With 10 brands to work on, Debenhams’ assistant accessories designer is used to collaborating and being proactive.
What does a typical week involve?
On Mondays we have team meetings. We review product performance from the week before, look at how discounts have affected sales and see how items can be improved. We then plan for the week ahead. During the rest of the week we also have suppliers in for meetings, either from the Far East or the UK. We also have trend meetings, do catwalk analysis and look at brand strategy, as well as having actual drawing days where we create sketches by hand or using CAD such as Illustrator and Photoshop.
We may do a bit of a research day where we visit inspirational competitor stores such as House of Fraser, Next, Zara and Topshop and go to fashion exhibitions such as those at the V&A in London. We also put together mood boards and look through magazines such as Vogue and Elle to get a feel for the season.
I’m lucky enough to work across 10 different brands at Debenhams. These include our in-house brands Red Herring, Mantaray and Debut, as well as our designer brands such as Jasper Conran, Henry Holland, Jenny Packham and Julien Macdonald. The accessories design team consists of me and Anna Parkinson-Bates, my fellow designer, so there’s a lot to do but it’s great fun.
What meeting are you most looking forward to today?
One with Frost French, which is designed by actress and designer Sadie Frost and designer Jemima French, who collaborate with us on lightweight scarfs and winter knits. We will suggest to them creating a young fashion occasionwear capsule collection called Floozie Occasion, which will feature 10 pieces in really fun, bright colours. It will be aimed at girls in their late teens to late 20s, perhaps looking for a fascinator for Ascot or a headband for Glastonbury. I’m looking forward to seeing their reaction.
What task do you wish you could postpone today?
We work with a lot of suppliers in Europe and the Far East and one thing that can be quite difficult is a lot of samples get delayed at Customs. If we have deadlines I sometimes wish we could postpone those by a couple of days, so I can come into a meeting and say ‘this is a fantastic project’ by showing a sample rather than just a picture.
How did you get to where you are today?
In 2007 I completed my Art Foundation course at Leeds College of Art and went on to study for a BA Hons in Womenswear Fashion at the University of Westminster in 2008. This included a sandwich placement year in 2009 at Lulu Guinness where I mainly worked in production. In the same year I interned at fashion house Luella, helping prepare for the spring 09 ready-to-wear shows.
After graduating in 2011 I worked at Anya Hindmarch in an office manager role. This was great, because I got to know everyone there and learnt so much. A year later I moved to Austin Reed as a design assistant. My job was split between working on woven and knitwear, but I also designed their first in-house bag, a classic real leather women’s handbag, which was amazing.
Then in 2013 I moved to Sophie Hulme as a product development assistant for ready-to-wear and accessories, and after a year left to become assistant accessories designer at Debenhams. Having this experience on my CV has enabled me to work with all the brands at Debenhams. Initially I worked on handbags and footwear for about four months, before moving to softs and occasionwear. This gave me more responsibility and the chance to work with a smaller team.
What has been your career highlight?
A month after I began at Debenhams I collaborated on the design for a cobalt blue bag for our in-house brand Faith’s autumn 14 and autumn 15 collections. The bag made it into the Debenhams catalogue and was featured in store campaigns and the windows of all our UK flagships. It’s great to see customers carrying a product that we designed. I haven’t actually got this bag yet - I need to go and buy it.
If you could change one thing about your career path, what would it be?
I knew I wanted to be in fashion from a very young age. I felt that just doing accessories, which I have a passion for, was a bit niche, so I did a womenswear degree because I thought it might serve me better in terms of getting a job. However, on reflection there’s part of me that thinks I should have just gone for it and done a degree in accessories.
How do you see your career progressing?
I would really like to continue progressing here at Debenhams. It would be great to achieve a senior design or managerial role at some point. I would also absolutely love to have my own accessories line one day - I’m obsessed with all leather products.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Be really enthusiastic and proactive. Keep on top of your professional networking. Take every opportunity, even if that means doing jobs you didn’t think you would necessarily have to do. At the bottom that’s often the way it has to be, but if you have the right attitude then doors will open.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given?
Always leave anywhere you have worked on good terms because the fashion industry is so small you just never know who you will come across and also who could help you.
If you could work in another area of fashion, what would it be?
I love putting together a look. I really like accessories and ready-to-wear, so maybe I would be a stylist.
- Salaries for this position range from £22,000 to £25,000 (estimate provided by CVUK)
2014 Assistant accessories designer, Debenhams
2013 Product development assistant on ready-to-wear accessories, Sophie Hulme
2012 Design assistant, womenswear, Austin Reed
2011 Office manager, Anya Hindmarch
2011 BA (Hons) Fashion Womenswear, University of Westminster
2009 Intern, Lulu Guinness
2009 Intern, Luella
2007 Art Foundation Diploma, Leeds College of Art