Showing posts with label Employment. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Employment. Show all posts

November 05, 2018

Tips for keeping a work journal as a designer

It wasn't long into my professional life that I started keeping a work journal. A technical designer or even a pattern maker will potentially have to be responsible to a lot of different people. Most apparel companies these days are small businesses and frequently family-owned small businesses. It is difficult to find a job as a technical designer/pattern maker with an established successful business, but I managed to do it two times. My client work is limited, but there are similar difficulties in keeping track of your work.

Keeping a work journal

Keeping a work journal as an employee

As an employee I had to respond to all kinds of situations. A technical designer communicates with individuals at all levels of product development and manufacturing. This would include fabric sourcing, testing, fitting, pattern making, grading, cost analysis, returns, and even customer service. The boss could change from project to project. In my experience at family-owned businesses, various family members would be responsible for certain areas and would sometimes be in charge of a particular project. The shifting responsible could sometimes land on you if one department or individual disagrees with a particular decision.

In order to protect myself, I started keeping a work journal. It was pretty basic and bare bones. I usually used an inexpensive spiral bound notebook that I would pick up at the back to school sales. Though, you could go as fancy as you choose. These are the usual details I would record:

  1. Date
  2. Project/Style name
  3. Description of work completed that day
  4. Time spent on the project

But sometimes I would record requests for changes:

  1. Date
  2. Project/Style Name
  3. Description of work completed and WHO REQUESTED IT
  4. Time spent on the project

Sometimes the requested work was a change in a pattern. Sometimes I questioned the validity of the request. But, I wasn't the boss. I could advise or recommend something different, but ultimately it was not my final responsibility so long as I could prove who made the request and when.

Sometimes I had design meetings or phone meetings. I recorded:

  1. Date
  2. Topics discussed
  3. Assignments and deadlines
  4. The person who gave the assignment.

A typical entry would read:

January 5, 2018
Style: 1234
Completed first pattern draft. Double checked grade. Sent style to have first sample cut and sewn.

Style 2234
Boss requested this style have a 1 inch hem instead of 3/4 inch. Made adjustment and double checked grade. Sent style to have new sample sewn in intended fabric for style.

My work journal saved me a few times. I would have the company owner or project boss come back and ask about something. I could look back in my journal and tell them exactly what happened. There were a few times I would have multiple people tell me to do one thing and then completely reverse and do the opposite. Believe me, you will not regret keeping a work journal!

Keeping a journal for client work

My journal entries for client work is not much different. I would include, of course, the name of the client and a description of the project. Another important thing to keep track of is the time spent on the project. Keeping track of time will let you know if you are being fairly compensated and whether you need to make adjustments in billing. Eventually these notes would be moved to a file that would include any pictures, correspondence, and invoices.

  1. Date
  2. Client name
  3. Project/Style Description
  4. Work completed
  5. Time spent
  6. Any other relevant correspondence.

March 21, 2007

Big Box Technical Designers

Tape measure
Several years ago (was it really that long ago), I learned a very important lesson. I was working on a private label program for a Big Box retailer, company X. The technical specs they sent us were fairly straight forward. There were a few wonky measurements, but we forced our samples to spec.

As a patternmaker/pseudo tech designer, working on a private label program for a large account, I worked under the assumption that the BIG company knew what it was doing. Their specs were gospel and they could not be adjusted. You meet spec or you risk losing the account. This was true for another private label program for company Y. However, company Y's specs were superior (in other words they worked out of the box).

With any private label program, you take a selected sample and adjust the patterns to meet spec. You re-sew the sample in production fabric and submit it to the company's technical design department. The technical designers will go over every measurment and construction detail. They have the power to cancel the order if you don't meet spec. Usually, the first sample is rejected and you have to submit a second with corrections. (This is especially true if this if the first time on a new private label program). Needless to say, there is a lot of pressure to meet spec the first or second time. There is a lot riding on these samples.

So we submit our sample (with forced spec conformity) to company X. We received back our audit reports with required corrections. The weird thing was that the technical designers changed some of the required specs (now some were really wonky) and they insisted on construction/pattern changes. The construction/pattern changes would have affected several things, especially allocations and labor costs. Private label programs operate on slim margins, and our in-house manufacturer would not agree to the changes. The measurement issues didn't make sense, proportionally.

What to do? Here was a high dollar order and we wouldn't be able to meet spec. The only way to solve the problem was to call the technical designer at Company X and explain the situation. I expected them to reply, "Meet spec or we cancel the order."

To my surprise, the technical designers agreed to allow some of our measurments and construction details to pass. I don't think I explained too much. It was more like, "It would be easier for us to do things this way."

I learned something very valuable that day. If something isn't working, present an alternative - it just might be acceptable. I also learned that the technical designers for Big Box retailers don't know everything.

The reason this experience came back to me is because I am facing a similar situation, except I am the technical designer on the other end. As part of my consulting, I am helping to develop a new style in China. It is a difficult style, so I expected the first samples to have a few problems. Unfortunately, the samples had more than a few problems (some minor, some not). I wish the Chinese factory understood that it would be ok to present an alternative. I could see they struggled to meet my spec, so they forced it (and didn't really succeed). Not sure how this will be resolved....

February 22, 2007

A CEO's experience is important - the Difficulty at The Gap in 2007

I love BabyGap. I think the designers do an incredible job. The product looks fresh and cute, and it is priced reasonably. I read a very interesting article in February's 26th Business Week, Paul Pressler's Fall From The Gap. My first reaction was here is someone who didn't read Kathleen's book. Reading through the article (and if you can believe everything in it), one can see he clearly didn't understand the fashion business. It would be easy to put all of the blame on him because he was the new guy. The truth is that GAP has corporate culture issues not unlike any large company.

I met an assistant designer for GAP years ago. The impression she left was not very favorable. At least I decided I would not work there, if given the choice. It was a pretty cut throat environment with people climbing the corporate ladder rather quickly because of constant turn over. She left the impression that she could be become one of the head designers within a few years. Success like that does not happen without a lot of back-stabbing.

So I don't blame him entirely for his failure to turn things around at GAP. It would not have been an easy task to walk into a difficult corporate culture, with little fashion experience. Some of his decisions illustrated in the article were indeed poor, others just missed the mark. I think design entrepeneurs can learn from him. Here are my thoughts on some of his decisions:

1. Combining fabric purchases. He made the mistake of combining denim sales for all four divisions of GAP, including Old Navy, Banana Republic, and Forthe and Towne. The result was that all divisions ended up with exactly the same denim to use in all of their denim styles. There is no point in having four divisions if there is not some kind of difference in the clothing. Why buy denim jeans at Banana Republic when you can get the same thing at Old Navy for less money?

The idea is not without merit. I have had corporate execs suggest the same in the past. The goal is to negotiate a lower price for the raw materials by buying in bulk. A small company can combine fabric purchases to also negotiate a lower price. The point is that you shouldn't buy only one fabric, or one style of fabric. Large fabric mills will push you in that direction because it is less expensive for them to run 10,000 yards of the same denim fabric. But what are you going to do with 10,000 yards of denim?

A small business is more likely going to need, say, 300 yards of denim, which will cost more than what GAP will pay. But you can still negotiate a lower price. Sometimes, your order can be combined with an order from another company. Both companies could benefit with a lower price. Perhaps, you could up your order to 500 yards and you can use the extra fabric the next season or in another style. If the fabric company has more than one type of fabric, perhaps you could combine your fabric needs with one company. A long term relationship between supplier and buyer can lead to lower prices.

A small business should never buy ALL of their fabric from one source. You never know what could happen, so make sure to have back-up choices.

2. Outsourcing development. Pressler required his designers to create their patterns in the states and then have the samples made in Asia. Sample making in Asia is cheaper. The problem is time. It takes time to mail samples and patterns back and forth. Even with internet technology, there are many barriers to the ease of communication. Language differences is the biggest. This kind of product development can take as long as 3-4 months for final product approval, especially on a new style. Pressler would not give approval for expedited shipping.

You can outsource product development. It should be something to consider, especially for childrenswear designers. A lot of children's clothing is made overseas - just shop the competition and you will see very few USA labels. Because competition is so stiff, you can save a lot in labor by moving overseas.

If you decide to take this road, give yourself plenty of time. Time to find a reputable manufacturer. Time to find a manufacturer that will run smaller lots (small is a relative term, but expect 500-1000 pc runs to be termed "small"). Time to teach the manufacturer and their technical people your product and quality standards. You can do a lot of things long distance. One Chinese manufacturer preferred that designers actually come and spend a few weeks in China working directly with a patternmaker to develop samples. Not only was it faster, but it ensured the designer got what they wanted.

3. Market Research. Pressler tried to use traditional market research tactics to predict the next big trend. The problem is that customers look to their favorite brands to lead on the next trend. This means that designers predict or envision what should happen next. Fashion companies rely on their designers for this.

Market research is important for building a better brand and better product. Designers do need to listen to their customers. I have seen a few online fashion companies add product reviews and customer comments on their sites. This type of system can help a company improve problems faster. Inspect returns for product defects. Learning from the past can help you move forward.

What will happen at the GAP next? They are now on the hunt for a CEO with apparel experience. I don't see the death of GAP, but I do see some serious growing problems.

October 30, 2006

Product Development Manager, hmmm....

Every now and then, I will peruse help wanted ads that may be of interest to me. I will look in places that I may be interested in living someday - say tropical islands. When I read this ad, I am sorry, but I had to laugh. I know what kind of salary I would ask for this particular position. I would consider this position a Technical Design position, which should be connected to the Design department. This would be a senior level position. Instead, look at the department it is assigned and to whom you would report.

After you read the job requirements, next look at the required qualifications. Wow, is all I can say. They are willing to consider someone with 3-5 years of merchandising experience (something unrelated to most of the job functions described)! I have shopped in the retail store this company owns and I know how many styles they produce each season. They have a men's, women's, and children's clothing line, in various sizes and fabrications that changes seasonally. What they really need is someone with 10-20 years of senior level Technical Design experience. The patternmaking and grading functions would be a full-time job all by itself. If you are truly interested in this job, you can read the entire job description at Expo, but be prepared to say goodbye to your life.

I really don't blame the company for this ad. I am sure this was written by a human resource person who doesn't really have a clue what is involved here.

Position: Product Development Manager
Department: Merchandising
Reports To: Senior Product Development Manager

Responsible for style development and all components of spec packet, which include style, fit, trim, labels, hangtags, care instructions, care label, packing, wash test, and buyer samples. Works directly with production factories and vendors to assure all information is complete and consistent.

ESSENTIAL DUTIES & RESPONSIBILITIES include the following, other duties may be assigned.


As an employee of Company X, promotes the Vision and Mission of the Company. Performs the position duties and responsibilities in accordance with the Company’s Statement of Values.

1. Works with Art Team & Buyers to develop and design seasonal style line.
2. Analyzes samples and prototypes.
3. Sources fabrics and trims.
4. Works with factories to cost garments and arrive at best possible value through garment construction and fabric utilization.
5. Responsible for all style specification packages for internal & vendor use. Assures information is complete and consistent.
6. Works directly with factory on all components of spec packet. I.e. style, fit, and trim, labels, hangtags, care instructions, care label, packing, and buyer samples.
7. Finalize fit corrections on design fit model.
8. Grade garments on computer to be produced according to seasonal style line.
9. Responsible for all pattern making & revisions.
10. Responsible for the creation of all line sketches.
11. Responsible for numbering/tracking system for styles, fabrications and prints.
12. Responsible for all components of PDM computer software.
13. Assists in presentations of assortment plans.
14. All other related duties assigned by manager.

To perform this position successfully, an individual must be able to perform each essential duty satisfactorily. The requirements listed below are representative of the knowledge, skill, and/or ability required. Reasonable accommodations may be made to enable individuals with disabilities to perform the essential functions.

§ Bachelor’s degree (BA) or equivalent.
§ 3-5 years of apparel product development or merchandising experience preferred
§ Textile Art, fashion design or merchandising education preferred
§ Knowledge and understanding of the relation between fabric, art, print, fabrication and style
§ Detail oriented
§ Strong analytical and problem solving skills
§ Experience with Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Adobe Photo Shop.