Podcasts

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Waiting for the #2 or #3 bus and listening to a podcast

Over the past couple of years I have started to actually listen to podcasts rather than download and stare at them.. In doing so I have noticed that I have a strong aversion to many American ones that feel the need to have tinkly tinkly music in between every sentence [It’s like the listener needs this musical interlude to keep them engaged – well, this inane tinkly music gets on my tits] – so, as a result I tend to listen to those made and produced in the UK. I’m sure the British accent also plays a part in this..

The podcasts on my go to list right now are:

Soundtracking

Desert Island Discs

Monocle24: The Entrepreneurs /Monocle on Design / The Big Interview Series

BBC4: Front Row

BBC4: Loose Ends

I could talk for hours about why they all ‘speak’ to me, but that is a tad self indulgent so I won’t. I will, however, highlight one which continues to sit with me after listening to it at least 4 times and that is Alan Moore and his mission to Build Beautiful Businesses on Monocle24.

Maybe it’s my time of life (approaching 50) or maybe it’s a push back to years of making products that people don’t actually need, but his questioning of how we build businesses really resinated with me and still does.

If you get a moment, take a listen. You may think it’s all BS or it may give you pause for thought.

Anyhoo – I may well reference other podcasts in the future but it’s unlikely they will have tinkly *ucking music in the middle of it.

TTFN

 

Changing Direction

After 4 years of radio silence this blog is back in action. Rather than focusing on purely Fashion Industry chit chat, I’ll be meandering on all topics and notions. Some will be interesting and some self indulgent as I navigate the next stage of my journey. Join me, or not – It’s all good!IMG_0990

 

From Inspiration to Collection: Where do the ideas come from?

Some fashion brands deliver new collections twice a year, some every three months and some monthly, and whilst it’s often one designer who heads up a brand, behind every jacket, purse or shoe, there is a large team, working hard to develop and produce the goods in the right colour and for the right price.

It can take anything from six months to one year for a collection to be designed, developed and produced so how does the collection come about and where do designers get their inspiration from?

Designers can find inspiration anywhere, some designers look to historical costume for shape and design, some are inspired by an art exhibition for a colour or texture and some use street culture as a starting point for the mood and overall look. There are also companies who make their living producing trend research for designers which can be used to validate their initial findings, add to what they have already researched, or act as a start point for the season.

The website http://www.styleindicator.com is a great industry resource for trend information and shows you in detail the source of the inspiration and how it has been translated to the collection.

http://www.styleindicator.com/en/style-inspiration-18e-eeuw/

This shows some great examples of colour, fabric and shape from 18th Century clothing, and next to it is the interpretation on the SS15 catwalk.

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http://www.styleindicator.com/en/resort-2015-communicating-reds/

Another shows an example of historical dress meeting modern styling.

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Design teams across the globe have already started their design research for the Spring Summer 2016 collection. At this early stage they are collecting their ideas of colours, fabrics, shapes and overall mood that they feel are integral to the concept or design direction, for their collection. These concept attributes (colour, fabric, shape and mood) all have an impact on the collection that you see in the stores and each of them starts with one simple moment of inspiration and develops out.

In my book, Blue is The New Black, The 10 Step Guide to Developing and Producing a Fashion Collection I devote a whole chapter the concept creation as it influences not only the start of the collection, but also how it’s displayed and sold to the customer as a finished product. Taking a look at each element, will help you to understand and appreciate the thoughts and actions behind the clothes you buy.

Fabrics are very important to the feeling of the concept as they provide a tangible expression of the feeling you want to convey. If you want to evoke a 1920s romantic, nostalgic feeling in a concept, chiffon would be perfect to conjure up an image.

Sitting alongside the selection of fabrics is the colour palette. The palette is a collection of colours (or tones, tints, shades, hues, stain wash or dyes) that is used throughout the collection. The shades selected have to work not only in many of the types of garments but also in the colours of buttons, zips, prints and embroideries.

Shapes within a concept refer to the sizing aspects of the garments in the collection ( length of skirt, height of a heel), and every season the shape of garments and accessories changes for both men and women. For example, in the early 70s the style for trousers was flared at the hem and tight at the waist and hip whilst In the late 70s there was the drain pipe jean that was super tight all over.

When I talk about ‘mood’ I’m talking about an emotional connection that a concept will give. A spring collection for the Hilfiger Runway line had the theme: ‘New York’ Country Club. The concept began with the words Country Club, and from there, images of 60s and 70s women’s sporting clothes, pleated tennis whites, halter neck tops and mini dresses were added to the concept visuals. Images of Katherine Hepburn in her signature high-waist wide leg pants matched with bra tops gave the movie star reference, and the fabrics for the mood were fine chiffon, and checked linens. This ‘mood’ element to the concept can also be used for packaging,  a shop display or an advertising campaign.

CONCEPT BOARD WITH COLOUR FABRIC MOOD SHAPE AMFI AW09

Example of a concept from the Amsterdam Fashion Institute AW09 collection.

Above shows the mood, colour, fabric and shape.

So next time you are looking at a collection online or in a store, take a look at the colours and fabrics to see if you can understand the concept and mood that the brand is trying to express. Sometimes, it’s easy to see and sometimes it’s quite subtle, but every collection will have one.

Causing a Bottleneck? 3 Tips to Ease the Information Flow.

Whether you are delivering, once, twice or three times a season, the way you plan and execute the development and production of your collection needs to be both documented and shared internally, ideally from the start.

Here’s why:

I recently worked with an accessory company who had grown quickly and organically over the past 2 years to a stage where they successfully managed an online, and retail business. Their product was very strong, and they had a polished leathery future ahead of them, but as they’d grown they’d failed to document their timelines and processes resulting in a vulnerable position without an internally shared knowledge base and virtually no formal planning. The knowledge was in the heads of the management with no consistent planning tool in place for the team below them to follow and implement. What this meant was that the leadership team, instead of the team of assistants, were driving the day-to-day workings instead of being the face of the growing business and tending to the business development side. They were creating the bottleneck for their own company.

This is not a unique position. It happens a lot with companies as they grow from one person into a team, heck, I’ve done it myself, often finding it easier to manage the process myself instead of delegating it down to my team. But believe me, it is a false economy and it will come back to bite you. There are, of course, simple processes that you can implement which can alleviate this problem. I’m sharing some below:

Assumptions:

Make a list of assumptions for each departmental process which can be shared as the companies grows. These assumptions should include timelines for trim, fabric, washing, manufacture and shipping by location. It should also list the timelines relating to company process: proto reviews, concept building, range plan creation etc.  With this list anyone can make a simple plan to determine a time and action. Without it and no one know how long each process could or should take. These assumptions will be used in the next point:

Matrix/Linelist:

This matrix/linelist is a document that should contain all the styles you are developing, (by style name, fabric, colour, factory and by product group). At the beginning of each season, build the clear and simple document that lists the details of your whole collection and treat it as a one stop shop for all collection information. Add in the financials (cost price, retail price and margin), the delivery drops planned, and also the production planning with milestone dates for fabric and trim buying and you have a complete and very detailed document.

By adding in the product planning section and the delivery drops, and by using the assumption sheet in point 1, you can build out a data driven set of reminders and milestones to enable more strategic bulk raw material procurement and seamless manufacturing order placement (with buffer time included). The pain of spending 2 hours of data entry can save you days of confusion, late deliveries and cancelled orders. Yes, it is time-consuming to build this out half way through a season, but so is having to find a second source for trims or materials when you have missed a deadline to order and your production is jeopardized.

Shared ownership:

Ever heard of the phrase, “A problem shared is a problem halved”? Have at least 2 people in the company that can manage or at least articulate these processes so there is a sharable system. If you are a team of 3 people, at least 2 of you should know how long every process takes in the company. If 1 person is travelling, the other can manage the ordering. Keeping the information in your head and not shared will damage the growth of your business.

So, whether you are starting out, or at the next level growth stage, look at your development, procurement and production processes and ask yourself:

  • Are your timelines documented?
  • Is there a document in place that lists the collection details with milestone reminders to help you plan?
  • Is it in a shared drive and available?

If it’s a no to all to 1 or more, you may be causing a bottleneck.


For more information of product development, planning and production, check out my book Blue is The New Black.
My consultancy Co-lab54 specialises in strategic product development for fashion companies.

3 tips to keep your collection planning on track!

If you are working on a new collection right now you should have, or should be, building out your ‘Key Dates’ or ‘Time & Action’ plan for the new season.

The key dates is the backbone to your collection and is an important set of deadlines from the start of development to the end of production.

Here are 3 quick tips to help you build the plan so that you deliver a great product on time:

1) Make sure all of your team is included in the plan:The team

Building a collection is a team sport. Everyone has roles and responsibilities to make it a success, so include them all in the plan so it doesn’t become a 1 man show.

Tip: Key words here are ‘ownership’ and ‘accountability’.

 

2) Be clear about which season you are working on and when you want to deliver the collection:

Seasons

 

 

 

The delivery date of the collection  should be the most important date of the plan.

Tip:  Start with the end date of delivery and work back to ensure you don’t cut yourself  short on timing.

 

 

 

 

 

3) Understand the timings involved in each aspect:Timings

Make sure you know how long each process takes.

  • How long does it take for fabric to be produced?
  • How long does it take for a prototype to be made?
  • How long does it take for shipping from an offshore location vs a domestic one?

Tip: Have the timeline of every stage ready at hand when you make the plan so that you don’t plan too little time and be forced to deliver late to a customer.
 

 

 

For a free Key Dates pullout and more help and advise on collection building check out Blue is The New Black.

My consultancy Co-lab54 specialises in strategic product development for fashion companies.

The Devil is In The Detail: 5 simple questions which lead to success

Over the past 10 years I have found myself shoe horned into a niche area of the Fashion Industry that works with small brands, new divisions of existing brands or Startups. Not that i’m complaining as this for me is by far the most exciting area to be in: Starting from scratch, the anticipation of success, a clean slate, what’s not to like?. But sometimes with this wave of optimism comes a blindness to reality,  and this can bring a new idea to its knees very quickly.

This ‘blindness’ is not intentional, it’s a result of excitement and fearless ambition and can result in sometimes obvious oversights in your business plan or investor pitch.

So whether you are looking for investment, or just out on your own and looking to build a credible business, here are some nuggets of advise, from personal experience, that you should ask yourself.

Will you cause disruption in the market?

Is your idea already out there? Does your product already exist? If it does, is there enough of a point of difference in what you are offering? Do you have a unique twist on the product? Are you providing a service that doesn’t exist? Or of it does exist, will yours be better?

Is your idea scalable?

If you are manufacturing, are you limited on order size or can you scale up as the business grows? If you are selling, are you able to grow your sales team at a fast enough rate? Do you have the tools in place to manage this sudden growth if your idea becomes an instant hit on social media?

Who’s the competition?

Have you done your due diligence on the competition? Do you know your market? Do you know where you sit in price? Is there any competition? Be honest, there is nearly always someone else doing the same thing and this is a good thing. It means the market is already prepped for it. You don’t have to be the first, but you can be the best.

Are you superhero?

Do you have all the skills needed to bring this product to market? Are you a one man show? Are you the creative, the financial and the tech wizkid that will bring the world to it’s knees or are you just one cog in the machine? If you are the solo entrepreneur, do you have support in all the other areas to launch or do you need to hire? Be honest with capabilities. Know your strengths and do not be afraid to job-out a skill set, it could save your business.

Are you detail obsessed?

Have you looked at every aspect of your product, the manufacturing, the supply chain, the distribution, the sales, the marketing and the design? Have you thought about a realistic timescale for all this to fall into place? Do you know exactly how long each aspect takes and how much it will cost? Have you thought about how you will survive financially for the first year bearing in mind that most of your contractors and manufacturers will have payment terms which are more than 30days. These are hard questions but they are necessary.

So ask yourself these questions, line up the answers you have and find answers to those you don’t and you will have that air of confidence that will carry you through the launch of your product.

My book, Blue is the new Black is a how to guide for the fashion industry. My consultancy co-lab54, finds product development solutions for fashion companies large and small.

 

Inside the industry tips #1: The fashion concept

Originally published a year ago, the concept for any fashion collection is the creative starting point. Here’s a reminder on my top tips:

What is a concept?

A concept is the design direction for the colour, shape, mood and fabric for any fashion collection, and is created at the beginning of the season. It creates the mood of the collection and is always open to different interpretations. The initial idea first needs to be analysed carefully and translated into something that people can actually look at, and that can set out the direction of the collection.

Concept for a collection

Tips:

  • Understanding how elements of a concept influence a range is very important for the developer. Watch how the designer works  and ask questions to get a clear understanding.
  • Not every colour in the colourcard is used for a fabric, some are just used for trims, but they are still important to the range.
  • Having a personal interest in fashion and trends will help you with design and style references, which will be used throughout the creative process.
  • Don’t be afraid to offer up ideas for colour and fabric sourcing. Developing a range is a collaborative process.
  • Try to keep a copy of the concept with you throughout the development process so that you have a constant reference point and reminder.

For more information of the concept or other aspects of building a fashion collection, check out Blue is The New Black

Susie / Co-lab54.com

Blue is the New Black: The 10 Step Guide to Developing and Producing a Fashion Collection

Punch above your weight, but be ready to duck and recover: Lessons applied to fashion of life # 4

Have you ever oversold your capabilities on something? Promised an employer that you were capable of achieving a task without ever having done it? Or invited your family over for Christmas without ever opening a cookbook? Yes! Of course you have, everyone has at some point in their life…Overselling your capabilities, or punching above your weight is not always a bad thing, as long as you can follow through and learn quickly.

Looking back, I seem to have spent most of my career applying for jobs that were just a little out of my league, and in some cases, I got them. How did I feel? Terrified!

Terrified that I would get discovered as a fraud and then thrown out on my ear. But it never happened because I spent a many hours learning the job on the spot so that I wouldn’t get discovered and thrown into fashion exile.

Here’s the story of when I oversold a little too far:

Around 16 years ago, I applied for a job in apparel production based in Amsterdam. I had never done apparel production before, I had no clue where to start and I had never visited Amsterdam. With my previous experience being mainly in buying and retail where I had worked with garments but never measured or constructed them, I felt it necessary to embellish my experience a ‘little’ in order to stand a chance of getting the job offer. In my naivety it didn’t even cross my mind that when I was offered the position, I would find myself a little out of my depth in some or, in reality, most areas of the role.

On the first day in the job, after having landed in a new country two hours earlier with my life in three suitcases I, along with the other sourcing assistants had to measure the collection to start the production process. It was only at that point that I started to panic. I was in a new country and in a new job that I had no clue about.

With tape measure in hand, the reality of my overselling kicked in. I had never measured a garment before. Feeling the blood rush to my head in panic, I casually observed my colleague starting to measure. Leaning across I asked:

“ So, you measure the chest like that… right, yes – I do the same”

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“ And the shoulders, yes, ok, same as well”

And so it went, stage after stage she measured, I copied and memorised.

The nervous panic slowly subsided; I quickly studied the measuring technique and slowly worked my way through the collection. As the weeks and months progressed, I took notes, I learnt quickly, I used my initiative and I asked questions, lots of questions. But they didn’t find out until I left the company of my initial inexperience.  I did confessed all but after my two years there, they laughed (some more nervously than others). It was a bold move, but luckily it paid off.

From then on, when applying for a job, I made a point to always understand the role before I applied for it. I may not have been able to do everything, but at least I had an understanding of, or basic level skill at, most of the tasks.

My overselling of myself in that role was irresponsible of me,  and could have been a financial disaster for the collection and the company, but I followed through on the job, worked above and beyond to make up for any knowledge shortfall and had a great experience.

So with that experience in mind, here are my tips:

  • Overselling your capabilities can have financial implications so never stray too far from your skill set.
  • Think on your feet, watch and learn from the experts.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
  • Take notes and learn from them.
  • Never make the same mistake twice.

For more information on the industry and about measuring read my book: Blue is the New Black

Inside the industry tips #4: Factories

Factories:

Without factories the world would have no ‘stuff’, it really is a simple as that; we would have no clothes, no toys, no cars and no books. Referring to themselves as factories, manufacturers, vendors or sources, they are all technically the same entity: they all produce items that are sold in stores.

If you are starting a brand from scratch, the first time the factory gets involved in the process is when they agree to work with you. After that, the next stage is usually the handing over of the initial technical pack to make the prototype.  However, the more the factory understands about who you are as a brand and what the concept direction of the new collection is, the more they can help you to realize the designer’s vision. I would always recommend sharing some aspects of the concept with them, so that from the outset they can be aware of the types of shapes and styles they will be called upon to make.

Factory in actionTips: 

  • Without factories you have no garments so a good portion of your time in development and production should be spent finding new factories and trialing styles with them.
  • Always be clear and honest with a factory in your working practice. The industry is small, and an unprofessional approach will be remembered.
  • Whenever you can, always visit a factory to understand their capabilities and specialties first hand rather than rely on an email introduction, as this will strengthen the relationship between both parties.
  • Making a style allocation needs flexibility and patience. It will change many, many times, with added styles and changes to fabrics. Don’t get frustrated; see it as a giant jigsaw puzzle with more than one solution.
  • Spend time understanding how a cost price is built up. Once you know this, it is much easier to negotiate with the factory and the designer to get the best end product.

For more tips and tricks from the industry check out my book, Blue is the New Black 

Co-lab54 is my consultancy.