Direct from the Designers - Exclusive Q&A

Direct from the Designers - Exclusive Q&A

The fashion industry…just the term conjures up a glamorous chic world, a private members club that only a select few are invited to frequent. Fashion shows traditionally the preserve of the designers, buyers and the glossy magazine editors, chosen to select which looks made it into high street production and (in another 6-9 months) into our wardrobes, well those of us fashion forward enough to wear new trends quickly.

The industry is still glamorous and chic but we’ve been discovering that it is no longer an exclusive private members club - there is a new more collaborative and accessible vibe. Largely due to the advent of live streaming and the cultural phenomenon that are social influencers. Designers and buyers are no longer the custodians of what trends make it onto the high street instead they have become gatekeepers taking inspiration and working in collaboration with non-industry insiders. Social media has diversified the fashion power and the internet has driven an all access, see it now buy it now culture where consumers demand new trends as soon as they emerge. New trends no longer even emerge in the same way, we now have street style and bloggers creating their own fashion collections!

But, whilst we may all have the ability to view new trends simultaneously to those within the industry and have limitless choice of where and how to purchase in our global marketplace, designers still play a crucial role in interpreting trends and bringing to market the clothes that we all want to wear.

To look at the state of the industry right now we’ve interviewed two rising stars of the design world to understand their processes and their strategies for cracking modern day retail.

Designing at MasekSport

Please Introduce yourself?
Martin Percival, Senior Designer @ MasekSport
I am responsible for design process on Mens, Ladies, boys and girls.

Describe your ‘design’ toolkit?
Mostly digital. I rely on Adobe software to create designs and artworks... but also physical tools are just as important. Using samples to design from is the best way to efficient designing which is important when working in the fast fashion market.

What do you think is the biggest change that will happen in design in 2018?
The internet and other online resources are only getting stronger, and at a noticeable pace. Designers are able to easily live stream collections moving away from major catwalks like NY. This allows up and coming brands/designers to get their collections out there. As a market, we crave newness... the sooner we see it the better.

Describe how you balance creativity and commerciality in your role?
I think it is easy in the modern highstreet who has been influenced by which trends, I find it more of a challenge of trying to figure out how we can approach the same trends in a different way.
It is easy to get excited and carried away with creativity. I need to step back and think about our consumer or customers market. I very rarely design to my own taste, which I think helps. It can be easy to disregard an idea because it could have been designed into too much, but recognising key details and "stripping" back can lead us onto something commercial that has not lost its original idea.

What do you find are your biggest influences on your design decisions? And has this changed in your time in your role?
At the end of the day we make decisions as a team between designer (me), buyer, merch and the customer. A big part of the role is understanding who we are designing for. The longer I work in the industry and work with new brands, the easier it is to forget personal taste and think about the consumer. One customer/brand might have a heavy sports background, whereas the other could be minimal in look. It is about knowing where to pull resources from and what trends are relevant to which brands.

Designing at N Brown

Please Introduce yourself?
Hello, I'm Catherine Lovell - and I am a Senior Womenswear Designer at N Brown in Manchester, where I design Denim and Outerwear for our Powerbrands Simply Be and Jacamo. AND I love it!

Describe your ‘design’ toolkit?
The kind of tools I need to design a really great product are firstly the inspiration - which these days is pretty much everywhere and at the touch of a button. So checking out trends off the catwalks and from trend agencies is key at the start of the season, but in Denim especially, it is so important to be in the know about the latest innovations in denim fabric. To be a leading Denim designer it is important to follow denim bloggers and denim heads (individuals who love and breathe denim). It is really key to attend some of the awesome denim trend shows like Kingpins and Denim Premier Vision to be in the know about the newest stretch denim or technical advances in sustainable washing and so on - so much happens in the world of denim all the time! Another key tool for me is getting out to the shops and checking out what our competitors are adding to their denim ranges, and looking at even premium brands - that way you can make sure you are ahead of the game when it comes to denim design. A tool I use everyday too is Adobe Illustrator, this allows me to bring my ideas to life and get the ideas drawn up technically, and in a way that our suppliers across the globe can follow to create a new denim concept! Finally, passion for my product area is key in my design toolkit as it fuels the excitement for new product and to shout about it to your peers and customers!

What do you think is the biggest change that will happen in design in 2018?
Quality as well as price will become more and more key, and only by digging deeper for the newest fabrics and looks will your designs hit the spot with the customers. It is more important than ever to keep the customer at the heart of what I design - otherwise they will click onto another website if they can't find what they want! Another big change will be the advances in 3D design - where it will be possible to design onto an avatar and see how a design will look on different body shapes - which is a key to our success on fit at N Brown - especially as a retailer who carters for the more contemporary lady who is 45+ and for Plus size/curve fashion.

Describe how you balance creativity and commerciality in your role?
Again, it's all about the customer! But sometimes we need to be brave and take some risks to test out a new look - that’s the only way of knowing what the customer is open to trying out. Building on your knowledge of garment construction and the costs of trims and fabrics really helps me to design a product that will hit the spot when it comes to sales! I also love to shout about my range with my team, so I always ensure there is an element like comfort, functionality, key price and a key trend detail in every style I design as it gives marketing the hook they need to sell our new products.

How does collaboration (external and internal) play a part in your role?
As a Denim team we collaborate really successfully - when it comes to signing off a new range we critique our range as a Designer, Buyer, Merchandiser and Garment Technologist to make sure we are all 100% behind our product. We have a Denim whatsapp group where we are always sharing ideas we have seen out and about on the high street, from checking out instagram, shopping, and even sharing what our family and friends say. When it comes to external collaborations, we strive to build strong relationships with our suppliers across the globe. A great example is our collaboration with Prosperity Denim - a world renowned denim mill who lead the way in adding innovation into their denim. By working with Prosperity we have been able to offer our customer the very best fabrics for our Premium denim lines like Shape + Sculpt and the Infinity 4-way stretch jean, and we have another exciting denim innovation launching in May - watch this space!

What data do you use to make decisions in this context?
As a company and ladieswear team we get together on a weekly basis to discuss sales and identity the winning shapes of the week, and season so far! Sharing with one another helps us all shape our ranges to become the best it can be for the customer. When we know she loves a certain shape - we build on it, and offer her as much choice as possible. This helps build customer loyalty constantly.

What do you find are your biggest influences on your design decisions? And has this changed in your time in your role?
Denim innovation and creating product that is right for the customer. When you know a product is right, you know and you go for it !If there are any niggling worries that a frilly sleeve is going to put the customer off buying we relook at the product and tweak it to make it right. Sales are so important to the success of a department, and at the end of the day I know our customer wants to feel comfortable, stylish and confident - and what comes off the catwalk isn't always the right thing for her. She wants her favourite coat in a great new colour, or her jeans in a new wash - and now and then she might just want a denim shirt with some pretty embroidery - and as a team we will make sure it's there for her!

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