PSA: Pattern makers are not failed designers
I’m disconcerted by a private conversation I’m having with a design school grad. By grad, I mean it’s been several years (10? 20?) since she matriculated and she’s never worked in the industry. It’s always such a rude awakening to be reminded of the fashion school mindset. Specifically, she’s so very kind and what not but she has the idea that pattern makers are failed designers -not that she’d be so rude to come right out and say it. You know, that people who couldn’t make it as a designer become pattern makers so we are not as important, skilled, smart or whatever. I don’t think I’ll ever become accustomed to this.
So here’s my little PSA (public service announcement) to design school students and graduates: In many schools you may be taught that people who can’t cut it as designers become pattern makers. All I can say is believe that to your peril.
Pattern making is an engineering degree. Fashion design is liberal arts. Since engineers nearly always out-earn artists, that would explain why pattern makers can earn twice as much as designers -unfortunately they don’t tell you that in design school either.
Yes, designers are taught a bit of pattern making and pattern makers get the same training as designers but we get additional coursework and training designers do not. It’s an entirely different educational and career track. Pattern makers are not settling for second best. We don’t want to be you. We’re not jealous of you either. We do not pine for adoration and public acclaim.
In school they tell you have to become a pattern maker to become a designer. This drives me crazy. It is not that you have to be a pattern maker in order to get to be a designer, it’s that a pattern maker becomes a designer because they’re not cut out for the pattern job -not that they paid their dues. And they may not be cut out for the pattern job because of many things, temperament, the requirement of absolute precision, having to take everyone yelling at you when production has a problem etc..
Does this mean I don’t think start up designers shouldn’t make their own patterns? Of course not, I think that is the best way to get started if one’s budget is tight. However, once a designer wants to hire another business (as opposed to stitchers working out of their homes), required competencies are brought to bear -sometimes quite rudely and abruptly. Moreover, by virtue of the fact that I’m a pattern maker (and thus you presume I’m inferior to you) and I know some contractors does not mean I owe you an introduction just because you’re a designer. I would never presume that you owe me something if I’m not your customer -even if you are a designer. I know you may be the only designer that your friends know so they think you are great or you may even have a couple of aspiring designer friends you hang out with for the comfort of a collective group hug. However, all of our customers are designers so nobody stands out as great unless they are nice and all that.
Meaning, if you’re looking for other businesses to sew for you, a pattern maker can help you provided you are prepared to step up your game. Everybody thinks that moving up to another level is a matter of more sales but moving up to another level means increasing your competencies and hiring it out as needed. [Trust me, I took production pattern making in school too but I was not prepared for the realities of the workplace.] Frankly, among many designer start ups, it is endemic, a given, that they don’t even know they need a pattern maker. Hiring a pattern maker doesn’t mean you’re less of a design professional -it means you’re more of one.
Lesson: Pattern makers are not underlings, servants or inferior to designers and we can teach you a lot. There’s no need to pity us, talk down, or use mono-syllabic words when speaking with us. Most importantly, you should not disregard what we’re saying because you don’t understand. Make the effort and you’ll gain more respect, profit and partnering opportunities. We know lots of people who can take you to another level but we’re not going to hook you up if you treat us like servants. Most of all, we don’t owe you anything.
Want to know the ugly truth? In a factory, we own you. Just as a good sample maker can get a pattern maker canned (so pattern makers don’t get too cocky either), a good pattern maker can get a designer canned. The power structure is in the inverse. Be nice. Call it my “opinion” all you like but that my friends is the real world.