Alice Prier got her first proper ‘job’ in her late 50s. She tells us her journey from costume design to running her own fashion business and most recently passing on her pattern cutting skills to the younger generation as a teacher.
An Interview with Alice Prier
What do you do and how did you come to be doing it?
I teach pattern cutting to young people mostly who want to work in the fashion industry and I teach something similar to home sewers who want to be creative at weekends. I also run the vestiges of my made to measure business and I’m writing a book. I like to keep busy!
I was running my fashion business full time and then I answered job post on LinkedIn. I got the job and within a week I was a teacher rather than someone running their own business. I’d taught before but teaching almost full time was completely new. I’d previously trained in the theatre as a designer but that didn’t work when my children were small, so I set up my own business which I ran for 25 years. Now I’ve sidestepped again into teaching, at the Fashion Technology Academy. Even though I’m not trained as a teacher! I’m not really trained in anything, I’ve made it all up as I’ve gone along.
I still have a few clients that I make clothes for. I still love creating things so I always have a house full of paper and sewing machines and things. That’s always been around me. My mother made things and my grandmother made things.
Why did you wait until you did to make the change?
My fashion business clients were all retiring and didn’t need my services anymore! Also the premises I was in as it was being sold and the people working for me wanted to retire too. But I wasn’t ready for that. There’s a big shortage in pattern cutters these days because skills generally haven’t been passed on and people want to do different things. So I’m passing on my knowledge to other people which is great. I love it!
When I teach weekend courses at Raystich sewing school I either get older people who have a bit more time and want to start creating things again or younger ones who were never taught. I think people are more interested in being creative these days, whether it’s making pots or food or clothes or whatever it is.
We’ve also moved away from buying very temporary clothing too. Buying cheap disposable clothing is really polluting. We have to come back to giving things their proper worth.
How did your family and friends react?
I always do things when my husband’s away and then he comes back and I say oh, I started a business, or oh, I took a job.He was surprised I’d taken employment as I’d been freelance for so long. I’m nearly 60 and have only just taken a job! I do everything very late! I’ll never retire. I forgot to do the pension thing so I’ll have to work until I’m 100.
How has your life changed having gone down this path?
I have to get up early four days a week. I have a regular life, I get in my car, make my packed lunch and have a day with a regular pattern to it. That’s something I’m not used to. When you run your own business you choose your day. When you’re working in a job someone else tells you where to be and when to be there. It’s nice having a salary – that’s something new. I used to employ other people and had responsibility for finding work for them, so I don’t have that any more. But you have to answer to someone else and make sure you’re doing what they want you to do.
What advice do you have for women considering a similar life change?
If you see something and you want to have a go, just jump in and try it out. What’s the worst that could happen? If you’re in the mood for some change then it will happen. If you need to meet a new person for a new opportunity then sometimes things just fall into place.
What do you love most about being the age you are?
Not caring so much what anyone else thinks. Being able to be a bit more stroppy. I don’t feel I need to be careful what I say anymore. People can either like it or lump it.
I went on a weekend to Amsterdam with a very old girlfriend recently. As we were leaving we sat down at the airport departure gate and then realised we were sitting in the elderly and disabled seats. So we thought we better get out of them. Then I looked around at everyone else at the gate and realised we were at least 20 years older than everyone there so we were certainly entitled to sit in those seats. But that’s a bit of a shock.
But I don’t see myself like that. I still see myself as about 16. Except when I’ve been out dancing all night. I do rock and roll dancing every week and it’s great fun. I’m learning to jive in the school hall.
What do you hate most about being the age you are?
The wrinkles. Especially round my knees! I don’t hate anything about it really. But I used to think for a long time that it didn’t matter what I do or if I’ve messed up or I haven’t achieved much because I still have half my life left. But I don’t think I’m going to be 120 sadly. So it’s a bit shocking to think, well until I’m 75 I can probably still feel like this. But that’s a tangible amount of time so I better get on with it.
But my 94 year old mother in law still has her fingernails painted different colours and is always looking out for new things so she’s a good inspiration.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known in your twenties?
That’s an interesting question! A lot! I think actually in my twenties I was similar to now. I was bold about meeting people and doing new things. It was in the middle that I stopped being bold. I think with children maybe you can get a bit lost but I’m getting my boldness back again.
What are the most important business and/or personal lessons you’ve learnt along the way?
Not to be scared of people because usually they’re nice and probably scared of you too, and just try things. I think you can talk things into existence if you tell enough people. Just be bold. I haven’t always done that but now I think what’s the worst that could happen. Someone could say no to you but usually they don’t or they let you down gently.
Do you have a mantra that has guided you more than any other?
No not really. I like variety – that’s my mantra I think. Variety is everything. Don’t do tomorrow what you did today, do something different.
I really like to escape and travel. Do a little bit of work and a little bit of escape. I’ve been all over the place.
Which woman do you most admire and why?
In the world of fashion, Vivian Westwood, because she has lots of new ideas, is very creative, she just speaks out for herself, and does good stuff.
Is there anything people consistently misunderstand about you?
I’m actually very serious. And one day I’ll understand the rules of poker!