Diary of an Intern at SSACHS Magazine

Laura Nesbitt

By Laura Nesbitt, Intern (now Contributor – contact me via laura@ssachs.co)

MEET THE INTERN

SSACHS first Intern: Laura Nesbitt

By Diane Richardson, Playtime Editor (diane@ssachs.co)

Hello, I’m Laura a first-year Sportswear Design student writing for SSACHS. I connected with SSACHS at the beginning of lockdown to start building my industry contacts and keep my work during my degree as relevant as possible to the sportswear industry.

Before starting University I was a swim coach and ran my own competitive swim programme. Before joining Falmouth as a design student, I merged my programme with a performance programme for athlete longevity and moved to Sydney to experience a new kind of athlete and coaching culture. After a year of coaching outdoors in the sunshine, it was time to come home and transfer my creative skills to a new industry.

MEETING WITH THE EDITORS

I plucked up the courage to contact Diane via Linkedin and ask her if there was any work going at SSACHS magazine. I had the opportunity to read SSACHS magazine via my course at Falmouth University and I was excited to learn they were looking for an Intern. I met Diane and Soudi via Zoom and we had a great chat about my goals for the year ahead and in turn, they explained their plans to officially launch SSACHS magazine this December.

Their drive and passion for the apparel industry is infectious! I pitched myself to get the internship, something I have never done before but whilst we were all hit by a pandemic, why not be bold and get some work experience to support my course at Falmouth University studying a BA in Sportswear Design? The outcome was a suggestion of a 6 week programme taking one of my designs from 1st year through the stages of design / tech packing / materials / product development. A real time project with the guidance from leading industry experts.

PROJECT STARTING POINT

A logical first step was to work with a project that I was just finishing; a Technical Recovery Jacket with compression sleeves designed for Professional rock climber and Red Bull Athlete Shauna Coxsey. Shauna was meant to be debuting the new sport and her professional skills at this years Olympic games in Tokyo but it was not to be.

The process kicked off with a one-to-one with Soudi Masouleh, design leader and specialist womenswear performance designer…

Thursday 4th June: Zoom with Soudi – Design & Tech packs

The combination of Zoom and lockdown mean home comforts including pets usually appear in meetings. I am greeted by Soudi and her dog Lenny. Icebreaker, Adidas and Nike are brands Soudi has designed for throughout her 25+ years working in the apparel industry.

From idea to 2D design to garment realisation and then prototype, tech packs become an essential part of the communication and delivery process. ‘Assume stupidity’ suggests Soudi.

A document containing all the technical information about your product. It is an essential document for designers and production teams and clearly communicates every detail to your manufacturer. That handover process is critical to ensure the design translates into your first prototype.

Definition of a Tech pack

As it turns tech packs really aren’t that scary at all, just really technical. So what are the rules of a tech pack that a manufacture needs to know?

  • Contain technical sketch of front, back and side of garment
  • Samples sizes and measurements 
  • Construction detail
  • Seams, materials, gradings and colour ways
  • Measurements, trims, labels including branding and artwork
  • Composition, weight and fit
  • Details in swatches: fabrics, ribs, zips
  • Graphics and colour pantone work

In short. A tech pack must communicate what you want. Every company has a different layout, a different logo and a different format but essentially you still have to relay the same information. This is the first stage from design to reality. 

Thursday 11th June – First meeting with Ruth

Ruth is a Materials expert with 30 years working in apparel & textiles currently based in Vancouver heading up Materials & Innovation for SSACHS design agency, as well as Lead Materials Editor on SSACHS Magazine. Previously, she has lived and worked in Hong Kong, Sri Lanka and now resides in Vancouver after seven years working in fabric Development for Lululemon. This must be every creatives dream to travel the world and do a job they love. 

Immediately we start talking about the holistic approach to designing and the circular process and the growth of holistic design during and post Covid-19. The future of fashion and sports apparel really does lie in materials. Sadly my first year at Falmouth was cut short because of Covid-19 and as a cohort my year was just starting to develop samples and prototypes for our end of year hand in. 

I sat like a sponge and soaked up Ruth’s every word. It was evident from the get-go Ruth is so passionate about fibre, fabric development and innovation.

From my perspective as a mature student being out of the textile game means I have a bit of revising and terminology catch-up to do. Wondering what actually makes fabric, I then start to question what even is a ‘textile’? How are textiles different to fabrics? To clarify:

  • Fibre: A basic unit of fabric 
  • Textile: Material made up of interlacing fibres.
  • Fabric: Material made through weaving, knitting, spreading or bonding that may be used in the production of further goods. 
  • We immediately get down to business and start talking about fabric properties for my jacket:
  • Drape: stretch, weight and construction
  • Fibre: natural vs. synthetic 
  • Performance: wicking, UVP, quick dry, durability 
Materials recommend by Ruth for my jacket

Despite the limited interaction of only audio and vision through Zoom, I pick out my favourite sportswear pieces from my wardrobe to explore with Ruth. We identify stretch for construction, feel through haptics, wear and move for noise and understand why some garments use different fabrics on different panels and why is this not only functional but also cost effective for business. Lastly we acknowledge drape and Ruth suggests I weigh the garments on the kitchen scales to understand why the weight of fabrics is so important for the elite athletes.

Of course, at University we don’t have the research and development labs or the capabilities of testing textiles to quantify fabrics. I think as a first year student learning through your senses is the best way to go, it is subjective but it is also what leads each student to design a collection that is unique to their tastes based on feedback from their senses. 

Coolest thing I learnt today: What’s the quickest way to test a fabric? Burn it. Burning it may not identify the fabric but it will indicate its group. 

Wednesday 17th June – 2nd Materials meeting with Ruth

After a few hours of mad research looking at how much science can go into textile design for sportswear, I’ve started to get my head around fabric properties and why these are so crucial in the design process for functional sportswear and athleisure-wear. 

When we move onto stretchwear I realise that actually what makes the design of garments so interesting and fundamental to successful design is the movement of the human body. Why bother designing garments unless you are going to push your body to its physical limits. When we move, we stretch garments in four ways. Square stretch is an equal amount of stretch and resistant in both directions. For my jacket fourway stretch will be essential to get compression sleeves onto the arm of my athlete. However it must stretch enough to get on without hassle but tight enough to offer the benefits of compression. 

Lulumelon, a brand Ruth has worked for has revolutionised the athleisure-wear movement which now deems to be a happy medium between everyday casual clothes and sportswear that incorporates four way stretch into all of their products. Their fabrics, as Ruth explains, are based on the philosophy ‘comfort is king’. For too long I have personally purchased sports apparel that makes my skin itch, my sweat smell worse, my hips look wider than they actually are and my back fat feel gross when my skin is excessively elongating with short periods of intensity during a HIIT session or yoga. The last thing I want is my compression wear to be smelly, itchy and too tight from the humidity and use from the atmosphere of competing and recovering in Tokyo. 

I take ‘comfort is king’ into my design as we discuss the next stages of fabric swatches and what the fabrics are that Ruth is going to send me to make my design become alive. Ruth has kindly packaged up some fabric samples that match what I think is appropriate to my jacket and popped them in the post. 

Sadly, because of COVID first years have missed the stretchwear inductions and tutorials. However going into second year, I know taking two way and four way stretch into consideration when pattern cutting will be essential.

Inspiration for the pattern on the compression areas of the jacket came from the Eden Project

Wednesday 1st July – Product Development meeting with Elaine Garson

Elaine has also experienced a great deal of global travel working in Product Development & Sourcing. I’m in awe of how she leisurely talks about taking ideas from sketches and into finished garments from mills to factories all over the world including China, India, Portugal, Turkey and more. 

She notes that in her professional career there has been a shift in buying consumer habits. People now care about how far the product has traveled, how are the raw materials sourced, how are the people looked after in the supply chain and everything in between. 

What would it take to get my jacket into retail? Of course, my jacket is designed for one single athlete but imagine if Shauna Coxsey wins a Gold at the Tokyo Olympics. The amount of money that then pours into rock climbing for the next Olympic cycle would double the amount of climbing walls built at fitness centres across the UK and with it the demand for competition, climbing specific sports apparel including compression wear and a jacket to match. 

We talk about what it would take to make my jacket in the UK including sourcing materials but the reality is this may be a big challenge. Elaine explains more about building strong relationships with suppliers and over time you build a trust and a level of support for one and other to reach the desired outcome. It is very much a two-way play.

To do this job you must understand the challenges the manufacturers face.

Elaine Garson

Manufacturers need to meet the demands of the retailer while also looking after their employees. The vicious circle of employee wellbeing and how ethical products are made is reaching a tipping point in the industry. The bartering that is involved means there is a trade off somewhere and too often that trade offs are employee wages and employee wellbeing. Supporting people and businesses to make good decisions to uphold the code of conduct they publish is a challenge the supply chain faces. 

That is why building relationships is crucial. Global companies talk about partnerships with the two T’s: trust and transparency. It’s really important that you do treat people in the supply chain as proper partners. It’s fundamental to good business that you treat people how you want to be treated. If someone in the supply chain makes a mistake they have to be able to come and talk to you because ultimately if they make a bad decision it becomes your problem. 

Working together is one of the biggest challenges. There is nothing more problem solving than visiting a factory in Bangladesh and sorting something out face to face. You can learn so much by being on the ground floor of a factory.

Elaine Garson

What would it take to bring industry and skill set back into this country? As a result of Covid-19, supply chains have realised they are not robust enough. As an Island, the UK have great things and Universities need to join forces with industry and make an investment to employ students from technical degrees. 

Where Elaine now lives in the borders there were once fourteen fabric mills. The industry is just not so much in the UK any longer. Labour in the UK costs more than it does in Bangladesh. From a cost point of view why make something in the UK if you can make it for a third of the price abroad. Until people stop obsessing over price and focus more on quality and building a future the system will not change. 

At the end of the day. We will all need clothes. The Industry is built on cheap, quick disposable garments. This wave of ethical thinking about garments should have been there from the beginning. 

Students like myself are the next wave coming through the industry and need to drive the change, but this only happens if we understand the industry on a micro and macro level. 

That’s our reality and we need to get there. 

It’s definitely been an eye opening four weeks into the reality of what lies beyond the four walls of the University studio. Elaine said she used to have a tutor that said  ‘You don’t know what you don’t know.’ How true. 

This has been a Covid Work in Progress internship for SAACHS. Watch this space for an Olympic compression technical jacket to be hitting Tokyo 2021 apparel merchandise stores!

Tuesday 21st July – Pitching: What is your story?

Like a true leader, Diane spent the first thirty minutes of our conversation reviewing top line what this garment’s ultimate purpose is. Diane has spent the past 2 decades working in product management for brands including; MUJI, Nike, and Timberland. A Merchant at heart, with a strong understanding of market needs and presenting products with purpose to satisfy the needs of the wearer.

It would be realistic to say, if my conversation was a real life pitch in industry I would not have received a deal! Even though it was my project and I understood the inspiration behind the story and the concept to product stage, communicating this to fresh eyes is a completely different skill and one that I clearly need to improve. 

We discussed the theme of Team GB and whilst this was an inspiration for the jacket, through my conversation with Diane, I made the realisation that the jackets main purpose was to benefit the recovery of a Rock climber. I made the decision to remove the ‘GB’ element of the jacket, mainly because the GB kit has already been made for the Olympic games in 2021 and this is actually a Technical Jacket for recovery. Therefore it would seem logical to actually just name it what it does: The Recovery Jacket.

The pandemic we are all dealing with right now and for the foreseeable future has taught me two things; 1. We are living in a digital world now and I can continue to work outside the confines of my home. I can work with a team and continue to learn and grow, and 2. Do not be afraid to make contact with brands, I very nearly didn’t contact Diane via Linkedin and if I hadn’t I would have had a fairly uneventful lockdown Summer! Thank you to Diane, Soudi, Ruth and Elaine for a hugely insightful look at the real world of apparel design & development.

Thank you Team SSACHS!

Laura, the first SSACHS part-time team member

WHAT’S NEXT…

I got myself a part-time role (paid!) at SSACHS. Diane and Soudi are going to help me build my work experience and portfolio with experience across the agency and I’m really excited to be working on the upcoming official launch of the new 2.0 digital SSACHS Magazine and SSACHS App.

If you are a student or graduate looking to enter the apparel industry and wish to be featured in SSACHS Magazine, please contact me via laura@ssachs.co – our FUTURES section is waiting for you!