Ethics in clothing design 2

Returning to the topic of ethics in clothing design, this is a story of a experience I had. This specifically relates to how you should convey your design choices to others when your source material is inspired by photos or actual samples of existing products. This is something that rankled for a lot of years.

The designer gave me a sketch of a blouse with a two tiered neckline ruffle.


Worth mentioning but extraneous to this discussion, note that this designer described the neckline binding as a “fold over collar”. In this case, the description was fine because the effect was well illustrated. However, if you don’t have a drawing or an actual product sample, a neckline bias bound binding is not what you could justifiably expect if you use the terms this designer did.

So I made a pattern based on the sketch. I didn’t think the prototype looked very good, the ruffles looked lame. I don’t have a photo of the proto which was promptly trashed but Danielle drew a picture of what I described it looking like (below).

When the VP saw my proto, he was mad and attempted to intimate I was incompetent because -get this- it didn’t look like the blouse they had stashed in the office! Oh boy, was I pissed. It is beyond stupid to have a product sample (nothing unique as you can see, clowns have been wearing this outfit for eons) and not show it to the person you expect to make a pattern from it. So, I made them show me the sample garment. The sample looked like Danielle’s sketch (below):

The problem was the sketch. The pattern for a ruffle matching the designer’s sketch, looks like this:

But the product sample had a circular ruffle. A sketch for a circular shaped ruffle is like this (below):

So, as I explained to them, the problem was the sketch; there was a big difference in the design of these two ruffles and that wasn’t reflected.

As far as you’re concerned, this is the perfect example of why you should hire a technical illustrator who is also a pattern maker. Danielle never would have made a mistake like this. She drew the design above based on a photo which I’ll show you at close. This designer wasn’t a pattern maker or a trained illustrator and she did a pretty good job most of the time (she remains a cherished friend). As it happens, the VP told her to sketch it rather than to show me the sample (the VP happened to own a boutique, this was a sales men’s sample from a rep. Never allow your samples to be left with anyone!) Designers rarely have the power to do anything other than what they’re told to do, just like any other employee. A manager over-ruled her. By the way, that VP was such a jerk, doing a wide variety of not-nice things, like firing stitchers if they were injured on the job. He’s still has that boutique, probably the best one in Albuquerque’s Old Town (talk to me if you’re thinking of selling there; he’d be a good customer but you have to keep him on a very short leash). But if you know who he is, you may tell him I still think he’s a jerk. You might think this a contradiction but I’d sell to him. You always know where you stand with your enemies because you know how they can hurt you but you don’t always know that about your friends.

Now, I realize it’s beyond many of you to know the nuances of ruffle design, it just looks like a bunch of fabric all gathered up on a neckline but nothing is ever as simple as you think. This is another example of why I say in my book that your use of the terms “really simple” is the universal cue for pattern makers and contractors to run and hide. If you have a sample or a photo, cough it up. I doubt your pattern maker will think you’re a genius savant for having come up with this chambray clown blouse anyway, so what’s to lose -other than money and time? Besides, why do you care what they think? For the record, allow me to assure you officially: We Don’t Care. Plenty of brilliant people can’t make money, brilliance alone doesn’t pay the bills.

So, once I saw the sample, the issue was easily resolved. Here’s a photo of the actual products made from the pattern I made:

Compare that product shot to the original sketch I was given. In sum: if you have a product you’re using as the basis of your design, show it. A sketch rendered by a non-pattern maker cannot reflect pattern design requirements that are obvious to others. Similarly, a fashion (marketing type) illustration cannot be substituted for a technical sketch. You can draw anything, it doesn’t mean it can be made.

Another mention extraneous to this discussion. Please note (based on the photo above) that although the “same” pattern was used for these two blouses, they have two different style numbers. While they may seemingly use the same pattern, they are not the same style. Therefore they need an entirely different style number. If you’re not sure why, buy my book. Learning the reason why on your own will cost you a lot more than $60.

Oh, and in defense of my previous employer, for ~some~strange~reason~ I could just never manage to copy an existing product well. I mean, run of the mill things that everyone produced came out just fine, no problem. However, even if the item was straight forward pattern wise but it was unique and had unusual design integrity, I just couldn’t get the same effect. The back story is that the VP started copying this new DE who did some pretty cool stuff. I got sufficiently tired of it that I called her and asked her if she’d hire me. My argument was that if I was being paid to make her patterns, she may as well be the one paying me to do it. So she did hire me and I packed it in and moved to Texas. Actually, she’s the reason I started working with DEs. I helped turn that operation around and today her gross is over 75 million a year, dominating her niche ever since.

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  1. Vesta says:

    You know, another reason that I like to take an actual sample is that I want to communicate “quality”, too. Usually, I end up saying “like this, but better quality” (straighter stitching, better interfacing, better components, whatever). Which, as I’m typing, I realize is related to a point Kathleen makes in the book, about why you’ll get knocked off if you make crap. My words.

  2. Lisa Bloodgood says:

    Yeesh! Sorry you had to go through that, Kathleen, but I’m glad some good came out of it.

    They really should have made it clear at the beginning because a ruffle (straight piece) looks and lies so much differently from a flounce (circular piece) and you get different effects, not just in a blouse.

  3. Becky O. says:

    This reminds me of the passenger who is feeding directions to the driver in a car. The commands of “this way” and “follow him” doesn’t cut it when there are endless roads to follow and you really don’t know where the party is…

  4. nadine says:

    I totally agree with you about showing samples. I often make accessories prototypes for companies to send to china factories. One very popular brand had a small army of amazing technical sketchers (most of them russian and very well trained). They gave me a sketch of a belt and wanted the prototype made. I immediately saw it wasn’t possible – the sketch wasn’t logical. I sent it back and they really could not understand why until I pointed out that the hardware detail would not allow the belt to go through the buckle – a basic issue one would think on a belt. They just copied some handbag strap hardware they liked but those buckles aren’t supposed to open – just be decorative. So in the end they scrapped the belt idea. They argued for so long until I showed them the issue and even then they refused to accept my explanation until I showed them on the handbag why I was right. At least I got to bill them for the argument so I’m not complaining.

    But for DE’s – a sketch is just a jumping off point to start development. When you have a sample the development time is so much shorter and with only a sketch it will take twice as long. Everything looks good on paper but in reality – well that’s another story.

  5. Ms. Max Schroder says:

    Hi Kathleen,
    I LOVED this little gem of advice. I haven’t seen your blog since early June, so I have alot of reading to catch up on.
    Thank you so much for your sagacity. (I have your book, by the way).
    Love, Max

  6. Good for you. We did some contract work for a handbag designer who gave us some sketches that just didn’t make sense. I had to sit down and explain to the designer that her design would have to be altered in order to make it work. We were able to save her vision by making these technical changes.
    Anybody can draw anything, but you have to be technically savvy to make it work.
    Jennie Lynn Johanson

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