Specialization in the Fashion Industry remains a concept which is still so vague in this environment. I recall a conversation I was having with a friend when my big day was coming up.
“I bet you’re sewing your own wedding gown right”?
My response? “Errr…. no.”
Next question, “Why not?”
My response? “Well… first, I really don’t want to stress myself seeing I completed my outfit for my Introduction a few hours before the event” and “secondly, I am not really into bridal wear. I am more into corporatewear”.
Question 3: “But I thought you were an all-rounder”.
My answer? “Well… yes… so are doctors but they still specialize in certain areas”. [Straight-face-emoticon]!
And I believe that was the end of that conversation.
Or what says you? I know I am yet to see a doctor who operates as a heart surgeon, a gynaecologist, a brain surgeon, an ENT specialist, a GP and a neurologist all in one right. And I should know. My dad and brother are doctors and I lived with like 3 medical students in University.
Now don’t get me wrong… my position was not about the design or actual construction of the gown… after all a wedding gown is, more often than not, a corset with a half/full or double circle skirt and I have done both many many times. My major concern was the fact that yet again, I am being put under unnecessary pressure by people who have little or no understanding of the Industry I operate in.
Not that I blame them… we designers are too busy biting off more than we can chew rather than specializing in our areas of competence. So as it is, I am being forced to go into an area I’d rather not go into yet, just to prove a point. And THAT is where many of us find ourselves… taking on tasks we have no business taking on either to prove a point or to make ends meet when there are so many opportunities in the industry we can focus on outside the real area of design and production.
The Big Question
I recall once, a creative director in a fashion house in South Africa, confessing to me that he was almost chewed up in bits by his company because he wore another brand when he came out to take a bow at his fashion show. Ok… let’s not forget the fact that he designs ladieswear, but does the fact that he wore a garment from another company make him any less competent in his area? After all, every one gave him a standing ovation when they saw his garments.
Yes I could see the point of the management team who criticized him but really, I didn’t really see the big deal. Maybe because I don’t run a conglomerate yet. But I honestly don’t think you must ALWAYS wear your own clothes. Else, all designers here and abroad might as well create their own underwear as well, after all, those who went to fashion school were probably taught how to do so.
Why Specialization is Important
I personally feel it is impossible and must be physically exhausting for a designer to offer services in casualwear, officewear, bridalwear, menswear, womenswear, childrenswear, maternitywear and school uniforms. That’s the norm around here. Like SERIOUSLY! Talk about a jack of all trades. So far, I haven’t seen a Victoria Secret bridalwear show with full ball gowns.
Neither have I seen Ruff N Tumble stock adult ladieswear garments in their stores. Who knows… perhaps it is in the pipeline but so far, I haven’t seen any. So why should designers around here operate outside their areas of competence simply because they can and have the knowledge to do so.
Ok to further buttress my point, when you think of Vera Wang, what do you think of instantly?! When you think of DKNY, what do you think of? How about Chanel? Alexander McQueen before he died (God rest his soul?) Ok… let’s bring it down to Nigeria… How about Deola Sagoe? Ituen Basi? Jewel by Lisa? Tiffany Amber?! Surely many of these designers can operate in various areas but they have chosen not to. At least I know Mrs. Ogunlesi cannot fit into many of her creations at Ruff N Tumble, though I cannot confirm if she does make her clothes.
But my point is I am sure many of these designers have a pretty good idea of how to make various types of garments but many specialize in a certain area. Now you can choose to set up a different “line” of clothing after a while but I believe this should only come after you’ve carved a niche for yourself in a certain area. And that is a personal opinion.
My trip to China was even more of an eye-opener. Some factories who offered the same type of garments did not offer the same type of fit or tailoring and they would tell you so from Day 1. Many had specialized in offering a certain type of fashion style which they had perfected, that anything which fell outside their area would not have been accepted, regardless of how much you were willing to pay for it. And I think it is high time we did the same around here.
One thing I do know is that those who offer branded t-shirts around here focus on that and do not bother adding on extras. And I think that’s what we designers need to learn from. We really don’t have to prove to people that we are all-rounded. All we need to do is prove that we are good at what we say we are good at. And if that is simply creating denim jeans, then so be it. If the bottom line is suffering, yes you can take on just a few more areas within the industry just to make ends meet in the early days but focus on your goal. Yes I know… easier said than done right? I feel you completely. But never lose sight of your dream entirely just to make ends meet. I have often said “there is nothing worse than you doing what you love but not enjoying it”. I found myself there once as well and was completely miserable.
I think what we need to do really before we start out is to understand the industry and the various job descriptions within the Industry and where there are loopholes, we carve a niche in that area. Many people have no clue that some jobs exist within the Industry. I, for one, know the Industry is in dire need of pattern-makers. Many of us just want to design and find someone else to churn it out. That’s the way it’s done in other countries… and that’s why they are big. Just look at many of the foreign garments you buy and check out where they are made. And because I know this need exists, I have decided to groom one of my students in pattern-making so he can assist us. And that is why our Fashion Courses include a pattern-making course for those who want to feature in the Industry but really do not want to sew.
Same way if you do not know how to sketch your designs, find someone who can draw well to help you out.
And please pay the person for his time. Don’t stress yourself out trying to save the pennies and then end up losing the pounds.
So in conclusion… Designers, please don’t let your clients or even friends and family set you up. Identify what exactly you want to achieve in the Industry and work towards it. Yes you might be an all-rounder but you do not physically have to do everything until you are sure you can cope with it. I for one, decided to stop bespoke and that’s the best decision I ever made.
And if you get a project that’s outside your area of competence, please by all means, take up that project BUT more importantly, find someone who specializes in that area who can help handle the project and split the profits. That is why people refer clients to others. It’s called collaboration. If you can’t, please walk away from the project. When you weigh the options, the opportunity costs of that project may not be worth the huge sum you are being paid for it. I guess we have a lot more to learn from doctors that healthy eating and living.
Here’s wishing you a great week ahead!
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