MAKING IT HAPPEN
Confessions and apologies – let’s get them out of the way. Confessing that we are now 4’ish weeks from posting our last ‘bi-weekly’ blog post (wincing a little as I write that), and apologising for having fallen down so soon. Here’s the excuse - and relevant to this post – we’ve been away at trade shows excitedly showing our Spring Summer ‘20 collection. I think this is a pretty good excuse but I am mindful that there may be a few more missed postings ahead as deadlines take precedence so I’m pre-empting future failures. No hate mail please.
Being a small team we have more balls to juggle than ever before and despite being pretty good at it, some things just take priority. I’m also apt to think I can achieve more than there is time for. I think this is a common issue with creative work, the misjudged disparity between ideas and execution. Do you suffer from this too?
Getting samples in, shot, and all that preparing for the selling season entails took over the genuinely much loved task of writing this blog. But now all shows are complete. We can pick up normal office life (whatever that looks like), and I can joyfully pick up the metaphoric pen.
So we return to our story of how we make a collection, part 2. The original plan was to split this in to 3 parts, but 2 parts is sufficient. And will then allow us to set sail on to the open seas and muse on life from a different perspective. Another metaphor.
Hopefully you found part 1 interesting(ish) at the least, and want to know more. This next step in the process is actually quite laborious but it has a fanfare of an ending – months of design and development culminate in showing the collection for the first time to buyers. It’s the first time we get a reaction to it. Nail biting stuff.
So this last part is all about making it happen. After the inspiration and direction has been set the next stage is to create coloured cad’s of each style. This allows us to get an overall view of the collection and ensure that all separates have good partners. It also tells you super-quick if you’ve missed something, like a good bottom, that kind of thing. (Sniggering here is allowed). I like to do this before the next stage as it prevents changes which quite honestly is a faff for everyone.
We then start the development process with our factories. We create the Technical Packs. These are digital files which include everything the factory needs to know; it will have a sketch, measurements, fabric type/references, trims, colours, design details, any images that are relevant, basically as much information as we can give the factory so that our first sample, called a proto, will be accurate. The Critical Path time-clock is ticking away so its key to get as much right first time.
Selecting lab dips
Once the factories have all this information they start the development process their end. Lab dips – which are small fabric swatches dyed to our specified Pantone colours - are sent for approval. Sometimes it can take 3-4 dips before the colour is signed off but it’s super-important. I believe colour can make or break a garment so it pays to be picky even though I imagine the factory are rolling their eyes when I reject yet another dip. My defence is that everyone will benefit in the long run; the right hue will enhance the garment which in turn will make it popular. This translates as bigger orders. Be patient with me my working friends.
When the first protos arrive with us we measure everything on the garment; chest, waist, length, sleeve, cuff etc, etc and check that the measurements are as we have specified. We then fit the garment on a form, a mannequin, which measures to British standard childrens measurements. It becomes our benchmark for every style we produce. We have three forms in different sizes so that we can physically check the grading across sizes. Once the garment is on the form we can clearly see if the measurements need to be adjusted, or any part of the design.
I love getting the first protos, the ideas are now a tangible thing and one can quickly see if the style is going to work. The protos always come in a similar type of fabric but generally nothing aesthetically resembling what the colour/print is. Over the years we’ve seen some lurid fabrics. I always think that if a laymen walked in whilst fitting they would think what we do was really quite revolting.
I try to give each style undivided attention (it’s the mother in me), and not get swept along by the knowledge that we are processing en mass and need to be swift. Each style matters and is considered as a stand-alone piece. We do this process with every style. Making our comments in the Technical Packs and sending them back to the factory asap. That Critical Path again. Taps one on the shoulder most days.
We either request another proto or confirm that the factory can go straight to making the Salesman Sample. This is the sample that will be put in front of buyers and is made in correct fabrics and trims.
Taking delivery of Salesman Samples is always terrifying. I liken it to something important that you’ve lusted and longed for on the internet finally arriving, not having seen it in the flesh. Scary stuff yeah? As we’re opening the box the mind is somersaulting with questions; will they look good? Has the factory paid attention to all our comments? Will all trims be as specified? Is the print/embroidery in the right place? Even ‘little’ errors can impact on the garment in such a derogatory manner. The key is to work with factories who totally get how important these details are. It is beyond frustrating when a style that been in development for months and months comes in wrong because the factory have missed/overlooked the comments. If we can amend it in-house we will but it’s not always possible which means showing buyers something that is not quite right. And for a Virgo that is one big Arghh!!!
Shooting the Look Book
Once the samples are in it’s a race to get all the elements in place to start the selling season. Shooting models in a studio and printing the Look Books in time for the first show/appointment is the biggest challenge. There is never quite enough time to do this and decisions have to be upheld. No time for the luxury of pondering and considering another (better) way. We, and I would imagine most brands, arrive at the trade shows already worn out.
Shooting the Look Book is always great fun though and certainly one of the highs of the job. Preparing the looks to shoot and seeing them actually worn for the first time on the models is immensely satisfying. It’s a hectic day with a lot of shots to achieve so its about constantly having the next look/model ready to go, as one comes off set, next one in. We whip our photographers pretty hard. The models are always so enthusiastic and we really love what they bring to our ‘work’. Sharply reminding us, in our busy adult working world, that what we do is all about the kids.
As an international brand we show in Europe; Florence and Paris. Summer shows (June) can be wonderful. Escaping the slow start of a summer in the UK and arriving in full blazing summer mode in another city is energising. But come winter show time (January), when Europe is an hour ahead and its dark and cold, it’s pretty tough on the body clock. I like to rise early to get on my yoga mat before the start of the show day but waking @ 5am UK time in the depths of winter is a tough one. The body feels heavy. Think it might actually be better for my wellbeing just to stay in bed. When I tell anyone I’m off to Florence or Paris for shows they say “O how glamorous” - but it so isn’t. Whilst there is great pleasure in presenting something we’ve all worked hard to produce and gleaning a reaction, as is catching up with our buyers each season. But it’s the long days of being in an artificial environment, and constantly being ‘on’ that makes it so draining. Buyers I’m sure feel the same. Come end of show each night we crave that cold beer to unwind, find as wholesome-a-meal as we can and have an early night. Eye masks and ear plugs at the ready.
Steaming the collection
A few weeks ago we arrived in beautiful and hot Florence to launch the Spring Summer 20 collection. The drive to Heathrow airport, the change of airplane at Zurich, checking in the extra big box that we had missed sending by DHL – our much loved hyper-efficient steamer that makes a world of difference to the samples – all went super-smoothly. The next morning we headed to the exhibition space to begin the set up of our stand. The show opened the following day.
Outside The Apartment - Pitti Bimbo, Florence
We arrived jovial, chatted to fellow exhibitors, started unpacking the collection and then horror struck! The cap for the steamer had been left behind making the steamer defunct. Ric, in frustration, declared the steamer “dead in the water!”. The show had only 2 hand held steamers amongst the trillions of brands with a queue that would likely see us getting our hands on one in the early hours. Not a good start. The clock was ticking and we needed a solution. Being a steam pressure device it wasn’t as simple as covering the hole as the pressure would quickly pop it off. I had a light bulb moment and went off in to the town to seek a wine bottle cork. It did the trick and saved the day. Come 7pm we were out in the evening Florentine sunshine for that cold beer.
With each end of show there is a feeling of release. A kind of uncoiling and quite often we’ll just zombie out in the hotel room on our devices for hours with a glass of something nice. It’s our de-compression zone.
Knowing that there is a ton of work and follow-ups from a show makes for another intense period. We need to place orders with factories within weeks so that we can maintain the delivery window that we’ve committed to. It’s chasing customers for their confirmed orders in time so that we know exactly how much stock to buy. We also then start the process of fitting and commenting to every Salesman Sample. This ensures the factories have all the information they need to start production. It’s the constant wheel turning that has to happen so no time is lost. All the while ensuring the coming seasons production is on schedule. So that little compression zone pause is actually de-rigueur!
Heading back home always feels good. Reuniting with our teenage boys (even if they can barely muster a hello) and sleeping in ones own bed beats all the best pasta in Italy any day. Truly.