Monday, April 29, 2013

Managing change in the day to day

Change is a part of life in the fashion industry.  In my previous post (link) I talked about three types of change.  Today I’m talking about strategies to deal with change.

How could you minimize change, even indecisive change? It may seem impossible but even as a young designer, planner, product manager or merchant but there are things you can do to help minimize change. Think about how you would answer these questions. What would make your boss agreeable to waiting on changes until after a major group presentation? What value does s/he get when you make one round of changes rather than several? What kind of input can you get on your line plan prior to putting pen to paper? Who is final decision maker? How is your relationship with that person? How can you better understand what s/he wants before you go too far down the road? How can you integrate your value into what your superiors expect? How well do you know your customer? How closely do you work with your cross-functional partners?

When you become that middle manager or even senior leader, what can you do to minimize change? How have you communicated your vision to those on your team? What kind of direction has the team heard from you? What are the ways you can tell they are clear on your vision? What are the meetings or check points you have in place to help the team move forward in a reasonable time frame? How does the timing of those meetings impact their development or buying cycle? How open are you to their input rather than holding strictly to your vision? How well do you understand what the customer wants? What value am I adding with changes I would like to make?

I encourage all who work in the fashion industry to ask those hard questions. Minimizing change can have significant positive tangible and intangible results. If you take time out of the calendar for multiple rounds of changes you could shorten the product life cycle, have better relationships with vendors, and know more about what the consumer wants thereby increasing both profits and revenue.  Who doesn’t want that? (If you answered ”Me”, you should start looking for a new job!)

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Accepting Change

When I first started my career as a young design assistant, I had no idea how frequently things change in the world of fashion. Yes, I knew things could quickly move in and out of style, and I always heard about how fast the world of fashion moves. What I didn’t know was how much a product could change within the design process. It was a mystery until I made it through my first product life cycle. For those outside the fashion industry, maybe some background would be helpful. Color, fabric, details and styling are generally conceived about a year before a customer ever sees the product. Financial plans are made, strategies are built and prototypes are put into work. As more information becomes available, meetings to review prototypes, financial plans and customer behaviors are discussed. This is what we call the product life cycle. With each check point and meeting there are changes. Changes to the amount of product needed, changes to the type of product needed, changes to the fabric, changes to the styling, changes to the color, and other changes seem infinite from the moment of conception all the way until the customer sees the product. There’s even been a case where, as a young designer, I was sent to the retail selling floor to change out a label. Changes were endless.  What was next, heading to the customer’s closet to make an update they requested?

When I first started working, I thought the changes were going to drive me crazy. A manager would drop by, make a declarative statement regarding the color red. In the industry, this is sometimes referred to as the “swoop and poop”, as in the manager swoops in and poops on whatever it was you had planned for that day. As a consequence to the manager’s disapproval, the team would change to a new color and work until midnight in order to update the corresponding paperwork. It wasn’t quite the glamorous career for which I was hoping. I had come to learn about three different types of change after I had a year of professional experience under my belt: natural change, business change and indecisive change.

Natural Change-These are changes that happen because something doesn’t work out the way you thought it would. An example would be:  when a prototype comes in and looks ridiculous. There was one famous situation where I selected a button to put on a jacket. The button selection process takes place in the paperwork stage. I was a young designer and I didn’t have a reference point, so I just added the button that I thought would look good.  When the sample came in, it was clear that I was wrong. My production counterpart still makes fun of me to this day regarding that button size. She said they looked like dinner plates on the jacket. Of course, I had to make this change.  This tends to happen less the more you know what you are doing, but can never fully be eliminated if you are taking risks on new strategies or product.

Business Change- This is change that results from customer behavior. For example, the team built a line of shirts. Later, we see the shirts currently on the market were not selling. The trend had changed and our customers no longer wanted to buy shirts. We cancelled most shirts that were in development and changed our strategy to build a line of dresses for our customer. We had a few dresses online and the sales were fantastic. This was what the customer wanted to buy.  We made this change in order to grow profits and revenue.

Indecisive Change- This is change that happens because of competing opinions. There is no one to make a final decision and each mid-level manager contributes an opinion that is not consistent. Again when I was a young designer, I sketched a black and white sweater with a striped pattern. My merchant and I agreed it looked great. A senior merchant later came into the picture and said she didn’t like the stripe pattern, change it and make it more colorful. A more senior designer came in, saw the style, and said the yarn quality wasn’t right. Change it. A director saw the sweater and said ‘why is this stripe so colorful? Why don’t you make this black and white?’ Then it was time to show the sweater prototype to the president of the division in one of those meeting check points. When he saw the product, he asked why I didn’t use the specific yarn quality he saw in the first presentation. He thought that was great. The changes brought the product full circle back to the original design.

I had an ‘aha’ moment after a couple of years in the fashion industry. Here it is: change is just part of the job and one cannot completely avoid it. Once I firmly accepted that change happens and is part of working in fashion, my job satisfaction significantly increased. In the course of my career I learned it was impossible to avoid any of the three forms of change. If dealing with change is currently a struggle for you, you have three choices: accept it, minimize it or get out of the industry. Tomorrow: how can you minimize change?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


Welcome! If you landed on this page and are reading this blog, I assume you have some level of interest in the fashion industry. Fashion careers are fun, exciting, frustrating, exhilarating and often chaotic. Over time, I will share some of the most entertaining moments in my fashion career and encourage you to do the same through your comments. Although the stories are sometimes meant to get a laugh or will provoke disbelief, my goal will be to attach learning to each. How could I have handled the situation better? What could I have done differently? What were the moments that pushed my career forward or set me back? I do not want this to be all about me. That means you will need to contribute your stories. Let’s make this interactive.

Over the course of the blog, I will invite guest posters to share their stories of success and set-backs. Some of my industry recruiting contacts will be asked to jump in and write a post or two on their industry and job search knowledge.  I will also share books or blogs I am reading that focus on career development, changing your mindset or anything else that may help bring your career forward.

The goal of my blog is to have fun, but also help you and others move past some of the challenges and obstacles in this very unique business.  Not long ago, I started a career coaching business specializing in the retail industry. While I offer one on one career coaching ( to help you reach your goals, I decided to develop this blog to bring an informal, lighthearted approach to stressful situations.

There are a few things I will ask of you in your posts:

1. Use pseudonyms. We are not trying to “out” your crazy boss, ruin any careers or badmouth a company. The less specific on who, or where, the better.

2. Keep it clean so you can keep your job!

3. Keep the goal in sight. Sharing your stories is for:

·         Career Development
·         Give an outsider an idea of life in the fashion industry
·         A Release, Venting, Commiserating

Other than a fun travel blog, I am new to blogging so please feel free to share feedback. I would like to keep your interest and build a strong, supportive community. This will be fun....