Welcome Note!


Welcome to T.Williams! Yes this is a fashion blog, no excuses for that, BUT we will be talking about fashion from a different perspective... as a tool for business success!

Everyone loves to look good and yes, majority of us love fashion! But we all know that fashion goes wayyyyy beyond stitching and there is a lot more to "it" than mere sewing!


SO

"Fashion Beyond Stitches" will discuss how to turn your love for fashion into money-spinners, sharing knowledge, ideas and skills necessary to run successful fashion businesses.

Oh of course this blog will not be complete without our very own T.Williams ranting and raving about her personal challenges as a fashion entrepreneur in the Nigerian Fashion Industry. But don't worry, there are also happy days and all her personal stuff will be filed under the label "T.Williams".

SO enjoy, follow & subscribe to our blog, post your comments, ask questions, offer advice, and spread the link! Cheers!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Changing Mindsets!


Often times I have wondered why we designers complain about so much and yet refuse other viable options that are available simply because of certain mindsets.  I'll give you an example...

The typical complaint with designers and fashion entrepreneurs in this industry are local tailors or lack of competent machinists to work with.  Of all the "challenges" I asked designers to send me during the Designers Connect gathering, predominant on the list is the issue of tailors.  From late coming to bad work to bad work ethics.

I have worked with local tailors in the past and I know the edge I had above them was my ability to sew and other viable options.  Where one left me in the lurch, I would simply call my local tailor to assist me churn out my work based on patterns I gave her and together we would churn out the work.  Other times when I was less busy, I tested her competency by sending a simple design for e.g. a boubou and asking her to do her normal "free-hand cutting" on a piece of paper so I could have a template to work with.  And she always obliged.  Where she went wrong, I would correct her.  Why was I doing all this?  I was trying to work out a process where she could easily create simple patterns and get my machinists to sew up the toile for testing.  Of course I paid her for her efforts.

Why am I saying all this?!  I have realized that designers complain without wanting to do their part or even entertain suggestions to current work procedures.  Due to the mindsets we have, we are averse to change.  Listen!  We need to change our mindsets and break up the production process!  You cannot own or be directly involved in the whole production process from start to finish!  It is simply not sustainable in the long run.  I know!  I have been there!  You cannot expect to get a different result if you keep doing the same thing over and over again!  In the same manner, how can you expect a normal local tailor, who is not super human, to churn out so much work in so little time and with much accuracy.  

First we need to train our staff no matter how experienced we think they are.  Why?!  Simply because work cultures are different and they need to understand your work process, especially if they have limited skills.  Like hello?!  How many months do fresh graduates or even experienced staff spend in training school for banks and accounting firms before they start to work.  I know when I first started at KPMG, we were at a retreat for 3 weeks learning the KPMG culture and basic accounting to prepare us for work.  Even those who were already in the system still had to go through the orientation programme called KBAC.

So why oh why do we not train our tailors and expect them to deliver fabulous work?!  How can we get a tailor today and throw him on the job without first training them to our standards and then complain that they are incompetent.  Are we forgetting we also run businesses?!  No matter how experienced you are, production methods vary in different establishments!  What you think is great might be awful to me so it is my job to ensure my tailor delivers good work... except of course he has simply refused to learn!  And oh.... let us also not forget the fact that if you can break down, so can your local tailor!  I know... I have been there and also made these same mistakes.  

When I first started out, I just found good tailors, ran a small test for them and just threw them on the job.  Of course, my business suffered dearly for it when I had to redo some garments I had already been paid for 3 times and other times, the tailors would burn them!  I sat down and began to review my methods and almost slapped myself!  First I never trained them.  These tailors were used to working with ankara and I was working with wool for suits.  They were used to high temperatures during their production almost to the point of "cremating" the fabric but it never affected the ankara fabric.  Of course they would use the same heat to steam wool which would obviously burn!  After searching deep within and realizing the fault was with me, I sat down to think of how things could work better.  

I compared my business to the places I had worked and almost beat myself up.  How could I have learnt all these things without applying them?!  And that was when I changed my strategy and it worked.  Yes, it took a while because most people I worked with were averse to patterns but eventually, seeing they failed all their tests, they conformed.  

You know what I think the solution to this tailor problem is?!  Simple!  Break up the  production process, let them handle only a fraction of the process, perhaps only the "cutting".  What I mean is if you have a good tailor, get him to do only the cutting, and then take it to someone else to join for you.... or better still... get joiners in your production unit and start a small production line and get them to join it for you!  And I know it works!

One of the easiest ways to retain staff in my opinion is to teach people limited skills in certain areas and get them to rise through the system.. Sort of like a promotion.  I know the day I asked my local tailor to create a pattern for me, he was ecstatic because I was giving him a chance.  Of course he bungled but at least he realized he was moving up the ranks and my plan was to get him to start assisting me with pattern-making so I could find joiners he could oversee because he already understood my construction methods.

I think more of what designers in the industry need are machinists rather than tailors.  And what are machinists?!  Simple!  They are called joiners in the local industry?  Someone who can run a machine and who can sew straight stitches.  I tell you I believe that is the only way forward!  Why do I think so?!  
  • First they have limited skills so there's really nowhere else for them to go.
  • Second, you can begin a form of promotion system where they move on to the next stage (which is essentially more responsibility) after they have perfected their sewing skills.  That way they also feel they are rising up the ranks.
  • Third, you begin a form of production line where different people know their areas of responsibilities and become specialized in those areas.  You can rotate them but ONLY when they have earned the right.
So please please please start thinking about this.  If you, however, keep searching for a good tailor so you can burden him with all your work, guess what?!  He will be over-burdened and leave you probably for the next best thing which is another better paying job or to set up his own establishment.  Or hold you to ransom.  One person should not handle a whole garment from start to finish.  

People wonder why things seem to work in other countries?!  Simple!  Division of Labour!  This is how proper factories operate worldwide.  I recall during my internship programme about 50 people, give or take, worked on a pair of trousers.  And guess what?!  Some didn't even know where their work ended up in the whole garment.  I found it surprising but it made sense.  They only sew straight lines and where they do not show up, you can simply get someone else who can sew a straight line and take her place.  And of course since they know they can easily be replaced, they stay... in fact some had been there for 25 years!  

No you do not have to have up to 50 people.  You can set up a small production line with just 3 people.  When I started, I created the patterns, one person sewed the garment, the other person sewed the lining and the third just did all the running around like the steaming, tacking, buttons, etc.  They worked as a team and that way, we could identify problems before delivery to the customer.  Yes it was frustrating and a lot of hard work at first but after a while, things became much better.

So how can you as an aspiring designer get this system to work for you?!  Simple!  
  1. Get some basic formal or informal training in pattern making and garment construction so when you relate with your staff, they know you know your stuff.  
  2. Do not rely on your tailor for everything.  Get him/her to only your "cutting" and even the pinning.  Of course you do your proper homework by giving him proper well labelled drawings and fabric swatches not just some sketches of just the front of your garments and expect him to know what is going on at the back. How would he know?!
  3. Get machinists who you have tested and trained to sew the seams together.  Where you get stuck, call your tailor to explain it to you.  That's what my staff did and I would explain the stuff over the phone to them simply because I created the patterns and they had detailed pictures to assist them.   And you take it from there.  

So in conclusion, I think we designers need a reality check and need to get over ourselves.  We need to start doing the needful and relying less on our tailors and more importantly, we need to start changing our mindsets!  Who says things always have to remain the same way even if they seem to be working for you much less when they are not?!  There are always better ways to do things.  This is how it is always done does not mean it is right especially if you have evidence of the contrary.  It is simply a fallacy!   

The truth is when you break up the whole process and everyone knows what they are meant to do then life will be easier and guess what?!  Work eventually becomes faster and you can more easily allocate your costs and charge better for your garments!

Here's wishing you all the very best in the new week and hoping you do things differently!

I leave you with some pictures I took during my internship programme.  Yes this was a huge factory but I'm hoping this will stir us up to create our own small CMTs and hopefully we will begin to run proper garment manufacturing outfits in this environment!





 



Cheers!


OH... PS!  I have some machinists / joiners....looking for work.  Had to go to the middle of Lagos Island to look for unemployed youths who have taken the time to learn a skill and find jobs for them in the industry in a bid to alleviate poverty and make life easier for designers as well.  But guess what?  The same designers who are complaining have refused to give these people a chance.  But you know what?!  Someday, it will make sense!


So if you are a designer and you share my position and require machinists, please contact me.  I will also send the information out to members in the Designers Connect Network.  Warning, you will pay a token finders fee to compensate me for the stress I went through going to the deepest parts of Lagos Island for 3 days, testing them to check their level of competence and leaving wayyyyy after sunset when it was already dark to root them out.  Many thanks! :-D  

12 comments:

  1. A master piece Tope. Thanks

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    1. :-D Thank you! :-D Clearly I had a lot to say right?! I just had to rant and rave. The resistance to change and new ideas is just shocking! But I refuse to be discouraged! I will go on preaching it. Hopefully someday, someone will listen and at least give it a try...

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  2. WELL DONE. THIS IS TRULY INSPIRATIONAL. CAUSE I WAS ABOUT GIVING MY MINDSET A SECOND THOUGHT ABOUT THIS ''OYINBO'' DIVISION OF LABOUR (my mechanist term).

    TOPE THANK YOU FOR MAKING ME BELIEVE IN THE PROCESS. IFELT AWFUL WHEN I FOUND OUT I HAD MISSED THE DESIGNERS CONNECT NETWORKING. HOPE THERE WILL BE MANY MORE EVENTS? KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK.

    joke

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    Replies
    1. Pleasure's all mine Joke. And I am really glad the piece was able to spark something in you. The process does work.

      Re Designers Connect, we are planning another one shortly and it will be sometime in September. I decided it would only take place 2x a year so we all have something to look forward to. Please follow the blog and you will get the information as soon as I have dotted my "i"s and crossed my "t"s. I am planning something a bit different and as soon as I have ironed it all out, then we are good to go.

      Many thanks once again and have an excellent week ahead!

      Cheers!

      Delete
  3. Yes, Ms T., I have had to go back and read this blog again and again......so I can comment, like I told you. I didnt know people could just learn to run machines or join fabrics and end it there. Honest. Didnt even know such workers existed here.

    As always, great information. Thank you.

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    Replies
    1. LOL!!! Thanks a lot! Well the good thing is that you now know and you can take advantage of this. I am working on getting more machinists and hopefully, the headaches of getting joiners or being at the mercy of our local tailors will reduce once a substantial number of designers start to put in these simple processes in their businesses. It will take a while but then again, Rome wasn't built in a day. As long as we are willing to do our part, then we will soon start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

      Looking forward to seeing you on Saturday!

      Cheers!

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  4. WOWWWWWWW. this post and this blog as a whole or should I say everything you're doing is such an answer to my prayers. this post really helped me. I just draw and people things like my designs on paper so I decided to make a few and people loved them. I don't call myself a designer cos I feel I need to undergo some form of training and know some things. I've been doing some personal learning but It's kinda difficult turning. it will be so helpful if you write book from all these posts and write things that can fit into our environment. especially when it comes to sourcing for human resources and managing the process of making clothing. I'd be glad if you can suggest to me where you think is a good place to learn the basics of fashion construction and i won't mind the suggestion of a fashion schoool in Nigeria or africa where I can do a short course and be competent with good price. that will help me in coordinating when I have my own factory. thereafter I will be very interested in the machinist scheme. I think its a great idea and could be a big business helping the machinists and the designers and good business for you cos i can assure you demand is high.thank you so much.

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    1. Hello Opeye,

      Thanks a lot for your post. I was at dinner with a friend when I read your comment and I pretty much had a huge smile on my face throughout. Thank you so very much. I am glad the post really helped shape your ideas.

      With respect to your enquiry re a fashion school here in Nigeria, I run a Training Center where we train fashion enthusiasts the practical aspects of garment construction....pretty much how to sew. We run 2 in-house courses:

      - the "Foundation Course in Fashion Design" for aspiring and practising design entrepreneurs; &
      - the "Basic Course in Pattern Making & Garment Construction" for those who would love to learn the skill as a hobby and not as a business.

      Please see the flyers on the right of the screen and please send an e-mail to twilliams@martwayne.com or call me on 0813 298 7824 or chat to me via BB: PIN 2156A776. I plan to get a new BB soon though so watch this space for information on the new PIN.

      Re the machinist scheme, as soon as we have tested more, I will let you know. Many many MANY thanks once again and have a great weekend ahead.

      PS. Hope you plan to come for FEC 3...

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    2. Oh... Opeye... I forgot to mention that the new stream for the Foundation Course begins on Saturday 19 May, 2012 while the Basic Course begins on Friday, 1 June 2012. Our courses are short weekend courses so they should fit right into your plans. And don't worry, I believe are fees are very affordable for the value we provide.

      Looking forward to hearing from you.

      Regards...

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  5. I shall give you a call. Judging by your sincerity in the post I know I'll get what I need from you and I'll honoured to learn from you and that's true.

    ReplyDelete