HELLPIXIE – AS TOLD TO…
As told to… Mario Varricchio is co-proprietor of arts-focussed café ‘happymaree’ in Yarraville. He cooks, he writes, he draws and is the taker of photos. He also talks.
Skye Barnard, Kingsville based Seamstress (or Stitch-Bitch as Skye likes to say) talks about her home based business Hellpixie.
“Hellpixie was a dream of mine from when I was a child. It basically came about because I wanted to make my own clothing and it’s since developed into 1950’s inspired clothes that I make for myself and for other people. Hellpixie came into being a business because other people were interested in what I was making and wanted me to start making for them so I did! I’ve been doing it now for almost 7 years.
I lived in Japan for 2 years working as a Kindergarten teacher and they had amazing fashion over there, but I was definitely a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl. When I came back I went up to Queensland with one of my girlfriends and we went to the Wintersun Rockabilly Festival, saw all the amazing clothes and just went, I want a piece of that, tried on a heap of dresses and skirts and none of them fit properly. I just thought ‘Well, I’ll make my own then’, so I did! I didn’t have any formal training (as a seamstress) my mum sewed my whole life and that’s where I learnt the skill. I sewed in High School for 4 years, gave it up for a while in year 10 and took it back up again once I came back from Japan, 9 years ago.
I lived in Canberra before Japan and I remember standing in my kitchen one day looking out the window and just saying, ‘this is not where I want to be in my life right now, I need a complete sea change.’ I found a job, packed my bags and was gone 4 months later.
In Japan I used to love going into Harajuku and you’d see all the Japanese girls and boys dressed up as different characters. There was a group of rockabilly guys, that are still there in Yoyogi Park, that rock out every weekend. You see them dancing away; they’ve got massive quiffs and that kind of thing. You did just see lots of weird and interesting fashions and I never fit anything. I was a Gaijin, a foreigner; I didn’t fit into any of those kinds of clothes. It definitely put a fire in my belly in that I didn’t want to keep just wearing jeans and t-shirts. Not that there’s anything wrong with jeans and t-shirt but it just never felt like me. I started making a few things and then it’s gone from jeans and t-shirts to wearing this every day.”
Hellpixie has developed from just making clothing.
“I now do (video) makeup reviews on my Facebook page and people come to me with beauty questions. I’m not a beauty guru at all but I give honest reviews. If I like something I’ll rave about it, if I hate something I’ll say, ‘I tried it, not for me, these are the reasons why’. I think over the 7 years I’ve built that trust, people sort of go, ok we’ve seen her develop in this business, we believe what she’s saying. I don’t get sponsorship from anyone or anything like that so I’m not going ‘Buy this amazing thing because they’ve paid me to say that’. I don’t want to do that; I’d rather give an honest review.”
Hellpixie’s Facebook profile currently has over 5500 page likes and the Instagram has over 2000 followers.
“Considering how long I’ve been doing Hellpixie, it’s not that big. Little by little people were sort of let into my life, I do the outfit of the day on my social media. The OOTD started off purely to show people that yes you can wear it every day, it doesn’t have to be for just dressing up. Now it’s become more than just selling Hellpixie, it’s to let people into my life, sometimes you see Mr. Pixie (Skye’s husband) and sometimes you see Lil Squish (their daughter). You know, people went through my pregnancy with me, people waited, after she was born, for 2 years for me to come back to selling custom orders, people waited that long. Its building a community, they got to see in my life that I wasn’t just Kmart or Target or even some of the rock n roll brands that are really, just a brand. They saw the person behind it, which is interesting because I’ve never run a business outside of social media. I like to support other likeminded businesses such as Holly from Spunkerella, I’ve known her for years. We actually met doing markets together and I only wear her petticoats now, that’s a comfort thing but also because she’s a friend and so I support her. I wear petticoats almost every day so if they weren’t comfortable I wouldn’t be wearing them. Another good friend of mine is Jasmine from Betty Le Bonbon and she also does circle skirts and we support each other’s businesses, I think that’s really important as a small business. Not to tear each other down. You see so many people tearing down other small businesses that do the same thing and there’s just no point.
I never used to get any sales through the website itself; I only ever get sales through Facebook and Instagram. If you Google Hellpixie the first thing that comes up is the Facebook page. I use Facebook and Instagram, which is ‘Misshellpixie’. My Twitter is attached to my Facebook so I don’t actually go onto Twitter itself and I’m considering deleting it as I don’t use it and I just don’t need more social media in my life.
I have had a few people make strange or not great comments but everybody else jumps on it straight away. One thing I’ve really tried with Hellpixie is to promote the love, we’re not about putting people down, it’s not about any negativity and I don’t put up with that BS.
Melissa Bergland, who starred in Winners and Losers as Jenny wore a dress I made for her in 2011 for the Logies and it made the worst dressed list in a Sydney newspaper which was an absolute blessing it really was. I had so many people up in arms about it, had a lot of orders come through. I found out I was pregnant whilst making the dress so it was a blessing and a curse in that heaps of people wanted dresses but I couldn’t take all the orders. I thought she looked fabulous and Melissa told me later that she felt fabulous in it. She made a list and it got people talking about it.
Any advice for someone wanting to start out in a similar business?
“If you want to do it, just do it. When I first started doing Hellpixie I had a full time job. It got to the point in 2011 where I was working an 80 hour week. I was working my job fulltime, and Hellpixie fulltime. That was the point where I decided that I could quit my regular job and do my dream job. It’s still something I enjoy doing. If you can find something that you enjoy doing and you are willing to do 80 hours a week to be able to do it and its being successful then it’s time to just bite the bullet and do it. I’ve been really lucky to have a supportive partner who’s supported and even pushed me the whole way. I think when you start out you need to have 1 product that’s a bit different. For me when I first started Hellpixie, the 2 things I did was the reversible wrap circle skirt, which I still do but don’t get as much interest in these days, everybody was like ‘do circle skirts, do circle skirts, do circle skirts’ and I finally caved and I’m glad I did as people still buy the reversible wrap ones because they are really handy. So I started with that and doing hair pieces or fascinators. The fascinators got phased out purely as I didn’t have time to do them anymore. Then I was doing customised dresses where we’d develop it together but being a mum now I don’t have time to do that. I offer 2 types of dress and 3 different types of skirt.
To get Hellpixie out there I started off doing the Rose St Markets (Fitzroy) and luckily had a couple of pin-up girls buy the skirts and they started talking about them. A friend of mine, Claire Rouge Noir entered the Miss Pin-Up Australia and wore a Hellpixie skirt, people asked her about it and that drummed up some business.
Next year will be interesting with Lil Squish going to school. I need to find ways to push it more; as a business it really has just rolled along on its own. I haven’t had to push for anything, with the Logies dress I was approached to do that, it wasn’t something that I was putting feelers out to do and it fell into my lap. Even if Hellpixie doesn’t get any bigger it’s something that I still want to do, I love sewing and creating, I love the emails I get from customers. A lot of my customers now are repeat customers. I don’t want it to get bigger than Ben Hur, I like the fact that I make all the skirts, I cut them out, I sew them, I post them out myself. Any mistakes I make are my own, any triumphs are my own.”