Pattern maker’s employment question

Christy wrote asking for my opinion on her situation but I’m not comfortable giving advice in this case because I can see both ways as being tenable. Also -not that anyone would describe me as opinionated- but I’d hate to erringly influence her. Would you all mind tossing this question around and posting your suggestions in comments? Thanks muchly.

I have a work-related issue and was wondering if you’d give your opinion. I was hired into a company two months ago as a patternmaker and illustrator for activewear. I quickly realized that I have many more duties like writing spec sheets and coordinating with the in-house sample sewer as well as cutting samples. I don’t really feel comfortable with all of my duties since I’ve only been out of school for a year and I have no real supervisor, but I’m learning and doing a pretty good job (in my humble opinion!). Today I got a call from a costume company’s HR person and she said she would like to interview me for a patternmaking position. The company is bigger (my current company is maybe 5 people) and I could work under a head patternmaker which is what I really would like to be doing. I want to learn more about patterns and know that what I’m doing is correct. Do you think it’s wrong of me to interview at another company when my boss has invested the last two months in me and I’m doing tons of work for him? I like doing a little of everything but I’d also like to have vacation days, benefits, co-workers.

When I wrote her back asking for permission to reprint this on the blog, she assented and added:

That’s perfectly fine; I can see how others would be interested in the answer. After talking with my dad and my sister who works in retail management I’ve decided I should probably stick with the company I’m at for now so that I can get more experience and hopefully help my boss get to a more organized place. My sis said that having any more than two jobs in my first year out of college could look a little fishy; do you agree with that? I think I’m going to tell the costume company that I really appreciate their interest and that I’ll contact them in the future if I could help them out. I definitely don’t want to burn bridges and my city has a pretty small fashion industry so every contact I make is great.

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22 comments

  1. Esther says:

    I have worked on both sides of the aisle (costume design) and more on the fashion side. While the fields are certainly related and overlap a lot, I am unsure what kind of costume house she is talking about. Mass produced or attached to a theatrical company? There are some distinct differences in methodology and construction techniques in a costume studio/shop versus a manufacturing floor.

    My sister works in the theater and I work in fashion. We often collaborate on projects so we can experience both angles. The work environments and the types of people you will associate with will be on different ends of the spectrum. Both can be fun. My day job is a lot like what Christy describes. I was an inexperienced patternmaker thrown into a situation where I was THE expert (2 years out of school, no less). You can gain experience through working through problems on your own and keeping up with continuing education.

    I have volunteered or consulted for theatrical projects on the side. It is a great learning experience!

  2. Esther says:

    Re-reading what I wrote, I see I didn’t really answer Christy’s question. A lot depends on what Christy’s ultimate goal is and which position will help her get there. Often where you start is what you specialize in. I started in children’s clothing and that is what I am still doing. It would be more difficult (not impossible) to jump to a different category. When we first get out of school, most of us are desparate to take any job we can. Patternmakers specialize too and it is easier to move around in your specialty than to jump around. Design schools almost always focus on just 1-2 categories (mostly women’s sportswear). There is so much more out there!

  3. Christy B. says:

    Thanks for posting Kathleen! Esther, the company is a holiday costume company, not for theater. Think mass produced Halloween costumes. I mostly wanted advice on the situation from an employer/employee point of view. Is it wrong to leave a company if you have a (possibly) better opportunity somewhere else? How important is company loyalty? Do people in the fashion industry look at resumes and say “she skips around too much; I’m not hiring her”? For now I’ve decided to stay put, but it’s still an important topic.

  4. av says:

    My professional opinion is to go on the interview. My recent interview experience has taught me that an over-the-phone description of job duties and expectations differ from the actual situation. You may actually find the job is not to your liking and you will not have the ‘what if’ feeling at your current job. You also might find that it completely fits into where you want to go with your career. The interview will also give you great info to mull over as to where you do want to go with your career if you are unsure. Most job situations cannot be assesed without doing the actual interview.

    My second piece of advise is to put your career first and don’t feel guilty leaving your current position if needed. Just be sure you know what you want. I personally like the craziness of small companies and dread the politics of larger companies. But some people thrive better in larger co. because many larger co. are very specific on their job duties and do not want you going outside the box. Going outside the box usually steps on another employees territory and threaten their job security.

    I also do not agree that job twice in a year looks bad. If you are taking a new job every three months, then that would be an issue. As long as the positions are moving in an upward fashion, that will be easy to explain to future employers.

  5. Sherry says:

    I agree with av. It doesn’t hurt to interview with other companies. Also, let’s say that in 6-12 months you find that your current company isn’t working out (for whatever reason). You now have 1 more year of actual work experience, and if you interview with other companies, you can contact the ones with which you have had good interviews. Also, you may build professional relationships outside of your current company which may help you to network, gain industry perspective, and keep current with what is going on outside of your own company. (If you have the time, I would recommend you do that anyway by joining professional organizations, etc, if possible, because you may meet valuable contacts along the way.)

    One last thing. Loyalty works both ways. If your employment is at-will, then remember that companies want the option of letting you go without notice for any reason. As long as your current company respects you and your work, then if you receive another offer that you want to take (whether that happens a year or two or five from now) handle letting them know and giving fair notice with professionalism and respect, and you should be fine. If you ever feel mistreated at a company, then still leave professionally, but never feel guilty about leaving for your own good, be it professional advancement, or to save your dignity and sanity.

    In this day and age with massive layoffs and what have you, some of the old employment “rules” are not as relevant. Most people can’t stay in companies for years on end even if they want to. Also, if you take a look at Craig’s List in major fashion cities (like NY) you will see a pattern of constant turnover for designers.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that if your company is hiring a newbie to do all that they are asking you to do, then it suggests to me that they are not willing to spend the money for experience. You are learning and making mistakes on their dime. (It’s only natural that you will make more mistakes in the beginning, especially if you have to learn through trial and error.) This is not meant as an insult to you, because you will use this as an opportunity and you are probably giving them more than their money’s worth. Your conscientiousness already tells me that, and quite frankly I doubt they would have hired you if you weren’t talented and smart. I actually think they hired you BECAUSE you are talented and smart and they are getting you on the cheap precisely because you are just out of school. Soon, however, you will outgrow them because of your jack-of-all-trades experience with them, and unless they pay you closer to what you are worth, you will have to leave anyway for better financial compensation (or suffer burnout and disgruntlement because of all that you do). I think they are trying to use you to do more than you should, especially as a beginner, but in the long run you will be better equipped to deal with that and you will be more marketable to other companies (in other cities, if you want) because of your breadth of experience so early on.

    I’ll shut up now. Just don’t ever feel guilty about managing your career. There are real costs to not thinking about your own needs first.

  6. Christy B. says:

    Sherry, you hit the nail on the head with that last paragraph. While my boss is paying me well for an entry-level position, I’m not doing entry-level duties and he expects me to be able to manage my workload with no help, supervision or deadlines. I don’t really have the experience for that. My main reasons for staying are that I CAN learn and make mistakes on their dime and I want to do a little of everything in preparation for when I open my own business. I learned from my last job that I can’t run the company for my boss and I do my best to not get too stressed. I really appreciate the advice from everyone. If I was unhappy with my current position I would definitely go interview but I think it’s good experience for me and I’ll hang on to it for a while longer!

  7. Mia A. says:

    I find this subject very interesting because I am in a similar situation. After being a WAHM for 8 yrs. doing custom sewing, I decided to look for a job outside the home. I interviewed for a seamstress position in a small design company (6 people)and have been working there for the past seven months. My official title may be seamstress, but I am also the head patternmaker (I think they assumed that every seamstress also knows how to draft patterns). I receive vague sketches (i.e. no seamlines or darts) and interpret them. This brings me to my question, how much does a patternmaker/samplemaker earn? I feel like I need to ask for a raise, but this is my first job outside the home in 8 yrs. They are very happy with my work and I’ve been there 7 months. BTW, I bought Kathleen’s book last year and it’s always my first reference source.

  8. karen v. says:

    Hi Christy,
    You should definitely go on the interview whether you are staying at your present job or not. Interviewing is a great barometer for you to see what the market will pay for someone with your skills. It is also a good way to truly assess the opportunities that are out there. You can also look at it as a way to make contacts, “network”, if you will.
    It’s not disloyal to talk to someone! And, if you take the job, you give your 2 weeks notice which is more than most employers will do for you if they are done with you!
    There’s a good book I recommend, called “Fire Your Boss”, written by Stephen Pollan. Going on job interviews is an incredible learning experience in so many ways. You are not obligated to take the job. Also, read some books on negotiating–you may be able to get more benefits or salary from your current employer based on a new job offer. This is a whole art/science in itself and has little to do with your patternmaking skills. This was referred to on a previous post as “managing your career”. I try to negotiate in EVERY transaction I can, just for sport and am so amazed at the unforseen benefits. HTH
    Karen V

  9. Jane says:

    The key to the situation is the fact that you are being recruited. That is quite a compliment. You did not seek out another job, but you have people coming to you, this is a positive reflection on your reputation. Should you choose to take the job and for whatever reason you find yourself moving on in the future, you want to always use in future interviews the fact that you were recruited for the position.

    Business in general these days is very volitale and when opportunity knocks you need to open the door! I never turn down an interview. Jobs are like boyfriends…..it is always easier to get one, when you already have one!!!

    An interview is like a fact finding mission. When you interview for a job you are not sure about, usually you interview really well because you don’t come across as desperate. And the $$$ offer usually Goes Up in order to woo you over. (I don’t know about you guys, but as much as I love fashion, I don’t do the 9 to 5 thing for my health!)

    I have been a patternmaker for 20 years and I have learned more than I ever thought I would from each and every job I have ever had. As a matter of fact, the job I have right now I took solely for the purpose of learning the business from a different angle (Kind of like getting paid to go to the school of hard knocks)

    So it sounds like which ever you choose, you have a bright future ahead of you working in a field that most of us are passionate about. (The fact I read this blog on my lunch break kinda’ shows where I am coming from) Good Luck and who knows, maybe we’ll end up working together someday!

  10. La BellaDonna says:

    Adding my pennies’ worth:

    I have to say, the phrase that really hit home for me was “I like doing a little of everything but I’d also like to have vacation days, benefits, co-workers.”

    You’re working at this job without benefits? And you’re wondering how much loyalty you owe them?? You owe them what you are currently giving them: an honest day’s work for their dollar, and then some. It certainly sounds as if they’re extracting every usable bit of skill and ability you have, with no intention of compensating you for it, either. I would suggest that you go on the interview, if only for the experience. However, unless you’re luckier than most of us, you’re probably going to want a vacation day or two eventually – and you may really, really need benefits, eventually. I think any job, these days, which does not offer benefits, can be regarded only as a stepping-stone. In addition, it has been my sad experience that, no matter how good you are or how hard you work, the only way you will get the salary increases you deserve is by changing jobs. These days, “company loyalty” mostly runs one way – I’ve seen many more employees who are loyal to their companies, and go the extra mile, or two, or three, than there are companies who are loyal to their employees. I’m not denigrating your attitude; it’s one I share. But at least I know that I’m being taken advantage of. I certainly think it’s worth your while to find out what the costume folks are willing to pay you; you may be able to use that information to negotiate a raise, and perhaps some better conditions for yourself.

    And it makes a big difference, IMO, if you have two, or even more, jobs in a year because they went after you for the job. Being head-hunted is one of the signs of a successful professional – it’s not as if you’re flitting from Starbuck’s to Home Depot to Blockbuster.

  11. Karen C. says:

    Go on the interview…then make a decision. Maybe you won’t want them, or they won’t want you. But what could it hurt to just check it out? And you’re working without benefits? If anyone looked at my resume with a job of short duration and asked me why I left, I would simply say I thoroughly enjoyed the job, but I needed to have health insurance. Any employer that YOU would want to work for would think “hey, this is a person who is looking out for herself.” Personally, as an employer, I would want my employees to be able to take a break or go see a doctor when they needed to. Healthy, rested employees make fewer mistakes and are more productive.

    And you could always say that the job you presently have was an internship.

    Go on the interview.

  12. Christy B. says:

    Thanks for all the advice everyone. I really appreciate everyone’s comments and POVs. I had to give the HR person an answer yesterday so I thanked her very much and told her I’d contact her in the future. I interviewed for a large company before I secured the position I hold now and was not hired due to lack of experience. They would have paid me less (but with benefits) than what I make now. Although I could have learned more about the costume company with an interview, I want at least a year of experience before I start looking again. I’m making what I consider to be good money for entry level experience and I’d like to have a year under my belt before I go looking for more money! I make more than the people I know here in the industry and they have more experience. If this job paid less I would have interviewed. Maybe my view is skewed, but I feel that I have to work my way up in this industry and unfortunately, this job is way better than my last job!

    My boyfriend read this thread and made a good point. He said that if we lived in a larger fashion city I could afford to look around more but since there are only a handful of companies here I don’t want to waste anyone’s time or create bad blood. For instance, one of my coworkers also works for another company here that I’ve talked to before and if I leave my current job and then later try and interview with her company, she could very well talk negatively about me and I’d be out of luck. I’ve been collecting contacts such as the person at the costume company and when I’m ready to look I have several people who can hopefully help me out.

  13. Kathleen says:

    I have no intention of beating a dead horse but include the following for others who may face a similar situation. From Marginal Revolution (an economics blog):
    These data confirm that people essentially cannot close the wage gap by working their way up the company hierarchy. While they may work their way up, the people who started above them do, too. They don’t catch up. The recession graduates who actually do catch up tend to be the ones who forget about rising up the ladder and, instead, jump ship to other employers.

  14. J C Sprowls says:

    “Industry knowledge” is the result of exposure and practice over a period of time, which is part of what makes a prospective employee more appealing. As an employee in today’s market, you have the responsibility of managing your career path in addition to your potential employer’s best interest. My recommendation is that you make sure you can bring value (i.e. expertise) to the new employer in exchange for an advancement opportunity. I rarely recommend lateral moves for a modicum of cash (~$5K) unless there is a specific reason to leave a company behind (e.g. hostile work environment).

    Cutting your teeth for a cheaper price isn’t such a bad thing. Eventually, you will reach a point where the exhange has stymied. Then is the right time to look outward for your own growth. It will take some time, yet, until you learn the local landscape and each specific company. I’d probably stay put for at least 18-24 months.

    Sherry raises a point of employment ‘at will’, which is all the rage in today’s market. My practice has been that this is the exiting process. If a company reserves the right to terminate without notice, then I don’t feel bad about giving less than 2-weeks notice. If an employer has been particularly gracious or generous, I give more time (5-6 weeks notice) and offer to train the replacement.

    Oh… and never accept a retention offer – when it’s time to go, it’s time to go. If the company you’re leaving really wants you, they’ll invest the time and effort of trying to hire you away from the company you accepted an offer from. Make them wait at least one year, though.

  15. RK says:

    Im new to this site but Kathleen’s book is my bible. Im a freelance sample maker and I work with my mother who is a patternmaker. I would like to comment on Mia’s question. I really think you need to address the issue with your employer that you are doing patterns. Patternmakers make many times as more than sample makers and it sounds like your boss is getting a really good deal. You can choose to continue doing patterns for your boss if you feel you need the experience and/or for your resume. But your boss should know that you are completely aware that he/she is getting this practically for free. I would also ask for a patternmaker title as well as a raise but I wouldnt expect a regular patternmaker salary from this employer. Keep in mind that when you accept a much lower pay for a job you are in a way sabotaging the industry because of two reasons: a) Employers will start cutting down the salary of highly professional people if they think they can get the same service for less even when the quality is not nearly the same. b) You raise the standard of the seamstress unreasonably high. This does sound like it could be a good situation for you if you stay at the job only as long as you need to then move on and get paid your worth.

  16. Page says:

    Hi, i am looking for a patternmaker for clothing and i don’t know where to begin to search for one. can you give me some information on how to go about finding one.

  17. Kathleen says:

    Me too. They’re all over this site, in comments, entries, sidebars, forum, everywhere. This place is teeming with pattern makers for sure.

    Debra, Page didn’t look around and didn’t read anything. A lot of people (okay, generation-me kids) just post stuff like that rather than orienting and looking around. Usually I delete these comments, people ignore them. They kind of remind me of Eddie Murphey in that movie Trading Places, where as a bum, he’s being manhandled in the private club, being escorted out and he yells out “is there a lawyer in the house” and of course there are, the place is packed with attorneys, all of whom raise their papers to hide or look away since Eddie is obviously not a winning proposition. He’s got no money, doesn’t have a fight to fight, has the wrong expectations, doesn’t know much, and doesn’t know enough to know he’s surrounded by lawyers. Who would want a lot of grief like that, and for what?
    Hide Debra, hide. :)

  18. sonya pardo says:

    I have enjoyed reading all of the different comments. I have worked as a patternmarker for over 15 years now, I love the job. I’m now working with the Deaf and hard of hearing. If I could combine the two that would be a dream job.

  19. Teray says:

    Hi Christy,

    I was reading the article you wrote and I thought it would be agreat idea to work under a Patternmaker in the Fashion Industry. It’s called moving up and you don’t want to be stuck at that place doing all that work for a little bit of money. They won’t be mad at you for trying to make your life better by getting benefits, paid vacation, etc. It’s obviously something they can’t provide for you. I really don’t want you to pass up an opportunity like this. Also, as far as working for 2 companies that is an honor. Karl Lagerfeld designs for his own line, Chanel and Fendi. You have an oportunity to maybe work for 2 companies and you just finished school. That’s great. Even if you don’t want to upset the people you are working for, you can let them down easy. You can tell them that you found this great job and thank them for everything. If you want to tell them you will work for them until they can find a replace ment and you would love to come back and work with them in the futrue, but don’t stick around because you don’t want to upset them. You are paying more attention to the needs of that company (which isn’t yours) and not thinking about what is good for yourself. I know your family loves you and they are telling you what they think is a good idea, but I think in your heart you know what you want to do and you don’t need anybody to tell you that. People interview while they have another job all the time. It’s the smart thing to do. You’re not a bad person for doing that either. Vacations, benefits, coworkers, that’s what you want and I think that’s what you should go get. My teeth hurt right now and I wish I could find a job with benefits. In Atlanta Fashion Design jobs are not abundant. Well, I hope I helped. Best Wishes!

  20. sonya pardo says:

    Hello, I’m a patternmaker now since the year 1989
    I went to a fashion designing school. I love working with patterns of all kinds. I’m a free lance patternmaker now as well as a free lance sign language interpreter.
    Sonya Pardo

  21. mrhyand says:

    I think you are doing well to work for a company that you do sample cutting and patternmaking.
    I started out working for a very small company and got lots of experience doing all of what you are doing. About five years into my career and three jobs later,I landed a job with a top designer.My first really good paying job.I found that each time I moved to a new job I could get more money,But I also had more experience to offer.When you feel you have nothing more to learn on the job move on. Move to get benefits and more money every two years. Settle only for money, benefits and fun. Don’t stay longer than two years where you are,and demand vacations,and bonuses when the company does well.
    Otherwise leave for greener pastures.good luck and enjoy your carrer.ITS THE BEST!!!!

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