Part IV: A Day In the Life of a Sweater Designer

Posted on | May 18, 2006 | 8 Comments

In part IV, I hope to give a better idea of what my typical day is like. So here we go!

After partnering with a recruiter, I was sent on a few interviews over many months. Finally, I found the position I was waiting for, quit dollhouse, and set up shop across the street. I was hired at KBL Group for the Juniors sweater designer position. I was thrilled that all they did was sweaters and I wouldn’t have to take a back seat to denim or sportswear anymore!

Just a little background into KBL. We have 3 in house lines for Men’s, Kids, and Juniors. We also sell to numerous private label accounts. Private label means that the stores buy our goods, but slap their label or name on it. We also work as a design service to some private label accounts developing special styles for their use only. It keeps my job interesting by working with such a variety of accounts. One day I could be working on a cashmere sweater for a high end account – the next I’m working in cotton for a mass market, budget conscious superstore.

So now, onto a typical day:

Working hours are 9am to 5:30pm, but the designers usually don’t stroll in til about 9:30ish. This may sound really cool, but when you consider that sometimes we work til 7 or 8 or 9 – coming in 1/2 hour late really doesn’t make up for that!

So when I arrive at 9:30ish, the first thing I do is read and answer all emails from our office in Hong Kong and sales. We answer questions, solve problems, and get updates on the status of our samples. At about 10am, we receive our boxes from HK with our samples or swatches and check everything in. Production will also receive fit samples and pass them onto design to check measurements and details.

After taking care of production, I start my “designing” for the day. I put “designing” in quotes because it doesn’t always involve original creative ideas. For example, some recent projects:

– translate 18 styles from cut and sew to sweaters
– put 15 European styles into work for customer A
– put 10 European or store bought styles into work for customer B

Putting a style into work involves the following:

– Doing a sketch of the garment in Illustrator
– Creating measurements or specs for the garment on an Excel spreadsheet
– Pointing out and explaining any details
– Researching special stitches
– Choosing yarn and color

When designing an original style, research and rough sketches are added to the above list. When I design for the Junior line, it is for the most part original styles. However, I rarely have time for the line now. Our customer base has expanded so much during the past year and most of our customers insist on buying knock-offs. Only about 20% of my time is spent on actual designing.

As I mentioned before, design is in a constant struggle for power with sales. But the only thing worse than sales, are buyers. When people complain to me about how bad this store looks or that one looks I say “blame it on the buyer.” I see so many creative, awesome pieces of clothing go unloved and unrecognized on the showroom racks. I swear that no matter what, a good number of them will search out the ugliest, poorest fitting garment in the room and LOVE IT! Sadly, the old saying “the customer is always right” gets big play here. Sales are out for money and they really don’t care if the buyer wants to dress you in a machine made version of a fun fur vest. Sales people for a higher end line who have a reputation to hold up will not usually steer the buyers in a wrong direction, but in the mass market – they have no conscience.

Speaking of poor choices on the buyer’s end. When the store doesn’t move one piece of that hot pink fun fur vest, guess who gets the blame? Not the overbearing salesperson that said, “oh it’s gonna be the hottest thing ever!” No. The designer gets the blame. Doesn’t matter that the buyer requested the style herself and gave you the original sample to knock-off. Doesn’t matter one bit. It can be very frustrating, but you learn to harden your skin and give the buyer the finger when you’re down the hall out of sight!

I’ll usually work on spec packs up til lunch, take a walk, eat and continue to work on the designs for the rest of the day. If I finish up a group, I prepare a box for HK if something needs to be sent and send an email with all specs and details attached.

The above “typical” day is how things should go MOST of the time, but things are rarely that simple! Meetings take up a good part of my day sometimes – whether we are going over this season’s colors, sketches, or buyer’s requests. We go shopping occasionally – “research” trips we call them. We make appointments with color, trend and swatch services. We are thrown projects at 5pm that “NEED TO GO OUT TODAY!!!!” It doesn’t matter that the project might have been sitting on their desk since 10am and they just “forgot” to give it to you earlier. (Can you tell I have much contempt for sales people?) My days can be calm, but when they are crazy – they are really crazy.

Even though things can be crazy and almost bring you to the verge of a nervous breakdown, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else! I love being a designer and I wouldn’t change it for the world. I really enjoyed sharing and I hope you all enjoyed reading! As promised, I will be back soon with some info on Fall 2006 trends and colors. I hope to keep you updated every season and I hope the info will be both interesting and helpful to you all!

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  • sturdygirl

    wow, this is so interesting! esp. about the buyers. i would think they would have great instincts, but i guess that’s not always the case. have you ever thought about doing project runway?!?

  • Diana

    I really enjoyed your series, its interesting to learn about commercial sweater design. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on Fall 2006!

  • claudine

    Thanks for doing the series, Melissa. I’ve found it very interesting indeed to learn about the behind the scenes of fashion industry.

  • Debi

    Tis has been so interesting Melissa! Thnaks so much for sharing it!

  • carrie

    hey — just saw your comment about tom petty! i didn’t mean to offend, but trust me, you don’t wanna hear this song at 5 a.m. stuck in your head the whole day!

  • Moni

    That was so intersting! Thanks for sharing it with us :)

  • Necia

    Hi Neo,
    I just linked in from Magknits. Gurrllllllllllll, I can so feel your pain. I’ve been in garment industry for the past 10 years. I work Trim/Production and it’s always hectic. I too get blamed for a lot of ish, because sales takes a HUGE order and guarantees delivery by the end of the week. Nevermind piece goods aren’t ordered, and the trim is imported. Ay vey. I too however, wouldn’t settle for anything less.


  • Heather

    Don't know if you'll ever get this comment as I'm so late to the party but I just read this entry about working as a designer. – I feel your pain! Buyers are the worst!! It's always the designers that get blamed for their crap choices! Oh well, what can you do? It's nice to know that you still love your job. I have to remind myself how lucky I am to be doing what I went to uni for – people always think it must be so glamorous – Ha!
    Anyway, I'm babbling….
    Thanks for the posting – nicely written :o)