Interview with a Technical Designer

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We often get asked, “I want to go into fashion but not be a designer, what other kinds of jobs are there?” We have featured several lesser known positions like, merchandiser, colorist, patternmaker, salesperson and technical designer in previous posts. There seems to be a lot of interest in  technical design, and since the patternmaker is being replaced with tech design, it is a growing field. So to give you a more in-depth insider look at what a technical does, here is an interview with one such designer with over a decade of experience working in NYC’s Garment Center. Enjoy…

What is your educational background and do you feel it helped prepare you for the fashion industry?
I received an associate’s degree in Fashion Design from Fashion Institute of Technology, and a bachelor’s degree in International Trade & Marketing also from FIT.   It’s prepared me to a degree, but nothing beats the knowledge I’ve received from doing an internship in the industry.

You are a technical designer, for those not familiar with the title, what exactly is a technical designer?
A technical designer’s focus is on the fit of the garment, more so than the actual design of it.  We work with the designers and, sometimes, the sales team to figure out how they want the fit executed depending on the trend for that season. Then, we work towards achieving that look. Responsibility varies depending on each company as with any industry.  Some companies require their technical designer to be more involved with design and work in Adobe Illustrator, and some require their TD’s to work heavily with patterns.

For a young person wanting a career in tech design, how would you recommend they proceed?
I would suggest they start with going to a college that offers a pattern making or fashion design degree, or even taking some pattern making classes on the side if they want to get a feel for it initially.  My biggest regret was not getting enough real world experience in fashion at an early age, so I would heavily recommend in interning under either a technical designer or a pattern maker.  This gives you great exposure to how fashion clothing companies deal with day to day issues and with the responsibilities involved.  And when you start interviewing after your college years, you are able to list these industry experiences which will give you a huge “one-up” against other college graduates.  Not only will you have an advantage in getting the job, but your comfort level and confidence at executing your responsibilities will exceed others starting out in the company.  And you’ll get a better idea of which area you would like to focus on, whether it is denim, intimate wear, outer wear, or children’s, etc.

Can you describe the basic day-to-day responsibilities of a technical designer?
Day to day tasks for me may be very different for another technical designer at a different company, but we all have the same goal at the end of the day, get a good fitting garment at a sellable price.  My mornings usually start off with reading emails from the factories to see what issues or questions they might have or what they need from us.  From there, I begin my day and focus on my priorities, which might be sending comments or production tech packs out to the factory, doing a fitting with the design team, and/or correcting a pattern.  We also have meetings with sales to go over new styles or a meeting on production issues that need to be solved with the production team. Most technical designers work very closely with the factories, and sometimes we get the opportunity to fly over to meet the people we speak to on a daily basis overseas.  Unfortunately, these days it’s very rare to see that happen due to the economy, but I think once the industry picks up, we will be able to experience that once again.

What is your opinion of the working conditions in the fashion industry/garment center and is there anything that you would like to see companies improve on?
It depends where you work, but in my experience with always working in smaller companies I feel its work environment is very different from larger, more corporate companies. Smaller to medium sized companies tend to lack a defined structure of roles, and many of the positions and responsibilities intermingle with each other.  This is largely because there are very few employees, so the ones they do have are required to fill different roles which can be very stressful and chaotic at times. Working conditions, in my opinion, are relatively decent. I have a cubicle, the place is clean most of the time, we have a 401K as with most companies, and expensive health insurance.  The working hours can be very exhausting, but each position is very different.  My hours do not allow for any personal time. I am always one of the first to arrive, and the last one to leave with about a 10 minute lunch that requires me to swallow food whole while still reading emails. It’s tiring, to say the least. That is why it is very important to like the people you work with, which I have been very fortunate of.  Overall, working for a smaller company you realize you lack many of corporate practices that you would see in larger company, such as annual employee reviews.  At my company, we have to request for them otherwise another year will go by without knowing how we can improve or if we’re even doing a good for that matter.  However, if we are doing a poor job we find out rather too quickly and get fired on the spot.

One of my biggest concerns for the fashion industry is how they treat women when they want to start a family.   For example, it’s been rumored that the company I work for has been sued once for firing a woman who was pregnant and had to start her pregnancy leave early due to her doctor’s strong request, so I feel this prehistoric behavior unfortunately still exists.  And I have witnessed co-workers getting treated differently by their managers because they have to leave early for a doctor’s appointment or their child’s emergency.  And with the long hours at work, its difficult to spend quality time with your family. I know my husband has felt ignored many times, but long hours are mandatory to succeed in this industry, and if you’re not capable of completing the work someone else will be.  And there are many reasons why this exists, but I think its very important for woman to stand up for themselves, and set guidelines and boundaries for managers to respect.

For those not familiar with the technical side of fashion design can you generally explain the difference between a technical designer versus a pattern maker, tailor, spec tech, etc…?
A technical designer’s responsibilities encompass most of the duties that a pattern maker, tailor and spec tech would be accountable for.   Again, every company is different, but from my experience technical designers are mandatory to have in a fashion clothing company.  If a company does have all three positions (TD, patternmaker, and spec tech) they will work together each with a different focus.  A pattern maker will focus on correcting patterns naturally.  Most patternmakers have had many, many years of experience in the industry, because it’s very important they understand how to correct and balance patterns so the garment can fit properly. They are also paid a little more for this experience, in general.  A spec tech, in contrast, is usually an entry level position, because they usually just measure the garment.  Spec techs usually get promoted to technical designers after they gain a few years of experience depending on their situation.  And tailors are usually seen in higher end, more couture oriented companies in the industry.

What is the one thing you wish you had known before entering the fashion industry?
My first day on the job, the doorman looked at me and said “You’re too nice to be working in the fashion industry!”  And quite honestly, I was offended because I knew I could be just as bitchy and hard working as the next girl, but I have learned that I can Not!  I pride myself in being friendly, caring, and generous of my time, myself, and everything I have to give. So although I put out a hard shell I have realized this industry takes a huge toll on my spirit. You really have to be hard core in and out to succeed, and if someone tells you “that looks horrible”, you better find a way to fix it and quick and most importantly, do Not cry!  So you can say that I was properly warned, but due to my stubborn nature, I chose not to listen and got lost in this crazy industry.  So good luck to all of you in the beginning, if you really want it I know you’ll make it happen!

39th and Broadway @ 39thandbroadway.comOriginal post: 39th and Broadway