I go to a small networking event every 2nd Tuesday of each month I found through meetup.com. It’s a ritual at the house. I whine, scream, curse, cajole, beg, cry, anything to not go, and the husband physically drags my whiny butt out the door. I go, and invariably am glad I did. I always have a good time, I always meet interesting people, hear interesting stories. So why do I dread going? I have no idea. I think it’s a mental block with my shyness around fashiony people.
Listening to some conversations around me, I wanted to talk about a few things that don’t get mentioned very often.
A woman was talking about doing her production in China. She was talking about meeting deadlines. I suggested to her it might be a (very) good idea to exchange holiday calendars with the factory. Factories in Hong Kong tend to celebrate both Chinese and British holidays. They take a lot of time off for New Year’s. Italians take the entire month of August off for holiday. The United States actually takes much fewer days off than many other countries.
Someone was talking about starting a new line. One style, six different prints–brand new prints that they would develop and have the rollers carved expressly for them and everything. I didn’t want to butt in, but honestly, I winced at how much startup money that might take. But maybe she has the means? Maybe she discovered an amazing factory that will do all six cheaply? Anywhoo, often the more cost effective way to use prints, especially high minimum exclusives, is to use the prints on different fabrics, across different bodies.
Another person was talking about selling on their own website as well as finding outside retailers to carry his goods. Later, he spoke about his difficulty with pricing. If this is something you’re planning to do, it’s wise to consider your own retail pricing matching up closely to your retail outlets’ pricing. No store wants to carry your goods if you sell wholesale to them for $50, which they retail for $150, if you’re selling them to the public off your website for $60. Just some food for thought. Companies like Ralph Lauren and Built by Wendy have agreements with retailers that items shouldn’t be sold for less than $X through the manufacturer’s own stores. Ralph Lauren also sells items exclusive to his own stores to provide shoppers an incentive to shop their store over the Ralph Lauren section at Bloomingdale’s.
Anywhoo, just some bits as food for thought.
“Don’t force it,” my brain tells me. I tell my brain that it’s starting sound like that “If you build it, they will come” voice–benign, but annoying. My brain doesn’t like this and starts whispering all sorts of other insane stuff: You’ll never design another great collection again. You’re a hack. You’re plateauing, my friend, and it ain’t pretty. Just because you are physically able to be a designer doesn’t mean you should.
Insecurities seep in, your heart starts listening to your brain. You yell “shut up!” to your brain so loud, you almost say it out loud. Careful, or they’ll cart you away to the funny farm…
It’s MAGIC time, which means most designers are absorbing as much input from the currently selling collection right now, wringing their hands that their blood, sweat and tears will not be for nought, while trying to come up with the next collection. Sometimes it’s easy–you’re a designer because you’re so full of ideas, right? Right?
There will come a time when you feel “tapped out”. It happens to everyone. You know the lastest Dior Couture collection? The one everyone swooned over? Everyone was also buzzing over the fact that it was done in just six weeks. I’d put money on it that that was because Mr. Galliano, also being human and all, probably was stuck in a rut, panning bad idea after bad idea before he was able to knock out this collection. Trust me, no one decides they’re gonna put together a 45+ piece couture collection in six weeks just for kicks.
Sometimes ruts happen after a “bad” or “not selling” collection. You’re insecure now, you don’t trust your gut anymore. Sometimes you’re not feeling challenged anymore. This isn’t as fun as it used to be. You can’t remember a time when it was still fun. Your last collection rocked so hard, you’re afraid you won’t be able to beat it. Store X is finally paying attention to you–this just has to be the best collection ever.
So step 1 in how to get out of a rut? Let go of your ego. Quit thinking you’re special. What I mean by that is just acknowledge the fact that it happens to everyone, it’s definitely not the end of the world, calm down.
Step 2: Get a life. Or more specifically, get a life beyond what you know and are comfortable with. The geekerati have this term “the echo chamber”, where the entire tech blogosphere is writing about the same thing for a short period of time. My husband has told me on several occasions that he loves the fact that we work in unrelated fields so that we don’t create an echo chamber at home.
Dismantle your own echo chamber. Go drive or walk around an unfamiliar part of town. (Of course, be safe, do this with a small group of people or in broad daylight–you know what I mean.) Go observe a welding class. Take a class in something you’ve never studied before–chemistry, glass blowing, obscure French lit. Go hit up stores that you’ve never been in before–I stopped by this really cool store with saddle-making supplies yesterday. Go read things you’ve never read before–not necessarily fashion related. Read some fun “love and relationships” blogs, funky gadget blogs, go read up on the potential dismantling of the North Korean nuclear program. Get out of your own head and be a sympathetic ear to someone else’s problems. Throw a party–maybe the theme can be “The person with the costume that inspires my next collection gets a prize!”, although that can be pretty echo-chamber-y.
Step 3: Release some physical energy. When a deadline was looming before me in school, it would suddenly occur to me that my bathroom was “filthy”, and I would proceed to scrub every inch within it for the next two hours, often in the middle of the night. Pleased as punch with my spotless bathroom, I could concentrate on my flats. It may sound weird, but you’d be amazed at how many of my colleagues could relate to this story with their own versions. One would decide, at 3am, that she wasn’t going to have time to cook the rest of the week, so she needed to make a big stew to eat through the week. She chopped her vegetables vigorously, imagining her hated illustration teacher was her carrots. Or go get laid. Or go to the gym you keep meaning to go to when you “have more time”. I got so royally pissed I got a “C” on a particular project my freshman year, I took a kickboxing class. It was great.
Step 4: Do your chores. Take this time to emerge yourself in other aspects of your business. Never got a complete grasp on costsheets? Mastering Excel is a better use of your time than staring at blank pieces of paper, and it’s still doing something to benefit your company. Take the time to pay your bills and analyze how much money you’re spending. Tinker with the pattern of that one dress you didn’t have time to get *just right* before tradeshow season. Return all those emails, clean your workspace, replenish your toolbin, go buy some more muslin, get your machine serviced. Ticking off items on your to-do list, no matter how small, gives one a feeling of accomplishment.
This post comes off the feeling of disappointment in myself in my last project. While I really appreciate everyone’s feedback, all I keep thinking about are all the little bad decisions I made along the way to create this tepid collection, so I guess I’m trying to motivate myself too. While these are not fool-proof tips (I’m a designer, not a motivational speaker), these tips have worked for me and for those I’ve told about this 4-step method. Take with a grain of salt, and I hope I can be of some help to at least one reader.
The fact that I even feel this strongly compelled to write a post on the importance of follow-up makes me irritable. Once upon a time, I thought follow-up was a given; I’m no longer so naïve.
Excuse me if this starts to sound like a rant, but I find it so absurd that this key component is so lacking in people’s professional standards of behavior I almost hit the roof Friday.
These notes are compiled from my experiences in both the design and production sides:
1. When going through the hiring process a few weeks ago, I automatically rejected anyone I interviewed who didn’t send me a follow-up email or phone call in 24 hours. I was astonished at the follow-up/not ratio, despite their enthusiasm for the position during the interview. (San Francisco must have more great actors than I thought.) People put themselves first. If they’re not going to find their own employment not worth a follow-up email, I don’t trust them to do anything else, quite frankly.
2. Always attach a “please confirm” note on your emails and make sure you get a confirmation. Half a dozen very important orders will be shipped late because the factories are saying they never got an email about such and such. Send emails with a “read receipt” if you have to. I’m sure my customer service person did not enjoy spending an hour getting extensions, and I’m also sure she is chewing out our overseas production manager as we speak to anyone who’ll listen. I’m also sure that the customers’ trust in us has gone down a notch. I say “a notch” in this case because these are customers who’ve bought from us for YEARS AND YEARS AND YEARS. You will probably not be so lucky.
3. UPS and FEDEX are not fool-proof. They have tracking numbers for a reason. If something is important enough for priority overnight shipping, make sure they got it the next morning. Track that thing down! Email the recipient with the tracking number, request that they contact you upon receipt of package. That way, if they don’t get it, 1. they can’t blame you and 2. problems are easier to solve from the beginning, not after they’ve snowballed into something much more complicated. (Speaking of snowballing, that brings me to “small problems”. Do not gloss them over. NIP IT IN THE BUD, RIGHT THEN AND THERE. Tell your supervisor if necessary, or a colleague that can help you. I can guarantee you that any backlash will be less severe at this point.)
4. If you tell someone that you will find out the answer to their question by the end of the day and the day has passed and still no luck, call them back and let them know you’re still researching and you will get back to them in 24 hours. Let them know that you haven’t forgotten about them. It takes approximately one minute out of your day, including dialing.
5. I had this vendor rep who would only contact me after I had sent them about 3 emails and 2 voicemails, on average, in the beginning. It steadily got worse. I let it go for a while, thinking everyone has their busy season. After about six months, and two almost-crises later, I realized that my headache was not going to go away, so I spoke to their boss. Now I deal with the company owner directly, that person no longer works there, all of my P.O.s are being delivered on time, and consequently I send more and more work to them whenever I can. And honestly, because the company owner and I have built up a good relationship, I call him less, because I know he will contact me when I ask him to (noted on a P.O., via email, etc.). It was the previous lack of response that had me anxiously calling all the time. This is the industry. If you can’t deal with this scenario, you don’t belong here.
6. It all boils down to excellent customer service. It doesn’t matter what you do, what industry you’re in, how high up the ladder you’re at. You should be treating all professional relationships as if you’re customer service. “CUSTOMERS” ARE NOT PEOPLE WHO BUY THINGS FROM YOU; THEY ARE ANYONE WHO DOES BUSINESS WITH YOU, PERIOD.
I don’t care if you have to turn your computer monitor into a surrealist daisy with post-it reminders stuck all along the edges, make sure you remember to follow-up. Writing in all caps irritates me, but the fact that I find them necessary right now irritates me more. Simple and consistent follow-up emails and phone calls are the easiest way to build up your professional reputation.
To truly fathom my review of this book, How to be a Budget Fashionista by Kathryn Finney, I have to give you a little personal background.
When I was 13, my mother passed away. Coming from a traditional Korean household, it was up to me, the oldest daughter, to take care of the kids and the house. With my grandmother’s two funerals (one in Alaska, one in Korea) the year before, the insane hospital bills for both her and my mother, and then my mother’s funeral, needless to say, my father wasn’t doing well financially. So at the age of 13, not only did I have to deal with running a household and raising a 5 year old and a 1 year old, I had to do it all on an extreme budget.
As a budding fashionista (yes, I’ve wanted to do this as far back as I can remember), I didn’t want my siblings teased at school for looking poor. As a girl in middle school, I understood how cruel kids can be. You may think that in a town like Anchorage, fashion had no play. Nope, we had our own set of prestige labels—The North Face, Eddie Bauer, Jay Jacobs, 5*7*9, Brass Plum, and of course, no one could be cool without at least one pair of Doc Martens. Yes, grade school kids didn’t know about labels back then, but they knew how to ask, “Did your parents get you that at Nordstrom’s?” Oh, those precocious little brats…
A few years down the road, my father had recovered financially and was actually doing very very well. But the “budget fashionista” in me still reigned supreme and still does today. I think the boy truly decided that moving in together was a good idea when I showed him ways to cut our heating bill down to a third of what he was paying before.
So all that to say it takes a lot for me to say that I read a book called “How to Be a Budget Fashionista” and be impressed. I personally know lots of tricks on looking good on a budget. I was working 3 part-time jobs while going to school full-time. My senior thesis alone cost $3000. Yeah, I know all about dressing myself on the cheap. And then Miz Kathryn swooped in with this book and taught me a thing or two.
I hate the illustrations, but love the verbage. After I finished the book, which was so well written that I read it all in one sitting, I wanted to overhaul my closet in true Kathryn-style. Alas, I have deadlines and a job and some other major side projects to take care of first. What exactly are these tips? Go read the book for yourself. And don’t forget to stop by thebudgetfashionista.com for even more tips.
(And yes, I promise no one paid me to say any of the above.)
Here's my latest post for Fashion-Incubator, reposted here for my readers.
Hardly anyone I know is self-taught. When I say “self-taught”, I mean someone who took some fabric and tools, bought some clothes at a store they want to sell at, and started messing around until they “got it”. Now, there’s “self-educated”, those who read books and surfed the web. There’s the “schooled”, those who took several classes, or even went on to get an AA. And then there are what I call the “baffers”, those girls who went through a four-year program and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts at a prestigious design school.
No method is better than the other. (Do you hear that? That’s the sound of my alma mater’s collective screeching.) There’s a right method for you, and it all depends on your learning style and what your goals are.
Let’s look at our career options, shall we? Warning: I’m diabetic. I don’t sugarcoat.
A. You want to start working at an established fashion house. You figure you can start off as an assistant designer somewhere and work your way up to a bigger design position.
Go baffer. Go to school and go to a good one. Go to one with a name everyone knows. Kick some major butt at your senior show. Be on good terms with your department admins, especially your career services office.
B. You want to work for an established fashion house and you hate school. You’re willing to start from the very bottom if you have to, but the thought of more school makes you want to grind my bones to make your bread.
Look for an internship somewhere. Offer yourself up as a free slave willing to do nothing but clip loose threads for year if they’ll give you a chance. In all seriousness, they will take you, but you have to be willing to work for free or bare bones minimum wage for a while. Even then there is no guarantee that they’ll eventually hire you with a real salary.
C. You want to start your own company. You want to something small, you’re not interested in getting involved with the slick and slosh of the fashion industry, but you want to design and produce clothes for a particular niche market, in Anytown, USA.
Read lots of books on various aspects of the industry, especially in regards to professional manufacturing processes. You can take a lot of technical classes for garment construction, or apprentice somewhere. You can also go the baffer route, but they won’t teach you about what to do when you can’t find anyone who’ll do your pathetically small quantities. Prestige of your alma mater means nothing. If you want to go to school, you need to find one that suits your needs.
D. You want to start your own company. It’ll be fantaaaabulous, dahling. You’re going to be the next Alexander McQueen!
The baffer route is a good choice. The baffer route with some experience working for someone else works better. If you don’t go the baffer route, you had better have some amazing PR people backing you up, and they don’t come cheap. No baffer cred, you have to have background work history cred. Or, have none of the above, but have someone bankroll you.
While I’m on the subject, I want to take a few moments to dispel some stereotypes and myths out there.
1. Not all non-baffers are lazy, not talented enough to get accepted into a prestigious school, or too geeky and dowdy to mingle with the fashionistas. They aren’t less dedicated to the work, they aren’t lesser designers. They just opted for a different way.
2. Not all designers bankrolled by Daddy, or those who inherited the business through family are shiftless, lazy, designer wannabes. Yes, a lot of them are, but not all of them. I used to work for a designer bankrolled by Daddy and if I worked 12 hours a day, she worked 13. No one worked harder for the success of that company than she did. Mocking people because they have more money than you is also a form of bigotry.
3. Don’t ever say “oh, she got that job cuz she’s from X school.” Maybe that’s true. Most likely, it was because she was she displayed the skills she learned in school. Yes, famous schools have better PR engines, but nothing is more powerful than word of mouth from alumni and the vast majority of alumni are honest when asked about their school experience. In this country, getting into a school is lot easier than actually completing a degree. It takes drive, money, major life reprioritizing, and energy.
4. Celebrity endorsement of your line guarantees nothing. It’s what you do with that extra PR is what matters. I work for a company that used to clothe the Grateful Dead, President Clinton, and Joe Montana. No one remembers this today.
5. Just because you’re a baffer doesn’t mean the world is going to bow down to you. It will open doors for you, but it’s up to you to keep those doors open.
I can also write a follow-up post detailing my experiences at my alma mater if there is enough interest. Please let me know in the comments section.
I have these theory called Sanity Point Allotment ™. I've been applying it to my life for almost 10 years now and it's served me well.
Basically, you're born with a certain number of sanity points and that's all you get in life. Negative experiences (horrible job, death in the family, car accidents, etc.) chip away at this total number and if you run out before your life does, you are in the red, making you insane. There are ways to gain your sanity points back, little bit by little bit, by taking vacations, doing yoga, etc. But you have to be careful about your total number of sanity points and make sure you don't use up your calculated yearly allowance.
This is why I can often be heard saying, "Okay, this is costing me too many sanity points. Over it!" Or, "This is so not worth the sanity points! Gah!"
All of this is to say that I will not be completing my coat collection before I head to New York on Monday. I'm very dissappointed in myself. I had this great concept and I got to work. And then my day job started kicking my ass. WordPress was being a brat and not making things easy for me to upload my portfolio. And then the concept for the coat collection veered completely off course, bounced off the Al-Can and headed for Italy on my mental freeway, so to speak.
My day job is always my number one priority. Always has been. That is my biggest commitment and the rest of the projects are done when I have time and energy. I can not and will not dissapoint my team by giving them second best. So, extra time and energy escaped me this time around and I am surrounded by nothing but tons of rough pencil sketches littering my desk. I knew I had to stop when the last couple of day's worth of sketches started looking "off" and a bit "forced".
In short, I decided that reserving my sanity points to relax a little at home was a better option this time around. Last night, I got a haircut, and gave myself a pedicure while watching "Tony Takitani", at Style Bubble's recommendation (oy, talk about blog envy. I love that blog.) And then I went to bed at 10pm! (Thus the early morning post.) I hadn't pampered myself like that in ages.
I'll be attacking the coat project with renewed fervor upon my return.
I’ve done a lot of freelancing—sometimes it being the sole source of income. I’d like to share some tips I’ve learned from my experience. Some of them may seem obvious, some not.
First of all, in order to be a successful freelancer, you have to be willing to ride out the drought-and-flood cycle that often comes with the territory. Even the most established freelancers find themselves in this quagmire of working 16 hours a day for one month and then twiddling their thumbs the next. Many people view freelancers as people who have nothing else to do, even if you may have 3 other projects going on simultaneously. They will need everything ASAP and sometimes, their version of ASAP is yesterday. Also, a lot of people who hire freelancers don’t have a realistic timeline for design because they don’t have an in-house design team, so you’ll have to educate them on that.
You have to be excellent with your personal finances. (Drought and flood income doesn’t mean your landlord will understand.) You have to be aggressive about collecting what you’re owed. (More on this later.) You have to keep meticulous records for tax purposes.
You have to network. Be always networking. Always be professional. Do not read this as constantly kissing ass or using people. You will never get jobs if you’re not meeting new people in the industry. Hardly anyone posts freelance projects on the boards, unless it’s a lengthy one, so you get your jobs from your connections. The best paying gig I ever got was when a customer of an embroiderer I used to work with was chitchatting and mentioned the project to her. I socked away several months worth of rent just by being super nice to my embroiderer, even when her assistant screamed at me once and I had every right to be a bitch*.
You have to make sure you get paid promptly. Have terms. Stick to them. Call them. Write up a proper purchase order for everything, invoice them on time, draft a contract for bigger projects. They will conveniently forget to pay you if you’re not careful. I usually work x% upfront, balance upon delivery of goods. Net 10, max. I used to go net 15 for repeat customers I trusted.
Speaking of money, make sure you have a great plan on your cell phone. You will need to be reached at all times, and mostly during the day. Paying for a more extensive plan is still cheaper than overages and you never want to cut a call short because of your cell phone minutes.
Now that I’ve written at length about all the hustling you need to do, you may be asking yourself why in the world I did it. The flexible hours. I’d work the mornings, run errands in the afternoon, go out on occasion, nap, work until the wee hours of the morning. (I used to have problems sleeping in long chunks of time, only sleeping 3 hours at a time, a couple of times a day.) The ability to work a variety of projects and constantly challenge yourself. Focus on nothing but designing or illustrating. Get to explore different markets to see where you really want to work (if you view freelancing as short term). The freedom to work on your own. You just have to figure out whether these particular sets of pros and cons work for you or not.
The board is now open for questions.
*If you must know, I had called in to check on an order that was promised to me by the end of the day, routine, and the assistant just blew up, screaming “You know, I’m not some fucking miracle worker! Your stuff is gonna be done soon. STOP CALLING ME! JUST STOP CALLING! I’M WORKING ON IT! FUCK! I don’t remember saying your stuff would be done today. YOU HAVE TO WAIT FOR STUFF THAT LOOKS AS GOOD AS OUR SHIT! DAMN!” *click* Did I mention fashion is uber glamorous?
The Fashion Student poses this question and instead of rambling excessively on her blog, I thought I’d address it here. Her question:
I’ve been pondering over the actual process of designing my collection. Do I design a collection then source fabrics to suit my designs, or do I source fabrics that I love and inspire me and design a collection based around them?
If you don’t mind, I’d like to offer my two cents.
Fabric selection and design has to be done simultaneously, or hustle back and forth. What I do is to have a list of fabrics I want to work with, and possible alternates. I design several pieces, I revisit my fabrics. In the real world, I order my sample yardage as soon as I have a basic idea of what I need, and then design with those fabrics in mind. Not all fabrics make the cut, pardon the pun, and at the last minute, you will desperately need the perfect 18 mummy silk charmeuse in Pantone 18-1751 TC, but such is life in this industry. When in school, I would swatch extensively in the beginning and part of the design process is to create the beautiful fabric stories. Your designs are nothing without the right fabric so you have to consider them as part of your design process, not something you do before or after designing.
And edit fiercely. The best skill you can hone for yourself is the ability to self-edit. Do not fall in love with anything–if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work and you have to teach yourself to have that discipline.
This post is for my friend, Mojo, who’s a fan of this blog. Just for your devoted reading, these are my tips for holiday dressing for the non-girly girl.
Pair a crisp shirt with slacks, but stay away from black and white so you’re not mistaken as one of the waiters. White with khakis, any of the aforementioned colors with charcoal or camel works. Chocolate brown is still a good option. Stay away from loud fussy prints or design details.
Putting together a tank with a shirt only buttoned in the middle with pants is also a way to add some more color. Don’t forget to buy pants in a heavier material so they hang nicely. (Heavier doesn’t necessarily mean thicker.) Spark it up with a great belt buckle that shows your personality, some nice cufflinks.
Go ahead and invest in a tunic length long sleeve top in a nice velvet; simple, pretty, not too girly. Tie a jaunty little scarf around your neck if you like.
A more casual option is to pair jeans with a tee, with any of the great thin-knit wraparound cardigans all over the market right now, with a thin-knit muffler in some fun colors.
Vests are coming back, but not the dressy kind with the silk back. To put it simply, you know those track jackets that everyone is wearing? Try a vest version with a long sleeve tee and jeans. Wear with a pair of funky kicks.
I hope you like some of the tips and thanks for reading, Mojo!