Things will never be the same... (A new adventure for Chocodolly!)

It's now been six months YES SIX MONTHS! since we closed the doors to our shop in Colchester town centre and moved the business to our home. So much has happened- Christmas was cancelled due to me performing in Panto, and I promised to give myself a month off to recover from that and sorting out hundreds of Chocodolly dresses before setting up properly online! Then... ta da- Lockdown happened thanks to COVID-19 and we were all stranded at home. At first I thought this would be fine- we'd still sell our stock and get it posted out. But as time passed we realised that maybe the poor postman could do with a break and the stock went back into storage.

To keep myself busy I started sewing again. I love vintage style and have always had a big thing for crafting and making my own dresses. I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to start creating 'how to' videos for jazzing up your home and wardrobe but then, after trawling through the internet, I realised this was already a flooded market, and my focus started changing. As usual, I started to dream up several different ways to keep the Chocodolly dream alive, and before long I was muddled and unfocussed and confused. I wanted to create my own line and keep my customers happy, but how can you please everyone all the time? I myself have lost my love for some retro designers out there, and can't bare wearing the same dress that lot's of other girls have.

As some of you know, I designed my own wedding dress a few years ago when Dom and I married in Brighton. I wanted something vintage that I could wear again, and after the wedding I put the gown upstairs in the shop on a mannequin. Hey presto, I sold it 7 times over in various guises for different brides. But this is itself started proving difficult - My head was swimming with different ideas and I was pushing myself to run the shop, my home, designing, and organising seamstresses. Usually, after spending weeks on a design, I was out of pocket (even though I loved doing it) and my passion for making the dresses for other people started dwindling.

Being an actress, I have always had the good fortune to work with some incredible designers, and was lucky enough to be able to style my own character on Eastenders during my term on the programme. She had a vintage style and I was even allowed to do my own hair! But using my own personal style in such a well loved programme had its drawbacks - I looked exactly like my character and could barely walk down the street without someone shouting or whispering, well-meaning fans coming to the shop and asking for selfies and autographs - it was wonderful meeting the fans but sometimes I just wanted to be more 'behind the scenes'. And of course, not all fans were so delightful. For some reason you always get the people who want to put you down... the "what's she doing working in a shop" brigade, gangs of kids shouting through the door at me and before long working in the shop started to take it's toll and I had to ask Dom and our other part-time workers to take over running the place so that I could take a break.

I have always wanted to design so I recently went back to the drawing board and started working on a simple wrap dress for myself. It resulted in the beautiful full circle white dress you can see at the top of this post. I had a roll of fabric in my cupboard and my friend asked me to create the same dress for her in a beautiful blue floral cotton. I had recently joined a Vintage page on Facebook and posted the picture of me wearing it there. I had no idea that I would get the response I did- in just 24 hours I had over 1,500 likes and comments and was getting messages from all over the world for orders of the dress and sewing pattern!

This immediately made me think - in a world where there are so many vintage and retro companies (that I used to stock myself in the shop) so many vintage loving girls, there had to be an easier way for me to design and get my dresses out without having to create a whole new collection. Starting a brand is ridiculously hard - particularly when you want to be ethical, I'd love to be able to create my designs in the UK with eco- friendly fabrics but can you imagine how much it would cost to create such a collection?

There has recently been a resurgence in "make do and mend" and people sewing their own garments- thanks to the Great British Sewing Bee and such programmes. Everyone knows someone who owns a sewing machine. What if I were to adapt my patterns so that people could print them off at home? even sell the paper patterns with a gloriously illustrated booklet? I immediately took my pattern and extended it- I added different sleeves, shorter skirts, peplum hems... I looked at different fabrics and how you could create a completely different garment by simply changing the sleeve and cloth. Suddenly I had a simple pattern that could conjure 18 different variations that people could easily sew at home (or ask auntie Margaret!)

So here we are.. I have engaged the incredible brains of my friend who is a seamstress, but her passion lies in Pattern Cutting, so we are now in production! I have one amazing pattern coming out this summer with a thousand ideas to photograph. I must now design not only the pattern itself, but the illustrations, instructions, grading, packaging and website design! phew! But I think this will be the true beginning of what I set out to do all those years ago - ethical slow fashion that allows people to create their own unique vintage collection to mix and match. Hopefully we will work on our own fabric lines too in the future. We will be releasing 'how to' videos on Youtube with step-by-step real time intructions and sewing tips for our patterns. We will still sell our rollers and accessories, still have a huge presence on the Vintage scene (hopefully Twinwood is on again this year!) but selling other people's designs is not what we want anymore. We want you to create your own designs and garments, using fabric you love, to fit your figure perfectly instead of generic sizing.

So, If you love this idea- and want to create your own fashion collection, why not give it a try! Dust off that sewing machine, get to know it again. If you haven't already started following our Facebook page (Chocodolly) or Instagram (Chocodolly_carlinorris) then start doing so now- please share our posts so we can reach as many wonderful customers as possible! Come with us as we start a new adventure and you'll be part of something amazing!

lot's of love, keep safe and watch this space

Love Carli xxx

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