1st Client Meeting

I felt like one of those designers on Project Runway - deliver a winning outfit given a design brief (particularly calls to mind the USPS Postal Uniform design challenge from Season 1)

Couple months back, I was contacted by F, the boss of a local uniform manufacturing company. His company has been manufacturing school and industrial uniforms since the 80s, and he was now looking to expand his business into the area of office uniforms. It's something new that he's exploring, so he's not sure if it's going to take off, but he asked me if I would be interested in doing some freelance design work for them in this particular area.

This was really ideal, because I've always wanted to get some experience in the garment industry. Although it's not a fashion garment business (say like Celia Loe or Arthur Yen) I was still keen because I figure I'd pick up something on the production process, client management etc. And it's a freelance thinggie, leaving me time for Dotted Line.

So, yesterday I took a trip to Woodlands to meet a local engineering firm with F. We met with two ladies from the Admin department. Our instructions: To improve the design of the current uniforms for male and female employees of the company.

OK, before this, I thought only that factory workers or those involved in heavy duty work had to wear uniforms, like production line workers, or shipyard and workshop mechanics. I did not realise that companies actually issued uniforms to their office staff too. (I mean, I've been office staff all my working life and I've never had to wear a uniform)

In this case, the standard uniform issue for women was: 1 short sleeved blouse, 1 jacket, 1 A-line skirt & 1 pair of pants.

For men: 1 short sleeved shirt, 1 long sleeved shirt and 2 pairs of pants.

The meeting was an interesting little experience for me!

After probing a little, we found out that they only wanted a change in design for the women's blouse. The women didin't like that they were mistaken for ITE students when they were out of the office.

For the skirt and pants, they were pretty happy with the existing design, but there were fitting problems, e.g. an overly long crotch for the pants, making them look like high waisted granny pants.

I discovered some other things - the material used for the tops is very thick, and the staff complained of the heat. So I asked them if they ever wore the jacket. It turns out that the women never wear the jackets or the pants (because of the above fit problem). So, of the 4 pieces that they are issued, they only utilise 2 pieces.

As for the men, the short sleeved shirt sleeve is 3 inches short of the standard sleeve length. Again, the men never wear the short sleeved shirts because of this problem. They all wear long sleeved shirts, and roll up the sleeves. This we were told, was frowned upon by management.

I found it interesting that poor design resulted in unwanted behaviour amongst the staff, and wasted resources spent on the items that the staff never wore.

Anyways, just looking at the design aspect of the job - which is for the women's blouse, mainly - I found that there were quite a few constraints/ conditions (which make it all the more challenging, really):

1. The colour of the blouse is predetermined, and so is the fabric. It's a light blue woven cotton.
2. Cost issues. I probably can't execute a design which is too fanciful: Can't have too many stylelines (meaning I cut up the garment into many pieces and sew them back together), can't have too many gathers or pleats, can't use any fancy trims or buttons. All these will increase the labour cost and we need to work within a fixed price bracket.
3. Standard sizes are issued: S, M, L and they have to fit everyone. Therefore the design needs to incorporate certain 'adjustable' aspects (e.g. elastic inserts) in order to cater for all sizes.

It's quite different from designing a fashion piece! I'm quite excited about starting work on this actually - the current design is really quite dowdy and looks so uncomfortable - I'd like to be able to create something nice for the ladies there : ) But anyway, I can't start until they confirm the order.


Pei Chin said...

Hi Dorothy,
I think this is the perfect assignment for you! You will be able to design something that looks simple at first glance but on observation, has some fine detailing that raises the outfit above just an ordinary blouse. And it's clear from your post that you have considered the various issues that you need to provide for in your design. I'm pretty sure you will design something that looks good and is practical.

exene said...

I really admire what you do for a living.
You talking about uniforms reminds me of the uniforms I use to wear in high school in the philippines. I hated it because every other school looked exactly like us and the teachers uniform was green. Green is the color of our rival school. Its like nobody gives a damn about designing clothing in the philippines.

Kathleen Fasanella said...

Nice analysis and your attitude is great. The reality is, in the apparel industry, one often has to design within parameters, constraints (not like on TV). If anything, having more ambiguity makes the job harder and riskier. With more tightly defined boundaries, the task is easier and success is defined by execution and implementation. In the garment industry, a creative and successful designer (as defined by those who pay them) is one who can balance the limitations of the job and still come up with a viable result.

I hope you get the contract.