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?
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?
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!
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?
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.
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!
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.
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?
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?
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.
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?
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.
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 first started out, our company used to give pattern cutting lessons or used to go into more detail about pattern cutting and garment construction. I think unfortunately, as money restraints have got a bit tighter over the years they've kind of stopped doing that but I think they did used to offer some courses within garment construction and pattern cutting, just to give you that edge. I think it went into more detailed things like the bodice or how a bra went together so that people that wouldn't necessarily have the knowledge in say like lingerie or bit more contour design that that gave them a bit more of an insight into it.
Fashion Toolbox 26:11
That is really good of the company to offer that and it is a shame that they have had to knock it on the head! Maybe they will pick something up again in the future, I guess if people were to mention it might just spur them on a little bit!
Did you learn those key skills that you mentioned within education or within industry?
I think the garment construction side of it I definitely learned most of it within education. I did a Design course so a lot of that is, designing your own garments but then seeing it through to physical form. So you would design it, pattern cut it, amend it, toile (prototype) it, fit it on a stand, see if you wanted any amendments doing to it, then sewing it up, so obviously that teaches you a lot, seeing it the whole way through. I think a skill like pattern cutting, I did learn these things within education. So, most of that was learned within education, but then also there is a lot of Industry skills like grading, which I had an idea of when I was at University, but I didn't really understand it fully until I saw the processes of it happening within my first job. So I could see the grade rules and that you make, you might take off X amount of number when you grade down from a size 10 but then you are adding on when you are grading up from your size 10 to your size 20. But I did not see it happen as such I think that was something that I really understood and got to grips with more once I was in industry.
Fashion Toolbox 28:15
Yes, it is a difficult one to grasp is Pattern Grading!
Yes, adding on bits here and adding on bits there and different lengths. I think it was at my old job it was under 90 it would grade but then if it was over it wouldn't and then it grades differently within your bodice to your skirt and adding on all bits here and there. But I know that that is another specialist job in itself. I think there's like quite a few like tips and tricks that when you really know your stuff, you can amend things slightly and it will turn out OK, but I haven't got that understanding just yet!
Fashion Toolbox 29:05
If you want to go into that you will have to probably do a specialist course because it is so difficult to pick up. But it is really interesting as well.
Did you learn digital Pattern Cutting and Grading as well as manual at university?
No, it was all manual at uni. Although, I think in final year when we were doing the production side of it, we used Optitex in final year of university, so we could digitise that in on the system. So, we did manual pattern cutting but digital grading so yeah, we used Optitex digitally to grade, but all of our Pattern Cutting was manual. You can use Optitex for Digital Pattern Cutting but whilst we were at University, we focused on manual pattern cutting. Once I had been in industry at my supplier role, we did digital grading again, I was trying to remember the software earlier, but it has completely gone. It was not Gerber and it was not Optitex.
Fashion Toolbox 30:25
It was not Lectra.
Fashion Toolbox 30:31
Yes, Vetigraph that was it! We did minor pattern cutting changes on Vetigraph as well, that was something that we were trying to push but it was quite an old style suppliers and quite a lot of the pattern cutters there didn't necessarily want to move to the more digital side of it. They were happy with what they had, some of them did and we are really willing to learn, but then again it would have mean revamping their whole ways of working moving from paper patterns to digital. But I think once they would have got all their blocks in and digitised them into the system, it would probably have made their lives easier and a lot quicker, but it is a big change.
Fashion Toolbox 31:18
It is yes, I can totally sympathise with them when they are against moving digital, but it would make life so much easier and so much quicker as well. It is really amazing software and I, like you at university I did both, and I have worked with Gerber in industry so I can see the benefits and it is definitely worth switching to digital!
What was the most useful thing you learned at university that has supported your career so far?
I think probably is not necessarily to do with the design side of it, but I think it's more just to be hard working, just spending time and if you've got that mindset and enjoy what you do, I always think that it'll be okay if you are hardworking and passionate about what you do and you are willing to put in that time and effort, I definitely think it will pay off. So, that was kind of a useful thing that University taught me, obviously it was really hard and I did work hard and I had days where I literally just didn't want to do anything and probably didn't do anything either. But I also had days where I just had to get up, take myself to the library, take myself to the studios and just knew I had to get on with it. I feel like that has paid off. And then obviously there are there more hands-on skills like the design side of it and pattern cutting in the garment construction knowledge that I have needed to get where I am now. But I think if you have always got a mindset that you want to get somewhere then hopefully you always will.
Fashion Toolbox 33:02
I completely agree with that, you need that passion to progress in the industry. Everything comes natural to you then; you are hard working. Passion drives everything!
What does your job entail on an average working day?
Answering lots of emails, lots of queries, they may be from other members of the team like buyers who do not have as much garment construction knowledge, so they may have had an email that they need help on. We also have a lot of emails from our suppliers that might need help understanding fit comments, grading, and general production queries. We use a system called 'lighthouse' which all the styles are uploaded on to, we upload the pictures from fits, all of the fit comments, we approve the grading on there, we can make gold seal comments on there. It is mainly garment tech that do use lighthouse, but the buyers can come in and see things on there as well. I think the designers probably use it too, but we do not actually sit with the designers, so I am not 100% sure what they use. Merchandisers do not use it. But lighthouse is my tool to get through all of my work. I check it every morning and it will come up with a number of queries and stuff on there. So, I just work my way through that every morning with all the things that are going on. Fitting is also another big part of my job, so I'm on the woven day dress department where I am at the moment so, I have a tech who's above me who's my boss who I check in with and she makes all the fit comments, I do photos, measure garments and stuff like that. I have started fitting a few of the garments myself now and trying to get my confidence up doing that and increasing my knowledge. So that is something I want to progress with, the next role up within where I am at the moment is the 'Junior' level and at junior level you then get your own department. So, they trust you with, normally a bit of a smaller department, but they will trust you with everything and you will be the sole Garment Tech on that department. So, you do all the fitting, see everything the whole way through altogether, so you are in charge of all that. So, I am on Woven Day Dresses, we fit about five times a week, fit sessions vary from 30 minutes to about three hours. So, a three-hour session can be quite intense and quite long. So, my boss will communicate all the comments onto lighthouse after the buyers have told her what they want the garment to look like. So, if a garment comes in and a buyer does not like the length, a frill, the detail on it we will then communicate that onto lighthouse as well as general fit issues. So if it looks too big around the bust, the waist the hips, if the armhole is not fitting properly, we'll also then make the comments that we want that amending to, I then take photographs of each style. So, we try and make it as easy as possible for the supplier to understand what we want changing. If it is a really in detail style, I would take really detailed photos of how we want it amended. We try and make sure garments do not exceed third fit, ideally, but if it is quite a complex style, then it quite often will go to a fourth or sometimes a fifth fit, ideally not. I also help with things like gold seals. So, a gold seal is a garment that we have seen the whole way through and are happy to 'seal' (approve) it based on minimal comments. Quite often a gold seal will come in and we will be like "Oh, I don't think we made that comment" or "That's not fitting exactly how we would like it" So we try and look back at the previous fit or see if the supplier has done something slightly differently. Then I also do quite a lot of testing. So, checking test reports to ensure fabrics have performed properly, to industry standard, looking at care labels, checking if the right comments are on the care labels that reflects how the fabrics are performing, if a fabric has failed, then I may do an in house test myself to see the level of how bad it is failing and whether we think it's commercially acceptable or not. So, this would be things to do with pilling, seams being strong enough, colours running and will not fade when exposed to sunlight. We have also been doing a lot of testing in relation to metals and trim details to check that they do not have any harmful chemicals or anything that may irritate the skin too.
Fashion Toolbox 38:05
You mentioned the lighthouse system that you use. Is that kind of like a product lifecycle management software?
I think so, I think that is probably what my company call it. Yeah, I know different companies do have different ways of doing this.
Fashion Toolbox 38:22
Do you communicate with these suppliers through that software then?
Yeah, mostly. There is a lot done over email too. But there is a textbox in there that you can communicate with and that will also send a message to their email address. So, they pick up on it through email as well as being able to check the system. So, you can kind of go back and forth through that.
Fashion Toolbox 38:46
Yeah, it is, it is definitely a useful system.
I feel like they might be trying to overhaul the system or update it at the moment.
Fashion Toolbox 39:00
It would be interesting to know what changes they do. Also, you mentioned the seal process, how many different stages are there in the seal process at your company? A garment will always come through at first fit stage, so this is after a designer has designed it, and sent their sketch to the supplier, and then it will come through to us. This is the first prototype that we see. So, the first bit normally needs the most amendments doing to it. So, the designers are hardly ever in any of our fits, so they have designed the garment initially it is then down to the buyer to change what they think is going to be commercial or not. So we will see the first fit, we will be in a room, the buyer might say change the length of the sleeve, we want to take that frill off, we want to do this, we want to do that. So that's your first fit, we will then communicate those comments to the supplier, who will then make those amendments and send a second fit in the second fit, hopefully looks a lot better than the first if there's been a lot of amendments done to it, we may need to see it again at third fit, depending on how well it generally does fit or if we're happy with the style and the design of it there. So that is the sealing process, it may go through to a third fit, it may go through to a fourth fit very rarely it goes through to a fifth fit, but it does happen. After you are happy with it, the garment gets 'sealed', as it is known. And then that is when we see a gold seal so a gold seal that will then get sent to us. We pop it on our model, check that it all fits OK and then it's signed off and then and then I think it goes through to production and they photograph it, check it's all OK and then it goes through to be uploaded on the website. I mean, I think there is a few more stages in between. It is a very complex process!
So, in your opinion, what would you say makes a successful Garment Technologist?
I think probably problem solving. Because, as I've just said about the sealing process, quite a lot of things can go wrong within that process, we may have asked to change something regarding sizing or styling, and then we'll get the garment back and it doesn't look how we envisioned it, or we could have asked to reduce the waste by X amount and they seem to have reduced it by more or less or, quite often you will have to look at your third fit, your second fit and your first fit all laid down together and work out what's happened in between. So, I think kind of having the patience to problem solve and look at the whole process because problems can go wrong throughout the whole lifecycle of the garment. So, it is trying to work out where that problem has happened. And then also good communication with my team and suppliers. So, a buyer will quite often tell you that they want a garment to look a certain way, but because buyers don't necessarily have that garment construction knowledge, then it might actually be impossible for it to look that way, you may not be able to pattern cut a style in the way that they want it to look, so it's then communicating with them to tell them "Actually I'm really sorry, it can't look like this" but then being able to suggest an alternative and explain to them why it's not going to work. I think having that level of communication with your buyers and with your suppliers will also help.
Fashion Toolbox 42:56
Yeah, I think the problem-solving aspect is actually the fun part of the job, it challenges us all and we all really, as much as we do not like problems, we do like to solve things.
Yeah. When you when you have got there, you may be looking at it for like an hour and just be like, where is this gone wrong or cannot understand it at all! You have got it on and off the mannequin like, checking it out. But then when you when you do get there you definitely feel a sense of achievement.
Fashion Toolbox 43:28
Yeah, I think that is what it is, we are probably a little bit addicted to that sense of achievement!
So how important is it to cross collaborate with other departments in your role?
I think it is really important. So, I mostly work closely with the buyers on my team, but also the suppliers, just to make sure they understand our fit comments, and everything has been communicated properly to the suppliers, pattern cutter. If we're struggling to fit a garment we will quite often ask the supplier garment tech to come in just so they can see it firsthand and know exactly what is happening in our fits and they have that level of communication to know what we envisage and what we want. So that's kind of cross collaborating with the supplier. We also cross collaborate a lot with other departments, so I am woven day dresses and at my company they are quite happy for you to go and sit in on fits on other departments just so are a lot more well-rounded. So, obviously when I am fitting a dress, a dress does not have rises, anything around the hips, well it does have things around the hips but obviously fitting a trouser is completely different fits and a dress. I know myself I wanted to be a well-rounded tech so have knowledge on trousers, blazers, tailoring, so I will quite often go and sit in on tailoring fits, jersey fits, obviously I'm on woven, and so a jersey fabric is completely different to a woven. And where I'm now they are quite happy for you to do that just so when you do get to more senior stages and then they will quite often move you from different departments or ask you to cover fits so that then you do have that knowledge, because different fabrics do really perform differently. I have also had a few sessions on knitwear as well because that is a whole different construction. It is knitted rather than woven. So, the whale and the warp and it is just a completely different version of fitting. You have to take off rows and things like that, I mean, I do not have much knowledge in it at the moment, but that is something I would like to be able to do.
Fashion Toolbox 45:58
That's really good of them that they let you sit in on the other fits, I think that like you say it makes a good all rounded Garment Technologist and that's what you need.
Fitting trousers is so hard! Like the rises, fitting around the crotch, fitting around the bum. Thinking, why is it doing this? Getting your waistband to fit nicely, your pocket not to be opening up and things like that.
Fashion Toolbox 46:28
Yes, it is knowing how to fix those as well is not it that is the hardest thing.
Definitely. I think there are three Senior Assistants that are on dresses, so I am on Woven Day, there is one on Jersey Day, and one on Jersey Evening. And quite often the three of us will all have them just like a group fit session. We will all get a garment from a different department and just the three of us just put it on mannequin or put it on a model if they are free and just go over our fit knowledge and we all kind of help each other out with different bits. Like the girl that is at my level on jersey day, she has got a lot of knowledge in actual sewing, she used to be a machine so she knows about finishes and stuff like that, so sharing knowledge overall is a real help. That is lovely that you have got such a close-knit team to help each other out! Honestly that's why I love it so much because where I am, they do genuinely want you to do well and just to try and make you the best at what you can do and you do feel that they would be willing to kind of help you out.
Fashion Toolbox 47:48
Could you describe the dynamics of your team and who you work alongside the closest?
So, within my team there are two Garment Techs, the senior assistant level and my manager who is just her job role is just a Garment Tech. I think there are six buyers, four merchandisers and three designers within the woven day department. So, we all work really closely and get along with each other, have good communication and Garment Tech's probably works alongside the buyers the closest as they're always there to see the full fit process and they obviously say what changes we want but then we are in contact with the merchandisers and stuff too. So, we all sit together, the designers are separate from us, but they will quite often pop down to see what is going on.
Fashion Toolbox 48:52
What software do you use regularly as part of your role?
We use lighthouse is our main system that all of my work comes through. I know the Buyers and Merchandisers use other systems for their daily roles. But I think they are more kind of to do with like the logistical side of it for the Merchandisers and all the data that they have to handle. We are moving to fit more digitally. And this is something that they are really pushing at the moment we are trying to get all our all of our basic blocks in line. So, we are ready to just go when the system's launched, and we are going to be using Optitex to fit when that is launched. I did use Optitex at University, so I am hoping I can still remember how to use some of it. But I think the industry as a whole is trying to fit more digitally just to save time and also to try and eliminate a few of those first fits that come in looking so badly if it's just in physical form online on a mannequin on a screen you can see it's fitting badly then that will fit that cutout whole a lot of time and a lot of the sampling process there.
Fashion Toolbox 50:12
I definitely think this is where that the whole industry is going to go, towards digital with the 3D and online fitting and in that way, it is just going to save so much isn't it? Less fabric, less sampling, less time. It sounds perfect!
Yeah, it will make our jobs a bit easier. I know that Menswear a lot more ahead than Womenswear are at the moment. I think Menswear jersey are basically fitting everything digitally, obviously quite a lot jerseys just going from blocks, like a T-shirt block anyway, obviously there are more complex styles but I think once they're happy with the blocks and then they know that it works and they can see it looks okay on screens.
Fashion Toolbox 51:00
Wow, how exciting! Really exciting times ahead!
So, you have mentioned this previously actually, but, how relevant is a knowledge of Garment construction in your role particularly?
I think obviously it does help a lot. I definitely feel like I have got a stronger understanding of it through my degree course. Like I said, my company did used to offer Pattern Cutting lessons in more detailed garments. I do not think it is completely necessary. And it is something that you do pick up on over time, but I think having it has definitely helped me understand the ins and outs of it and understand garments in more depth and then if you are making a fit comment, knowing how it's going to affect the rest of the garment too, if for example, you make a fit comment regarding the neckline you need to know that's going to reduce your shoulder, your shoulder seam, which may affect the how the sleeve pitch or the sleeve head is put in. So, I think having that extra knowledge in pattern construction definitely helps.
Fashion Toolbox 52:17
I completely agree with that.
What is your favourite part of your role as a Garment Technologist?
I think it is probably just that every day is different, we are fitting different things, different problems come in, different styles come in, always gives you different challenges and different experiences. We also get to work with like a lot of different people on a daily basis, so you will never go through a boring day. There is always challenges and stuff.
Fashion Toolbox 52:47
What is the most challenging part of your role would you say?
Probably being patient, and probably that problem solving part of it. Just understanding that things do take time to get where you want them to be. You may be really frustrated when something comes in and you have made a comment and that is not how you envisioned it. But I think just taking time out to be patient, and that knowing you will get to where you want to be.
Fashion Toolbox 53:26
And, on that note, what one key piece of advice would you give to someone who wants to become a Garment Technologist?
I think probably just be hard working and try to stand out from the crowd slightly if you can, and just try and go that extra mile. In my second interview, where I am now, we had to do a presentation that they told us to do through PowerPoint. As well as this PowerPoint presentation, I did get my presentation printed as well and put some different textured papers in there, and some tracing paper and then got it bound nicely. So, it was quite like a nice physical piece of work that I could take along and show along with my PowerPoint. So, I do not know if just doing something like that swung me getting this job slightly for me. So if there's ever a way to try and make yourself stand out or go that extra mile in a job interview then try and think of a way around that especially if it is a real dream job that you know that you really want and you know you're going to really enjoy working there. Obviously do your research in what the job entails. Obviously with the internet being so big you can always find out what the job spec saying if there is something on there that you are not quite sure of and ask lots of questions. Whether that be in at University, in a job interview, make the most of the facilities you have, especially when you are at University because there is so much, so much you can use, not for free because obviously you're paying a lot to be there, but you will never get those kind of facilities again. So, just be hard working and try and stand out and just take your time and be hopeful that you will get to where you want to be.
Fashion Toolbox 55:30
Yeah, totally agree with everything that you have said there about making yourself stand out. I think in all of the job interviews that I have been successful in, that has always been the case. I have really thought you know; I really need to research into this company, find out lots about them show that I know everything. And if they have asked me to do something, I have done it two times over! It is definitely the way to go. And yes, it takes time, but if they want a good job, yeah, you have got to put the effort in. And also, the thing about asking questions is just, it is so crucial. You have to ask those questions and be confident in doing so and not be scared.
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