Blogs, Instagram and street style provide a constant flow of inspiration for River Island’s senior women’s outerwear designer
What does your typical week involve?
Being a senior womenswear designer in our smart and casual outerwear division, my week begins with catching up on my department’s trade and sales from the previous week with the design, buying and merchandising teams. We discuss what styles are doing well, which aren’t and how we can build on successful lines. Sometimes we repeat successful styles or we use the essence of the style as inspiration for future work.
As a designer, I not only have to be sales aware but also very creative. I have regular catch-up meetings with my designer Clarisse Walsh and assistant designer Bryony Carrigan where we discuss new design ideas, review sketches and look at development samples. We are constantly on the lookout for ideas, picking up inspiration from fashion blogs such as Face Hunter, Who What Wear and The Blonde Salad, as well as celebrity Instagram accounts like Nicole Richie, Olivia Palermo, Suki Waterhouse and Emma Stone. I tend to photograph people in the streets of London whenever I see something inspirational.
The rest of the time is spent working on day-to-day tasks such as fabric sourcing meetings with UK agents representing mills from Europe and the Far East, who visit our London head office to show their ranges.
In design we try to visit stores across the country once every couples of weeks, especially when new seasons launch. It’s important to see how the range looks in store and to observe how it is received by our customers.
Each week we also have two fit sessions with our garment technologist Vicki Whiting to fit and perfect garments that are going into store. We can fit up to 25 styles in one week.
Inspirational design and shopping trips play a huge role in my job. I travel to the Far East twice a year for shopping inspiration and fly to India, Turkey and Italy regularly for development meetings, when we look at new cloths and trimmings. From there we work on designing, developing and perfecting the range.
How did you get to where you are today?
When I finished my GCSEs in 2004, I knew I wanted to be creative and work in fashion, and decided to take the alternative route of studying a BTEC National Diploma in Design at Sunderland College as it covered fine art, sculpture and textiles.
With my new design skills I went on to study for a BA in Fashion at Northumbria University in 2006. The course covered menswear, textiles, knitwear and womenswear. After the first year, I decided to focus on womenswear, because I’ve always wanted to design clothes women can feel good wearing.
My journey with River Island started in the summer of 2010. My six-outfit final-year collection, inspired by armour and equestrian detailing, was shown at a Graduate Fashion Week event sponsored by River Island. I was lucky enough to be selected as one of the 10 finalists with my collection for the fashion week’s Gold Award. Even though I didn’t win, Naomi Dominique, the womenswear design director at River Island and Gold Award judge, asked me to join the design team. I think she appreciated my passion and work ethic.
I joined River Island in September 2010 as an assistant designer in the woven tops department, moving on to junior designer for smart and casual outerwear in 2012. It’s quite common at River Island to move design teams around to keep things fresh. Since last summer, I’ve been the department’s senior designer. I really enjoy training and building the skills of my design team.
What has been your career highlight?
As a designer it’s the ultimate test to have created the piece that everybody wants. For autumn 14 we had a faux leather biker jacket with a huge shawl fur collar that sold extremely well. I’ve literally spotted it everywhere, from Oxford Street to the Lake District. That is a job well done for my team.
If you could change one thing about your career path, what would it be?
There isn’t anything that I’d change about my experiences, but in an ideal world my job would be closer to my home in Sunderland as I’m very family-oriented. It’s taken me a long time to adjust to being so far away in London.
Who is your mentor?
Ann-Marie Rigney, one of River Island’s womenswear design managers. She’s always been really supportive of me since day one and showed me the “River Island way” of doing things.
What is the best piece of advice sh’s given you?
She taught me to take control of my own career. If you want something you have to go out there and get it. If you don’t, no one else is going to do it for you.
How do you see your career progressing?
I just love designing outerwear and can definitely see myself continuing to work in this field. My goal is to develop my managerial skills and move up the ladder to become a design manager. Training new members of the team and watching them develop is such a rewarding experience.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Work your hardest, take every opportunity that arises and always push yourself to do your best.
If you could work in another area of fashion, what would it be?
I couldn’t see myself not working in design, but if I had to say, it would be as a buyer. The role would still give me the opportunity to work closely with the design team on clothing ranges, allowing me to travel on sourcing trips where I’d get to immerse myself in creativity.
2014 Senior womenswear designer (smart and casual outerwear), River Island
2013 Womenswear designer (smart and casual outerwear), River Island
2012 Junior womenswear designer (smart and casual outerwear), River Island
Sept 2010 Assistant womenswear designer (woven tops), River Island
2010 BA (Hons) Fashion, Northumbria University
2006 BTEC National Diploma (Design), Sunderland College, Sunderland