Costume Hire Manager for West Yorkshire Playhouse, Sally Stone, studied at Bradford College from 1999 to 2003, attaining a BTEC National Certificate in Fashion and BA (Hons) Fashion Design.
I can trace my interest in theatre costumes back to my first visit to the pantomime when I was seven or eight. I was fascinated by the dresses and drapes and this stayed with me. Even before I could sew I was sellotaping dolls clothes together. I started making my own clothes using shop bought patterns from the age of ten and from the age of fourteen, I always wanted to work in the theatre. I did a work placement at Bradford Playhouse and later volunteered at the Theatre In The Mill.
I originally enrolled on the BTEC course in 1996 but I was taken aback with the sheer amount of work required and I only lasted the first term. I worked on some sponsored events at Wakefield Opera House and in Darlington where we created a show in only 24 hours. Everything – audition, rehearse, make costumes - happened in a day and we stayed up all night, working constantly until the performance the following evening. Ruth Caswell, who later taught me on the BTEC, was Costume Designer and I worked as an assistant. But I wanted to learn proper pattern cutting and advanced techniques so I decided to return to College in 1999.
By this time I knew what to expect and at twenty-five with a baby son, I was more motivated and completely focussed. I also came on the course with lots of experience compared to other students. I loved Bradford College and by the last year of my Certificate course the idea of getting a first class honours degree was always in the forefront of my mind.
I had originally intended to study costume and had applied elsewhere but then I got sucked in to the whole world of fashion and I wanted to stay with the tutors who knew my work. Being in the first cohort of the fashion degree where we would have an input into the way the course developed was an exciting opportunity I didn't want to miss out on. I loved all my tutors; Angela Loftus, Mabeth Regan and Diane Bates, who was a real inspiration to me.
I worked so hard throughout my degree. I was always in the workshop at 7.30 and would stay up all night before submission times, not to complete work, but just to keep improving it. I won the Penn Nyler Innovation Award in a national competition in 2002. You had to design something using material the company supplied and I created a costume for a piece of contemporary dance, where two dancers would be joined together by legs and arms and with a shaped piece of fabric for a projection screen. It was stitched in different colours of ultraviolet threads. The £1000 prize funded my final collection. I also won sponsorship from Madeira Threads for all the threads I used and I got to exhibit my work at their show.
After my degree I went on a business start up course and secured Prince's Trust funding to set up my own label. I had a stall at the Corn Exchange in Leeds selling my t shirts but it wasn't really viable. I then went to work for Oxfam in Leeds as they had a large shop which specialised in vintage clothing, where I stayed for two and a half years until impending redundancy forced me to take a stopgap job as an Assistant manager in New Look. I hated it but it confirmed to me that costume not fashion was my true love and I gained useful retail experience.
When I saw the advert for my current role, which required experience of theatre costume, management of volunteers, business and retail experience, it felt like I had been invisibly guided. I now manage what is basically the costume archive of the West Yorkshire Playhouse, which I hire out to theatre, film and TV companies, educational establishments and private individuals. We have over 15, 000 items from twenty years of Playhouse productions, with new costumes constantly arriving, plus private donations. I have a team of twenty-four volunteers who maintain, repair and clean everything. As well as undertaking a massive reorganisation of stock when I came, I also had to reassess the business and marketing strategy, developing new opportunities. It really is my dream job."