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On the job with Wendy Wilson

Short-order womenswear brand Closet invites James Knowles in to learn about its designs.

With consumers today craving fresh new product, there’s a greater reliance on short-order fashion brands. With this in mind, Drapers set off for a look behind the scenes of short-order womenswear brand Closet.

Established in 1996, the brand was shortlisted for the Fuse Fashion Network Short Order/Quick Response Brand of the Year award at the Drapers Fashion Awards 2012, and is known for its dresses and occasionwear. Making my way through the company’s east London offices, I meet Wendy Wilson, the brand’s designer and pattern cutter, who I’ll be shadowing for the day.

The morning starts with a fabric salesman popping in to sell some pretty coral lace - which Wilson buys after much deliberation - before she talks me through the day’s tasks. Wilson explains that she looks to designers rather than the high street for inspiration when putting together a collection. After scouring through multiple images, Wilson then begins to create product stories, of which the brand produces around eight or nine a year. “It has to have a flow”, she says, due to the fact that the brand is not just wholesale, but also operates concessions in Dorothy Perkins stores. “We only have a rail there, so we need the collection to look cohesive, as that works better for us. Otherwise sales assistants phone up and tell us they’re a mess with too many things happening.”

Once themes are decided, Wilson begins designing and pulling out fabrics. “Once we’ve got past that stage, we have to actually book fabrics and get Pantones [to decide colours]. We never used to do this, but as we’ve grown we’ve needed to, and I’ve needed to do more admin.”

Wilson then creates mood boards to help communicate each story. The brand liaises with factories in Asia and Spain regarding colours and is then sent lab-dips to make a selection from. The fabrics take three months to arrive from Asia and three weeks to arrive from Spain, having taken a week to be made.

Wilson then draws up a range plan, deciding which fabrics and prints to use for which design; she shows me a large design book of dresses that have made it into production, and many that haven’t. In total there are usually 28 pieces per story and seven or eight new pieces per week, so Wilson works on a quick turnaround. Bestsellers are often reproduced in different fabrics to keep them fresh.

Once the pattern is done, it’s made up in-house with Wilson as the brand’s fitting model. “A lot of our customers like the brand because it fits well. I feel like I’ve failed if it doesn’t,” she says.

She’ll then show designs to the concessions manager, Rachel Perrett, and wholesale manager CJ Basra, who effectively buy the range before sending them off to factories to make the first samples. Once the fit process is finished, dresses go into production.

It’s striking to see how Wilson’s role has expanded in line with company growth. Anyone seeking this sort of role will have to be able to cope with lots of plate-spinning to get the job done.

Salaries for this position range from £35,000 to £40,000 (estimate provided by Henry Fox)

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