This could be considered part two of On becoming a pattern maker. The difference is that the first entry focused on how to go about getting training while today’s entry discusses how to go about entering the business if you have some training and experience albeit not in the industry. By way of introduction is this email I received from someone I will call Kelly [parsed according to context]:
I am a draper/pattern maker with a background in creating custom patterns for the theater. My MFA training from [a reputable land grant college in a southern Atlantic state] specialized in draping, couture sewing techniques and clothing history. I have worked for over 10 years creating custom garments, including made to measurement patterns for private clients and theater productions. I have found that I love the pattern making side of the job and I am currently looking for a way to gain entry into the fashion industry as a way to expand the opportunities available to me. As I started a job search, I found that I am qualified for most jobs in every way except being trained on CAD (Gerber or Lectra) software. While I realize this is definitely a short coming, I strongly feel my years of experience in pattern making, fitting, and clothing construction make me a valid candidate for a career as a pattern maker.
Before I start, two comments (generally, not to this writer specifically):
- Some people don’t know this but I’m a pattern maker with 30+ years of experience. As such, a few things jump out at me as a barrier to employment in the traditional firm although ill advised designer entrepreneurs might consider these to be pluses.
- Reading this entry and all the links therein should take a week minimally but a month or more is optimal -if you’re serious. If you’re not serious and can’t commit to the investment of self education, this is not an ideal career option at this time because even if you get a job, your education will have merely begun.
As to the downsides of your background: First is that you have an advanced arts degree. Other than that pattern making is a trade, an applied science -contrary to what all outsiders think, the garment industry is very blue collar and proud of it. Generally speaking, however undeserved, artists have a reputation for being difficult to work with in that they don’t understand their role or duties in a commercial environment (I believe there are similar rivalries between commercial and fine artists). Costuming is extremely challenging but it is craft work (not a compliment in this context) as it involves making one-offs. Commercial work has a hard emphasis on reproducibility and precision, aka Standard Work (read it, don’t gloss over it and then also read this). It is not unusual for there to be what we can call “philosophical” differences between artists and tradesmen that present a formidable stumbling block toward even getting an interview.
I understand that you and the majority of my readers are lovely and not likely to be a pickle at all, so being a departure from that (and aside from the CAD discussion, a red herring really) the key to standing out is realizing you really aren’t qualified but you could get there with a bit of preparation in production pattern making (in my book, blog posts, perhaps a class but also the tutorials). Focus on the common essentials; namely that you enjoy the work, probably have a knack for it and are willing to work hard to meet the barre because that is all that really matters. I have gotten any job I’ve ever applied for using these interviewing tips.
I have looked into the local design schools for training but have been told that those classes are only offered to degree seeking students. I have also contacted both Gerber and Lectra, who both offer training in 2 week course but I have been advised that the skills need to be used daily to maintain the knowledge taught in the classes. Considering the training is fairly expensive I am reluctant to pursue it without some sort of job prospect. I am curious as to if you have any advice you can offer someone with a strong background in manual pattern making, as to how to make the transition into computer pattern making?
This is very difficult to answer based on your career options which are:
1. Freelancing for smaller firms
2. Working for a smaller domestic manufacturer in house
3. Working for a firm that does all their product development in the US.
First a few blanket statements:
Many firms that have pattern makers on staff do not use CAD to make patterns. I don’t know what the stats are now but as recently as five years ago, only 15% of companies that had CAD, used CAD to make patterns (the industry is not very progressive, forget what you think you know about it). Most firms use CAD to grade patterns and make markers. By the way, only 15% of the industry even has CAD, a fact many CAD sellers are loathe to admit. Meaning, only 2% of potential employers will require you to know CAD but being that it is these firms that advertise most of the job postings (others go through channels), it is easy to get another idea. That said, given today’s competitive environment, knowing CAD can be a big plus. It makes you more marketable even to firms who don’t have it because not having someone on staff who knows it could be the stumbling block to its adoption. If you know CAD but not the desired flavor of the employer, it really isn’t as much of a problem as you would think. If you learned one program, you can learn another and everyone knows it.
Now, considering that only 2% of employers require CAD, you’re picking between Lectra and Gerber which on the face of it are fine choices. However, if you’re thinking of going freelance or working for a smaller firm, those may not be the best choice because neither program is appreciably small company friendly and they’re much more costly. They are the two elephants in the room certainly but neither program is as easy to learn nor as efficient as they should be. If you think you might go with a smaller firm or freelance, you might learn another CAD program (I love StyleCAD, PAD also gets high marks) instead but you have a range of options. I would urge you to exercise caution in selecting a program because some heavily promoted (read: easy to find based on keywords new entrants are likely to use) CAD programs are not veritable industry programs. Generally, if the marketing of a CAD program is that they’re good for fashion designers, seamstresses, boutique designers and small design companies, I would avoid them like the plague. Real industry programs market in terms of efficiency, marker yield reductions and a whole bunch of goobley-gook acronyms (aka “integration with PLM/PDM/ERP” etc) to say nothing of being able to write cut files that can be read by industry standard [Gerber/Lectra] cutters. Generally, if the cost is less than $5K, you don’t want it. Some people think the starter psuedo CAD programs are better than nothing to get started with but none of your service providers will be able to work with those files so I don’t see much to gain from it.
But I digress. Learn some kind of CAD system if you can -is interning an option? If you plan to work for a smaller firm or freelance, learn StyleCAD, PAD, Optitex or Tukatech. If you will buy software to freelance, StyleCAD and PAD cost the least if only because you don’t have to pay $1,500 a year in licensing fees. I do agree that it is easiest to keep learning fresh if you have ongoing duties using the software so you’re in a hard place if you’re learning it for an as yet unattained job and don’t plan to buy it yourself.
Another career option may be to get work as a technical designer. Tech designers need to have a strong understanding of fit, construction and know enough about patterns to be able to articulate the kinds of pattern changes that may be needed. A technical designer needs to understand tech packs, grading, writing specifications and all that. A TD also needs solid computing competencies with software packages such as Excel, Word, Illustrator etc. Being a TD could be a sideways entry to the industry; it seems that far too many TDs these days don’t understand much about patterns. Anyway, a TD wouldn’t be expected to know CAD. There are a lot of posts on this site about tech pack components such as BOM and all that. There is quite a bit in my book too.
Speaking of, I don’t know that this applies to this person who wrote me but I’m a pattern maker who gets a lot of emails like this. For whatever reason, many who write me have not read my book and I don’t understand how if one were really serious, that they wouldn’t be sufficiently curious to know what a 30 year pattern maker has written about how to run a manufacturing enterprise and a pattern maker’s role within it. That one lacks curiosity or doesn’t perceive the need to read the book or to make such a priority doesn’t instill confidence among practitioners which matters because most pattern makers get work through other pattern makers. As such, we tend to assess collegial competencies lest a designer come back to us with complaints because we lose face. Meaning, we need some kind of barometer in order to send customers to you because we all know people who claim to be pattern makers that don’t know much and it makes us all look bad. So, reading the book gives you baselines of expectations with customers, contractors, suppliers and peers.