premises and community for local start-ups, social enterprises and charities by re-appropriating empty buildings. More than that it’s a hub for like-minded organisations to support each other in a non-competitive environment and an incubator for new ideas and way of working.
What does it mean to you to be able to create?
Working with our hands, hearts and heads is at the core of what we do here at Oxford Alterations. We are creative problem solvers and it’s enormously satisfying working with a client to realise their vision, or creating a stunning fit from an ordinary high-street garment. Outside of our work with clients we are all passionate creatives and can often be found in the studio after-hours lost in a personal project, creating something bespoke for ourselves or our loved-ones. I’m really proud of our apprentice who has been hard at work developing her own line of slow-fashion dungarees in her down time. It’s that enthusiasm for what we do that drives us and helps us give our clients better service.
What is your favourite part of the making process?
Personally I love the utilitarian work wear aesthetic and in my own time in the studio I’m often making myself a chore jacket, revere collar shirt or straight fit trousers. Fabrics, functionality and flair really speak to me and I always get overly excitable when a client brings in a garment with a history – their Grandad’s suit they want to keep in service, or turn into something wonderful, or an e-bay find that is just too good to turn down but needs a little tweak to make it perfect. People have relationships with the clothes they wear and we tend to attract clients who really care for their clothing.
Which part of running your business do you enjoy the most?
The thing I like most about running a small business is the creative freedom it gives you. I’ve often felt frustrated in the past working for others who are resistant to change, or find difficulty getting excited about a new idea or way of working. I regularly update my team on our business strategy, our performance, and talk with them about ideas for the future, it’s an open dialogue that really feeds into the business. The team come up with really great ideas and it’s that collective vision you experience when you visit us in our studio.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting their own business?
I was talking with a friend recently about what I would expect from someone starting up a small business and I think it takes a unique kind of enthusiasm and optimism, and maybe even a pinch of recklessness to get an idea off the ground. I think if you start a business with the intention of making lots of money, it’s not the right approach. You need to be passionate about your project and practical in your approach to it.
Tell me about your plans for 2019?
This year we are opening up our studio to others through a series of Makers’ Sewing Workshops, whereby even absolute beginners can go away with their own bespoke garment. I’m really hoping that attendees will learn about the value of the craft of making garments. We’re also launching a new open access membership scheme whereby our studio and facilities are open to those hoping to pursue their own sewing projects. Please contact us if you would like to find out more.
Tell me more about your next workshop.
We ‘soft launched’ our Makers Sewing Workshops with a Vest-Top Workshop which was really well received – we’ll repeat this on Saturday 2nd March. Going forward we have planned an itinerary of workshops with a more unisex focus. We’ll be curating a collection of Makers Sewing Workshops that will include a smock, boxer shorts and relaxed trousers – all suitable for those with no previous sewing experience!
Lastly, which are your favourite independent businesses in Oxford?
It’s really difficult for me to choose just one independent business in Oxford as my favourite. Oxford is an odd place, the high overheads that city centre retail units attract make it a challenging environment to develop new business ideas. What that has created is a community of small business owners with real passion for what they do, every time I sit down with another Oxford entrepreneur we always have so much to talk about! Having said that I will always love the Jericho Coffee Traders whose Osney Mead roasters was an absolute saving grace in the early days, and of course the Jericho Design House who we have been collaborating with since the very beginning.
I can thoroughly recommend the Oxford Alterations workshops. As a beginner, it was easy to follow, inciteful and inspirational. I really felt that I had learnt a new skill, and look forward to making some more clothing!
Love, Rosie xxx