A cheat sheet for the last ten years

This entry isn’t for everyone and I apologize. Still it could be fun and I’d love your input, especially for people who have been or were in the trade for many years.

The proposition: An old boss of mine who got out of the business about ten years ago has applied for a job as a designer for a leading manufacturer and it looks promising; she’s been scheduled for her third round of interviews. She wrote me because she needed what amounts to a cheat sheet on all of the changes that occurred in the industry since she left because it could hurt her chances if she hasn’t kept up.

Below I’ve reprinted (some information is redacted) what I sent her and I’d like to know if you have any additions to this. Context is pivotal! The changes I mentioned are those that affect larger enterprises. You are welcome (and encouraged) to include trends that affect entrepreneurs but please so indicate. For example, the increasing influence of showrooms would be important for DEs but not for a given designer who is but one of 30. Make sense?

Context: My boss and I worked for a firm I will call ABC. ABC was wholesale only, making stuff to order with only two seasons per year. ABC produced domestically in their own plant with about 250 stitchers. The products were marketed via a wholesale catalog and sold mostly through road reps with of course, booths at the major trade shows. The firm my-ex boss has applied to -I’ll call it XYZ- is much larger, produces off-shore and sells consumer direct via their own stores and a catalog.

Here are the list of trends from over the past ten years that I sent her:

The issue of trends has less to do with product design than business and operations in the industry. Especially as it is compared to the operating practices of a vertical operation like XYZ vs ABC -which must be understood first.

XYZ is largely vertical in that they also retail their own products, it’s a different operating model than ABC. ABC produced mostly to order so there was less risk involved and their margins were better. XYZ produces based on guesstimates of what they think they can sell which means their margins are lower if they miscalculate demand for given styles.

In industrial engineering terms, XYZ is a push manufacturer because they produce without sales to back it up. ABC was largely a lean manufacturer because they did not. In industry, “lean manufacturing” is often called “fast fashion”. That term is both laudatory and deprecatory. If you have the time, I recommend scanning my site for entries on lean manufacturing, particularly the earlier ones and certainly any that mention ZARA. Everybody in the trade wants to be “faster” and many are fumbling, looking for magic wands (ERP/PLM/PDM systems) to get there. I believe that software alone is not the solution but that’s beside the point.

The time line for the two is different. ABC designed on a 6 month time line (roughly) between market and delivery with only two (really one) primary selling seasons per year. XYZ has to do more, at least four if not six or more because they need product to stock their stores and catalogs. That’s the other thing, catalog business is different. Actually, XYZ has a whole different demography (older, better educated, less style-trend driven etc).

Because XYZ designs so far out, for style and design development, they must subscribe to trend services like WGSN and Pantone. I wouldn’t pay for it to bone up on it before the interview, it’s enough to know they use a service and to ask which one. It would also help to know who they are scrabbling with in the market to get an idea. Since they largely don’t wholesale to big box stores, there is less certainty to know who they hang with.

Other operational differences between XYZ/ABC are:
Private labeling: I don’t know if XYZ does this but it doesn’t hurt to bring it up since we did private label for Penney’s at ABC. With Penney’s having the reputation they do, that experience will count in your favor.

Vendor Compliance: Contract management to have products produced to spec is a huge deal now and getting increasingly complex. It has affected the entire structure of product development. Large firms typically use PLM/PDM/ERP software to manage product development and outsourcing packages. I seriously doubt XYZ even has pattern makers on staff. They probably have TDs aka technical designers.

It is possible that much of your job will be related to CMT and tech pack management. Perhaps they use SOW (pt 2), I don’t know, wouldn’t hurt to know the term. I’m using a program called StyleFile but it’s not one of the biggies. I do think it is the best (but is not an ERP). If you look it up on my site, you get an idea of what it does (read: parameters of task management). By the way, if you’re getting the idea that you’ll be doing more management than designing, you’re on the right track. Actually, scanning my glossary category may be helpful.

There is a much greater focus on testing materials now. I’m telling you now, it will be obvious in many entries I’ve written that I was annoyed at ABC because they didn’t test inputs. Did you know that I used to have to steal yardage from work to test it? I didn’t even have a washer so I had to take it to the laundromat at my expense and time and then wash it and then sneak it back in, all so I could cut my pattern to account for the inevitable shrinkage etc -all the while risking getting fired. It was so abjectly stupid.

Another issue that has become super important (and related to testing) is consumer safety regulations specific to flammability and kids wear. CPSIA has been a nightmare and affects anyone who produces kids clothes. I don’t know if XYZ still produces kids clothes, maybe they dropped it like so many others did. Along the same lines is Prop 65 which affects all products sold in California. Lastly, the standards for flammability for adult apparel have been revamped and CPSC is more proactive.

Technical Materials: XYZ has a greater focus on performance. You’ll be learning a whole new language about textiles. They probably subscribe to a service to stay updated, you’ll probably absorb a lot of that on the job. You will probably be traveling more, both to source materials, to learn about them and to manage projects overseas.

What do you know about licensing? XYZ does some of that.

The mechanisms of market research are different, the XXX show is the biggie. There are trade show reports on it on my site. Another thing to be aware of is showrooms and the influence of editorial, that will be a bigger focus. Sampling will be different, you may have to manage two sets of samples in different sizes but I don’t know. Showrooms typically take much smaller sizes for photography and fashion editorial.

Computing is of course the biggie but a lot of its affects won’t apply to you (social media etc). Greater computer literacy and competence with given programs will be important. Other than PLM, PDM or ERP I mentioned earlier, you will be expected to use Illustrator and Photoshop.

I realize this is a lot to absorb but really, the ability to learn, be flexible and get along with others is what is most important for a designer but you’ve already got that. Ideally, you would have been reading my site for the past six years but oh well.
Okay, that’s about it. Again, I would love if you could add trends from over the past ten years generally but also those that affect entrepreneurs but please indicate which those are specifically. For example, the increasing influence of showrooms would be important for a DE (and in a different way) but not so much for a designer-employee who is one of 30.

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  1. Rocio says:

    I would say that (in addition to all the points mentioned) Designers (I know) who have managed to remain consistently employed through the downturn (by large private label importers supplying majors) share these qualities:

    – They manage their area of responsibility as if it was their own business (Entrepreneurial)
    – They can quantify their contributions (ROI) at a moment’s notice
    – Make sure their contributions (ROI) are noticed by upper management (so that when pink slips are handed out they know EXACTLY who does what)
    – Technical / Import production knowledge allows them to make decisions without having to run EVERY question through the technical department (they can do more and deliver designated number of bodies faster)
    – Familiarity with the Country of manufacture can make the difference between seeing one’s groups make it to the retail floor or not (depending on the structure of the company and areas of responsibility for the position)

    Good luck! :-)

  2. Penny says:

    The biggest change is in web based sales. The catalogs are not doing as well as the web. The web has more flexibility that is invaluable.

    Also: the prices of fabric have sky rocketed, ( cotton etc…) The duty on certain fibers can play a big part in the cost of the garment, for instance nylon.

    Also, watch your style count. Make sure you can meet the minimums, ( for fabric and skus), and try to make every style make sense from a merchandising as well as cost point of view. Adhere to a seasonal development calander in order to avoid expensive air ship costs. All these factors can really eat up profits and they happen way to often!

  3. dosfashionistas says:

    This is fascinating! I left the manufacturing end of the garment business 5 years ago when I retired and have followed things from afar as it were. What a great update!

  4. Sorry so late in replying to this, I’ve been on vacation. I would like to add that I had the opportunity to interview with a very large XYZ sounding company a couple of years ago and the first thing I was asked was if I worked in Illustrator. This may not be a factor for your friend, but I’ve told every one who’d be interested since then that this was the prime delineation for the head of design for this company. Because I’d been trained so many years before, I missed out on a great opportunity. I also learned illustrator the first chance I got and would recommend fashionchalkboard.com for her tutorials on Illustrator and PhotoShop for fashion design (including line sheets and tech packs.) Just my own experience of how things have changed in the last 10 years.

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