The Role Of A Garment Technologist with Niamh Hill

Updated: Aug 21, 2020

As part of the blog, podcast and support channels here at Fashion Podcast, I will be interviewing a selection of industry professionals about their roles, with the vision to support students in their early career choices as well as supporting graduates into their first or future job roles. I hope that you all find them insightful! These blog posts are scripted from the Podcast episodes from ‘The Fashion Toolbox Podcast’ available on all Podcast listening platforms, including Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

In this weeks podcast I am joined by Niamh Hill, Niamh is a Senior Assistant Garment Technologist at a large online clothes retailer where she has worked for the past year, she specialises in Ladies Woven Dresses but is passionate about her role and strives to have a good all round understanding of every garment type.

Prior to her current role, she worked as an Assistant Garment Technologist for Misfit and Nobody’s Child, also two large online retailers in the Fashion market. Niamh gained her first experience in the industry during her industry placement year at University, where she gained an excellent all round knowledge of the industry in various positions for company’s in London, from Design to Technical to Pattern Cutting, this is where she realised that her heart lied with Garment Technology and she has never looked back.

Fashion Toolbox 00:04

When did you first become interested in fashion? And can you remember how?

Niamh 00:09

So I think I've always kind of had an interest in fashion from when I was a young age, I've always been interested in clothes & style, I just love the way an outfit can make you feel if you're confident. I just feel like that confidence gives you an extra level of confidence too. So, I think when I was in year nine choosing my options (at school), I knew I kind of had an interest in fashion, but I had no idea about where I wanted to take it. So, I chose Art as an A level back then, as I thought this might have been a route down into it, so going down more of that creative route. I enjoyed Art at school, but we did not have an option to do textiles at my secondary school. So, this is kind of why I chose Art. Then when I went into college, my two years at college I chose to do Textiles, Geography and Sociology. Again, I really enjoyed the Textile side of it, but had no real idea about what I wanted to do. I think I knew I wanted to go to University, but not necessarily what I wanted to do there, I actually got a better grade in geography than I did in my Textiles. So I was kind of weighing up between the two different options back then, but I think I just found Textiles and like the fashion side of it a lot more interested and I thought it would be a bit more fun to study so that's why I decided to look at going down the Textiles route. When I started to look at Universities, I thought I wanted to look at Fashion Marketing. So, I went to a few open days that were Fashion Marketing related like Fashion Marketing and Fashion Communication. But when they were giving the talks, I realised this was going to be quite writing heavy and I wanted a bit more of a hands on course, so this is when I started looking at more (Fashion) Design courses but I also thought I wanted an aspect of the Marketing or Production or Communication or something to go alongside the Design as I still wasn't 100% sure what I wanted to do, and I thought cutting my options down to just Design at that time was a bit narrow seen as I didn't actually know what I wanted to go into later on. I found the Huddersfield Fashion Design with Marketing and Production course, and I thought this was a good mix of the two. So, I had an interview for there and got offered a place, so that's kind of how I got started in it.

Fashion Toolbox 02:42

Yeah, I think it is really, really interesting that we did the exact same course! I do not think I had picked up on that before. But, totally, the best idea is to get an all rounded course, because you just never know which route you are going to take in Fashion. There are just so many different aspects that I do not think everybody realises and something like that just gives you a good overview. It might not be in depth, but you do get a good overview of everything and then you can decide yourself where you want to specialise.

What field or job role did you want to do when you very first started your Fashion education journey?

Niamh 03:22

I did not really know what I wanted to do when I started my degree. I knew I enjoyed fashion and had a passion for it. But I was not clear on a specific industry role that I wanted to go down. It was not until I did my year out in industry. So, the course I did had an option to do a sandwich year. So in your third year, you went out on industry placements and then came back and then either specialised in Marketing or Production at the end of that so it wasn't until my sandwich year, so my third year in industry that I had more of an idea of what I want to do. The course was quite Design heavy up until then, but you did some Marketing modules and you did some Production modules, but it was not until your final year that you chose to specialise in one of them. But, no I do not think it was until my sandwich year that I had a bit more of an idea of the job role that I wanted to do.

Fashion Toolbox 04:09

It is always that industry experience that gives you an idea is not it of which route you want to take because it is so ridiculously different to what you learn it is just mind-blowing!

Niamh 04:35

Definitely, and there are jobs out there that you literally don't even know exists until you're in industry, and then you are like...."Oh, actually, is this a job that you can actually do?!!"

Fashion Toolbox 04:44

How did you get into your current field of work?

Niamh 04:49

My job is in Senior Assistant Garment Technology at an online brand based in London. So my route into that was, So, I did my Fashion Design with Marketing and Production at university, I chose to do my sandwich year, which definitely really helped me up until my second year I kind of had no real idea about what route I wanted to go down. So, I thought it was best to move down to London to do my sandwich year just because I thought there was a lot more choice down there, it's kind of where you see more of the fashion industry being. Luckily enough, I moved down with three other girls that were also on my course at the same time, so we a bit of support down there as it is quite a scary thing to do when you are only 20 years old! It was through a family friend that I found my first internship and was put into contact with her. She was a bespoke designer, mainly focusing on bridal wear, but also had bespoke contacts. She was literally a one-man band, so did everything herself. I worked alongside her, helping her out with bits of everything and it was really like one to one experience. So, I was doing things like helping run a social media, studio, admin, pattern cutting, sewing, fittings and sourcing fabrics, so it is quite a big overall role there and was really hands on. And then my second internship I had actually secured before I had moved down to London and it was a bit more of a designer style brand that that I just really liked. I had obviously seen their stuff through Instagram and social media and just knew that I really like their stuff. So I found an email address for the studio manager or found her name on LinkedIn or something like that and sent her an email just saying I was interested and asked if they had any interns, so I went for an interview with them, took a bit of my portfolio work that I had up until my second year to show. I got offered that internship, initially it was meant to be for six months. It did not turn out to be how I thought it would be, I thought I was going to have a little bit more hands-on experience, which is what I had hoped. and I also really wanted that hands on experience in pattern cutting and stuff, so that I would be in a better position for when I went back in my final year, so I just felt like I knew a bit more. But it didn't really turn out to be how I hoped it was a lot more like a general admin, running about doing things for the lady who run the business herself, so I knew I wasn't really getting much out of it and just thought, if I could find something better out there, then I should take it really because I know my internship year was only a year long and I had already done about 5-6 months by then and I just really wanted to try and get the most out of it. So, with that second internship, they had a stand at the London Fashion Week show rooms. And it was a bit cheeky of me but I got some business cards printed and just took them around to some of the other stands of the other designers that were showing there and just said I was interested in and asked if they had any intern positions. One of them contacted me a few weeks later, which is where I fell into my third internship and this was at a smaller brand producing luxury silk loungewear, it was a really nice small brand but then again also had a lot more hands on experience. So, then I was doing pattern cutting, helping with grading, going to their factory to see fittings and things like that. And that's when I really realised that I enjoyed the fitting side of it, I did some costings for them, lay plans and at the time, I didn't realise that that was a job, or the job of a garment tech or anything like that but I just knew that was what I enjoyed and my final internship was just really nice, I really enjoyed it. I am still in contact with the girls that run it now, so I have got a good relationship with them. So then after that year was over, when I went back into my final year at University you need to choose either the Marketing side or the Production side. I think I may have had a conversation with one of the technicians who helps you with sewing and things and said to them that I'd enjoy the kind of the fitting side of things and she said, "Oh, maybe do look at going down the Production route because that may lead you to more the fitting side of the jobs in industry" So that's when I when I decided to choose that. But I was still massively up in the air about what I wanted to do and things like that. But I chose that and I did enjoy it, it was hard work and I didn't necessarily understand some of the things that they were teaching us because I think I hadn't seen it necessarily been happening in industry, I couldn't picture how I was doing it at the time. But it has helped me now and now I have a much bigger understanding of it all. So, in the final year, in Production we did things like grading, grade rules, split diagrams, lay plans, costing and tech packs. So that helped me find out about the garment tech side of it and things then. Then at the end of University, we obviously had all of our Design work and my Production work as well and I know Huddersfield have a stand at Graduate Fashion Week, so the tutors will display your work. So, I went down with a couple of my friends just to show my face and I wanted to see who I was up against. I was really interested in looking at other people's work and their portfolios and stuff, because it is something like I just really liked doing, just flicking through people's portfolios. I had made myself a mini portfolio of stuff to take to Graduate Fashion Week anyway, so it had some of my Design work in it but also mixed in with some of my Production stuff. So, it had some of my split diagrams, my grade rules, and my grading tables for some of the garments that I had designed and made in my final year. I took my portfolio to one of the supermarket brands that do quite a lot of hiring there, just to show them what I had, I was quite nervous to do this but I took it along anyway and got speaking to a girl there who thought it was quite a niche thing that I had, she said she hadn't seen many other students do this and that there weren't many universities that did offer this production side of it. So, she said it was really interesting, unfortunately there was not any jobs going at the time, but she said that I should be confident in my work and know that what I had was industry ready. So that gave me a good confidence boost. So, after Graduate Fashion Week, I think I was at home for about six months because I knew I just needed some time off after finishing University and just wanted a bit of a break. After that I started applying for Garment Tech roles, if I saw a Garment Tech role at a brand I tried to apply to those ones as a bit more focused on working at a brand for some reason in my head, that's where I wanted to see myself going and I was a bit more attracted to that. I cannot remember how many I applied to, but I literally did not hear anything back. So that was a bit disheartening, I did not really know what to do from there on. After that, I had seen some jobs advertised on recruitment agencies, so I just started applying to a few from those and got a much better response from the recruitment agencies, they would send my CV over to the company, but they would ring me back just to have a conversation and see what experience I had. I think it was through three different recruitment agencies, they found three different job interviews that I quite liked the sound of. The first one, it sounded good over the phone, I went there and it turned out that it was more of an internship role, and it was going to be a lot more admin based than what I wanted, I feel like it was a role that would have got me through my third year at University, but it wasn't the step up I felt that I could do as my first industry role. So that kind of brushed that role off to start with. Then the other two roles were at suppliers, doing Assistant Garment Technology roles just helping out with everything that the supplier does within Garment Tech. They both liked me, so I got invited back on two trial days, got offered those jobs and then I just chose between the two of them. I think it really just came down to the girls being much more friendly at one of them! And because I was moving down there not really knowing anybody in London again, so I just felt like if I wanted to make some friends down there I could see myself being friends with the girls that worked there and kind of took it a bit more based on that. They were both similar suppliers and supplied to similar High Street stores. So that is how I got into that. I was there for about a year and six months, I was helping with digitising, costing, grading adding grade rules, measuring garments throughout the fitting process, I really enjoyed it, but after a bit of time, I kind of felt that I'd outgrown the company slightly, there wasn't room to step up there, they weren't ready to hire at the next level up, so I started looking elsewhere. And that is where I found my job that I am currently in at the moment. It is a big online retailer, so I have moved from the supplier side to the brand side which I am really enjoying. I have been there since around last September (2019). I class it as a little bit of a dream role really, it is a really good company to work for. They really want to look after their employees they've helped train me on things that I wasn't 100% confident with, for example, I didn't get that much experience at my old job actually fitting garments, but they're really willing to help train me up and I've had lots of one to one fits with my manager before any big fit sessions just to go over things I'm not as confident with. So, I am now in a Senior Assistant position at the job I am in now so that is the next step up. I would like to be where I am for a while really.

Fashion Toolbox 16:20

It sounds like you have got a really good overview of the industry on your placements. It is just such a shame that that second company that you went to, some companies will just block off students and they do not want them to learn, it is so frustrating.

Niamh 16:35

I did actually go to the studio manager one day and just say "Oh, is there any chance I could do a little bit more pattern cutting or get more hands on experience or do this or do that?" and she did want me to do well and she did try and give me that experience, which I probably was a bit more hands on for about a week but then it just kind of fell back to what it was like before. I think some people are probably okay with it because obviously, just within the studio environment, you pick up on a lot of everything that is going on. But I think I had been there for 3-4 months by then I was just kind of like, well, I've kind of picked up everything that is going on in the studio and now I'm ready to do a bit more of what I wanted to do and know what was going to benefit me in my final year as well.

Fashion Toolbox 17:19

Yeah, I think that companies need to recognise the students that want to learn and are willing, because that just shows the commitment, and you could actually be a real help and maybe, who knows, an insight into the future. It is just shame. And I know it is really disheartening when you turn down for a job that you have applied for or when nobody replies to you!

Niamh 17:46

I had so many jobs that I had applied to, which I literally just did not get any answer from at all.

Fashion Toolbox 17:54

It is so bad, and I think that no matter what all companies should reply, because you are putting in that effort, sometimes you may have even created a CV especially for a job.

Niamh 18:08

Yeah, most of the jobs I did apply to as well I would send a tailored cover letter to go along with the CV. So obviously, that takes time, and then you want to put things in your cover letter that the brands are doing at the time. So that they feel like you have spent time to look at them too.

Fashion Toolbox 18:25

It is almost a shame that you have to go to the agencies. But as you say, they are so helpful, and they will always acknowledge your application, and they will help you in finding something that is suitable for you. I would recommend agencies as well.

You spoke quite a bit there about your Production portfolio, the report that you did in your final year at University, what exactly did that include?

Niamh 18:55

So in our final year, we designed a collection of three different outfits, we had to choose one of the outfits which we then had to grade, apply grade rules, do the split diagrams for the pattern pieces, illustrations and flat drawings (CADs) to go along with that one outfit. I think I had like a top over a shirt and some trousers. So we literally had to digitise in each pattern piece of each garment, upload onto the system, grade it with the grade rules that we had, I think we used a grading book that university recommended for us to find out the grade rules for that, did our split diagram which is where garments should increase (or decrease) from. I had my illustrations from the design side of it anyway, so within the design, the illustrations weren't actually needed in the report, the report was just each garment going through the split diagrams, grading, grade rules, and a bit of a tech pack, a lay plan and a costing and then what I took to Graduate Fashion Week was that side of it, so all my grade rules, split diagrams and stuff as well, but I also added in some of my illustrations and my flat drawings too, just to make it a bit more visually appealing. I think just seeing the big grade rule tables with all the rules in is not that interesting. I mean, it shows that you can do it and it shows that you have a knowledge in it, but, if you want to make your portfolio a bit more visual and exciting to an employee for example then doing something like that is just quite a nice thing to have.

Fashion Toolbox 20:48

I would definitely say that doing that production report gives you a really good insight into doing a Technical Pack or Technical Documentation and shows you what you need in there and then that is really appealing to industry.

For your portfolio, how did you decide what work to put in there? And did you tailor it for interviews that you went to? Or did you just make it generic?

Niamh 21:12

I just made it generic really. I think that because I was going in at a very Junior Assistant level, I felt like I was not going in for a massive, really high paid job. So, I did just have my production report/ portfolio. I added my design work into it, but I did not take my design work and my production work separately. I put it into one. It was around 30-40 pages of just a nice visual portfolio just to flick through.

Fashion Toolbox 21:52

It is definitely best to have something visual because that is how we all read things in the industry. We are all creative people and that is what we want to see.

Niamh 22:01

Definitely, you want to show your creative side as well because I think people are drawn to that.

Fashion Toolbox 22:09

So, what skills would you say are paramount to your role in the industry?

Niamh 22:13

I think you need good communication and perseverance. A lot of my work at the moment is communicating to suppliers that may not be based in the UK so you need to be really clear and understanding, knowing that their English may not be the strongest or they might not understand if you are trying to say something really complex. So, I think good communication if they come back and are unsure of what you mean you can communicate to them again, being really clear to try and make sure they do understand. Normally, if they are communicating with you it is something to do with the garment if, for example, they do not understand a fit comment that you have made for the garment. So, if you are not clear in telling them what you want to do, then the next garment coming in is quite likely to be not right or not how you want it to be. So, I think good communication and also where I am now, we have got quite a big team. So, we need to communicate within our team just to understand what is going on because each person within my team has slightly different role and we all need to understand where everybody is at and what is going on. And then also within my role, I think you need to have good garment construction knowledge too. So, most of the job within Garment Technology is a lot of fitting and understanding how garments fit together, so if you know the basics of pattern cutting or knowing how seams match up or how armholes go in or things like that, I think that is going to put you in a good position. So, just knowing how garments fit together and garment construction. I do not you need to have really complex pattern cutting skills, but just an idea of how things fit together. So, when you are making those comments about what you want changing you know yourself about how and what would need to be done.

Fashion Toolbox 24:28

I completely agree, the communication is just so important and being clear to your manufacturers. Because, as you say they could be in countries all over the world, speaking different languages. And you have got to make sure that you are clear. And that is not just being clear, being concise as well and keeping it to the point. And as well, the garment construction knowledge, I think that is beneficial for everybody, even as a designer, you need to know how things are going to go together.

Niamh 25:05

I know there are some there are some people where I am at now that did not do a design degree, I think they did a management degree. But I think they do have the basic knowledge, I don't know if they did like a year course in pattern cutting, I know they've been at the company that I'm up for about 6-7 years and I know when they fi