You’re a Fashion Designer, That’s SO COOL

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When I meet new people and I tell them I’m a fashion designer, this is the response I often get. Well, I guess it is pretty cool, but I don’t really think of it that way since it’s hard work.  It’s a job like any other, and I’m the worst boss I’ve ever had.  I supposed it sounds a lot more interesting and glamorous than my previous day jobs, such as Human Resources and Accounting Manager,  or Recruiter (no one ever thought those were “cool”). I have been *almost* full time as a designer of my womenswear line for about a year and a half now (“almost”, I did go back to work as a recruiter for a few months last year. But that’s another blog post). I’ve noticed that there are a few questions that I get asked frequently, so I thought I would answer them here.

“Do you sew everything yourself?”

No- I do sew my prototypes and samples, draft all my patterns, and sometimes cut styles in small quantities. But otherwise, I’m not a super fast sewer, and even with my small quantities (30 or more per style) – that’s way too much for me to sew efficiently. I am grateful to have a great sewing contractor located 2 miles from my studio. If I’m producing small quantities of a simple style, I will sometimes cut all of them, (as I recently did for the 3/4 sleeve version of our Katy top, below.)

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“Where do you get your ideas?”

An idea will often just pop in my head when I’m out on a walk or working out, and I don’t know where it comes from. Sometimes, I will choose a fabric swatch for inspiration and start sketching.  Sometimes I’ll start with a basic concept, like stripes, and doodle and see where that takes me (which is certainly the most fun way to get ideas). Now that I have produced several styles, a good starting point is to take existing silhouettes and edit them, rather than reinventing the wheel every time. I am currently working on a much needed outerwear design, and it’s fun to spend some good juicy creative time focusing on a totally new design, which I haven’t had time to do in a while.

“Did you study fashion at school?”

Yes.  A few years ago, I went back to school to study patternmaking and fashion design at Apparel Arts.  I loved it from day one – I like being creative while staying within the technical parameters of a garment. This was different than making art, where parameters are virtually nonexistent. I have an art background and I was stuck in a creative rut when I took some sewing lessons. I really enjoyed the lessons, and after they ended, I began sewing garments from commercial patterns.  I soon itched to learn more. I eventually ended up in school at Apparel Arts -and long story short, and Harumi K was born a few years later!

I hope you enjoyed this post – if you have any other questions about being a fashion designer, or any other questions or comments, please leave them in the comments below. For more frequent news and updates, please also check out my Facebook and Instagram pages. Thanks for reading!

 

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5 Lessons From 2015

The year is almost over-how did THAT happen!?! So, it’s a good time to reflect on everything that happened this year.  I’m keeping it short and sweet- the good, the bad and the painful. Overall, it’s been a good year – with ups and downs, lots of learning, and making new friends. With that, I wish everyone a fabulous, healthy and happy New Year!

  1. Garment rack + El Nino = broken nose. While I was setting up for one of my last events of the year, I was moving my garment rack w/ several garment bags during a rainstorm, when a gust of wind knocked over my rack, and the edge of the rod nailed me right on the bridge of my nose. It was *quite* painful, and while I was grateful for the folks who helped me get my shit together, I realized a couple of minutes later that I was bleeding. I regrouped to my car and saw a 1/2 inch bloody gash and a bit of bruising. I cleaned myself up, took a few breaths, tried to laugh about it, and went on with the event.  It could’ve been worse right? I could’ve knocked out a tooth…or an eye…and I had a good story to share. Result: broken nose. Lesson: beware of inclement weather during events.
  2. Podcasts are a lifesaver on long drives. I drove solo to Los Angeles for the first time for an event this year, and loading up on podcasts was SO useful for keeping me entertained (and awake!). A variety of business based and fun ones make the miles fly by – some favorites: Judge John Hodgman (funny)  Online Marketing w/Amy Porterfield (useful marketing tips),  Welcome to Night Vale  (wierd/entertaining), and Launch Grow Joy (for creative entrepeneurs)
  3. Strength in numbers! I did a ton of different events this year to test the waters.  Some worked better than others, but I learned a lot from each of them. It’s always better to partner up and work with others than go solo, not just for the physical help with manual labor and set up,  but also for moral support (um, like when  you break your nose during set up!) I am grateful to know and have worked together with so many great people, especially with fellow creatives Maureen Shields and Margarette Laizure with whom I have shared many a booth this year – love you ladies! 🙂

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    Pop up shop at Stanford Court Hotel in SF with Margarette Laizure and Juliet from Juliet’s Jewelry.

  4. You can’t do it all. Similar to #3, but relating to the day to day work of running a business – I had some help for the first time ever this summer with an intern for a couple of months, and it was a revelation! The fact that there was someone ELSE getting shit done for my business! Whoa! She left when she got a job, but I will definitely be seeking help again for the new year. (Thank you Jaime for your help, I truly appreciate it!) I learned that, not only can I not do it all, I shouldn’t, and am planning to outsource as much help as I can in the new year.
  5. Too much of a good thing…can be too much. I continue to be obsessed with quilted fabrics, and when one of my favorites was to be discontinued, I immediately ordered all of the remaining stock, not realizing how much space 150 yards of thick fabric would take up. When UPS came to my door with several fat, freaking huge bolts of fabric, I realized I may have made a mistake. My studio is virtually impassable due to the many yardages I have in stock (Marie Kondo would get a heart attack if she saw it…) I am slowly tidying and organizing everything right now, and am hoping to get a handle on my superabundance of fabric by January…wish me luck!

Doing What You Love is Still Work

You know what they say – do what you love and you will never work a day in your life. Well, I have to call bullshit!  There is definitely a truth to this statement when you are working on what you are truly most interested in and get into the flow of what you are doing – and when I’m working on new designs and doing the really juicy, fun, creative stuff, it certainly doesn’t feel much like “work”. But if you are “doing what you love” and are still a one person operation, like I am – work is what I am constantly doing, and there is a substantial amount of drudgery that I do not love (removing cat hair from my inventory, ironing…so much ironing…Twittering) Don’t get me wrong – I feel grateful to have the opportunity to pursue what I am passionate about, be creative, and make women feel confident. You have to really LOVE it to try to turn it into a sustainable business. And keeping it a sustainable business, rather than a hobby, is where the real work comes in. Maybe for those lucky folks who can hire a lot of help from the start, perhaps there is less work, and well, maybe I will get there one day…

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My assistant Spartacus, sitting on my inventory.

I have been doing what I love full time for several months now, and it’s definitely up and down; there are awesome days, and other days, it is just plain fucking hard. To quote a colleague, “the highs are high and the lows and low”. There are some days when I feel like I don’t know what the hell I am doing (i.e. my garment cutter cut my shirts with the fabric upside down….ughhh), and second guess all my decisions. It is so much easier working for someone else, and getting a steady paycheck for putting in a day’s work. Yep, I miss that steady paycheck – but I definitely don’t miss being tied to a computer all day and being immobile in a stifling office. I love having a variety of tasks to do; drafting patterns, cutting samples, hauling fabric to my factory, social media, working events and meeting customers- a lot of the work is very active, and suits me well. I am horrible at sitting in one place for more than an hour! In fact, as I write this, I am standing at a desk in a cafe, because I’ve been here for 90 minutes and I just can’t sit still for that long. I also love having control over my schedule – yes, I can fit in a workout at lunch, no problem, and I will just work later into the evening (although there are cons to this, when you work at home…but that’s another post!)

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Last Monday, for example – I was uber cranky, hadn’t slept well and I was just plain not ready to face my work week…just one of those days…. And it was Thanksgiving week to boot -I quite enjoy cooking and baking, so I had to fit that in too. My mood was improved after working out (a must-do to keep sane), and then I had a meeting for a custom project. The meeting was productive, the client was complimentary and a fan of my work, and it was something that I really needed to hear that day.  That was a high point in the day, and quashed any remaining crankiness.

I also realized recently that I have to schedule in time each week to work on new designs and get my creative juices flowing – otherwise, I get wrapped up in the day to day operations of running my business, checking off to do lists, and I start to feel disconnected from why I am doing this. Every Friday, I block off one hour to work on new designs, sketches, playing with fabrics – the aforementioned fun design stuff – so I can reconnect to the core of what I really love. It has helped get over those low, demotivating days and I try to make the creative work more of a priority.

So until I get to the point of having a gaggle of assistants and can retreat to my country home to sketch my next collection (ahem, Prouenza Schouler)…I will be toiling away in my humble studio, covered in thread and cat hair.

 

My Misadventures in Apparel Manufacturing – The Tale of the Missing Tank Tops – Part 2

Let’s see, where were we? I’m picking up where I left off on my last post about my first stab at manufacturing my clothing line.

I was several weeks past my initial deadline, and I was anxiously awaiting the completion of the last of three styles of tops.  For a few weeks in a row, the factory manager, Don, told me the tops would be ready the following week. Next week would came along, and each week, there were no tops, and I was becoming increasingly frustrated and told him they just HAD TO BE FINISHED. Finally, I received an e-mail from Don – it read: “I can’t find your tops. I have to go find them. I’ll get back to you.”  WTF! I had to re-read his e-mail a few times, because I was incredulous – I couldn’t fathom how my 60 partially sewn tops could have gone missing. Sure, the factory is spacious – several thousand square feet, but there really was no excuse for losing my order.  None of the classes I took or books I read mentioned that garments could go missing – I was on high alert for quality issues with sewing and cutting – but losing pieces? What the hell was I supposed to do to prevent that?!

His e-mail was so unbelievable that I just had to laugh, and write him back to tell him to find them as soon as possible. I couldn’t really do anything else at that point except ask to be reimbursed for the items. I figured I would give him a couple of weeks, and that’d be it. A week later, he e-mails me to say that he has found a dozen of the pieces. Where the other 48 were, who knew….so I told him I would come by to pick them up and bring an invoice so I could be reimbursed for the lost fabric, cutting cost, marker printing, etc., which was a few hundred dollars. I wasn’t that hopeful that he would pay up, but I was sure going to try. At this point, I wasn’t even mad anymore, I just wanted to be reimbursed and move on.

When I picked up the sad, half-sewn wrinkled tops, I asked him how the pieces got lost. He said that he “hired someone to move things around” and they got lost in the shuffle. Riiiight. More like a lame excuse for being a disaster at project management and organization. I told him I was disappointed, since they are capable of doing fine work (as evidenced by the tops they had completed for me) – and presented him with the invoice.

Somewhat surprisingly, he immediately pulled out his checkbook and wrote a check on the spot. As I left, he said something like, “Well maybe next time, it’ll work out..”. Yes, next time, sure….like a half hour after NEVER.

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After all this, I now laugh about it and consider myself lucky that he paid me back, and write it off as an excellent learning experience.  Since then, I’ve been telling everyone I meet in the industry to avoid this factory like the plague.  (And I happen to meet a lot of folks in the industry, being the Co-Founder of the Oakland Fashion Network). A few months later, I was chatting with a colleague about this – he knew of Don and his factory, and said that he likely didn’t have the capacity for my order and subcontracted the sewing of my tops to another factory. That other factory either lost or ruined them, and that would explain why Don was quick to write me a check, as he probably never paid the subcontractor.

So, this is how the tale of the missing tank tops ends…wherever my missing tops are, may you rest in peace in apparel heaven.

My Misadventures in Apparel Manufacturing: The Tale of the Missing Tank Tops – Part One

It doesn’t matter how many classes or workshops you attend, or books you read about ANYthing – nothing will prepare you for the real thing other than actually doing the real thing and going through the motions

Last year, I launched my line and I did everything I thought I was supposed to do to find a sewing contractor to produce a modest debut line of 3 styles of tops.

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I’d scoured books and attended numerous classes on clothing manufacturing and amassed a pile of sample documentation to ensure that my first production would go smoothly.

I selected 3 local contractors to sew samples for me and provide quotes. Two of the three did good jobs on the samples, and only one of them had capacity to produce my small run of 160 pieces by my deadline. Their factory had all of the signs of being a legitimate contractor – valid license, good working conditions, fabrics stored properly…and I knew that they sewed for a well-known local apparel company (being that their garments were always on the machines when I visited) – so I knew they did good work.

My deadline for the blouses was April 10, two weeks before a fashion show/trunk show event that I organized – knowing that production delays are par for the course, I figured a 14 day cushion would be enough right?

Like my classes taught me, I stopped by the factory after production started to check in on things – on my first visit, I was expecting to see my garments on the machines, but turns out they had only just started cutting them. The manager (let’s call him Don) ensured me they would be completed on time. I also notice that Don often doesn’t answer the phone nor return my voice mails or emails…

On my second visit, some of my styles were indeed on the machines, but I noticed they were sewing the wrong fabric on for the neck binding. I alerted Don about this and they’d have to redo at least a dozen pieces. I was patting myself on the back for a good job on quality control! Go girl!

And as April 10 approaches, I call to see when I can pick up the tops. Don tells me it will be a few days late (no big surprise!). The 14 day cushion saves the day, right? Yeah, riiiiight……. stay tuned for the next post for the continuation of this saga!! (to be continued)

Shoe Thursday! 5 Pairs I’m Coveting Now

Welcome to my first ever Shoe Thursday! I’ve recently reinvigorated my Pinterest-ing – and my most active board of all is my Shoe Crazy board…because it’s so easy to find sooo many covetable shoes out there on the interwebs!

I’m prepping for my 2nd ever photo shoot, which is definitely one of the more fun and exciting parts of being a designer (since 75% of it is not glamorous, pure business, and a little drudgery thrown in). And prepping for a photo shoot means surfing the web for accessory and styling ideas, so I thought I’d share some of my fun shoe finds with you.

I’m a sucker for a great boot!! These kicks by Frye are classic with a bit of edge and I love em…and on sale here!

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I’m also the owner of some wide ass feet…so these Vans are probably more practical – and with their shiny snakeskin print, they’ll definitely stand out!

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And it’s almost June, though it’s hard to tell with the cool weather out lately! Once it gets warm enough, I’ve got my eyes on these chic slip-ons from Atterley Road.

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And these are more of a fantasy for my wide bunion prone feet, but I love the look of these mules – they’d look so great with skinny jeans or a dress.

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Last, but not least, let’s get a little crazy with this little platform number by Marc Jacobs that I love looking at! I’m obsessed with chevrons, which was what initially caught my eye.

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Well that’s it for my first Shoe Thursday post – do you want to see more posts like these? Let me know in the comments, or Facebook, I’d love to hear from you!

Behind the Seams!

Until I learned how to sew clothes, I never gave a second thought to how labor intensive making a piece of clothing is. Ever try making your own collared button down shirt? It’s pretty complex! I’ve been sewing for several years and the last time I sewed something similar to a button down shirt, I was swearing like a sailor and ripped out lots of stitches!

This collared, button down shirt from Old Navy retails for $24.99 (and is on sale for $12.99) – that’s a really good deal, considering how labor intensive this shirt is. There are at least 8 pattern pieces in this garment, plus buttons, and interfacing in the collar. Obviously, there is an economy of scale and in a factory, the sewing process is streamlined so it’s faster than one sewer sewing a single shirt. But it’s still a lot of steps!

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This garment was produced offshore (most likely Southeast Asia) and in massive quantities, resulting in a low final cost. Since the retail price is $24.99, I’d estimate the total cost of producing this is not more than $6 (includes labor and all materials).

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In comparison, the Julia blouse from my first collection cost about $17 to produce locally in Oakland, resulting in a retail price of $69. This blouse is also much simpler in construction than the button down blouse. The quantity I produced was also miniscule compared to Old Navy, but this gives you an idea of the cost difference of producing in the US versus offshore.

Some companies like Everlane are becoming more transparent about the actual costs of manufacturing, and showing exactly which factories they use. Hopefully more companies will follow Everlane’s practices to educate consumers. I’ll go into more detail about all of fun (and not so fun!) goings ons behind the making of a garment in future blog posts 🙂 I’d love to hear comments and any questions you might have – please leave them below of on my Facebook page!