This week we’re talking to Sophie Cooke from Folksy shop Imogens Imagination
Could you describe your shop?
The ethos behind Imogen’s Imagination is wearability and affordability and as such I offer off the peg hat and fascinator designs which adher strongly to this. I take my inspiration from vintage and burlesque roots which allows me to create designs for the shyest of people, who may not be used to wearing a hat or fascinator…to the more confident woman who needs a design which will truly make them the centre of attention!
Whereas many high street shops only offer designs which heavily feature frothy feathers, which can not only be quite intimidating for customers who may not be very confident, but also so generic that its hard to distinguish what shop they have come from. I have worked hard to develop my own unique style which I hope is immediately recognisable.
With regards to affordability, I hope I meet the mark there too. Along with the Signature Collection (a core collection of designs which are available all year round), I also offer a custom order service to give my customers the greatest choice possible. The Signature Collection prices reflect the simplicity of the designs and materials used, however, throughout the year I show the range of my skills by offering designs that have been made from scratch and which showcase the millinery training I have (and continue to update!). Needless to say, there can be a significant difference between the prices of these such designs, but these are most often based on the time taken to make a handblocked hat…this could be days worth of work over the period of a week or longer!
Who does your Folksy shop appeal to?
It’s hard to gauge the age range of my customers from their Folksy profiles alone, but the photos I have received from happy customers showing off their purchase (or purchases in several cases!) show me that my shop appeals to women of all ages! I have sold to women wanting something for all occasions, proms, race meets, weddings, burlesque performances, brides (including the bridesmaids…and the associated mothers!), christenings, parties of all occassions, hen-dos…but I have yet to knowingly sell for a funeral!
I often get many customers from the fairs that I do that come back once they have their outfit for their diary date. Often at the time, they will see something they like, comment how much they like it and then finish the sentence with ‘Hats don’t suit me’ or ‘I don’t think I can carry a hat off’. I will always urge them, gently of course, to be brave and just try on the piece that has caught their attention. 85% of the time, a little twinkle lights up their eyes, their friend will beam, and then a smile will slowly spread across their face and the ‘Oooohhh’ of approval will follow! These are often the customer who come back to me online when they have adhered to the golden rule…get your outfit first!
Is this your day job?
Unfortunately, I still have to work fulltime, which is no mean feat with 4 Folksy shops, a weekly evening class in another county, a diary that gets booked with events 3 months ahead, and 2 other online shops! I can only thank my lucky stars that I don’t have to contend with looking after a family, partner or have any other commitments…those Folksy sellers who do have my utmost regard!
Its a sad fact, albeit very enjoyable, but my life does revolve around hats and my business. I often joke that if it doesn’t have anything to do with hats then I don’t do it!
I work fulltime for South Yorkshire Police as an Intelligence Analyst, which has be as far away from my evening and weekend based creativity as its possible to get, but by the same token I also love my ‘day’ job. I work with a great team (many of whom have been customers and also bring me a lot of business!) and the thought of not having the stability of paid employemnt is terrifying. I’m very lucky to have such supportive colleagues who don’t mind when I take my flexitime to go to college for my millinery course….or need to dash out early to get to the Post Office beofre the last collection!
Have you been into craft and the handmade lifestyle for long?
I have always been crafty. Both my mum and my grandma taught me how to sew, creative kits were always a favourite treat when I was a child. Even my first job as a saturday girl was working in a family-run dancewear manufacturers where I sewed using and industrial machine and was pattern cutting. I always have a non-hat related project on the go, I just wish I had the time to finish some of my half-baked project ideas. I have a patchwork quilt I started when I was 13…19 years later its still no more finished than it was 10 years ago, it will already be vintage by the time I do finish it!
As a child, I often made presents for my family for Christmas and birthdays and as an adult, it means a lot to me to be able to do this still. Although last year, I ran out of time to plan and make for Christmas, so I made sure all my presents were goodies bought on Folksy…they were handmade, just not by me.
Where do you promote your shop?
I have a heavy Facebook presence and I’m a very active member of the Sheffield Forum, a community forum for the city. I’m also a bit of a bigmouth on the Folksy forums, I’m never afraid to shout about myself, or anybody who gives me something to shout about. I usually also have up to 4 events per month at vintage and crafts fairs along with burlesque nights…and I’m never without my (Folksy bought!) card holder in my handbag, even on nights out on the town. I also love getting involved with fashion shows and charity events, at least then I can have a night out as it is hat related!
Do you have plans to expand your business in the future?
Expanding for me is a fine balance of deciding which role I will work in for the majority of the time, Sophie the milliner/promoter/seller/accountant/secretary…or Sophie the Analyst. One job is definitely easier…but its just not fulsilling on its own.
I would love to go part-time at my fulltime job, even just dropping one day would have a massive impact on my ability to get out, research and build the links I need with BM shops to make Imogen’s Imagination grow from strength to strength.
I always have to be conscious when I run special offers about what my work load at the office is, can I realistically meet demand if I know have have to work extra hours?
I’d also love to travel further afield for events, but my current reliance on public transport and the generosity of other has its limitations. Hopefully, at some point I’ll be able to invest in some wheels…and then Imogen’s Imagination will truly be the mobile milliner!
The eventual pipedream would be to have my own shop, with work room, office, client area, and shop front….at least then I might stop taking over the house with millinery equipment, materials, part finished orders, and most importantly, my in-person clients wouldn’t have to use the bathroom to see what they look like wearing their purchase!
What advice would you give to someone thinking about opening up a shop here on Folksy?
Do it…but have a nosy at the Folksy Blogs, the tips in the Forums and all the other advice floating about first.
There are so many mistakes I have made, opportunities I have missed, and other things that I thought afterwards ‘I wish I’d known that!’. It will make your shop the best possible outlet and will help avoid timeconsuming tweaks and fiddles.
Learn the promotion tricks, linking your various online presences, what is the best time of day for you to list, what gives to maximum exposure for minimum effort?
My other big piece of advice is that promotion is key, don’t think you can sell without it. Of the hours and hours a day I spend on Imogen’s Imagination and the sister shops, I can honestly say that most of that is on the computer promoting my creations.
I’m not in that privileged position yet where I can just sit back and wait for my customers to come to me….maybe it will happen eventually, but even then, as I love to talk about the Imogens, there not much chance of shutting me up on the promotion front! ;o)
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