The most common challenge Senior Design Executives report is finding designer leaders who are strong conceptually with hands on garment construction experience. It seems that the candidate pool of designers with said experience is becoming shallower all the time. And I’m not talking about small start up brands who simply want to keep costs down by doing more with less. These complaints stem from well known, beloved brands with sizable head counts and major market presence.Maybe you’re wondering, if companies will employ three jobs (designer, product developer, technical designer) instead of one, why does this skill set matter? Why not utilize three jobs so that each individual can focus exclusively on their specific role or as Nike puts it “stay in your lane”. Simply put, the more control over the design process the higher the quality and attention to detail; usually. Companies who are producing product that’s highly regarded in the marketplace are typically design driven. Meaning their designers know how to sketch, make changes to pattern and fit, create a tech pack and communicate changes to factories. They might even know how to sew. Imagine that. This doesn’t mean that the designer is executing all functions at once but it does mean that the designer has enough institutional knowledge and hands on experience to drive the process and maintain a high level of design integrity. The initial concept doesn’t get lost in fit sessions or costing. In the design driven process the product developer, patternmaker, etc. assume a more supporting role as opposed to having three chefs planning the menu. Everyone acknowledges that companies are structured differently and utilize various methods to execute the design process. It’s not uncommon for large retailers to employ a designer, technical designer and product developer while patternmakers are outsourced to overseas factories. In this scenario the designer is left with the responsibility of turning out a high volume of sketches with less attention to the actual construction of the garment. All the recent grads said Amen! While it may sound like a dream come true to some, the demand for senior level positions with a full range skill set is becoming more intense. Especially at the management level. These brands want someone who has been there, done that and can mentor more junior designers who lack the skill set required to execute the process. In the US it’s more common for higher end fashion labels to impose a design driven process with onsite sample makers and patternmakers. On the opposite end of the spectrum, outdoor industry designers commonly maintain this level of control. Major retailers whose consumer is athletic, sportswear or Bridge and below often maintain a highly structured product creation team, where the designer is a cog in the wheel as opposed to driving the bus. Perhaps this is why European and Canadian designers are sometimes more appealing to US based employers. Designers typically have a solid foundation and practice the entire process throughout their career with the support of the previously mentioned roles. Is the US lagging behind? Is this skill set we are no longer teaching in school? If you’re thinking about becoming a designer, realize that it’s more than just creating beautiful concepts and images. Maybe you consider starting your career at a company that will train at every stage in the process. It may not seem as glamorous but the payoff is bigger. Are you a designer with this skill set? Good news for you, there are some incredible career opportunities available.
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