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Episode 203: Why clothes fit worse in the fast fashion era, with Dr. Colleen Pokorny

Amanda is joined by Dr. Colleen Pokorny, Assistant Professor of Apparel Design at Oregon State University. Before making the shift to education, Colleen was a technical designer in the world of fast fashion.  And there is so much to cover in this episode:
 
  • What is a technical designer?
  • How has the speed of fast fashion made clothing fit even worse?
  • Why aren’t clothing sizes standardized here in the US?
  • Why do your product reviews matter?
  • How do we set students up for a better transition from school to the fashion industry? And how can schools prepare designers for a more sustainable future?
  • What does a more sustainable future for the fashion industry look like?
  • Why and how did Colleen leave the fashion industry? And does she have any advice to share with us?
 
And somehow, we will also talk about Trader Joe’s and how it has been caught behaving like fast fashion. Also, Amanda shares her own experience escaping the fashion industry.

About Colleen:
Dr. Colleen Gelhaus Pokorny is an Assistant Professor of Apparel Design at the Oregon State University. Her research interests include sustainability trends impacting apparel product design and development; how cultural and technical innovations influence craft and design processes; and how design technologies can address gaps in diversity, equity, and inclusion. Her current research examines how designers revalue material culture through sustainable design processes when upcycling quilt materials into fashion garments. Before pursuing her Ph.D., Colleen was a Technical Designer for seven years at Thirty-one Gifts and Abercrombie & Fitch. She specialized in men’s knitwear, thermal and home soft goods, and handbags. You can read more about Colleen’s research at https://hdl.handle.net/11299/258647 and https://business.oregonstate.edu/users/colleen-pokorny. Or follow along on her various quiltmaking adventures @Cpokorny

Additional reading:
“We need to talk about Trader Joe’s,” Adam Reiner, Taste.
“Trader Joe’s Threatened Workers Ahead Of Union Vote, Feds Allege,” Dave Jamieson, HuffPost.
“‘Just lie after lie’: Inside the fight to unionize at Trader Joe’s,” Gabriel Thompson, Capital + Main.

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Transcript

Amanda

 Okay, Colleen, why don’t you introduce yourself to everyone?

 

Colleen 

 

So I’m Dr. Colleen Pokorny. It’s weird to use doctor because I’m still getting new to it. And I’m an, thank you, thank you. I’m an assistant professor of apparel design at Oregon State University and the College of Business. And that is located for those of you who don’t know in Corvallis, Oregon. Yes, it’s gorgeous. I’m looking outside today in my window and it is just beautiful. So sort of my path where I got to where I am. My undergraduate degree is in apparel design. I love to sew, I love to quilt, I love to make things. I discovered I could go to school and my homework could be sewing. And I was like, that’s what I wanna do. And then I worked in the fashion industry for about seven years. I worked at the notorious Abercrombie and Fitch as a technical designer. And then a company called 31 Gifts doing handbags and soft goods production. And then I decided to go back to grad school and I got  a PhD in design with a focus in apparel studies from the University of Minnesota. I just got my PhD in July and then moved to Oregon like two weeks later to take my job at Oregon State. So that’s where I am now.

 

Amanda 

You know, one of the questions I receive most often via email, via DM is “I work in the fashion industry right now and I don’t know how to escape.” And people are like, can you give me advice? And I’m like, well, I mean, I don’t know. I felt stuck in it for a very, very long time too. Why did you decide to leave and was going into education really like your the first idea you had?

 

Colleen

That’s a great question and it’s as many things. It’s a very nuanced answer. Part of the reason I decided to leave is as a technical designer, we’re often seen as sort of a service to the rest of our teams, the merchants, the designers production, and despite the fact that we are actually engineers and we don’t get credit for being engineers and it gets to feel like a very thankless job after a while, that we’re just constantly trying to produce really awesome product and nobody gives you any credit for the work that you do. So there was that sort of thankless job feeling. That’s a day in and day out, and when things go really well, design gets all the credit. When things go really badly, it all falls to the tech designer. So that’s rough.

 

But the other reason, part of it was, I kinda got tired of making things for people who don’t need more things. I was doing handbag and wallets, accessories, that kinda stuff, and we’d, like every season, would try to develop a new wallet or a new lunch bag, and I’m like, why? Why are we doing this? So that sort of hopeless spiral of, I don’t feel like I’m improving the world in any manner, but I love technical design. I love the puzzle of it, the figuring it out. So I was like, okay, what do I do with this thing that I love, but how do I do it in a way that feels productive to the world? So that’s part of the reason I left the fashion industry. The other reason is when I was in undergrad, I did an honors project where I got to do a museum exhibition on the designer Arnold Scazzi, fabulous designer from the 80s. I don’t know if you’re familiar with his work.

 

And it was so much fun. I loved researching objects and learning about, you know, why they designed these things and I love putting like exhibition together and that sort of experience really stuck in my mind for years and I couldn’t get it out. And when I kind of felt burnt out of the industry, I was like, maybe this is a time to explore this other thing that is really of interest to me, of museums, of historic objects, fashion history. So I kind of went back also to sort of explore this other side of this industry that I was really interested in.

 

I mean, I think that’s really cool. I think that when you’re stuck in the industry or feel stuck in the industry, which I definitely felt for a very long time, when you’re a buyer, it’s even more complicated to figure out what you would do next. Because inevitably, if you’re not coming up with new things for people to buy and reasons for them to buy them in the clothing area, your skills are transferable to having, I don’t know, coming up with things for people to buy or reasons to buy other types of things. And so like you could be a clothing buyer, but then you could go be, I don’t know, I interviewed for a restaurant supply buying job, for example, at one point. And so it feels it feels like, oh, I’m just stuck in like selling people’s stuff. But you know, I think the thing that I hear most when people reach out to me, and it’s often designers, actually more than buyers who reach out to me and are just like, how do I get out of this? I went to school for this. It’s not what I thought. It’s so disheartening. All the things that you just said.

What do I do next? It often feels like the only thing you can do next is go start your own brand, which is not the simple, easy, accessible idea that it sounds like when you say it out loud. Right. And so this can contribute to that feeling of being stuck, you know, of just like, I don’t know what to do. And, you know, I didn’t go to school for fashion. I’m definitely not a designer.

 

I often think about all of my friends over the years who’ve worked in design, whether it was technical design or regular old design, how demoralizing it must be to go to work every day for this thing that you went to school for because you’re passionate about it, you love it, and then have to work on things that aren’t great, that you’re not necessarily proud of. And I feel like in the area of technical design, it has to be specifically very frustrating.

 

Colleen

Yes, it can be very frustrating. I think, you know, especially when you go to school for apparel design, like we give students the flexibility to sort of create what they want. You know, oftentimes there’s project parameters, but a lot of times your senior collection is like, make whatever you want, you know, what speaks to you. And it’s like a lot of times we get people who do like bridleware and all sorts of things. And then the students think like, oh, I’m going to go into the industry, I’m going to find a job doing that thing, and I’m going to get to make that.

 

And unfortunately, that’s like a big lie that is really hard to get students to understand that like, you’re going to get a job at a big company and you’re going to get assigned to a team, and you were going to work on whatever the heck that product is. It doesn’t matter if your passion is bridal wear, like you’re going to be doing men’s sweatpants. That’s what you get to do.

 

Amanda 

I just got really depressed. It’s true. I mean, every once in a while I’ll have a friend in design who’s like, oh no, I always wanted to be a sweater designer. That’s my passion. I’m like, wow, that really worked out for you. But most of the time that is not the case. And I think, how do we change? I don’t know. We can’t change the industry being like, well, actually your job is designing men’s sweatpants. But how do we set students up for…I don’t know, a smoother landing into the professional world?

 

Colleen 

I don’t have a great answer for you, I think, other than being transparent with them about what the realities of the industry are, trying to bring in a lot of guest speakers who work in the industry to talk about what they do so that they understand the realities of it. I think it is important that people do want to be independent designers, and that’s great, but we know the reality of how successful people are going to be at doing that, and it’s pretty minimal.

 

So it’s also really hard to encourage students to do that when you feel like you’re setting them up for failure. So in some ways it’s more, it helps us to set them up to go into the industry because we know they can find a job, hopefully. And then maybe from there become an independent designer once they’re established. But it’s also important that you develop your own design aesthetic at some point so you have a point of view of what you can bring to a team. So it’s how do you balance that out in education? It is really difficult. But I do think like things like sending them on an internship is really important so they understand what it actually is like and can maybe potentially realize, ooh, I don’t like that before it’s too late.

 

Amanda 

I think that is a really valid call out because, you know, I obviously like did not plan on a career in fashion and didn’t know anything about it. But when I took my first buying job and began working in the office, sitting at a desk, doing the tasks every day, I was like, wow, this is like not the environment that I ever expected being involved with clothing would ever be. Like it just was really shocking to me.

 

And I think if I had that career plan all along, and had done some internships, or studied in school, it may not have felt as surprising to me, but I think we have this vision, movies don’t help, of what it is to work in fashion, right? And it’s just not that, it’s just not that. Ha ha ha.

 

Colleen 

Yeah, yeah. Yes, no. Some places are, but those are a few and far between and most corporate environments are not that. But you know what, that’s okay. Like I’m not gonna knock all corporate because there are a lot of great environments and great teams and I’ve worked on good teams and had really amazing experiences and learned so much. I don’t want to completely knock the whole idea of it. There’s good and bad, right? As there is with most things, yeah.

 

Amanda

Yeah, oh, for sure. I mean, I was having a conversation with a friend this weekend where I was like, you know, when I worked in a corporate environment, like for early in my career, like a very established, huge corporate environment, I learned so much, like so much that I still use on a daily basis now when I’m working with small businesses. And then when I went to work for startups, they needed that stuff that I’d learned working in the corporate environment to like, you know, put processes in place and, you know, analysis and strategy and all that stuff. And I would often get frustrated by like, oh, there’s like no framework or rules here and everything feels chaotic and I’m exhausted. And then I was, after a couple jobs doing that, I was like, okay, I’m gonna go back to working in the corporate environment because I can’t stand the wild, wild west of startups. And then I went back to work in a corporate environment and I was like, I hate this because there’s so much structure. And so the point is, is that there’s good and bads of both aspects of it, even if you went out and started your own line, it’s also not a perfect situation. And it’s really stressful and scary. And at least in a corporate environment, there is there’s some level of consistency, depending on where you’re working and a sense of somewhat stability. Right. Predictability. And what I loved about the early part of my career is like, once I got into the swing of it. And knew the routine, it was nice to be like, OK, well, this week of the month, I’m going to do this, and next week, I’m going to do that, and then the next week will be open to buy, and then it’ll be sketch review. And just getting into that calendar was actually very comforting for me. And you don’t get that when you work in a smaller environment or for yourself, right? So I think the corporate experience is actually important.

 

Colleen 

Yeah, I totally agree. This isn’t my experience, but so my husband is also a technical designer, which is kind of hilarious. And you know, he also worked for Abercrombie and express and some big brands, just like you were talking about having that structure, the processes, the standards, standard tech packs, standard fits, locks, you know, all of these really established guidelines with our factories. And then he went and worked for some smaller companies when we moved to the Twin Cities that were doing third party production for places like Target and Walmart and Carter’s. And they didn’t have any of those standards. They didn’t have any of those processes in place. And it drove him nuts because nobody knew what they were doing. There was no standardized fits for anything or they just didn’t have the same processes. So he kind of experienced what you’re talking about where corporate can sometimes the big companies yes, it can be a little soul-sucking, but Sometimes it’s a great place to learn like how something Should function so that when you go to a smaller company that doesn’t have those things in place You can know how to put that stuff into place as opposed to like you said it being kind of like the Wild West of like We don’t really know what we’re doing. We’re just gonna like make it up.  Which can be really frustrating and liberating but frustrating. You know, it goes both ways. So I do think it’s really important that if someone wants to start their own brand, maybe get a job at a brand first and understand how it functions. Understand what you don’t like. Like, oh, I do not like how they are running this. I would do it differently. Great. That’s awesome that you learned that. And then, you know, start working on your own stuff on the side and  save up some money while you were getting like a good corporate salary. Um, learn that, learn the industry from the inside first. Cause I think it’s really hard to start with kind of no understanding of what really goes on in the industry.

 

Amanda ==

Yeah, I think that is really great advice. I’m grateful for all the time that I ended up starting my career in a corporate area, because honestly, like I said, I have used what I learned there everywhere else I went, and all of those places that I worked after that didn’t have any of that structure in place, and therefore I wouldn’t have learned that if I had started there instead. And so even though I could say plenty of bad things about the company I worked for, I can also say like, I learned so much…much more than I think I like learned in college to be honest that I use in my day-to-day life. So I do appreciate that. Now my question for you is like what and if you don’t have an answer to this it’s fine. What advice would you give to people who are like I want to escape this industry and I don’t know how because I basically every time I talk to someone now who has successfully done that, which I would say you have successfully done. I wanna hear what their advice would be because I get this question so often and I don’t have an easy answer. And maybe you don’t either, but perhaps you have a different answer than me.

 

Colleen 

There isn’t an easy answer. I totally agree with you. I think it, advice for this. I think some of it comes down to finding out what you’re really interested in and what you’re passionate about. Like what part of the industry are you really passionate about? I do wanna say that going to grad school is not the best answer for everybody.

 

Amanda 

I agree. I can agree with that. Yeah.

 

Colleen 

I get a lot of people who come and I’ve talked to tons of people who are interested in grad school. I have former professors sending me students all the time. And the first thing I always ask, I always ask them is what is your end goal? If your end goal is not to go into academia, grad school is probably not the answer for you. Getting an advanced degree in apparel design for the most part means nothing to anybody in the fashion industry. No one. If I were to say like,

go back and try to get a technical design job. They would just be like, oh, so you haven’t done tech design for five plus years? Okay, you’re now an associate or you’re an assistant again. We’re not gonna pay you more just because you have an advanced degree. Like we don’t care. But if you’re like trying to become like a really fancy creative designer of some sort of like, I don’t know, high-end brand, maybe it’ll help you. And there’s grad programs like FIT that are definitely more design focused as opposed to research focus. So that exists. But I guess to escape the industry, the real question is what is it that you’re really passionate about, that you want to do and you can utilize your skills? Like, for example, I have a friend, she was a technical designer with me at Abercrombie and she is now a successful florist and has a really amazing florist business and she does weddings and things. And she’s using all of her creative skills and her ability to put colors and textures and sizes together and to create displays and it’s using all of the same skill set. It’s just on a different object really. And you know she decided to go off and do the something that she was really passionate about and it was super scary for her and now she’s doing great. So I think some of it is like how do you pivot your skills into something else?

Um, that is something you’re interested in, but that’s hard, right? I mean, it’s hard to find jobs. It’s hard to showcase your skills in another area. Um, so I think it’s a lot of soul searching, asking yourself what you really love, what you’re really passionate about. Uh, really if grad school is what you’re thinking about, really spending the time to realize what do you get with a graduate degree? Where is that going to get you?

 

Is that really going to get you to where you want to go? Do you love research? If you don’t love to read and write, probably not for you.

 

Amanda 

Yeah, I think it’s like, what is it that you really want to do? And like, we need, and I’m sure there are people who do this, but like, we need guidance counselors for adults. You know, like, people who are going to sit down and say, like, hey, like, you know, here’s, what kind of job do you want? What are your expectations? What do you like? Let’s try to figure it out. Because I do think, like, here’s the reason.

 

Colleen 

I would have loved that.

 

Amanda

In my opinion, the number one reason people feel trapped in fashion is the financial aspect of it all, right? Because you can keep working and have a paycheck. You’re probably underpaid depending on where you work, but at least it’s consistent. But if you leave the fashion industry, whatever you do next, there is going to be a time when things are more uncertain financially. And that’s the scary part, right? For me, that’s why I wouldn’t leave even though I wanted to because I was like, how will I take care of my kid? You know?

 

And so I felt kind of stuck, right? And I think, you know, people would say to me all the time, like, you should go start your own business. And I was like, doing what? It has to be a really good idea because I’m gonna have to pay for college in a few years. And people were like, oh, I don’t know, but I’m sure you’ll figure it out. And I’m like, I don’t think you get it. But you know, it is gonna be hard, right? And like, you know, perhaps going to school is not the solution because that’s gonna just make it harder down the road.

 

But it could be also the solution. Yeah, and I think like, well, yeah, we need adult guidance counselors who just sit down and are like, okay, like, what’s your deal? What’s your financial situation? Let’s figure it out, right?

 

Colleen 

I know I would love that. I agree it is so scary. It was so scary for me to leave the industry to go to grad school. Financially what you’re talking about, I’m very fortunate I have a partner who had a job and could support me going to graduate school, but that is not the reality for most people or for everybody. And yeah, it’s to basically cut our income in half for me to hopefully come out on the other end doing what I want to do is terrifying. But sometimes you have to take that leap and just hope that it works. And I’m in my first year so far, so good. We’ll see how it keeps going. You know, I thought I loved the industry too, when I started. I did. I loved it for years. And then I kind of was like, nah, this isn’t for me anymore.

 

Amanda

Yeah, I can totally get that. I think that we have this expectation of what it’s gonna be and it’s often different and it’s hard work. It’s not to outsiders, all glamor and good times. And I would say really you as technical designer have one of the most difficult jobs, especially in the fast fashion era, I think because yours was…

 

Colleen 

Thank you, I appreciate that acknowledgement.

 

Amanda 

Your work is so important, it takes time to get it right. And they’re like, oh, but it’s like, you don’t give very much time. So could you tell us a little bit about, for those of, you know, for the people who don’t work within the industry, what does a technical designer do?

 

Colleen

So a technical designer is what I like to call an apparel engineer without the respect or the pay of an engineer. And lots of stress. But basically you have creative designers or what you most people think of as just a designer and they are the ones who draw pretty pictures and come up with concepts of what they want to create for whatever your product is.

 

Amanda

And lots of stress.

 

Colleen 

And then it gets passed to the technical designer. And in most cases, if it’s a company that has technical designers, our responsibility is to translate that idea into reality. So we are responsible, especially in peril, for the pattern making aspect, usually, either creating the patterns ourselves or directing a factory as to how to modify an existing pattern. We’re responsible for the measurements of the garment. So how does it measure based off the pattern, the construction, we direct the factory as to how to physically construct the garment, the stitches, the seams, the trims, quality, making sure the garment is produced in a quality manner. We’re responsible for fitting. So getting in the samples, measuring them, fitting them on bodies or forms, working with the designers, the merchants, the buyers, production to make sure that the fit is appropriate.

 

We’re also responsible sometimes for packaging, for quality control, for labels, for care, for content, for developing all the sketches for it, for the bill of materials, basically making it happen. I also think tech is sort of like a mediator. We are the ones who have to get up in front of design, merchandising, production, sourcing, and we have to get everybody to agree as to what we’re going to do with this product.

 

Everybody’s got a different viewpoint. Designers have a viewpoint of what they’re trying to do aesthetically. Merchants are obviously very cost focused. Sourcing has some sort of issues with factories that they want these to go into. And it’s our job to listen to everybody’s perspective, to put it all together and then say, okay, here’s how we’re gonna meet all of your needs while producing the best quality garment. In theory, that’s not how it works everywhere, but that’s how it should work.

 

Amanda 

So here’s my question for you: When you started school, were you like, this is what I want to do? Like, did you know that technical design was the path you wanted to take?

 

Colleen 

Yes, I was pretty certain. Um, I was fortunate. My undergrad was at Iowa state university and they did have sort of two tracks, technical and creative design. And it was explained early on to me what the differences were between them. And technical is what fit my brain the best, my skillset. It was less about coming up with conceptual ideas of designs and more about how do I execute the design. And that’s the part that I have always been more interested in is…How do I make a really good garment? How do I sew it? How do I pick out the right fabrics and the right seams and all of that stuff. And I loved pattern making. I hated draping. That was not for me. I wanted to like draw my patterns by hand as opposed to manipulating fabric. So it definitely fit my brain the best. But you know, it’s sometimes it’s hard for students to know which is better for them, which again is why I think going on an internship is like a really great way to learn. Like what is your brain, how does it work? What makes sense to your brain?

 

Amanda 

Yeah, no, I totally agree. I think a lot of people don’t know that the technical designer is a job. We don’t really talk about it on Project Runway. Right?

 

Colleen 

No, no. In fact, most of the people on Project Runway probably work with technical designers and don’t know how to pattern or sew their own garments most of the time.

 

Amanda 

I mean, that’s probably very, very true. And it’s something that I’ve encountered through my career working with teams of designers, because I’ve definitely worked places that were like, you know, we’ll just have one designer who can do it all. And that’s, I mean, that person is a true unicorn, right? I’ve also worked places where we were like, we just, we won’t address fit at all. We’ll just take whatever the factory gives us, which is, I know, I know, but like, trust me. I’ve seen it all. So OK, well, let’s talk about the world of education and how, I don’t know, I think right now, I mean, I know you’ll agree, we’re at a really, we’re at a really, I was going to say dark time, but that sounds really depressing. How about I would say we’re at a really pivotal time in fashion in terms of, this is something I’ve been thinking about and talking about a lot lately, where I feel like.

 

Every brand out there is at a crossroads where they can decide that either A, they’re gonna try to compete with Shein and they’re gonna make prices even lower and they’re gonna turn out even more new stuff. And I’m gonna tell you like any brand who chooses that direction is gonna fail because they just can’t, they can’t do what Shein is doing. Or they’re gonna say, you know what, we’re gonna get it together. We’re gonna start.

 

We’re going to start doing better. We’re going to go back to where we used to be. We’re going to work on using better fabrics and better quality. And we’re going to spend more time on fit and getting it right. And we’re going to stand for that, right? Like we’re going to say, hey, if you come and buy something from us, it’s going to fit you and you’re going to love it. And you’re going to wear it for a long time. And it might cost more than she in, but it’ll be worth it. Cause you won’t have to buy 10 things to find something that you like. You just have to buy one. And I think…

 

in the dream world that I’m weaving right here that I still think could happen. It’s gonna really change what it is to be on those design teams. And particularly, I think it’s gonna change technical design, right? How do you think schools could be doing a better job of educating designers for that, that world that we want?

 

Colleen 

I think to educate them better for that sort of world really comes down to, which we already sort of do, is explaining the current issues with the industry. So making sure they understand what the current problems are, which can be kind of depressing for students to be like, hey, this thing you want to go into is terrible. It’s killing the whole planet. It’s the cause of all of our global warming. Great. But to express it in a way that’s like…we can change this, but you can do better. So it comes down to really educating them on like textiles. Why do we pick certain textiles? Like the performance of them, like, okay, let’s talk about why polyester is okay, but also why it’s terrible. You know, understanding the nuances of what the fabrics are that we’re using, understanding why quality construction matters, even if they can’t do it themselves, and that’s fine. Like, I don’t expect a student to come out of school being an amazing construction, an amazing sewist. Like that’s not important, but understanding what makes a good quality construction, I think is highly important. Understanding the sustainability aspect of what is sustainable production, what are better production methods. I teach specifically a fit and grading class. So in there, I talk a lot about why current fit is terrible and what we can do to make it better or ways that they could hopefully make it better or understand why the sizing system is what it is so that they could push for hopefully better change at whatever company they work at. I think a lot of it is it’s opening their eyes to the problems, letting them see that they exist, telling them, I don’t have the answers because if I did, I would be out there doing it.

 

Giving them that like, you know, the more you know, and the more you’re educated on the problems, the more you can advocate for change at wherever you are. And having that confidence to advocate for change to say, you know what, like, no, this doesn’t fit well, let’s get another sample, that’s important. Or this is a better construction. And this is why it’ll make the garment last longer. Yeah, it’s more expensive, but it’s better. Having that kind of knowledge and being able to push back.

 

I think is really important because I feel like I didn’t know those things. I didn’t know I could push back. I didn’t know I could make my voice heard. And it is hard in a corporate setting to do that. But the more students you educate about that, the more those voices can be heard and make changes to say, like, whoa, let’s take a step back and talk about this and see if this is what’s best. But it’s going to take a while. It’s going to take… If people at the top don’t change their opinions. It’s gonna be a really tough uphill battle to get there.

 

Amanda

Absolutely. So I have a question for you, because something you said really struck me or raised a question for me. Do your students, do they talk about, I think, surely they’re aware of the conversations that are happening about fashion right now, right? The industry as a whole. I mean, they’re on TikTok, so they know, right? Do they express those concerns already? Like, how? It’s interesting to me. I’m not saying I wouldn’t go to school for fashion in 2024, knowing what I know about the industry, because I would say like, this is an art form. We need to bring it back to being art. We need to everyone on this planet needs to wear clothing. So we need to make it better. Right. Like taking pursuing that path is actually saying, like, I’m committed to fighting for change and proving this and innovating.

 

Do students talk about concerns, misgivings, fears, frustrations related to that, the reality of where we are right now with clothing?

 

Colleen 

Yeah, they do. They really do. And I see it in their work when, for example, I give them projects, you know, when they’re developing some sort of line and a lot of them, you know, really lean into that like whole sustainable production method of, you know, wanting sustainable fibers, of wanting sustainable dye processes. So that is something that they’re already, you know, coming to the table with of things that they’re interested in. I also see it through, you know,

they are designing and how there’s a lot of intentionality behind wanting to design things for multiple types of bodies, for different types of genders, for not being stuck in some sort of like gender box of what they’re designing. Of trying to represent who they are as a generation, which I think is very different than our generations were in terms of how we approach a lot of these things. So I do see that and they’re craving that. They’re wanting that information about sustainability, about designing for different bodies, about size inclusivity. That is stuff that you know they’re asking for, they’re interested in. So I see it and I you know try to encourage it as much as I can and get it into the curriculum as much as I can or just give them the freedom to explore it you know to be like oh you want to do a skirt for a for a male body? Great please do it go explore that idea.

 

Um, you know, whatever it is that you’re interested in this space, like how can, how can I support you exploring that idea?

 

Amanda 

I think that makes me so excited for the future. Because certainly anyone who began their career in fashion in the aughts or even the early 2010s, sustainability was not a conversation at all, period. It was like not, I mean, it was not something anyone was talking about and were thinking about. And size inclusivity, like forget it. I, after I worked for ModCloth and saw

like what a business impact it made to extend sizing. I was able to get employers that I had after that on board, but it was really hard. Even as recently as like, you know, 2020, to get brands to get on board with adding sizes was just like so hard. And I think if we have more and more professionals in that space in the coming years who think about…

 

the impact of clothing and the sustainability of it all, or lack of sustainability of it all, and the importance of gender and size inclusivity, and the reality of how you can make it happen, I think we could see this really positive change in the industry, because those of us who started our careers in the aughts or the 2010s, we’re not against it, right? Like, it’s just like, the education wasn’t there, and honestly, like, the freedom to do that kind of stuff wasn’t there. I think that as we see the generation sort of leading this industry change, I think we can see that everything go in a better way. I mean, even at my last job, the CEOs of the company were like in their 60s or early 70s and they just could not understand why we would ever carry clothes larger than a large or an extra large. Like they just, it was just like, no matter how many times I brought it up or showed the sales and proved that it was like driving sales and actually outselling the smaller sizes. They just were unwilling to do it. And it was sort of like the door was closed. Like they didn’t wanna hear it. No data was gonna prove it otherwise to them. And it was very, very frustrating because I feel like all of my peers in my age group and younger are like, yeah, why wouldn’t we do this? This is stupid. We gotta address everyone, but it is so hard to change the minds of the people at the top who are kind of stuck in these old ways.

 

Colleen

Yeah, I agree. It’s I mean, that’s how it was when I worked at Abercrombie. I don’t think we sold larger than an XL at the time. I was in menswear and I think that was our largest size. And keep in mind, this XL at the time, this would have been like 2011, 2012 was like just a more muscular guy, not an extra large guy. You know, like my size set was just like, oh, yeah, he’s taller and like a little bulkier and more muscular which is not real by any means. So, and that was, you know, that was Mike Jeffery’s vision of what our customer was, which was wrong, that’s not accurate. So thankfully he’s not there anymore. And the brand, shout out to Abercrombie for really turning things around. I have friends who are still there in technical design and they’re doing amazing work to make that company much more inclusive and a better place. So it’s proof, right? Like something that is probably one of the notoriously least inclusive companies has turned itself completely around and I couldn’t be happier for them. Like good job. I’m so excited for that.

 

Amanda 

It is proof.

Yeah, I mean, I think that just proves something that I came to suspect within my career is that I always worked with super smart, passionate, kind, great people who really wanted to put the best work out there and with the best intentions. But it was the people at the top who ultimately were the decision makers and you didn’t feel as if your voice really mattered.

 

But if you bring someone in at the top who is like into these things, shares your values, or at least wants to hear about them, you can change an entire brand. Because lots of amazing people work within the industry. Like I, that’s something I need to, I want to remind people of all the time. Like most of my friends have worked in the industry or currently do, and they’re all awesome people who share my same values on all of these issues. Just like we have felt so powerless.

 

You know, but like now my generation is starting to move its way closer to the top in these companies. And hopefully that means that things are going to change.

 

Colleen 

Yeah, I hope so. I agree with you. I mean, I as much as I didn’t like some of the things that I was doing, or some of the work that I did, I worked with some of the most amazing designers and teammates and who really did care. And you’re right, it’s the end of the day with leadership who’d be like, no, we don’t want that your whole line’s gone redo it. And we’re like, oh, okay, cool. That sucks. So I’m really proponent that like, yes, the leadership has to be in the right place because if they’re not willing to listen to the good work that the teams are doing, it’s not going to happen. Um, so I hope that old guard is moving out. It seems like it is to some extent, the more we can educate people on these matters, I think is great. And the more we as consumers can talk about what we want to see from our brands, from our clothing, they have to listen because they’re realizing if they don’t listen, they’re not gonna make it. And it’s happening, it’s happening with brands and really having to pay, because of social media, which is a curse and a blessing in some cases, but in this case, yeah.

 

Amanda 

I agree. I was literally thinking that earlier today. I was like, sometimes I hate this so much, but it’s good too., I do think like, you know, we’re not being ageist here, by the way, to anyone. I like to be very clear, but I would work, you know, the CEOs that I would work with over the years, they were often very wealthy, came from generational wealth. So it wasn’t even like they were out there with the masses shopping at the same places or even shopping from the brands that I worked for, right? They just had no awareness of the world in which the stuff we were making and selling would exist.

 

And there was often so much confusion about social media specifically and like how it played into.

 

I know like the social fabric at this point, right? Because this is where we have discussions and call out brands and share information. And yes, like you said, there are many things about it that make me feel unpleasant feelings pretty regularly or feel frustrated, angry, that kind of stuff. But then I also see that like good things come out of it, too. It’s a mixed blessing for sure. And I would say that like it was shocking to a lot of these brands. I’m thinking even just like in 2020 that we’re starting to be called out on social media in like big ways, you know, whether it was like the payout movement or their just complete lack of attention to Black Lives Matter, the way they treated the pandemic as a whole, the lack of sizing. Suddenly these were big conversations and like they didn’t know how to respond and a lot of companies just tried to ignore it because they thought social media is not real. Like what could it really do? And

They’re learning a hard way that, you know, it is real and it changes people’s behavior and it can end a business.

 

Colleen 

Yeah, for sure. I will also say on the social media side or product reviews, this is more so to that. If you think that your product review doesn’t matter, it does. It matters so much. If the company is paying attention, it matters. I can’t tell you the number of times we would have what we would call like big fires that would happen because somebody complained about something on our product online or they knew, you know, someone heads up like high up in the company and would write in and say, this isn’t working. Like this happened a lot when I was doing more functional design with like handbags and home accessories, but we would, it would suddenly blow up that like, oh my gosh, there’s a problem. Someone says this thing is too small or it’s not working the way it’s supposed to. And then technical design would just get like bombarded by it. We’d have to pull so many products from the warehouse and check all of it and try to be like, is this a problem or is this just one person who like, doesn’t understand how to use this product correctly. And that’s the issue. And I will say more often than not, it was usually user error on things.

 

Which is really frustrating, but when you’re, yeah. Yeah, but sometimes there is a legitimate problem and we do take those things seriously. Like the companies I worked for did take that kind of stuff very seriously, the quality issues that would be called out in product reviews and things like that. So it’s important. Now don’t go like putting in crappy product reviews just because you’re in a bad mood because then you’re ruining a tech designer’s life on the backend…and a buyer’s life. So like, you know, maybe, you know, if something’s not working right, like take a moment and think about it first before you complain. But we do take them seriously. They do affect what we do as technical designers, as buyers, as designers. They’re really important to our jobs.

 

Amanda

Oh, absolutely, I will tell you, the first place I worked that really took review seriously was ModCloth, and we weren’t even allowed to reorder anything if it had below a certain average review score.

 

Colleen

Oh wow.

 

Amanda 

And beyond that, we had someone on the team who would look at reviews every week and send a newsletter of updates about it so we could learn from it and look for recurring issues. Now, my next job was at Nasty Gal, and they didn’t have reviews. And I was like, guys, this is bad. You need to have reviews because, honestly, when you work in the e-comm space, this is how you learn what your customer wants. So they integrated reviews. And perhaps where this was not a good idea for them is their stuff was crappy.

And so all the reviews were bad and they think they got rid of them. But I remember specifically one way that the buyers and the designers found out about a massive product quality issue was via customers emailing in and I think even some called and it was specifically this bathing suit that they rushed through, they needed to have it basically in time to ship out for people to have for spring break in Coachella. And I remember for my friend who was like overseeing that space, it was stressful. It was down to the wire and the warehouse had to rush it through to receive it. And they just barely got them out to customers on time. And then there was like a two week period where everybody who bought that bathing suit was on spring break or at Coachella. And during that time, the company received many, many emails and many furious phone calls about this bathing suit, which ended up being made of the wrong fabric, but it had never been QAed in the warehouse. And so.

 

Colleen 

Oh no.

 

Amanda 

Women would get in the pool in this bathing suit and it would expand with the water and fall off of them. This would be mortifying I would like have to go home if this happened to me, but I was like this company should know better Every where did this break down, but I asked I mean I felt horrible for all of these women who no doubt were like very traumatized by being suddenly naked at a pool party. But, you know, like the buyers and production and the design team would have never known about this if people hadn’t spoken up. And I think because like so often we are very disconnected from what actually ships out to the customer, like it because QA is not as robust as it once was, meaning like inspecting the order to make sure it fits well and is in the right fabric and whatnot, you would be surprised how little we know.

 

Colleen 

Yeah. Well, or as you move faster, not getting an actual pre-production sample that is accurate to what you are going to be cutting, which sometimes happens, or we do like, I don’t know if you did this, I’m sure like a correct and proceed sort of situation where, yeah. Yeah. So in sort of the sampling process, usually we go through several rounds of sampling, like a first sample, second, and then…

 

Amanda 

Yep, yep, do you want to explain that to everybody what that means?

 

Colleen

Typically the last one we get is what’s called a PP sample or a pre-production sample. And it should be accurate to all of the trims, the fabric, the color, the fit, construction of what will go into production. But as things always change in the fashion industry, sometimes we make changes at that stage, or sometimes there’s still a mistake, right? The factory made a mistake. In theory, you should get a second pre-production sample to confirm that everything is correct.

 

But time is of the essence, money speaks. So often we will do what’s called a correct and proceed. So we’ll tell the factory, you can proceed to production, but you need to correct X, Y, and Z. And then you often will not see a sample of that actual correction. So you’re kind of doing it on good faith. Or maybe you get a photo from the factory, which again is sort of still a good faith situation, right? And if you’re lucky, you might get what’s called TOP samples, which are top of production. So I don’t know if you dealt with these, Amanda, but like getting a first sort of set of samples from the first run of production so that we can check it to make sure there’s no major issues. So sometimes you’ll see it at the TOP stage and make sure that it’s correct. But again, oftentimes by the time you get TOP, it is too late to change anything because of how fast, right? It’s on the boat.

 

Amanda 

Yeah, it’s on the boat or in the plane.

 

Colleen 

Yeah, and they do it on purpose that way, because the factories know how to play this game. So when you do something like that, like a correct and proceed, that’s how you can end up with massive fabric mistakes, because you’d be like, yeah, make sure you use the right fabric. 

 

Amanda. 

Yeah, I mean this became more and more often like how it was functioning all the time that we would maybe get that first sample. And if it was really egregious, we would do a second sample. But then after that, it was like, forget it. Like we have to proceed to production and hope for the best. Rarely would we get that first sample and be like, let’s move forward. But sometimes, you know, I’m sure that’s what happened with the swimsuit. There was no time because someone wanted it for an email or whatnot. And this was speeding up so much that often, because that pre-production sample should have been exactly, by the way, we would call it a pre-pro, because that pre-pro should have been exactly what was gonna go into production, we could use that for photo shoots or send out for PR. And over time, like that, that couldn’t, it was not even an option, right? And so then we would be asking for additional samples to be pulled to ship to us for photography or sending out for PR. So we’re like airing more stuff over here. Sometimes we would get that TOP, which once again should have been from that production run. It shouldn’t be made separately, it’d just be part of that. We would get that TOP sample and then the real shipment would arrive and they would be totally different also. 

 

Colleen 

Yes, yeah, because they would be made in the sample room sometimes. They would get around it by making the TOPs of the sample room instead of off the production line, like be like, ha ha, we didn’t, you know, we did it right. Yeah.

 

Amanda 

OK, talking about the sample room, this is like off topic, but I think you will have thoughts on this as well. So I was talking about this with Dustin, my husband, last week and we’re talking about sampling and how sampling costs money and it actually costs more money than the actual production of that item for the bulk production, right? Because it’s a one off. It just costs so much more money and it’s not free. It’s not free for anyone, right? And there was an article that came out last week about Trader Joe’s. So this is like a totally different category of stuff. But the way it worked so much like fast fashion was not lost on me. Also, someone the writer blatantly said that. But I was like, oh, wow, as I was reading the article, I was like, this could have been anywhere I worked. Substitute chili crisp oil for an off the shoulder dress. And it would be the same. So so basically what Trader Joe’s was doing or is doing is they would approach these small brands, these because there’s like more small food brands than ever. It’s like kind of exciting, actually. And they would approach these brands and say, like, hey, we are interested in carrying your product in stores. Could you send us some samples and then send them? And then they would say, like, hey, we would like to change the recipe a little bit. Could you make us this kind of version or that kind? So the brand, a very small business, would.

 

create a new recipe and create a new sample, even with the packaging, all that stuff, and send it to Trader Joe’s, and then Trader Joe’s would ghost them and make their own version of that sample, which is like the most fast fashion thing ever, right? And I have worked places that would like take a sample from a brand or a designer and just copy it. And the people who would send us those samples spent money to have them made. And it was more than just the cost of making a dress because often it’s like we’re printing this really small run of this very specific print on the fabric for the sample. Or we’re buying just enough buttons and trims and stuff to make this garment. The people working in the sample room obviously charge more to sew because it’s a one-off thing than an entire production run. There aren’t the same efficiencies built into it. And so no matter what kind of company you are, if you are taking these samples from another brand, a smaller brand and copying them. You are not only stealing their idea, you’re actually like taking their money. I was it’s wild. 

 

Colleen 

Yeah, yeah, that is, that’s terrible. I did not read that Trader Joe’s article, but man, you’re right, the comparisons to fast fashion are terrifying with that, whew.

 

Amanda (

I know. I had been like not a big fan of Trader Joe’s for the past couple of years because they’ve been doing all this union busting stuff. But I had assumed as my husband had as well when we were talking about this, that like when we would go to Trader Joe’s and you might see Chili Crunch Oil or some other product that was, you know, reminded of a smaller food brand that either they were like private labeling it with that brand or that, you know, these the Trader Joe’s team is just like really up on food trends and developing their own, not asking a small brand to do the work of creating it and then stealing it. Like really, really? I was just like, oh, gosh, why is everything just so terrible sometimes? Can’t we have nice things?

 

Colleen 

Oh my gosh. Ugh.

No, I mean, that’s what happens. Like you would get, designers would send samples directly to the factory and just be like, make this. And that’s how you bypass having a technical designer basically is just take a sample from another company, send it to the factory and just say, make this and this fabric and I want 20,000 of them and not fit it. That’s what Forever 21 does. That’s what Fashion Nova does. 

 

Amanda 

Oh yeah, I mean, she works from like a photo. You know, like, and to be honest, I would send photos of things to factories and be like, can you make something like this? Like, this is what you’re told to do. Once again, this is like stuff that’s coming from leadership. Like no one who loves fashion or has a great sense of values or is a creative person is like, you know what? I think is a good idea is just copying someone else. But the pressure is like,

It’s not even pressure. It’s like, you’re going to do this. Like in the early part of my career, it was very normal for an executive to walk by your desk and put a bunch of magazine tears on your desk and be like, make these things. And then it turned into with magazines going away, being emailed stuff from blogs and then blogs going away and then to them just buying stuff and dumping it on your desk. Very normal.

 

Colleen 

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, and it’s hard. The whole issue of knockoff and copyright is so tricky because to some extent everybody copies. So then is it just okay? No, but you could argue with big brands copying other big brands, like at that point, like who the hell cares? But the issue of big brands taking stuff from independent designers, I have a very big problem with. That’s wrong, but you know, Abercrombie may be getting a sample from express and knocking that off, like if they used to be the same parent company, like who the hell cares.

 

Amanda 

I mean, that’s what the industry is. Like, guys, go ahead and copy each other all day every day. But when it’s like, oh, we bought this from this maker at a market, and now we’re gonna copy it, I’m just like, you could do a collab with that maker and put some money in their pocket. Like, what, it would cost you nothing at the end of the day, but it would be more work and things might go more slowly. And I, it’s very frustrating. I mean, this is like, this drives economic inequality. It makes it worse.

 

When we’re just like, oh, we’ll just copy them. It’s fine. We’ll just keep moving, keep moving. And the whole Trader Joe’s thing was so disheartening. And I was telling Dustin that, of course, I had to go see what people on the Trader Joe’s Reddit were saying about it. And well, it was 50-50, people being like, that’s it. I’m not shopping anymore. Like, this is the last straw. And other people being like, who cares? That’s what business is. Everything sucks, and the world’s on fire. Go ahead and shop at Trader Joe’s. And I was like, guys, come on.

 

We can’t do that. We have to care. Yeah. So hopefully people are giving Trader Joe’s a hard time on social media, and they’ll figure something out. But I was very, I mean, like I said, I had feelings about Trader Joe’s for a while, but I was like, oh, god, no, every, why? Why does everyone have to be terrible?

Amanda

Anyway, so OK, let’s talk a little bit about size and grading.

 

This is another thing I get a lot of questions about. You know, like why? I mean, you know, every brand, everything you buy from even the same brand will fit differently. It actually makes like shopping secondhand sometimes more complicated. Like when people don’t put measurements on Poshmark or Thred Up, I’m like, guys, like just because I wore a medium in another thing from this brand doesn’t mean I could wear like a 3X in this thing. Right? So.

And you and I working within the industry, we like take for that for granted, but could you just explain a little bit to people who don’t have to swim in that sea of frustration, why sizing is such a hot mess?

 

Colleen 

Yes. Sizing is such a hot mess because there’s no standards. There’s no mandatory sizing. That’s the answer. There’s nothing that says what an eight is. That’s the problem. In the United States, I wanna caveat this that everything I’m gonna say is US specific. There are size standards in different countries, but the US of course does not.

 

Amanda 

Yeah, it’s just like do whatever you want. Put any label in it. It’s fine. No big deal.

 

Colleen 

Yeah, yeah, you know, it’s all about capitalism. So, but, and women’s is the one that’s, you know, traditionally more of an issue. So the, the short spiel of where sizing comes from, and I’m going to skip over a lot of things, but here’s the short version of it is basically, there was no sizing standards at all because there has traditionally been everything was made to a person, right? You know, historically you would go and get custom garments.

 

made by your tailor or your dressmaker to fit your body. And then as we learn better production methods, things start to speed up and we start to have to standardize things to do mass production because you cannot mass produce one-offs, it’s not possible. So traditionally, men’s is based off of body measurements. So like your chest, your waist, and your inseam. And this comes out of the Civil War where they measured thousands of military recruits to create sort of standardized uniforms so they could produce them faster. And that was sort of our first standardization of any sort of civilian menswear. Women’s has always been more difficult. There were some early attempts to do this in women’s in the late 1800s as we start to move into ready-to-wear production. There’s been a few different, you know, people doing this throughout time, but sort of the oldest and most widely sort of used one comes not until the 30s.

 

It’s called, if you really want to get into it, PS4270, the voluntary product standard. And this is fun if you want to get really upset about things. As I was reading about this, I was like, I hate this. It was done in the US government in the 30s to collect, they collected the weight and 58 size measurements of about 15,000 women in the United States. They only used white women for the study, even though they apparently, yeah, as most of our data sets are that we use, it’s very biased and skewed. So they did apparently measure some women of color, but then they didn’t include them in the data set. But that was their attempt to be like, look, we did measure women of color. And women were paid to participate. So there was sort of a disproportionate populations in the study tend tended to be more lower income women who often were malnourished. So they didn’t represent regular body sizing. It wasn’t also geographically representative of the US. So basically it’s a very skewed data set. And so this was collected in the late thirties and then eventually the results after some sort of trial and error of sizing standards was published in 1958 by the National Bureau of Standards. And this established what we now have today is like our Missy sizing. I’ve seen stuff where they say they establish sizes 6 through 22, some other places say they establish sizes 8 through 38, it kind of depends on what you’re looking at. But basically, that’s where we get the naming for Missy sizing, which is traditional women sizing. Plus size or older women was typically called like women in what their 20s through 40s, I guess, I don’t know. And it’s based of course on the hourglass figure. And it used the bust size to create an arbitrary number sizing system. So the number doesn’t equate to actually a real body measurement. They were just like, oh, a six equals this bust size, eight equals this bust size. And then there was also an indication in the sizing for your height. So short, regular or tall, and then your lower body or like your hip circumference, so plus or minus. And that was sort of the sizing data that we had. It didn’t have male bodies. It didn’t have children. And this was not a very popular sizing standard because it didn’t reflect real people. Yeah. And consumers actually, this is a great example of early consumers not agreeing with a sizing standard.

 

This sizing standard was declared voluntary and it was actually withdrawn from the National Bureau of Standards in the 80s. So you can still find it. It is some of the earliest large-scale data sets that we have on bodies in the United States. So there is some interest there in terms of, you know, it is basically the only early study we have on bodies. So it’s important in that aspect, but it is skewed and biased, obviously.

 

And then in the 90s, we get the American Society for Testing and Materials, which is the ASTM. And if you’re not familiar, for those of you who aren’t familiar with ASTM, they establish standards for testing all sorts of things related specifically in all sorts of fields, but in apparel, we use a lot of ASTM standards for like how do we test like the quality of garments. So like tear strength and cracking and seam strength and all sorts of things.

 

And so they made a standard for adult female missy sizing in the 90s. It’s been updated several times. They updated it in 2011. But again, it’s non-mandatory sizing. It’s just their recommendation of this is what standard body measurements are. They now have women over 55. Ooh, you know, getting real, getting progressive. And then ASTM has continued to update. They have ones for maternity, for men, for children. So these are standard body measurements from big surveys they’ve done of bodies in the United States. And a lot of companies will use this to establish sizing for their brands. There’s also other data sets out there that we can use. There’s like SizeUSA that did body scanning of women and is one of the larger body scans that we have, 3D body scans of women. Fun fact I like is that the hourglass sort of shape that we said was the standard, it only existed for 8% of the women in our study. 

 

Amanda 

Interesting because I have worked places where that was the body type we fit around. Yeah

 

Colleen 

Yeah, yeah, it’s not ideal, because it doesn’t exist. And then we have, there’s some other ones. So the reason that sizing is so terrible is partially there’s no standards. There’s a lot of different data sets and a lot of the data sets are skewed or biased. The data sets that do exist from other companies like SizeUSA or Alvinon are very expensive to purchase that data from them. So if you don’t want to invest money in purchasing that data, you don’t have data to work off of. So that becomes a problem. So that’s part of the reason that there’s just no standards. And I think some of it is that companies don’t want to be told what they have to do, right? Big business doesn’t like to be told what to do. So yeah, and you know, that’s just more fun to be confusing.

 

I guess it’s annoying as a technical designer that there’s no standards. There’s, you know, as we well know, a zero in one brand is not a zero in another brand. The number is a number. It’s, it’s hard to get it into your mind, especially as someone who’s female identifying, but that number means nothing about who you are. But yet so much of our identity is linked to that number and it’s frustrating. And it’s very demoralizing sometimes that, you know, my number on my tag represents my self-worth when that number is complete and utter bullshit and is means nothing. 

 

Amanda 

Oh yeah, it means nothing. It means nothing. And these things are so much more random than you would ever expect. For example, every place I’ve worked has fit on a different body type. And that’s with a caveat, if they are fitting at all. So at ModCloth, hourglass is what we went for all sizes. And I would say of all the places I’ve worked, best technical design team of anywhere ever. The company cared so much about fit, so much, right? But like you said, hourglass is not as common as you would think. Now, when I went to Nasty Gal, the body type that we were fitting on was like smaller chest, wider hips, bigger butt, because that was the CEO’s body type. 

 

And so I was in fit sessions where they were like, we don’t really want our tops to fit anyone over a C cup. It’s just like not our look. But you, if you didn’t know that and you had a D cup and you want to try to shirt on and it couldn’t fit, you would start to feel like something was wrong with you. But actually, no, it’s just a bad product strategy. You know, I’ve worked places where it was more, we’re looking for like I’ve wore straight or athletic build a younger, you know, places I’ve worked have more fitting on people who have maybe not even fully gone through puberty yet, which is also a very different body type. And I also worked places where we didn’t fit at all. And so we would say like, here’s our order. And then maybe they’d send us a medium and we’d get someone in the office to try it on and have my one job, my worst job ever. Where I don’t know why you would start a clothing company without any real interesting clothing or care for making good clothing, but this job definitely was just like, well, we come from marketing. We think marketing is what I know. So they didn’t have a technical designer. They didn’t have a designer. And there was a woman who worked in the office that the CEO swore was a medium. And I’m going to tell you that is absolutely not true. This person was a small and a very like a very straight athletic build small. And if we got a medium sample in and it fit her, then it was a medium and it was good.

 

And if it didn’t fit her, then we went from there to make it fit her to the best of our ability. And so everything fit differently and nothing fit true to size in any regard. Because if you’re saying that this person who’s definitely a size small is a medium, then everything’s gonna run too small. And the grading was terrible and we let our factory do whatever. And I finally, after enough begging and pleading, allowed, got allowed to spend a little bit of money to get a technical designer to measure what we had and come up with some grading that actually worked. And she was like, wow, it’s really interesting. I pulled a sample of every piece and every size of all the suiting we sold and sent it off to her. And she measured it. And she was like, wow, it’s really interesting. Like in a lot of these styles, whether it was a blazer or the pants, the medium, the large, and the extra large all had the same measurements. Now imagine you go in there and you’re like, oh, I’m a solid large.

 

Colleen 

Oh my god.

 

Amanda 

and you can’t even get into the extra large, you leave feeling really bad. But it’s nothing to do with, I mean, first off, you shouldn’t feel bad anyway, but this is just how random and unimportant the sizing and sewn inside is. But this has a real world impact on people, you know? Yes, so it is just like so arbitrary and it’s based on what this brand has decided is their body type and how much they’ve been willing to invest in getting the fit right and how much time the designers had and if the factory actually executed it and You and I when we were preparing for this. We also talked about how tolerance Could change how things might fit. So could you explain that a little bit to everyone?

 

Colleen 

Yeah, so a tolerance is a range of acceptable measurements for a garment. So as anybody who makes anything, you know that when you make multiples of something, they aren’t going to be completely identical in terms of how they measure or how they look. So in mass production, and especially in apparel, like it’s not, you know, mold injected or, you know, made out of metal with some sort of machine that can make it perfect like you can

 

you know, let’s say car manufacturing. So every product has a tolerance of what is acceptable for it to still count within that size. So for example, I worked on bottoms for a long time. So you have a waist measurement that let’s say, the waist of your pants is supposed to measure 30 inches, but you can accept something that measures, let’s say plus or minus half an inch to be within tolerance of your size. So that means you could accept a waist that measures 30 and a half or a waist that measures 29 and a half inches. So right there you have within the same size, a one inch difference in a waist measurement that could be considered acceptable for that size. So tolerances are super important and it’s why it’s good to have a good technical designer because they can work with the factory to figure out what is an acceptable tolerance range for your factory, for your fabric, for the style, you know, woven always are going to have, for the most part, a tighter tolerance than knits because woven don’t tend to stretch out during sewing. Whereas knits will typically grow the more you use them, the more you handle them, the fabric continues to stretch. But tolerances means that you could pick up, let’s say, three of the exact same product and each three could fit differently. One could be too big and one could be too small, but it’s all labeled the same size because

 

That’s what the tolerance is. And I know this and it’s still disheartening for me when I try on something that’s supposed to be my size at a brand that I’ve shopped at and it doesn’t fit. But then I know, okay, let me go back and pick up another one from the stack and let me try on that one. And maybe that one will fit me. So it’s a little bit of a fun guessing game sometimes. And it can be really frustrating, yeah.

 

Amanda 

Yeah, yeah. And you could see if everything on a garment was off a little bit in tolerance, you have ultimately a very different garment. So like, you know, classic is like you go buy a pair of black skinny jeans from somewhere and you really like them, you wear them all the time and you go online and you order a second pair in the same size and they show up and you’re like, what the heck? These fit completely differently. They’re longer, they’re tighter, they’re weird in the thighs.

 

This is why, once again, it’s not a reflection of you at all. It is a reflection of how complicated this all is and how it can go awry. And in the early part of my career, when I was working for Urban Outfitters, we had a whole team in the warehouse that all they did was QA. So every order of apparel that arrived, they would open it up and they would pull about 10% of the units out of there. And they would measure everything to see if it was in tolerance, ifless than a certain percentage were out of tolerance, then they would accept the whole order and receive it. They might take those few that if they were really egregious and damage them out or whatever and charge back the vendor. But in general, it would be believed that if 10% of them were within tolerance measurement wise, then the order was good. Then if they found above a certain percentage were out of tolerance, they would pull the entire order and measure the whole thing.

 

And then we would get into a situation where we’d be like sending it back to the vendor or trying to get it repaired, you know, domestically and you know, the vendor would eat that cost, all kinds of things. And in this process, they would also discover quality issues. And I assumed, you know, once again, going back to like, I started in a big corporation and then I went to work other places and it was totally different. I assumed that everybody did something like that. And I’m here to tell you that is not the case. So…

 

Colleen 

Nope. They do not.

 

Amanda 

Everywhere else I worked, the only way something like this would be triggered, this process of QA-ing, is if we started to get weird customer feedback, or it went out to the stores and people were like, something weird is going on with these. Otherwise, it would just pass through. And so once again, like if you do buy something and it fits really weird, if something is egregious about it, you should speak up, because oftentimes no one knows at all why. I mean, I bought a pair of pants once from Zara that I couldn’t get my foot through the foothole. I mean, that is like how the kind of stuff that happens, right? And there was a moment where I was like, God, I guess my feet are just so big. And then I was like, wait a minute, no, pants, feet should go through pants. And I think, I think like, unfortunately now with everything being so much faster and budgets being cut more and more, there are not people QA-ing this stuff in warehouses at all. And so it’s just a mess.

 

Colleen

Yeah, yeah, no, it’s so true. Yeah, yeah, it is. And I mean, I’ve seen that with some of the companies I’ve worked for where QA, you know, and layoffs and things like that. They lay off QA managers and the people in the warehouse, which can have massive ramifications down the line because if nobody’s checking that product, we don’t know that there’s a factory issue. And, you know, issues at the factory can be factory driven, but they can also be an issue with how it was originally designed. Potentially it was designed too fast, but sometimes it is purely like the factory messed up and that happens a lot. And we don’t know about it if we don’t get TOPs or if we don’t have somebody at the warehouse checking things. And so when you’re not doing that, mistakes happen and you get bad things. I will also, another thing that corresponds to this is fitting across the size set, getting samples in that represent your entire size range of your product and fitting it on bodies in your size range to actually see like, is the grade that we established appropriate for this product? Does it look good on other size bodies? That’s expensive, right? To get in 10 of us, every single one of your products to get models in to try them on to take the time to do it. So as things move faster, you know, 

 

At companies I worked at, we would start to get less and less size sets. We would maybe only get a size set for things that had an order number over a certain amount or like a key, a key fit. You know, like this is our classic sweatpants. Like we’re going to fit a size set of it. But if you’re not looking at a size set, then you’re yeah, maybe your medium looks great, but it doesn’t look good when you get up to the other sizes because there’s something wrong with your pattern grading, there’s something wrong with production in a larger sizes, or it just doesn’t work on that body type. So, a lot of these fast fashion companies, if they’re fitting at all, they’re fitting one size, and that’s it, and they’re not looking at the other sizes.

 

Amanda 

Yes. Yes, and I want to be clear that that’s been my experience, that we would often fit on someone who is like a small or a size four. And maybe if we did extended sizing, we might fit like the 1x or something. But that was, yeah, yeah. And like, I honestly feel that like what happens is the sizes in between often end up being like really weird. That’s where like the fit really falls apart.

 

So speaking of brands having less time and fitting less sizes, what else have you seen, the whole fit process, how have you seen that shift through your career?

 

Colleen

Um, one thing I would say is just the greater emphasis on costing. So how do we make our product cheaper, which can impact the fits? Um, can we shorten this slightly so that we can reduce the amount of fabric that we’re using? Um, things like that. Uh, just having to be faster, less fittings.

Like you mentioned, sampling is expensive, so less fittings. Now, one thing I will say that is a positive that I want to talk about of something that’s coming out in terms of technology that is hopefully going to, if utilized correctly, maybe solve a lot of these issues we’ve talked about, is the use of 3D pattern design systems. I don’t know, Amanda, if you’re familiar with any of these.

 

Amanda 

I mean, I have friends who have been using them lately, and they rave about them.

 

Colleen 

Okay, yes, yes. So there’s a bunch of systems. There’s like BrowseWare, there’s Clo, and these are pattern systems that integrate 2D computer drafting, which is what we normally use with the ability to drape your garment on an avatar in 3D. And so you can actually do a lot of pre-fitting and fit corrections and design changes in a 3D environment before you actually sample anything.

 

So you’re saving all that sampling cost and all of that time, but it also, you can fit on any size avatar that you want. So you could make your size set in the 3D system, grade your pattern out and look at it across a full size set in 3D and see how it looks. And so that is a really cool thing that we’re teaching our students and that the industry is heavily utilizing to, I think one, it is in relation to fashion, right? So we can digitally mock it up first before we see it.

 

But it does save money and it does save some time, but it has the advantage of being able to solve some of these problems of not being able to see things on bodies, of being able to see something in 3D and hopefully solve fit issues before they go out to the actual customer or being able to be more cognizant of what does the style look like on a different type of body than we have access to.

 

Maybe we don’t have access to the models that are the correct size or a physical mannequin that’s the correct size. But I can do that in 3D and I can look at it on the correct body shape and size in 3D and see if it looks good. So the ability to use 3D in conjunction with fitting, I think is, I really, really hope is going to revolutionize things and make things better and get.

 

technical designers and designers to say like, hey, wait, like we can do this in 3D, let’s look at it on a different size body and make sure this works. Let’s look at the size set and make sure this fits correctly. Cause there’s no excuses. You can do it in 3D, you don’t have to spend the money to get the sample. So let’s do it.

 

Amanda 

I think this is amazing. And I think about like, if you have the luxury of doing two or three or four fittings, these samples are being made, shipping back and forth, you know, like there’s so much waste involved in that. And often these samples are not wearable afterwards because they’re being all cut up in the fitting. And so like that alone could be like an environmental win.

 

But also, I mean, I don’t know about you. And it’s different places I’ve worked. This has been more of a problem. It was definitely a major problem at Nasty Gal, where our designers were really encouraged to design from the runway. But then we obviously had to deliver a very different price point. The idea would be amazing in Sketch Review. We would all be losing our minds over it. It was so good. We can’t wait. The fit sample come. The first sample comes, right? We’re in the fitting. And we’re just like, wow, this sucks. It is not a thing that should even exist or could exist, right? And we’re in the first fitting, cutting it apart and trying to like glue it back together basically and make it work. And it could have saved that. Like that wouldn’t have had to happen if you could model it out on 3D first and be like, this actually doesn’t work this way. This isn’t how clothes work. So we would have a lot of that for sure.

 

Colleen 

Yeah, yeah, exactly. Yeah, yeah, I think it has the ability to do that. And for design to really explore their ideas before we waste a lot of samples, right? Or for tech to explore fit corrections without having to get, you know, sometimes we have a fit concern at Abercrombie and then I would request like four or five mock-ups because I wasn’t sure what was the correct way to solve the problem. I was like, I could do this, I could do that. I don’t know what’s gonna get me there. So I’m gonna get like, four versions of it. Again, that’s a lot of waste, but that fit was really important to us, so it was worth it. But now I could just do it in 3D and know this is the correct solution. Now my next sample is gonna be awesome and it’s gonna tick all the boxes for design and we’re all gonna be happy. So that’s something I’m like, space to watch, the 3D evolution within the fashion industry and what is it going to do? Is it gonna just make…fast fashion worse potentially, but is it going to solve a lot of the issues that we have with fit and with quality? Maybe. Or give tools for technical designers or people entering the industry to be like, hey, let’s use this thing to make it better, is what I’m hoping that it will do is give people more tools and more ways to speak up to say like, we have ways to solve these problems that don’t involve a lot of extra costs which is always the reason things get cut is costing. So let’s use them to our advantage to make a better product. That’s my hope. I really, really hope that’s what happens.

 

Amanda 

Yeah, I mean, I love that. And it’s interesting to think about how cost can really impact the fit process because it’s often like, OK, well, we can’t afford to align this. So that changes the fit or a zipper is too expensive, can we just add some elastic at the back? I mean, you know, you’ve heard these all. It’s now it’s a three quarter sleeve, you know, or et cetera, et cetera. And so and that really does change the fit process and actually does slow down that process or prevent you from getting to the right fit, because perhaps you’ve already fit the first sample and then the pricing still isn’t working. And then it’s like, OK, well, let’s just put in an elastic waist and do this. And then just go to production, you know, so just exacerbates the problem. I think knowing these challenges up front will be very helpful.

 

Colleen 

Yeah, and that kind of stuff also really changes what design wants, you know, by having to do costing. I mean, the amount of things I’ve just really had to cut back because of cost parameters is so disheartening sometimes. Not as much when I was doing sweatpants and hoodies at Abercrombie because there’s not that much to them, right? It’s not, you know, there were for some of them. But when I was doing accessories and home goods, it definitely was a situation where, you know, subbing in less expensive zippers, like a smaller gauge zipper in places, which, you know, ultimately, in my opinion, compromise quality sometimes. Subbing you know, less expensive fabrics or less expensive interior structures that go into like, you know, keeping a handbag upright and things like that of, and then, you know, having complaints about why is my zipper breaking? And I’m like, because I was told to put in the cheaper zipper. And I told you this was a bad idea and that after wear testing, there were complaints and yet you still proceeded with it. So stuff like that is really costing, can really make the job of a tech designer very disheartening because ultimately we are there to protect quality and to put out a high quality garment and costing just is like constantly stabbing you in the heart over and over again because you’re not allowed to do the thing that you’re supposed to be doing.

 

Amanda 

I mean, it’s the same thing in the buying side where you’re just like, oh man, now we have to buy this.

 

You know, and like, you know it as your as your assistant is writing the order, you know that this is going to go on sale. Like that’s the only way it’s going to sell. But it had to be that way so that you can make the costing. And so ultimately, like by having to hit this costing, it’s actually like not even going to be profitable in the first place because it’s going to have to go on sale. It’s just like a whole it’s a whole thing. I’m sure the people who made those Zara pants that I couldn’t get my foot in, they were like feeling the same sense of despair and just like, why? Why are we? Why do we do this?

 

Colleen 

 

Yeah, you know, something I want people to understand is that the people who are working in the industry who are the ones making these decisions like a man and I did worked really hard to make the best decisions that we could possible with the parameters that we were given. And so, you know, it’s sometimes it’s out of our control as to what we can do. The best thing that you can do sometimes is just say, I don’t agree with this and I’m going to record that I didn’t agree with this. So when it comes back, I can tell you like, that was a bad decision, but like, honestly, most people are trying to do their best to produce something that is quality and that fits. And it’s the overarching system that they’re working in that is what is letting them down. But those employees, they do care. So it frustrates me when I see people getting mad at designers or tech designers and saying, why didn’t you do better? And it’s like, we’re trying, we’re trying really hard. We’re doing our best. Like, please, like, we’re doing our best. Like

It’s not our fault. Like it’s the system that is telling us what we should be doing that is causing the problem. We do really care about making good stuff. We’re just not always allowed to make good stuff.

 

Amanda 

Yeah, no, we we. No one has ever been like, oh, I can’t wait to go to work today and make something that will be trashed soon and disappoint people. 

 

Colleen 

No, that’s not why we do this job. That’s not why we went into the industry, but that’s why we end up leaving is because that’s what we end up having to do to meet, you know, the company’s requirements and that’s disheartening. But also like if you have friends in the industry, like please check in on them and support them and tell them they’re doing a good job because they’re trying real hard, I guarantee you. 

 

Amanda 

Yeah. They make a job and they’re trying real hard. They are, they’re trying really, really hard. Yeah, absolutely. Okay, so let’s shift gears a little bit and talk a little bit more about how you think, I don’t know, how, you said something when we were preparing for this about how lthe emotion that we have involved in the work that we create within the industry, which often right now we have to kind of like turn off because if you get emotionally involved in everything you create, you will not do well emotionally pretty fast, right? How could we take that like emotion, that creativity, that desire to make good things?

 

How could that lead to more sustainable and meaningful design, especially in the clothing realm, that could change what customers are being offered and ultimately make this industry more sustainable? Like how could not having to compartmentalize our emotions when we’re creating this stuff, how could that make something better?

 

Colleen 

I think this really deals with sustainable and like smaller production because it’s, I think at the corporate level, it is really hard to integrate emotion back into the process. But I know Amanda, what you’re getting at is sort of this reference back to some of my dissertation research, which focused on designers who upcycled quilts into fashion garments, which I know you’ve done a whole episode on and I was listening to the other day and like I just wanted to jump into the conversation while I was listening to it. I was like, oh my God, I love this so much. But some of the stuff that came out of a lot of my research was this whole concept of that the materials, the quilts that these designers worked with, were creating these really strong emotional reactions in the designers.

And that was what was fueling their design process. Like they really connected to sort of the history of the objects, to whatever, you know, was the aesthetic properties of it to thinking about who made this and why did they make this quilt? And what was that person going through in their life when they made this quilt? Like was this their, you know, emotional escape from whatever was going on at their life in the 1800s or in the 1930s or the Great Depression, something like that. Like what was their reason for creating this beautiful object? And now what is my reason for creating something new out of it? And how does that sort of lead to the design process? I had this one designer who I interviewed who had this great quote that she said, we can sense the story even when we don’t know what the story actually is.

 

that these materials just have so much story in them. And tapping into that is what they do to create these new objects, these garments that’s made out of these quilts. And so I was really struck by this emotional response these designers were having, because it was so different from everything I had ever been taught or anything I had ever experienced.

 

Like you said, we learn really quickly in the industry to not be emotionally attached to our products because inevitably they’re going to get cut or changed. And the more you emotionally connect to your products, the harder it is for you to disconnect from that sort of, when you get criticized on something, when something gets cut, it can feel very personal and it’s not, you know, it’s just about the product. It’s not about you, but as someone who’s a perfectionist,

 

That’s something I always really struggled with, right? Is not taking offense to something being changed. Like, it’s my fault, it reflects who I am. And it’s like, no, it doesn’t. It doesn’t reflect who you are. It’s just about the design, right?

 

Amanda 

Yeah, yeah. I mean, honestly, and I’m sure this is even bigger conversation you have to have with the more junior members of your staff in design. But in buying, one of the first lessons I feel like I’m teaching the new assistant buyers is, hey, you cannot get your feelings wrapped up in this product because you will never make it through this job. It is the hardest lesson to learn, especially if you put so much time into it.

It might not sell. It might go on markdown. The executives might hate it. You might yell that for buying it. The stores might send you messages saying, this is the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen, which would happen. Or like when I was at Nasty Gal, Jezebel liked to do posts about all the ridiculous stuff that we’d bought and had on our website. And you’d have to be like, it’s OK, whatever. You loved it. It’s there. It’s great. It’s fine. There’s no such thing as bad PR, right? But you have to like, you have to throw your emotions to the side and I feel like, I mean, you know, there’s not a lot of glamor when someone’s like, hey, we have all of this liability fabric, meaning fabric that was left over from a canceled order that you have to use, right? And you’re just like, I hate this fabric. I can’t imagine what we’ll do with it. And now I got to make something out of it? What’s inspiring about that?

 

Colleen 

 

Exactly. So that’s what this like my research with these, you know, and these are small designers who are doing very small batch orders, like what everything is one off from, you know, whatever materials that they source in this case, specifically quilts is what they were sourcing. Um, and it just, it really made me rethink what I knew about design and how to kind of approach design in that, like,

 

Is this, you know, putting all of your emotion into it of responding to your materials emotionally, letting that material guide your design process as opposed to a customer, right? Typical design is customer driven. What’s the problem I’m trying to solve? Who is my customer? And instead, this was much more about that relationship that designer formed with their material. And what does that material tell me it needs to be? What is appropriate for my material?

 

And this is not just with quilts. I think you could also see it with anybody who is upcycling sort of these older textiles, you know, like linens and laces and toweling and things like that, is putting this sort of much more emotional spin on it. And the hope, and this is where I don’t have the data to back any of this up, but this is where I’m hoping eventually we’d be able to see is that by doing this, consumers feel that emotional connection to the object because they understand there’s a story behind it, there’s an intentionality behind it. And therefore they will hold on to that object longer, to that garment longer and value it because it isn’t just a disposable thing. It isn’t just made without emotion by a designer who sent a picture to the factory in China. That it was made with a lot of intentionality and purpose for the history and the meaning of those materials. And the hope is that the consumer feels that and will value it and not throw it away and see it as, you know, an object to hold onto and to continue to use and to cherish. That, that’s what I think a lot of these designers are hoping. I don’t have anything to prove that. That’s just sort of the sort of, you know, conclusions sort of stuff that I got out of my dissertation, that this is where I think the sustainability space could go is it’s great to use sustainable materials and all that stuff. But if the consumer doesn’t buy in to that sort of emotional connection, I don’t know if they’re going to continue to hold on to the object. You know, it’s why it’s the same thing. It’s sentimentalism. Like, why do we hold on to the dress that no longer fits us? Because it reminds us of some special event or time in our life. And we’re not ready to let go of that thing. So if your clothing is coming from a more intentional place, a more emotional place, perhaps we’ll hold onto it longer. We’ll value it. We’ll want to use it more often and, you know, encourage this sort of different approach to design that’s more built around like building community and building emotion and value with, you know, our objects and with our designers. That’s, it’s a real pie in the sky concept, but I see it and it’s happening. And I think that’s a really cool place that we could move.

 

I don’t know how you do it on a corporate level. I don’t know if it’s possible. I don’t have an answer. But I think it’s a great space for people who do want to go and be independent designers. It’s like, really think about being intentional and emotional with your design and tapping into who you are and what your materials are. Because I think that’s one really interesting way that we can break this cycle that we’re stuck in, is to bring that emotion back into this whole process, as opposed to being so customer or greed and profit driven with everything.

 

Amanda

I mean, I love that. I do think, I mean, this is one of the reasons that I really appreciate and support and lift up small brands and designers because that’s what they’re doing. And it’s hard for me to see how that could happen at say like Zara, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t.

 

And I think we don’t lead with materials at all anymore in the industry. We lead with cost. We lead with. I mean, I’ll tell you this as the buyer. I’m saying I need seven dresses. Two of them have to be midi. One of them has to be long sleeve. Three have to be black. You know, like they have to be one has to have a pop sleeve. Like, go make it. And then the fabric is sort of like, well, here’s what we could afford.

 

Colleen

Yeah, exactly. Which is, which leads to everything we’ve talked about quality issues, fitting issues, sizing issues when we’re not paying attention to the base materials. And that’s what fashion used to be about the fabrics that we use to make, you know, you would go to the store or the dressmaker and you would pick out the fabric and then you would create the design around it. So materials are the base of everything that we do, but we’ve lost connection with them. We’ve lost connection with them as consumers. We’ve lost connection with them as designers.

And I think the materials are so important in driving the design process, the quality that all of it is that’s where we need to get back to.

 

Amanda 

Yeah. I agree. OK, well, we’re going to run out of time soon. So I just wanted to ask you one more question. And this is, I feel like today I’m hitting you with all the questions I get most often. So thank you for answering them. The last one is, why don’t more brands make clothes for people of different sizes? And beyond, I’m not just talking like, you know,

extra small versus 3X or anything like that. I’m talking about tall, petites. I’ve gotten, and I don’t know if it’s the same person. I think it’s just a question that people have. Why aren’t there clothes for people who wear plus sizes but are petite? Why aren’t there more clothes for people who are really tall? And I mean, I know the answers, but I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

 

Colleen 

Yeah, I mean, I think there’s a couple reasons for it. One is obviously every brand has a target customer, right? They’re like, our customer is Emily, she’s 25. And I don’t know, it does stuff. I don’t know. Exactly, so it does, right? There is like a specific consumer profile of who your customer is, which I do want to say, I do think is important. Like as a larger brand, you should have a customer in mind of who you’re selling to because if you’re selling to everybody, you’re selling to nobody.



And, and I do respect people who say, well, uh, this brand should carry every single size possible, but if that’s not within the brand’s wheelhouse or the brand’s identity of who they are, that might not be the best thing for them. Like, do you really want a brand who can barely make stuff that fits for their normal category to also be producing stuff for other sizes? Like they might not have the right aesthetic for different sizes. And I think we need to be okay with that to some extent that certain brands are going to cater to very specific people. And that should be okay. Because that might be what is best for that brand and their, their specs. Right. Um, but in terms of like, you know, making clothes for in general, I mean, it’s obviously comes down to costing. It’s, you know, it’s expensive. Um, lack of data. There’s, you know, the data is behind that pretty expensive paywall for a lot of this. So that can be problematic for especially smaller companies. How do you afford $20,000 to buy size set data from a company of these other sizes? You know, that’s really hard. Not having tech designers who know how to fit other size bodies. And I’ll be honest, we don’t teach enough in school about fitting to other sizes. Part of that is we just don’t have the dress forms in the classrooms. The pattern making books are based off of, you know, a very white female body standard. That’s part of it, although using 3D in the classroom has been a game changer because now I can teach about fitting other size bodies to an extent. There’s not enough time ever though to teach all the things, unfortunately. So, you know, there’s a lack of there’s a lack of knowledge, right, of understanding the needs of different types of bodies and different consumers. And designers don’t know how to design for them because honestly, designing for a plus-size body, a petite body, a tall body is different. Every, you know, you can’t just apply the same design aesthetics across the board. It doesn’t always scale. It doesn’t always work. And so knowing how to design appropriately and proportionally to those size bodies is really important. But we aren’t taught how to do that. So unless you find yourself in a space where you can learn how to do it, you don’t know how to do it. And, you know, but I think honestly it’s cost, right? It’s expensive to produce so many versions of one product, you know, from an allocation standpoint, how do you allocate, you know, 10 or 15 different sizes of one product? Like how do you figure out how many of those are needed in each store? Like that’s really hard. It’s really cost prohibitive. You know, the more sizes you make, the more fabric you need, the larger the sizes, the more fabric it takes, which, unfortunately, is why plus size sometimes costs more because it takes more fabric. I think that’s a terrible reason. But that’s the reality of what goes on in the industry. You know, I Yeah, there’s a lot of reasons. But I think it’s cost and then probably somewhat of lack of just really having understandings of how to appropriately design and fit for different sizes and different shapes and things like that.

 

Amanda 

 

Yeah.

 

Absolutely. I mean, I think, yes, I do think a lot of the mass retailers should be offering more sizes in general because if anyone can do it, it is them. But I think, you know, maybe there are stores that are just for petite people or just for tall people. And, you know, the thing is, we don’t need just a handful of like billion dollar fashion companies. What we need are a lot of different smaller brands that cater to different people. And some before I had been like I never want to be involved with making clothing ever again before I had that moment a few years ago I had been talking for years how I wanted to start a clothing line that made like basically took like the urban outfitters aesthetic of like cool trendy younger person clothes and offered them in plus sizes because I was like urban outfitters will never do that and people want these clothes and You know when I would talk to people I talked to a few people who were interested in being involved or really believed that we could get money. And I just I just like never mind. I don’t want to make clothes. But everybody who talked about, you know, who would ask me, they were like, OK, but are you going to make all sizes then? And I was like, no, we’ll only make plus sizes. That’s it. Because people who are a size medium can go to urban outfitters, you know, like this is going to be like as a group of people who never get to buy cute clothes, you know, like because the industry ignores them. And that’s we don’t need to dress everyone. That’s OK, because if we pick what we want, who we want to dress, we work really hard at it. They’ll be they’ll get great clothes and be really happy. And I think that’s the thing is like the problem is that most brands are just dressing the same group of people. And I don’t even know how they remain competitive at this point and really like diversifying is the way forward.

 

Colleen 

Well, you know that they’re not. I mean, a lot of these brands are struggling, hardcore. So, yeah.

 

Amanda 

No, I know, I know. I read their annual reports all the time. I mean, I, yeah, no, it’s bad. And hmm, if maybe they had decided to really niche into one customer base, things might be different, but everybody’s like, no, we’ll just do extra small through large. Every brand will just do extra small through large. Well, yeah, that’ll work. It’s just like, no, it’s like bad business.

Anyway, yeah, so that is like my vision for an industry like the future, the industry of the future, which is just more small brands who serve one customer like really, really well instead of like a bunch of humongous brands that don’t serve any customer very well. That’s that’s kind of where we are.

 

Colleen 

Right. And that’s what I was trying to say is like, you know, if your brand, this mass brand that’s only served extra small through extra large the whole time suddenly releases plus sizing. I would be skeptical to be like, are you doing it right? Did you hire specialists in plus sizing and are you creating designs that are appropriate for plus size and fitting them appropriately and grading them appropriately? That’s why I’m like I don’t know if I don’t think it’s worthwhile necessarily to complain to every large company you need to offer more sizes. I would say instead as a customer, go and find the small brand that is specializing in what you need because hopefully they are doing it right and they’re going to do it better than that large brand that is stretching themselves too thin across multiple product categories. I think that’s, you know, oftentimes when a business gets started, they start to branch out into different things. And the more things you do, I sometimes think the less better you’re doing them. So, if you’re gonna be an independent designer, focus on doing one thing really, really well and making it awesome and serving that customer really well. Don’t do everything, because you’ll struggle. Like go find that like hole in the market. For example, my husband is, he’s five foot tall, he’s short, we have to buy children’s clothes for him. Nobody makes short men’s clothing. So. somebody out there, go start making cool short men’s clothing because we will buy it because their short men exist and they deserve to not buy children’s clothes. So, yeah.

 

Amanda 

Yeah, or like my husband is very tall and has very long arms and we cannot find a shirt that is long sleeve that covers his entire arm. Please somebody. Yeah. No, I agree. I mean, it’s that’s the problem of like, you know, everybody’s making the same clothes for the same customer. And there are all these other people out there who are just making do. And I think the future is more specificity. 

 

Colleen 

Right, which is what we used to have, like essentially made to, you know, made to measure would be great to get back to that model, but it’s expensive, right? Clothing becomes very expensive when you go to that model. But maybe we can get to a model of smaller designers who really specialize in one particular fit or customer type. And then it won’t be so cost prohibitive to be able to buy that clothing. I don’t know, but you know, there’s lots of great ideas of how we could get there.

It just takes designers who want to do it, and it takes investors who are willing to invest in those ideas.

 

Amanda 

Yes, and people to show up and support those brands. Yes. Customers, yeah, specifically, yes, thank you. That’s the word I was looking for. Well, thank you so much, Colleen. This was so much fun. Do you have any final thoughts or words of wisdom that you’d like to share, or it’s okay if you don’t have any at all, because you just shared so much wisdom over the past two hours.




Colleen 

Oh, final thoughts and word of wisdom. I would say for anybody who’s interested in going into the fashion industry, just know it’s tough out there. So being flexible and, you know, being able to move quickly with things is really important. But also, you know, don’t be afraid to speak up and point out things that you don’t think are correct that aren’t being done well of being vocal about how can we do this better? Cause if employees, if, if employees continue to just stay silent, nothing is going to change. So, you know, the more that we as people in the industry speak up, the more as we as consumers speak up, that’s how we’re going to make change. So, you know, just continue to be a voice of reason of like, there’s a better way we should make this fit. We should take more time. Let’s be more sustainable.



And also, you know, support your friends who are already out in the industry and who are struggling to make it and to survive in this environment. And, you know, if you know friends, tell them they’re doing a good job. If you meet people, tell them they’re doing a good job because it’s really hard. Yeah, it’s, it’s tough out there. So, you know, be a good consumer, but like also, you know, support the people who are at the bottom working really hard to make you what you have. Same thing, support people at the factories. 

 

Those people are so talented and get paid nothing, which is depressing. So, but I think it takes all, like you’ve been saying all this time, Amanda, it takes all of us, right? To speak up, to make changes. And we can, like, I think you’re right. We’re at a point where we can make changes to this industry, whether that’s through educating students, educating ourselves, being better consumers. Like, we can do it. And we just gotta keep working on it, keep trying. We can do it.

 

Amanda 

We can do it. Yeah, I think we are like I really believe like we’re at a point where we can. I mean, honestly, it’s like social media makes gives us access to giving immediate feedback to brands and whatnot in a way that we never could before. And so I do think like we need to take this moment and make it happen. You know, all of us. Well, thank you so much, Colleen. This was a true delight.



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Thumbprint is Detroit’s only fair trade marketplace, located in the historic Eastern Market.  Our small business specializes in products handmade by empowered women in South Africa making a living wage creating things they love like hand painted candles and ceramics! We also carry a curated assortment of  sustainable/natural locally made goods. Thumbprint is a great gift destination for both the special people in your life and for yourself! Browse our online store at thumbprintdetroit.com and find us on instagram @thumbprintdetroit.

Picnicwear:  a slow fashion brand, ethically made by hand from vintage and deadstock materials – most notably, vintage towels! Founder, Dani, has worked in the industry as a fashion designer for over 10 years, but started Picnicwear in response to her dissatisfaction with the industry’s shortcomings. Picnicwear recently moved to rural North Carolina where all their clothing and accessories are now designed and cut, but the majority of their sewing is done by skilled garment workers in NYC. Their customers take comfort in knowing that all their sewists are paid well above NYC minimum wage. Picnicwear offers minimal waste and maximum authenticity: Future Vintage over future garbage.

Shift Clothing, out of beautiful Astoria, Oregon, with a focus on natural fibers, simple hardworking designs, and putting fat people first.  Discover more at shiftwheeler.com

High Energy Vintage is a fun and funky vintage shop located in Somerville, MA, just a few minutes away from downtown Boston. They offer a highly curated selection of bright and colorful clothing and accessories from the 1940s-1990s for people of all genders. Husband-and-wife duo Wiley & Jessamy handpick each piece for quality and style, with a focus on pieces that transcend trends and will find a home in your closet for many years to come! In addition to clothing, the shop also features a large selection of vintage vinyl and old school video games. Find them on instagram @ highenergyvintage, online at highenergyvintage.com, and at markets in and around Boston.

St. Evens is an NYC-based vintage shop that is dedicated to bringing you those special pieces you’ll reach for again and again. More than just a store, St. Evens is dedicated to sharing the stories and history behind the garments. 10% of all sales are donated to a different charitable organization each month.  New vintage is released every Thursday at wearStEvens.com, with previews of new pieces and more brought to you on Instagram at @wear_st.evens.

Deco Denim is a startup based out of San Francisco, selling clothing and accessories that are sustainable, gender fluid, size inclusive and high quality–made to last for years to come. Deco Denim is trying to change the way you think about buying clothes. Founder Sarah Mattes wants to empower people to ask important questions like, “Where was this made? Was this garment made ethically? Is this fabric made of plastic? Can this garment be upcycled and if not, can it be recycled?” Signup at decodenim.com to receive $20 off your first purchase. They promise not to spam you and send out no more than 3 emails a month, with 2 of them surrounding education or a personal note from the Founder. Find them on Instagram as @deco.denim.

The Pewter Thimble Is there a little bit of Italy in your soul? Are you an enthusiast of pre-loved decor and accessories? Bring vintage Italian style — and history — into your space with The Pewter Thimble (@thepewterthimble). We source useful and beautiful things, and mend them where needed. We also find gorgeous illustrations, and make them print-worthy. Tarot cards, tea towels and handpicked treasures, available to you from the comfort of your own home. Responsibly sourced from across Rome, lovingly renewed by fairly paid artists and artisans, with something for every budget. Discover more at thepewterthimble.com

Blank Cass, or Blanket Coats by Cass, is focused on restoring, renewing, and reviving the history held within vintage and heirloom textiles. By embodying and transferring the love, craft, and energy that is original to each vintage textile into a new garment, I hope we can reteach ourselves to care for and mend what we have and make it last. Blank Cass lives on Instagram @blank_cass and a website will be launched soon at blankcass.com.

Gabriela Antonas is a visual artist, an upcycler, and a fashion designer, but Gabriela Antonas is also a feminist micro business with radical ideals. She’s the one woman band, trying to help you understand, why slow fashion is what the earth needs. If you find your self in New Orleans, LA, you may buy her ready-to-wear upcycled garments in person at the store “Slow Down” (2855 Magazine St). Slow Down Nola only sells vintage and slow fashion from local designers. Gabriela’s garments are guaranteed to be in stock in person, but they also have a website so you may support this women owned and run business from wherever you are! If you are interested in Gabriela making a one of a kind garment for you DM her on Instagram at @slowfashiongabriela to book a consultation.

Vagabond Vintage DTLV is a vintage clothing, accessories & decor reselling business based in Downtown Las Vegas. Not only do we sell in Las Vegas, but we are also located throughout resale markets in San Francisco as well as at a curated boutique called Lux and Ivy located in Indianapolis, Indiana. Jessica, the founder & owner of Vagabond Vintage DTLV, recently opened the first IRL location located in the Arts District of Downtown Las Vegas on August 5th. The shop has a strong emphasis on 60s & 70s garments, single stitch tee shirts & dreamy loungewear. Follow them on instagram, @vagabondvintage.dtlv and keep an eye out for their website coming fall of 2022.

Country Feedback is a mom & pop record shop in Tarboro, North Carolina. They specialize in used rock, country, and soul and offer affordable vintage clothing and housewares. Do you have used records you want to sell? Country Feedback wants to buy them! Find us on Instagram @countryfeedbackvintageandvinyl or head downeast and visit our brick and mortar. All are welcome at this inclusive and family-friendly record shop in the country!

Located in Whistler, Canada, Velvet Underground is a “velvet jungle” full of vintage and second-hand clothes, plants, a vegan cafe and lots of rad products from other small sustainable businesses. Our mission is to create a brand and community dedicated to promoting self-expression, as well as educating and inspiring a more sustainable and conscious lifestyle both for the people and the planet. Find us on Instagram @shop_velvetunderground or online at www.shopvelvetunderground.com

Selina Sanders, a social impact brand that specializes in up-cycled clothing, using only reclaimed, vintage or thrifted materials: from tea towels, linens, blankets and quilts.  Sustainably crafted in Los Angeles, each piece is designed to last in one’s closet for generations to come.  Maximum Style; Minimal Carbon Footprint.

Salt Hats:  purveyors of truly sustainable hats. Hand blocked, sewn and embellished in Detroit, Michigan.

Republica Unicornia Yarns: Hand-Dyed Yarn and notions for the color-obsessed. Made with love and some swearing in fabulous Atlanta, Georgia by Head Yarn Wench Kathleen. Get ready for rainbows with a side of Giving A Damn! Republica Unicornia is all about making your own magic using small-batch, responsibly sourced, hand-dyed yarns and thoughtfully made notions. Slow fashion all the way down and discover the joy of creating your very own beautiful hand knit, crocheted, or woven pieces. Find us on Instagram @republica_unicornia_yarns and at www.republicaunicornia.com.

Cute Little Ruin is an online shop dedicated to providing quality vintage and secondhand clothing, vinyl, and home items in a wide range of styles and price points.  If it’s ethical and legal, we try to find a new home for it!  Vintage style with progressive values.  Find us on Instagram at @CuteLittleRuin.