SUNDAY 25/09/11
I arrived Sunday morning at Gatwick Airport where I was met by Shaun Borstrock who proceeded to take me on a brief tour around central London. We passed through Hyde Park and some really beautiful areas on out way to The London Design Festival in the trendy East End. The London Design Festival is a melting pot of creative talent located at various venues showcasing anything from intricate artworks to magnificent interiors and quirky, innovative crafts. We started off at TENT London, which presents over 200 international exhibitors, showing the very latest in contemporary product design including - furniture, lighting, ceramics, textiles, materials and accessories. I found the standard of design to be quite refreshing and exciting. The contemporary approach to everyday objects and design aesthetics of the various artisans was very inspiring. As I wondered around Brick Lane - which is considered to be a trendy hotspot in the creative hub that is the East End, I found myself engulfed in awe and inspiration with the 'arty crowd' London is home to. Individuality and un-apologetic confidence is so apparent when observing the wonderful street fashion. I love the way in which everyone combined various silhouettes and fabrics to create interesting yet effortlessly chic top-to-toe looks. Next was Origin. Located in the Old Spitalfields Market London, Origin offers a rare opportunity to see and buy a diverse range of high quality, original craft from over 200 makers in one convenient location. Disciplines range from ceramics, furniture, metalwork and glass, to fashion accessories, jewellery and knitwear. I loved the innovative interior pieces as well as the interesting approach to design at this exhibition.

MONDAY 26/09/11
My first day at Karen Millen head office and I couldn't be more excited to start. Upon arrival, I was greeted by Lucy, who gave me a brief overview of what happens at the Karen Millen head office. I was surprised to learn that there were so many departments involved within this business. I was then introduced to Kelly, who explained the design process to me. It was interesting to learn that the designers have a lot of creative freedom in terms of designing all the clothing for Karen Millen. This was not my perception of designers within a retail environment at all. In the little time I spent at large retailers in South Africa, I observed how garments were just copied from international trends and designers, and then put into store. At Karen Millen, each designer has a creative process he/she follows in creating new and interesting pieces for the Karen Millen collection. All the collections are approved by Gemma Metheringham, the Managing and Creative Director. The process of design starts with trends that are discussed by the design team. A few trends are chosen for the following season and put together on large boards that are placed central in the design department, as everyone involved is constantly referring to these boards that are drawn up by Kelly. The designers get to work designing, and with the help of the design team, they put together coherent ranges to suit each trend decided upon. Every design is then attached to a spec sheet along with fabric swatches and detailed captions to explain the garments. This spec sheet is then loaded onto the internal database accessible to all at Karen Millen for ease of reference, should changes/suggestions be made, or information required from the specifications on the sheets. Once this is done, the rest of the Karen Millen staff can view this document and start working on their specific functions in order to create the garment designed. I found it amazing that things happening as quickly as they do once a design has been signed off. It does make sense however, due to the fact that fabric/trims need to be ordered and delivered on the right time, as time is everything. Late deliveries could mean that the garment misses it season on the shelf in the stores. Kelly showed me a design file which she compiles to assist the design team. The design file has spaces available on it for everyone involved in the direct manufacture of the garment, to fill in their relevant info pertaining to that specific garment. ie. costing of trims, cmt costings, margins, pattern specs etc. Next I met with Lynn Ritson, who managers e-commerce. She took me through the importance of media and an online presence when working in any business. We discussed my plans in terms of e-commerce for my business, as well as existing things such as my Facebook fan page and website. I then met with Teresa, who manages public relations for Karen Millen. This was extremely informative as she explained to me the value of maintaining good relationships with the media and journalists. Teresa took me through how press shows work and how certain people are invited, who would obviously be interested and give the brand exposure.

TUESDAY 27/09/11
Today I was allowed to sit in on model photo shoot, which happens in the basement of Karen Millen head office. This was really amazing for me to see, because the photographs and the manner in which the different garments are shot make a huge difference to how the garment will appear online. These images are used mainly for the website, and for style files, set up by the design team. The photo shoot consists of a model, photographer, stylist and make-up artist. The stylist and the photographer work closely together to create a clear interpretation of what the Karen Millen brand should appear like to the consumer. After the photo shoot, I sat in with Naomi, who is a garment technologist. Naomi took me through the process testing each garment for durability, colour fastness etc takes place. This was very interesting to learn, as she showed me an example of knitwear that had been recalled from the stores because the seams were separating. It was the garment technologists' responsibility to rectify this, and she ran me through just how they did that. After spending time with Naomi, I sat in on a fitting with Nick, who is a designer for Karen Millen. This was fascinating, as the garment fit is viewed in such extreme detail. Everything from hems, finishes, buttons and placement of certain design features is reviewed. It was really amazing to view this, because I realised how much actually goes into perfecting the fit of a garment. If the prototype does not fit well, pattern adjustments will be noted, and a second prototype will be made up. This will be fitted again and the process will continue until the designer is satisfied. In the design process, garments are labelled (given a seal), to represent which stage of completion it is in. Red seals need to be amended, and if the designer is happy with the amended garment, it will be black sealed. Black seal prototypes are sent to the factory or CMT as a sample and the factory will send the head office a pre-production sample which is labelled a gold seal. This sample is the way the garment will appear in store, and at this stage barely any amendments can be done to alter the garment.

WEDNESDAY 28/09/11
Today I sat with Sarah who is a pattern grader at Karen Millen. Learning the process of how a pattern is graded was very interesting. As cost affects everything in the business, fabric meterage needs to be used to the maximum and the less wastage of the fabric the better. Sarah and her team have to grade the patterns from size 6 to size 16. This is quite an intricate process as they constantly have to check that the pattern pieces match once the pattern has been altered in size. Once graded, the pattern grader will create a marker that will be sent to the factory to show them how to best lay the pattern pieces to obtain maximum usage of the fabric. After that, I sat in on another photo shoot, but this time there was no model, just the products. This is called a product photo shoot, and is used for online purposes, as well as for the style files. Hannah who works in retail operations, took me through how their department is the link between the stores worldwide, and the head office. They are quite an integral link, because they are the channel of communication for any faults, or suggestions from the stores, that need to be heard by head office. It was interesting to learn that they also deal with store sales, product discounts, staff and general things pertaining to each branch. I spent the rest of the day sitting with Mel, who is a trims buyer. This was a fascinating lesson, as i learnt all about where the trims for the Karen Millen garments come from. It was amazing to learn that the trims are of such a high quality and that a lot of design and thought go into creating each trim. We spoke mostly about buttons which is a key design feature for Karen Millen. Many buttons are made from buffalo horns, corozo seeds or real sea shells. I had no idea that the buttons are made from natural resources, which makes the quality so much higher. Mel showed me how the staple, nickel plated Karen Millen buttons are individually placed on large structures where they are individually plated and covered with plastic, as not to scratch when in transit. I was really amazed with this process.

THURSDAY 29/09/11
Today I spent time with Jamie, who is in charge of CMT production that happens in Europe. Karen Millen make use of factories all around Europe. Jamie's job is to liaise with these factories and do costings and negotiate better rates for production. Keeping profit margins high and production and general costs low is vitally important. I then sat with Emma, who is a product merchandiser. Emma ensures that the right stock is sent to the right stores. Different stores sell certain things better, and it is her job to ensure that each store receives the right amount of the correct stock to make a high turnover. She also discussed the dispatch centre, which is a warehouse that all the stock is stored in and distributed to various branches around the world. According to Emma, large machinery pick up lots of clothing and move them to different areas in the massive warehouse, which obviously lessens the work load for the staff working in the dispatch centre. The rest of my day was spent with the fabric buyer, Sue. Sue explained to me how the fabric selection process works and starts out. She travels to trade fairs such as Premier Vision in Paris to select and see what is on offer from the various fabric mills around the world. This was one of the most interesting discussions i had, because i learnt so much about where fabric comes from, how it is applied, who uses what in the industry and who the big fabric mills are that supply to all the big designers worldwide. Sue took me through batch tests of fabrics, where they test different fabrics to see how they react to different elements and how the longevity of the fabric will be affected. She then took me to the fabric room and showed me all the various fabrics used, and i witnessed a pattern being cut in the cutting room. It was really amazing for me to see this being done, and i spoke to the pattern cutter who explained why certain fabrics are cut in a certain way, and why some are machine cut, and why some are hand cut. Overall this was a very good day, and I feel I learnt a lot.

This whole week has been extremely eye opening. I have learnt so much from the minute I walked into the Karen Millen head office to the moment I left. Everyone was more than willing to help and assist me in anything I wanted to know or do. Learning this side of the retail process has been an invaluable experience, because it has taught me how design, cost, time, and all the integral parts of making a successful brand work, need to work symbiotically, to make the  brand a success. My time at Karen Millen has taught me so much in terms of good design, quality, business relationships, marketing, and production. This has been a wonderful life changing week, which will definitely affect the way forward for my brand.

After leaving Karen Millen head office on Thursday, Shaun took me to meet acclaimed designer Ally Capellino. The meeting was intended to show a different side to the design and manufacturing process. Ally Capellino is a bag designer and has been in the fashion industry for many years, running a very successful business. We first took a look at her store, located a few metres away from her studio. The store was simple and uncluttered with displays of beautiful leather handbags for both men and women, as well as satchels, card holders, laptop bags, vanity bags, wallets and purses. I find the design of her bags to be quite beautiful in its simplicity. The craftsmanship and finish is impeccable, and each product is finished with a gold embossed Ally Capellino logo on either the interior or exterior of the gorgeous leather of fabric goods. We walked a little further on to her studio space which was quite small compared to other studio spaces I had seen before. The setup seemed to be very practical and the environment looked like an easy one to work in. Ally Capellino has a staff of six who work for her. In her studio space she has a sample machine, a pattern cutting table and a few Apple Mac's for the staff to work on. Ally Capellino makes all her patterns in her studio and sends them off to be sampled, and if approved, made. The setup in which Ally Capellino works in, is what I envision my design space to look like.

After Ally Capellino, Shaun and I went to see Simon Harrison, who is a jewellery designer and owner of his own jewellery design and manufacturing business. Simon took me through the different brands he manufactures which include Karen Millen, Ted Baker, L.K Bennet and Vivienne Westwood. Simon explained the differences with the various brands he manufactures for, in terms of materials, design and cost. We then got taken to the design and sample rooms where Simon introduced me to each member of his team and let them explain to me exactly what they do and how they go about doing it. This was very interesting, as I came to realise that jewellery design is not that different to fashion design, in terms of the process of design. Each designer creates and sketches designs, which are the drafted on computer and placed in a spec sheet. Samples are created by either printing a 3D prototype or by hand crafting it from pewter. Watching the craftsmen carve and shape the jewellery was incredible. I was not aware that the sampling of jewellery was that labour intensive. I stared in awe as the craftsmen sculpted the most intricate detail in the pewter prototypes to create the most beautiful pieces. Simon then took me to see the room in which they set liquid pewter in a rubber mould, which is then compressed and spun in a machine to create a moulded sample of the jewellery piece. Observing the jewellery manufacturing process was something that opened my eyes immensely to the creative process in a different sphere of design.

Shaun and I visited the big stores in London including Harvey Nichols, House of Fraser, Selfridges and Harrods. We went to the main shopping streets - Bond Street and Sloane Street which is home to the largest designer stores in London. We also visited the smaller and more niche and or specialist shopping streets like Savile Row, famous for tailoring, Redchurch Street which has smaller boutiques. This was a breathtaking and emotional experience for me, as it was the first time I was exposed to high-end fashion of this kind, on an international level. Viewing garments up close, and feeling and inspecting the quality of designers I have admired ever since I can remember, felt so surreal. Seeing the gorgeous creations of designers like Chanel, Dior, Alexander McQueen, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Miu Miu, Marc Jacobs and endless others, was a dream come true. The quality of these garments were impeccable, and the fabrications of the most luxurious and beautiful cloth. The standard of design was obviously extremely high, and the overall look and feel of the garment was just different to that of 'normal' fashion. These garments all had a sense of luxury and wealth, no matter what the look. The finishes and construction was what I focused on mainly, as this is something that is very important to me. I was not disappointed when I turned the garments inside out to observe the seams. We also went around to shops such as Topshop, Zara, Cos, Uniqlo, TK Maxx and H&M. This was a completely different side of fashion, which is more affordable and accessible to the average consumer. Their clothing is trendy and commercial and well supported by the public. The quality however is not inferior, but good, considering the price points of the garments.

I loved being exposed to the retail stores in London, it has opened my eyes and affected my view and knowledge of international fashion, and fashion in general immensely.

Thank you so much to all involved in making this week happen, I really have no other word to describe it, but amazing! I am deeply grateful for all you have done for me.

Kind Regards, Cleo Droomer