“Having a Workshop is a crazy idea!”
Teresa Helbig, fashion designer awarded Premi Barcelona és Moda
Teresa Helbig is a woman with a tender smile and a look full of expectations, who speaks quickly as she explains how she associates her spirited creativity with the gentleness of her designs.
When describing her as a fashion designer one is also forced to mention that Teresa Helbig is a fighter. This adjective, so different from her hyper-feminine, sensitive and above all, sensual rather than sexual designs (as she likes to say herself), sounds like a paradox. But in this day and age, only someone of a certain rebellious and spirited character could create and make a go of a business in downtown Barcelona that has the craft production of clothing at its heart.
It has been a long time since craftwork and fashion were major sources of income in our country. But this fact, imposed on the textile and clothes-making industry by changes in production models and market globalisation, has not stopped Teresa Helbig. Her career began 20 years ago, when she was working as a window dresser, and moving into dress design seemed a natural step to take. First she worked on commission via word of mouth, and today she creates two formalwear and one bridalwear collection a year – all while also setting up her new dressmaking workshop (“new and unique”, she points out).
So as Teresa Helbig always says, things are coming along slowly but surely…
(laughs) Yes, I am a slowpoke! But there is a reason for taking things slowly: it is important we have everything well established to deliver on our orders and at the same time remain faithful to the idea of keeping the business here.
You have a workshop set to open shortly which will join the showroom.
It will be unique! It is to be called “El Taller”. It is something very different for us. We will all move down to the floor below and the customers will be able to see us cutting out the patterns, sewing and ironing here on the premises. They will be able to witness everything we do here.
That is your added value: an exclusiveness that is hard to find and uphold today?
Yes, having a workshop is crazy! It is very, very expensive to uphold this work philosophy, especially here in the Eixample. There’s no-one left here who makes the goods and we find it very hard to find people to do this sort of work. We are trying to build up a group of young people who are keen. Forming a good team is crucial.
What other projects do you have in mind?
To have an exclusive sales showroom in Madrid. That would be sensational and now’s the time to do it. But I’m not going to start on things if I can’t see them through, so we will have to leave it on the backburner for now. It is a dream that is not going to come true for a while.
Speaking of dreams, do you have any “super dream”?
To present a collection in Paris.
But it’s hugely expensive and I can’t do it.
It costs about 300,000 euros a year.
Which we can’t afford; not to mention the costs involved with moving, etc. And, when we do go there, we want it to make sure it is on a continued basis.
You recently returned from there, where you took part in a group show that coincided with Paris Fashion Week. How did it go?
Not well; we didn’t get any customers. We knew we wouldn’t before we went, but we still wanted to try. We all know Paris is very hard to crack; getting a foothold in the market is like chipping away at stone. It has to be done bit by bit. So now we are going to put all our effort into doing what we do well, and what we know how to do.
So growth isn’t a priority?
Going international would be amazing, but the problem is that we are small and can’t run activities for just six months and then not have the infrastructure in place to continue. That’s just throwing your money away and wasting time, even though we are sure we could sell our lines in New York and Japan.
So how should Teresa Helbig grow?
When we think about growth, we aren’t thinking about moving huge amounts. Our business model is not focused on mass production. We make special dresses and formalwear. We wouldn’t be shifting huge quantities, thank goodness!
Could a second line be the answer?
We want to remain faithful to our philosophy based on the quality of the fabric and care in all our designs. When we are making a dress we don’t think about the time it takes. Then later on we realize it took ages! But we don’t want to cut back in this area at the expense of no longer being Teresa Helbig. A second line? Maybe, but we would have to approach it differently.
After presenting a collection at 080 Barcelona, this year you started to show at Cibeles, in Madrid. Have you noticed any repercussions from appearing there?
Yes, we have.
And the downturn?
We noticed it in 2009, particularly in the second half of the year. But this year is going well and I am very pleased because I think it represents a return on the people we have made happy.
And your bridalwear line has grown quite a lot, hasn’t it?
We are insignificant on the market as a whole, but we are growing, yes. We are also attracting a somewhat unconventional type of bride, which pleases me a lot.
‘Jewel dresses’, hyper-feminine designs…which of the many adjectives you have received do you like the most?
I particularly like ‘hyper-feminine’. ‘Jewel dresses’ I’m not so sure about, although it is true that they are little treasures. We make many dresses with fabrics with their own special combinations.
Woman, entrepreneur, businesswoman – how do you combine it all?
Wow, ‘businesswoman’ sounds strange. I have a son who is 18 now and I have had no choice but to combine it all. I remember often carrying an order book under one arm and the baby under the other and travelling. I think you can combine it all and I suppose the fact that I love what I do helps.