What Working At A Sustainable Fashion Brand Has Taught Me
Meet Hanna Shingleton, a Technical Designer here at Aventura. She’s worked at the company in three different roles over the last ten years, including a position in the Returns Department and the (now deceased) outlet store. Currently, her job allows her to work with the final stages of the production for each season of clothing. Though her main job is making sure the fit and color of the garment is what we're looking for, she also has a front-row seat to the entire process from the conceptualizing of a design to the shipping of product to you.
Because of her wide breadth of experience within the company, I thought it would be fun to sit down with her and chat about the interesting parts of the fashion world she has come to learn over the years. As the company’s Copywriter, I myself have come to pick up on the nuances of the fashion world, and boy, let me tell you, there’s a lot to learn! Let’s dive in now…
Helena: What are some of the things you learned when you started working here?
Hanna: Honestly, I wasn't even positive what a knit versus a woven was. Since I’ve been here, though, I've learned a lot like the difference between the construction of a garment and how a fabric is actually made. I had no idea what any of that meant before!
Helena: Let's talk about that, because that is something that I didn't know either before working here. The first time we did product copy review for the Fall 2021 Collection [a review session is where the design team sits down with the marketing team to ensure all product copy fairy represents the product], Kathleen had to tell me about 100 times that what I was writing about wasn’t actually a sweater. From my perspective, though, they all look like sweaters. I had no idea there were such nuances to this industry!
Hanna: Yes, exactly. One thing I learned from working in production is that there are only two fabric groups for clothing: knits and wovens. Sweaters fall into the knit category, whereas a yarn dye plaid (like the ones Old Ranch Brands carries) are typically woven. There are a lot of other types of knits and woven, though, but every type of fabric falls into one of those two categories.
Helena: What does your typical day look like as one of Aventura’s Technical Designers?
"A normal day for me is often coming into the office waiting for packages to arrive from our factories, because there's often stuff to measure in them."
Hanna: A normal day for me is often coming into the office waiting for packages to arrive from our factories, because there's often stuff to measure in them. Once those are measured, we then actually fit on a live model. That's a whole process where we go over the specs [specifications of how a garment measures, such as length of inseam] that are all out of tolerance, that are not hitting what we've asked for. I’m basically seeing any styling changes we want to make. After we fit a bunch of samples, we then process them to return our notes to the factories.
That is probably the number one thing that takes up my days. The second would be waiting for approvals of fabric, trims, or anything like that.
Helena: What goes into the approval process for a season’s styles?
Hanna: For our process, we often start with what's called salesman samples. Those are made with all of our bulk fabric, bulk trims, and are meant to look exactly how we want production to look. When we have those samples, we have a big sales meeting twice a year with all of our regional sales reps. They might give us feedback based on their experience with their buyers.
"That process starts with a size run, which means getting different sizes of the same style to try on different people. This allows us to make sure they all measure and hit spec."
From here, we fine tune the fit, the color, anything we need to fix or change. That process starts with a size run, which means getting different sizes of the same style to try on different people. This allows us to make sure they all measure and hit spec. Then, we move on to approving all of the colorways. We go through all these colors, we get fabric swatches, and we basically compare those to our salesman samples. We want everything to look how it did when we showed the line at the beginning of the season, basically. What I didn't know is how many different colors you can have in a lab dip [a sample of dyed fabric made for the designer by a manufacturer]. We start a design off with a colorway that we’ve only seen in a workbook, and sometimes it can look very differently when it comes to applying it to clothing. For example, you can get four lab dips that are all supposed to be for the same colorway, but you still have to select which one's your favorite or the best out of the four.
Helena: You mentioned specs. Can you elaborate more on this?
Hanna: Exactly. Alyson [Aventura’s Designer] will design something, then Kathleen [Owner & Head of Product Development] will take that design and think about what specs are going to work with the style. Sometimes it is just a shot in the dark. For a first proto [original design], you can guess based on what we've done before. Once we get that first proto sample from the factory, then we start making changes and we see the things that didn't work like we thought they would. On a woven top, for example, we might reduce the high chest front by a half inch or something like that. I’d say that this is a back and forth process with the factories that takes at least five to six samples before it's actually production ready for the customers.
Helena: So, what does a production timeline look like?
Hanna: That timeline is pretty much an entire season, basically, that takes place from getting a salesman sample all the way through to bulk production. For my job, I started working on the Spring 24 Collection in May and I won't be done with it until the beginning of next year. Around October, I'll start working on Fall 2024 at the same time we are finishing up Spring 2024. It's a neverending process!
I’d say my part of the process is about six months long, but before that, Kathleen and Melissa have to get proto samples. They have to select all of the colors and trims they want to use. The production timeline is probably closer to a year if you're starting from design proto sample all the way up to whole production.
Helena: Overall, what has been the biggest thing that surprised you about this industry?
Hanna: It's just how long it actually takes to get something as simple as a t-shirt to have the exact fit that you want. That is a process and I had no idea it took as long as it did.
"It's just how long it actually takes to get something as simple as a t-shirt to have the exact fit that you want. That is a process and I had no idea it took as long as it did."
Another thing, partially due to this long process, is how far in advance companies are planning out styles. I didn’t realize that when I started working here. You're going to have to conceptualize designs and predict what people will be wanting to wear almost a year (but oftentimes more!) in the future. In our department, we're often like, what year is it? Because we're working ahead so much. Melissa [Aventura’s Technical Designer and Old Ranch Brands’ Designer] was sitting by me earlier and she's already researching for Spring 25!