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Careers in fashion industry: How does it work?

Fashion Industry - Sewing Tools Checklist

The Fashion Industry

This week, I decided we should consider careers in the fashion industry. Why? Well, this week’s post was always going to be an odd one. You see, after two months of researching and writing, I decided last week to focus on what I know a lot about – fashion.

Yet when it came time to writing this week’s post, I struggled. Whereas anything was fair game under the scope of ‘creativity’, sticking to ‘fashion’ as a niche seemed a lot, lot harder. In all honesty, I believe it was fear holding me back. Fear that maybe I”m not qualified enough, or that I won’t be able to explain all the different skills and techniques in a clear and understandable way; which is a frequent complaint of those looking to learn to sew clothes.

Then I happened across an ‘ideas’ file buried away in my Evernote, and the one idea that jumped out at me as the best starting point was ‘discuss the various careers in the fashion industry’. After all, that doesn’t require me to jump in and teach you anything practical, right? 😉

Although this blog as a whole will be focusing on fashion skills for beginners and the more experienced, I figure it’d be a great start to have some explanation about how the fashion industry works. Just to kick things off properly!

Career Options

There are many different areas to work with the fashion industry. Design, buying and selling at wholesale, manufacturing, merchandising, styling… This list is vast. For me, the most exciting and fun areas are within the design and manufacturing areas. Designing, pattern making and sewing. So what does each do?

  • A fashion designer is creative with cloth and 2D ideas utilising gathered visual research.
  • A pattern cutter is creative with paper and cloth (this is me!) working from ideas generated by the designer as flat pattern making or draping.
  • A sewer is creative with needle and thread, be it by hand or machine, to turn the 2D ideas into an actual garment.

When it comes to fashion, pattern making, sewing, designing, styling, merchandising and buying are all creative. We as individuals interpret each discipline differently and bring our own take to it, which is what makes fashion such an ever changing industry. No one person thinks and interprets like another, so there will never be two simultaneously occurring identical ideas. We, as designers or hobbyists, may be influenced by the same trends, but they will affect us in different ways.

The Rise of Mass Manufacture

Unlike in times past, today fashion is available to us all. We can pop to the high street and have our fill of the readily available options offered up to us by Topshop, Banana Republic, COS and GAP. We no longer have to be rich and elite to be able to afford something that makes us look or feel good. The high street retailers, despite cutting costs by laying fabric off grain and skimping on manufacturing quality, do a decent job of making the everyday girl or boy, feel and look good. They have to, that’s where their profit lies.

I myself do not believe in mass manufacture. I believe that high street retailers have too much power and money. They force overall prices down by threatening suppliers with lost contracts. And we know that lower prices on the high street increases consumer consumption.

In this process of getting new fashion items on the high street as fast as possible, and at minimal cost, overseas suppliers pay less and less to their workers in order to make sure that they themselves are still making a profit. We now have a situation where too much clothing is made day after day in growing industrial countries and imported for mass consumption here in the UK, Europe and the US.

What Happens to the Waste?

But what happens to all the clothing when we’re finished with it? If it is made so cheaply, you can guarantee that it isn’t going to last long. There’s also the psychology. If you’ve paid a couple of pounds or dollars for a skirt, you don’t feel too bad about dumping it when you’re bored with the colour or style. After all, it didn’t cost you much to start with, it’s not like it was a Balmain or Dior skirt that ran into the hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds… So these mass produced and low priced items more often than not find themselves dumped in landfill.

Other Options?

So, how do we as individuals fight against this? I know I myself cannot afford to shop at higher end designers, who do seem to have a slightly more ethical and sustainable way of working. They manufacture in much smaller numbers as they don’t need to order huge volumes from factories to ensure lower manufacturing costs. Luxury and ready to wear is limited in numbers. They go with the exclusivity to keep both the price and the demand high. Which also helps in the resell value.

A designer item that has been made well, will last years. It can be resold to designer secondhand stores or eBay for quite a bit of money. Vintage designer as it’s known. A rummage through a charity shop however will find pieces from Topshop or Gap for much, much less money. And then the pieces that are given to charity shops but actually are not in a condition to sell? These get either shipped back out to developing countries for sale in markets, or thrown to landfill. Such a waste.

I know that not all of us can afford to buy higher priced, better made items. For some, who have a very low income, or medium sized income but high living costs due to having a family, shopping at high street retailers is about their personal financial situation rather than their ethical and sustainable beliefs. I have had this chat with many, and I understand completely when people have said to me that they would buy from more sustainable and ethical sources if they only had the money to do so.

Start a Revolution: Learn to Sew!

For me, the answer is to make for myself. Following on in my gran’s and ma’s footsteps, I learnt at a young age to sew. And knit and crochet, but that’s a whole other story. 😉 Being able to sew meant I had the freedom to wear something different from the mass produced items worn by all those around me. It gave me the feeling of individuality. It still does.

All the samples from my GWEN&SYD collections are made in a size that fits me, so that I can wear them, testing them out for wearability. I only manufacture the pieces if an order comes in so that I’m not adding to the increasing worldwide garment waste.

Thus, in the designing and making of a collection – which happens infrequently as I also don’t believe in fixed fashion seasons – only one piece of each design will ever be made. There are often 2-3 toiles / muslins, using organic cotton calico where possible, to make sure the fit is good from the outset. But that is the sum of the waste within my slow fashion brand, where the calico toiles get cut up and the fabric used again in smaller pieces where possible.

What if More People Could Sew?

Now, if more people were to learn to sew. To take it upon themselves to learn this amazing skill. So much could change. Yes, each individual would have the added cost of time. It does take time to sew after all. And for people who have a family relying on them, or a full time job, finding time to sew will be tricky. But…

How Much Time do we Spend Shopping?

How long does it take an individual to go clothes shopping? To go to your high street, hit up a bunch of stores, grab 4-8 pieces that you take to the fitting room. You spend half an hour trying these items on, checking again and again in the various mirrors whether it fits your shape, whether your bum looks big in it, whether it if a flattering cut or just makes you look lumpy and bumpy. You decide against 90% of your selections and buy the remaining 10%. You repeat this process at a handful more stores.

By the time you get home with your bags, you are exhausted. The bags’ contents are dumped on the bed, somewhat excitedly and checked over. Often at this point you realise that away from the fitting room, the colour of that dress is absolutely ghastly, so you rebag the item to be refunded. Except it was only £16.99 so you end up not bothering because it is far more effort to go back to the store and explain why you don’t like the piece you loved so much only three weeks ago.

Really… This whole process takes time. And for very little personal gain. The retailers love it. They are the ones profiting more and more. But it doesn’t work for you and I.

Give Retailers the Finger

So, by learning to sew, we put one finger up to these retailers. To mass production. We can go to a fabric store, find three different types of fabric that we love, be it different colorways or prints, even differing fabric weights. We could have one pattern that we have fitted to our body perfectly; fitter to loose and draped. That is three different pieces that we can cut out and sew up in a day, giving us a completely new and individual look.

And if it happens to be really wearable, why not photograph it and offer it up as a bespoke made piece online? Learning to sew offers up a whole plethora of options. You can sew for yourself, you can sew for fun, you can sew to make gifts for family and friends, you can sew to set up your own small business, bringing extra cash in for you and your family.

The outcome of your newly found sewing skills will depend on what you find enjoyable. I myself know that I don’t enjoying sewing more than five of the same piece. I get bored. I need change for excitement. I also like to develop new finishing ideas, new ways of doing things, so making the same idea over and over again bores me.

What Happens Next?

Of course, once you have mastered the basic sewing skills, there are more advanced options open to you. Using those sewing skills, and developing that initial pattern into something more experimental, which will again fit you perfectly. There is so much room for creativity and individualism once you have learnt to sew.

So, for now I leave you with a suggestion..

Go to your wardrobe. Pull out your most loved simple item, that you wear because you look great in it. Turn it inside out. Lay it on your bed. Check at the seam finishing. Is it a straight line of stitches or zig zagged? Look at the type of fabric – woven like a shirt or knitted like a tee shirt? Count the number of seamlines: a tee shirt has four seamlines. One each for the armhole. One each for the side seams. Very simple and easy to make. It is the finishing’s that take time, but those can be learnt, and new ideas then developed.

If you’re inspired and think you’d be interested in learning to sew, sign up for my free sewing checklist below. It lists everything you will need to get started – which isn’t as much as you think – and a few luxury extras too..

Til next week..

Comments (6)

  • Amy

    July 9, 2016 at 6:40 am

    Ooooohhhh eeek cant wait for more to come! Fantastic reading, you inspire me to do some sewing!

    1. Eve Tokens

      July 11, 2016 at 12:12 am

      Thanks Amy! Check out the new post tomorrow, that has a lil’history of sewing! And next week, I’ll be showing a simple tutorial for my favourite purse, just get peeps started! 🙂

  • Jools

    December 31, 2016 at 12:07 pm

    What you say makes an awful lot of sense and I really admire your goal of teaching more people to sew so they can make their own clothes. I really want to follow this philosophy myself, However the main obstacle for me in doing this is the cost of fabric and the difficulty of getting a good range of fabrics. I recently tried to buy cotton jersery online to make clothes for my new grandson – the choice was very poor, with some online shops stocking none or only Disney fabrics. When I did find some I liked it cost me £16 per metre! I don’t live in any of the big cities in the UK so I do rely on the internet for fabrics.

    I think it would be great to set up sewing/knitting/crocheting clubs in schools where volunteers can teach the techniques to parents and children; there are an awful lot of people my age (57) who don’t work and retirees who would love to help out in a project like this, passing on their skills. It could also help in bulk purchasing of fabrics, yarn and notions.

    Thanks for your great website.

    1. Eve Tokens

      January 4, 2017 at 11:30 pm

      Hi Jools!
      Oh no – I’m not a fan of heavily printed fabrics so I can empathise with your frustration when you were trying to buy some decent jersey! I have a good list of online fabric suppliers who aren’t stupidly expensive – because you are right, it can end up costing more to make our own clothes than buy them. But that’s a whole other story focusing on exploitation in the fashion industry, and this possibly isn’t the place for me to be so forthright! 😉 I will try to get the supplies list up in the resource library as soon as possible!
      I love your idea about clubs in schools. It would be amazing if younger people could learn such skills. Unfortunately, I suspect it would never happen. We already have a government that is trying to cut arts subjects from the curriculum. It seems to be all about STEM subjects now, rather than STEAM subjects.
      I am so glad that you are finding the website useful Jules! Please do let me know if there is anything you’d like me to cover!
      Best wishes, Eve

  • Janet

    May 9, 2017 at 10:14 pm

    Hi there Eve, & Everyone who hopefully will also read this. Way back in the 1990s, wow that is a long time ago, I was living in the east-end of London and whilst I was there I went to do my City & Guilds in Dress and pattern making.
    I loved every moment of it. But on the sad side too, my tale is that as part of our City & Guilds in Dress and pattern making was some Art as well. Some of the people that also attended this City & Guilds in Dress and pattern making.
    Well on the day of all of our work we had our Exam’s.
    And the point to all of this is the examiner wouldnt pass any of us because the Art Tutor had taught us all the wrong stuff.
    So we said that is so unfair and asked too speak to the Tutor but was told that apparently she had just got up, and she was gone.
    I do love to sew but I never seem to have a lot of confidence and I also have no sight in my right eye due to a operation many moons ago.
    Any way must stop all this yak yak yak lol lol, I am showing My bestest friend in the whole wide world on sewing and I also say to her have a look on YouYube. (smiles). And know if I get stuck I will ask you Eve or Everyone here.
    Take care for now Eve & Everyone else TTFN

    1. Eve Tokens

      May 9, 2017 at 10:32 pm

      Janet… thank you so much for your comment. It is so lovely to hear of other people’s wandering’s into sewing their own clothes! It is indeed sad that the examiner wouldn’t pass any of you for such a ridiculous reason. How on earth can art AND pattern making be marked alongside each other? I have many friends who are artists and if I were to talk to them about pattern making or they to me about art techniques, we’d be lost! I am so sorry that you had this experience.
      I have to add – I don’t think I’ve heard anyone say yak yak yak to me in years. It used to be a favourite saying of my grandad’s but he left us in 2005; it is lovely that you’ve reminded me of him this evening – thank you!
      If you and your friend ever need any guidance on sewing or pattern making, please do leave a comment and I will reply as fast as I can! Best, Eve

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