From Italy to Germany, a varied career made River Island’s womenswear design controller a more rounded creative.
What does your typical week involve?
The great thing about my job is that no two weeks are the same. We spot and research trends by gathering images from a variety of blogs, Pinterest and fashion monthlies. Trend-spotting involves monthly design trips to New York, the Far East, Italy and Stockholm. We also visit archive rooms in places such as the V&A Museum, looking at anything from fabric direction to pattern for print inspiration and new silhouette ideas. We then collect boards of inspirational imagery and create outfit samples and colour palettes for our buying and design teams to work with. Since jersey, woven tops and knitwear are colour-dependent departments where we may have one style in seven different colours, it’s my task to ensure that each item reflects the trend and sits with the rest of our product.
I’m very lucky to work on a broad range of design areas, including fabric and print. We not only travel each month to fabric mills in Italy, Turkey and the Far East to find the best new materials, we also attend textile shows, such as Première Vision in Paris or Munich Fabric Start.
I work alongside our print manager, Lucinda Tunnicliffe, to ensure all departments are pushing relevant trends. Glamathon sports, neutral tailoring and the 1960s are some of our key trends for spring 15.
Which task are you most looking forward to today?
I’m viewing all the product samples from our transitional July/August 2015 collection to see how the designs have been delivered.
Which task do you wish you could postpone?
I directly manage knitwear, jersey casual and smart, as well as our special project ranges, such as the capsule collections displayed in our flagship stores. I have to edit down range development for each department on a weekly basis. It’s so tough when you have to choose, but great to be spoilt for choice.
How did you get to where you are today?
I developed an interest in fashion from a young age and decided to pursue it with a BA in Fashion & Textiles at the University of Leeds in 1996. After graduating, I went on to study an MA in Fashion & Textiles at Nottingham Trent University, which I completed in 2000.
I was very lucky to have an early career break. [Italian fashion house] MaxMara liked my collection for the university’s final MA show, which was based on vintage American sportswear, and offered me a job as womenswear designer at their head office in Reggio Emilia, northern Italy, in 2001.
However, I wanted to learn more about the UK market, so in 2005 I left MaxMara for the position of womenswear senior designer for Fullcircle in London. I worked there for five years and was then promoted to head of womenswear design at Firetrap. The promotion happened organically as both young fashion brands belonged to ready-to-wear manufacturer World Design & Trade Co.
After my stint at Firetrap, in 2012 I joined Düsseldorf-based Esprit as a design trend consultant, tasked with helping the brand to set up a fast-track trend division. This was following the appointment of former Inditex group director of distributions and operations, Jose Manuel Martínez Gutiérrez, as Esprit chief executive in August 2012. It was really exciting working on reinventing the brand.
I was then headhunted by the River Island team in 2013 to join as womenswear design controller. Naomi Dominique, the womenswear design director, thought I would be a good fit personality-wise and also liked that my background was varied.
What has been your career highlight?
I think for any designer it has to be the first time you see your designs being worn. I remember being so happy when I saw a girl in Reggio Emilia wearing my MaxMara spring 2001 drummer boy-style denim jacket, along with a T-shirt underneath emblazoned with my hand-written graphic of a poem I had composed. I still get a buzz to this day.
If you could change one thing about your career path, what would it be?
It sounds cheesy, but there isn’t anything I’d change. Working for bigger companies like River Island, as well as for smaller ones like Fullcircle, has made me a more rounded designer. I am now more creative, I have a better design hit rate, I have developed my fabric knowledge and I’ve built some great supplier contacts.
Who is your mentor?
Naomi Dominique. She empowers me to think for myself, is very open-minded and always embraces new ideas.
What’s the best piece of advice she’s given you?
She always said, ‘Know your own truth.’
How do you see your career progressing?
One day I’d love to be design director of River Island. It’s the ultimate goal in the fashion ladder to be an inspirational leader with a view over the whole business.
What advice would you give someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
There’s a myth in fashion that you need to be hard and nasty to succeed. I’ve never found this to be true. Passion, ambition and respect are formidable forces.
If you could work in another area of fashion, what would it be?
It would definitely be visual merchandising. I love the power and excitement that a window display can create.
- Salaries for this position are approximately £80,000 (estimate provided by Fashion & Retail Personnel)
2013 Womenswear design controller, River Island, London
2012 Design consultant, Esprit (trend division), Düsseldorf, Germany
2010 Head of womenswear design, Firetrap, London
2005 Womenswear senior designer, Fullcircle, London
2001 Womenswear designer, MaxMara, Reggio Emilia, Italy
2000 MA Fashion & Textiles, Nottingham Trent University
1999 BA (Hons) Fashion & Textiles, University of Leeds