October 25, 2006

Where do you get your inspiration?"

Over the last few years, I have given a few speeches to high school classes. The inevitable question you hear is, "Where do you get your inspiration?" I wish I could nail down a specific thing that inspires me, but it is not as simple as one thing. Many designers have a specific thing that motivated or inspired them to start. The more difficult thing is maintaining that inspiration.

My first job, right out of college, was with a children's design company. I will never know why they hired me - I was so green to the business. I had assumed that I would work with this company for a few years and then move onto a category that I truly wanted to design. I knew nothing about children's clothing and really didn't like it. Little did I know how important that first job would be. None of the advisors in college advise you to look for a job in the category you want right from the start. My advisors were more concerned with making sure their graduates had ANY job in the fashion industry - a topic for another blog.

Over time, I grew to like children's clothing and then to be inspired. Now, I can say I love designing children's clothing. I can't even imagine working in any other category. (In fact, it would be difficult for me to move to another category based on my skill set and experience - again another blog entry). Inspiration came to me through exposure to the category and hard work.

I have been surrounded by children's clothing and products for years now. If a new idea comes to me, I can immediately apply it to various children's products. Part of the exposure to the category came simply because of my physical work environment. Past clothing lines hung on the walls, fabric swatches hung in the design library, and more. One of my job requirements was to shop the market. Meaning, I was literally paid to shop. I went to the mall and boutiques every two weeks. I got to learn how frequently stores changed their displays, what things were selling, what was discounted, when sales occurred. I not only shopped the children's departments, but others too. Sometimes, categories that were completely unrelated. I would come home with sketches in my notebook of things I had seen or ideas to try.

Another important job requirement was to walk trade shows. It is difficult as a designer to attend retail trade shows because salesmen know why you are there (your tag usually says designer). This is probably the best way to check out the competition before their products hit the retail floors. You can spot which booths are busy and which are not. You can identify trends that are hot. Fabric trade shows is another way to pick up on color and print trends.

Eventually, you get to the point as a designer where you can predict what is coming next. It is in your blood. I can remember when a co-worker/designer and I both showed up at work wearing the exact same shade of lilac top. We had both sensed that color would be important next season and had made personal purchases accordingly.

So, my original inspiration was the need for a job - and to succeed in it. Today, it is so much a part of me, that I can't imagine doing anything else. Someday, I may blog about why children mean so much to me personally. For now, I'll just say that I believe every child is a gift.

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