A Week In The Life – Childrenswear Design Manager – Tu Clothing at Sainsbury’s

I am very aware that lots of you have your own small businesses, I speak to some of you regularly about the projects you’re working on and new items you’ll be adding to your Facebook pages and websites. I thought it might be interesting for you to see what it’s like for someone who works for a large company, who is essentially going through the same processes, just on a larger scale. I asked Aimi Williams-Smith, Childrenswear Design Manager for Tu Clothing at Sainsbury’s, if she would share a ‘week in her life’. I’m really grateful that she agreed to share this with me, I think it’s a real learning point for understanding the design process at a different level to which many of us are currently working – but where we may aspire to be in the future.

Supermarket clothes shopping is no longer just for convenience, many of the leading supermarkets are emerging forces in fashion. Tu Clothing can be found in 395 stores nation wide and last year Sainsbury’s re-launched the Tu brand, with a focus on higher quality, trend-led collections created by a 30 strong in-house design team. As part of those changes, Aimi joined the team and was happy to share her experiences for this ‘week in the life’ feature.

Image 1From Aimi:

I love my job! I am one of the fortunate people in life that is following a career that they always dreamed of. It is not a chore to get up on a Monday morning. I live and breathe fashion and I get paid to do something that I love. I get to travel the world, visiting suppliers, factories in the Far East and Europe, shopping in LA, New York, Miami and Europe and play a part in creating the great clothing ranges that you see in store.

I juggle my fast paced career with being a mum to Alfie (10) and Lili (8). I have a great support network at home with my husband Gary and Granny Jean (my mum).

I have been a design manager working in retail for over 6 years now. I worked my way up to management from being a designer. I have always been interested in fashion and drawing from a very early age. I have been with Sainsbury’s since October 2013. I head up the Tu Childrenswear Design Team. I have great team of 14 designers. We design all areas of childrenswear aged 0-12 years including babywear, girlswear, boyswear, schoolwear and essentials. Here are some examples of our recent work:

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This is an example of a week in my life…

Monday

I get to work after dropping the kids at school and a quick shoot up the motorway. First things first, I get my daily cappuccino. It’s a daily ritual and we have a great coffee shop in the office. I can’t start the day without it!

Mondays are the one day I know is routine! If I am in the office, it’s sales day. We all get together first thing where my manager cascades the weekly sales results from head office. We then have childrenswear trading meetings all day. We look at each department in turn and analyse the sales from the previous week. The buyers show us the best and worst sellers of that week. What is working and what the customer doesn’t like. It’s really important for design to know this so we can learn from it going forward to improve future ranges. The customer is at the forefront of our minds with every decision we make so the better we understand them, the better we can service their needs. We all work really hard to ensure that we create great value products, good quality at the right prices.

In the afternoon I have a weekly design meeting with my team. We chat about our weekend and look at diaries for the week. We make sure we know our priorities for the week. We review which suppliers are coming in to visit and who is out and about that week. It’s also our opportunity to talk trend and discuss our latest finds, share our shopping from trips and discuss our future travel plans.

Tuesday

Whilst the design team are working on designing ranges a year in advance, we then have to juggle this with range building and attending selection meetings where we are signing off ranges for the season before. We design ranges by trend stories, which we research in great detail and create moodboards. We go on shopping trips around the world to buy inspirational samples which bring us new ideas. We get lots of inspiration now from web based trend sites, Pinterest, fashion blogs and internet research as well as trade fairs and trend books.

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We deliver design presentations to the business by phases in each season. We present moodboards of trend stories for each department, which we illustrate with some bought inspirational samples. We highlight to the trading teams the key trends, colours and fabrics for the season. We provide the trading teams with enough information to plan out their ranges and footage in store. Once they have agreed together the range look and feel, the design team design the ranges by computer aided design software on their computers. They have to create detailed design packs for each garment that we can send out to suppliers to make up right first time samples. Once the samples are made and sent to us the teams can then range build and negotiate costs with our suppliers and factories. Following this, we then have a selection meeting where the range is signed off and agreed by senior managers and myself.

Wednesday

I have my weekly meeting with the other design managers in the business. We have a good catch up over a coffee! We discuss any current issues and share ideas and hot topics! We are a great support for each other.

Our Bangladesh colleagues and suppliers are over for the week. I spend the morning greeting them and seeing the samples and fabrics that they have brought in to show us. I leave the designers to work with them on the detail.

I have a meeting with our marketing team next. We present to them the signed off ranges and we select which products we want on our point of sale in store. We need to order the samples from our suppliers for the photoshoot.

Thursday

I drop the children off at breakfast club before catching a train to London. I am meeting my designers for a day of inspirational shopping. Its good to get out to the shops to see what everyone is doing! It can be a day at Westfield, Spitalfields Market or Oxford Street. Wherever we go, London is always a great source of inspiration and new ideas.

Friday

I visit a local supplier in the morning with the girlswear designers. We discuss new ideas and see their latest developments. We get very inspired working with other designers!

Back to the office in time for lunch.

A quick bite to eat and then I pop my head into the fit session. Our technologists are fitting the latest samples that have been signed off in selection. We have a look to see how the garments fit and we make amendments to make each garment perfect.

I spend the afternoon catching up on emails and costing our next trips. I have my team off to India and the Far East to work with our factories on product development. Briefing their design packs and putting them into work. We also need to plan our summer inspirational trips to LA and Europe.

I now need to plan in the critical path for our next design presentation. My desk is piled high with paperwork. I need to file and tidy before I go home. I am meeting the kids at the coffee shop on the way home. Our weekly ritual; buying a curry and getting settled around the TV for treat night DVD! When I’m away travelling with work I really miss this!

Tara Tuesdays – Part 41

Quick note from Emma.  I did have a chuckle reading Tara’s blog post, mainly because of how far she’s come from when she was struggling into our sewing classes with her really heavy old machine. Now she’s hand stitching, making curtains, has worked as a Seamstress for an outdoor clothing company (with an industrial machine) and is now spending a little time to finish her old projects. I particularly love her work in progress photos below, she has a fabulous concentration face and manages to block all noise out when she’s trying to do something. Wish I could do the same!  Here’s Tara’s curtain post…

I know it’s only a curtain…….BUT

Making a curtain for my HUGE front door has been a job that has been on my “to do” list for years…..and I mean years. I live in a big old Victorian house which is hard to keep warm at the best of times when it gets particularly cold. The heat just blows out of the letterbox and the door has been crying out for a curtain to keep us toasty and warm for a good while.

It wasn’t the actual making of the curtain that worried me, more the “how to do it” as I really didn’t have a clue. Fortunately, I have a very clever friend that makes curtains for a living and she kindly offered to assist me with this project. We met up after Christmas last year and measured up and she told me how much fabric, lining and interlining I would need. We arranged to go fabric shopping in the New Year, I was all up for buying William Morris fabric as I adore everything this chap has ever designed but did a sharp intake of breath when I realised this would set me back some £50 plus a metre! My friend Tracy suggested a local discounted fabric shop that we could go to, so we set off to have a look and see what we could find. I was delighted with the fabric that I purchased because it was SUCH A BARGAIN! Normally it would be £35 a metre which was way over my budget. I actually got the fabric for just £2.99 a metre and couldn’t quite believe it when they rung it up on the till! As you can see from the picture it has a two flower pattern repeat and is made from quite a heavy duty linen.

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Tracy helped me with cutting out the amount of fabric needed for the curtain (2 widths) and I machine stitched the 2 pieces together. She cut out and stitched the interlining for me as this can be a bit tricky as it is very stretchy fabric and showed me how to interlock stitch the interlining onto the main fabric. All of this was done by hand and I really enjoyed this as it was such a therapeutic process. Tracy gave me step by step instructions and we would meet up every week once I completed each stage. During this time the curtain was slowly starting to take shape and was kept on the back of my sofa bed where I would go in and drool over the fabric on most days! What was also nice about making this curtain was that I wasn’t in a rush to get it finished so I could actually enjoy making it.

The next stage was the hem where I learnt how to pyramid stitch and do mitred corners which I am very proud of. I inserted weights in the corners and after machine stitching the two pieces of lining fabric together and sewing the hem we then added the lining starting at the side hems. These were sewn by hand using slip stitch then added using interlocking stitches. We then slip stitched the other side and then added the lining to the bottom hem. When I was sewing the lining on and had only the remaining side and bottom hem to do, I was a bit sad as I had enjoyed making this curtain so much I didn’t want it to end! Normally when I make something I am all excited at the start, and can’t wait to finish it as I am keen to start something new! I think this is typical of most crafters unless it is just me!

The last part of the making process was to tidy up the top and add the heading tape and I found this to be the hardest thing to do. Once we had done this, we added the hooks and had the grand hanging ceremony! I was SO excited about this and so pleased with myself to finally see my curtain hanging at the door in all it’s glory.

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All in all, with the main fabric, interlining, lining, heading tape and hooks, this curtain cost me £58 to make! You couldn’t buy one that cheaply especially if it was made by hand!

I am now desperate to make more curtains for my house and keep looking at the ones I already have thinking that I could make them so much better! My next project is a roman blind which Tracy is also helping me with! I already have the fabric for this and this time I AM using William Morris! Watch this space to hear about my progress….

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