Evidently, I’m still mean

In retaliation for yet another email I got from a designer who said I was “mean”, I print this email I just got (anonymously because I didn’t ask for permission):

I’m about 3/4’s of the way through your book and I truly wish that every fashion diva designer had this book. One quote that rings true is “If you think others have a better handle on things….they just fake it better than you and have more money to waste.”

I’ve been working as a Design and Production Assistant in NYC for some of these “hot shot” (notice the quotes) designers and it’s so true they just need to LISTEN to the mass amounts of people from the pattern maker to the factory worker that are trying to offer them FREE advice…

Being dissatisfied with working for “princess type” designers I am
venturing out on my own and have taken your advice when dealing with contractors and suppliers and really truly and honestly being respectful and understanding of their knowledge and expertise and you will never imagine how much they really appreciate my respect for them! They tell me horror stories of designers who don’t have a CLUE on production etc. yet insist on having everything their way, causing waste after waste after waste…. then turn around and blame the very person who was trying to give them advice in the first place!

Just because I refuse to lie to designers and tell them that they’re doing everything wonderfully, does not mean I’m mean. If you want to make it, I’ll tell you the truth. I’m not saying you’ll like it but I think it’s meaner to go broke, laying people off through waste that could have been prevented if you’d only listened; people are depending on you. Business men never complain that people are mean to them. Business is not a popularity contest.

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  1. christy fisher says:

    I love you, Kathleen.
    The PRIME reason I loved your book was because of the BLATANT honesty in it. Some people try to sugarcoat everything, but you do not waste anyone’s precious time with being namby-pamby. I (and many others) DO appreciate that.
    Some people will think your are mean just because you do them the favor of telling them there is spinach in their teeth.
    They do not want to be real.
    You ARE real..and wonderful ..and so is your book.
    Not only is it EXTREMELY educational.. it is a kick in the butt and a wakeup call to all the dreamers who decide to REALLY get into the game.
    The others will just continue lying to themselves, prentending they are running a good business, and continue looking for flunkies to agree with them.

  2. jenny y. says:

    Some people just don’t want to hear the truth and that’s just sad…. (spinache in the teeth is a perfect example haha)

    I could literally write a novel on all the absurd things designers do out of ignorance and all they had to do was ask or LISTEN!!

    One designer I worked for INSISTED that her double breasted jacket have all the buttons functional despite the fact that the patternmaker INSISTED that for that particular pattern it wasn’t going to work and frankly a waste of time…. she yelled at the patternmaker, telling him he didn’t know what a high end garment was, that all high end double breasted jackest had all working buttons (um in case you didn’t know, they don’t, well except this one)

    she would scream “I’m the designer! you’re the patternmaker! don’t tell me what to do! don’t tell me how to design!” so the patternmaker did EXACTLY what she wanted….

    this jacket was a nightmare! it never hung right it buckled and puckered in weird place… the pattern was re-done, then done again… one sample another… yet ANOTHER sample… it still wasn’t ” a high end jacket”, it fit aweful and was bulky and a waste of fabric and a waste of time

    hence the patternmaker was fired……

    a new patternmaker was hired to fix the pattern… she came in, took one look at the sample and pattern and said… right here’s your problem, these buttons (the ones the designer insisted on having) here are ruining the whole balance of this garment….

    moral of the story had the designer only LISTENED she would have avoided all these unecessary steps…

    and to all you Diva designers, if you think yellling and screaming is covering up your ignorance…. it’s not…. it’s just amplifying it!

  3. Eric H says:

    Two things about mean-ness and prima donnas.

    First, if you have a team that is worth anything, they are probably smart people with strong opinions and the ability to defend those opinions against strong evidence. Expect disagreements, but be professional (jenny’s example designer was not professional).

    Second, I take the Irish view on such disagreements. When they come up, run an experiment: if you are right, you will prove it (and earn some credibility), and if you are wrong, you will learn something (and earn some credibility for being evidence-focused). You don’t lose either way. You will be much better off attracting a strong team and learning to manage conflict within it to find the right answer every time than if you are right some of the time, but drive good people away.

    The only thing an Irishman should worry about is his health and then.. if he’s in good health, there’s nothing to worry about; but if he’s not in good health, he worries whether he is going to live or die.. if he’s going to live, he has nothing to worry about; but if he is going to die, he worries about whether he’s going to heaven or hell.. and if he going to heaven, he has nothing to worry about; and, if he’s going to hell , he’ll be too busy shaking hands with all his friends to have any time to worry ! So stop worrying !

  4. Susan Cassini says:

    Whenever someone tells me they want to be a designer, I smile and tell them to first learn how to sew. That usually nips it in the bud.

  5. Kathleen,

    To me, there’s a difference in being mean and believing somebody can do better. I can tell that you believe in us, and want us to shoot higher for our own sake, and I really appreciate it. I can only guess people who think you are mean have such fragile motivation that any hint of the difficult road ahead makes them crumble. You’re doing them a favor: maybe they’ll quit and find something they’re more passionate about.

    And it’s not like all you offer is a stick; you offer plenty of carrots, too: You take the time to condense your sometimes overwhelming knowledge into bite-size chunks we can digest–and you respond very quickly to any difficulties your students may be having with clarifications, background, additional resources, positive examples, proof, etc. I’m really amazed at your patience & generosity.

    I made a donation happily, only wishing it could be more. I urge the rest of you to show your appreciation for the hard work Kathleen puts into your continuing education financially–it’s cheaper than design school, and I suspect a lot better, too…

  6. Carol Kimball says:

    “Mean”?!? What a junior-high (now middle-school) concept.

    Any adult using such a term automatically disqualifies themself from consideration.

  7. Dave says:

    Interesting comments and observations.If there is a theme to this post, it isn’t whether you are mean or not, Kathleen, it is why don’t people listen to free advice when given the chance.Don’t like the message ? Don’t shoot the messenger! What they do with this free advice is their own perogative. I wish more of the people I deal with on a daily basis would read your book and understand the garment manufacturing process. It would make my life a great deal easier. You would be totally amazed at the number of people that have no idea of what takes place on a garment factory floor. I wonder how they got this far !!
    Keep up the fine work, you lean, “mean”, information machine.

  8. jinjer says:


    are you a garment contractor? I’m dying to hear more about “what akes place on a garment factory floor” from a contractor currently in business.

    I must say, I’m totally intimidated by contractors & I just know that intimidation would translate to Diva-ishness if I don’t get over it before approaching a contractor.

    So, for any contractors out there: what makes you want to work with a designer who cold-calls you (or is a cold-call already a strike-out?)

  9. John Trester says:

    Designers in the fashion industry are the same as designers everywhere. 35 years on the floor has taught me that very few companies are truely functional. There must be a direct link between the ceo and the floor sweeper in the plant for the company to be viable. The looser the link, the more tenuous the company. That’s why very tiny companies seem better than huge ones-fewer layers of insulation, and when they are not run properly, they die fast. Everyone likes to think that they are the most important person in the business, and that’s true: they are. But in actuallity no one is more important than another; it’s just a different skill set required for the job at hand. When a Diva comes on board, failure is in the offing. The arrogance must give way to understanding and appreciation; then the waste disappears, cooperation rules, and the company prospers. Ant colonies prosper only because 25% of the ants work very very hard because the other 75% is working against them. Designers and Engineers and Managers and CEOs must listen and learn from all the people who are doing the work. They know who is fluffing off and who is contributing, what processes work and which do not. Listen, Learn, and Prosper.

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