ARRIVES IN LONDON
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Regards, Cleo Droomer