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.
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:
This is an example of a week in my life…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!