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From the Factory Floor, Jo Mills

For anyone unfamiliar with the inner workings of a reputable fashion brand, the pattern cutter plays a pivotal role in the development of every garment. Easy to spot in any studio, they’re the ones who spend their days with pins held between their front teeth and a tape measure casually draped around the neck. Rarely sitting down, these highly skilled craftspeople are the ‘roving reporters’ of the business; darting from one department to the next, seeking information about the latest samples and fabric deliveries, or crouching beside machinists to help solve problems with construction. They have a uniquely inquisitive brain that combines creative flair with advanced mathematics – a knack that makes it easy for them to think in 3D. A rare breed indeed.

Advances in production technology and the industry-wide drive to slash costs have resulted in a declining community of qualified pattern cutters. With few educational institutions offering dedicated courses to train undergraduates in this dying art, the onus now falls on the shoulders of companies like ours, who believe this type of expertise should be championed and nurtured in equal measure. In the first of our stories from the factory floor, we speak to Jo, a brilliantly smart and supremely talented pattern cutter with an unquenchable thirst to become a master of fit, flow and functionality.

You’ve chosen an analogue profession in the midst of a digital age. We’re told that millennials are always looking for a fast-track to success, but instead you’ve chosen a to pursue something that will take decades to fully conquer. Why?

It all depends on how you perceive a millennial. People assume you’re constantly stuck to your phone, watching You Tube or looking at Instagram. Some say we think we ‘know it all’ and aren’t interested in listening to anything the ‘older’ generations have to say. I see things differently – we have the opportunity to do whatever we want. There are so many new portals to go down and it’s easier to access information and find out about what’s happening in the fashion industry. Nobody needs to covet an invite to a catwalk show anymore because it’s online straight away. In the job I do, my contemporaries are in their fifties or nearing retirement age, so it’s essential for me to get as much information as I can from them. If I’d have chosen differently I’d be sat in a generic office, being trained the same as everyone else. In this role, I’m on my own, pushing for knowledge, which is fine because this is my passion and I love it.

Pattern cutting is viewed as a ‘dark art’ by some, probably because it’s often done behind closed doors by people who tend to fly solo with a permanently furrowed brow. What can be done to raise the profile of a skill that if we’re not careful, could become obsolete?

This is the annoying thing. Everyone in the fashion industry knows that pattern cutters are a dying breed – and by that, I mean, they are, literally, dying. It’s so frustrating because nobody is willing to invest in them – brands generally don’t want to take a risk and hire a graduate and spend valuable time and money training them.

I got my ‘foot in the door’ here and count myself as one of the lucky ones. The thing about pattern cutters is not all of the true masters are born teachers, so you’ve got to pick carefully. You need to seek out the ones who are willing to share and capable of thoroughly explaining that deeply ingrained knowledge, and showing how it’s done.

You could be on the banks of the Seine in a pristine Parisian atelier, but instead you’re here in a Victorian factory building on the outskirts of Manchester. What made you choose to work at Private White VC?

This is the perfect environment for me. It couldn’t be better if it tried! I spent time working in Milan, which was very colourful and classic, but I knew I needed to be back in the UK to be able to ‘think outside the box’ and stretch myself a little more. Here at Private White I have access to the other pattern cutters and can speak directly to the machinists working upstairs. I can see something evolve from start to finish, from first sketch to final garment, knowing that I’ve helped create it. I can see faults first hand and correct them on the factory floor. Together we can work out how to construct a garment,trouble-shoot any problems together and have face-to-face conversations in real time, which is a real luxury in this industry.

 

In your career, have you noticed any significant differences between the way men and women feel about the importance of fit?

Men are detail driven, which means a lot of work for the pattern cutter. If a man tries on a garment that isn’t instantly comfortable, he won’t buy it, regardless of whether it looks great on the hanger or not. Men want practicality, they want a good fit and something that’s going to be useful (our biggest sellers are coats with inside pockets!). A woman is more likely to buy something because it looks nice, whereas a man may also love the aesthetics, but if it doesn’t have the qualities they’re after, forget it. I enjoy the problem-solving aspect of my job the most – you spend a lot of time in your own head thinking about how something will eventually come together, it’s all about the engineering. I spend my days asking myself ‘how is this going to fit? How will it look? If that doesn’t work, how can I do it better?’. Outside of work I can be walking down the street, or sitting on the metro and I’ll be constantly looking around for interesting details in people’s clothing – things catch my eye all the time. I’ll start working out how they were made, thinking about the maths and the angles.

It sounds like you’ve found your vocation in life – would you say that’s true?

Absolutely. I want to make beautiful garments that look amazing and serve a purpose. If something isn’t working because it’s a few millimetres wrong, then I want to find that issue and perfect it. I’ve picked a path that isn’t about sitting at a computer screen learning how to use a Microsoft program. It’s about being a curious, hands-on person with a certain type of brain, and that’s something you can never switch off, and besides, I wouldn’t want to!

 

For anyone unfamiliar with the inner workings of a reputable fashion brand, the pattern cutter plays a pivotal role in the development of every garment. Easy to spot in any studio, they’re the ones who spend their days with pins held between their front teeth and a tape measure casually draped around the neck. Rarely sitting down, these highly skilled craftspeople are the ‘roving reporters’ of the business; darting from one department to the next, seeking information about the latest samples and fabric deliveries, or crouching beside machinists to help solve problems with construction. They have a uniquely inquisitive brain that combines creative flair with advanced mathematics – a knack that makes it easy for them to think in 3D. A rare breed indeed.

Advances in production technology and the industry-wide drive to slash costs have resulted in a declining community of qualified pattern cutters. With few educational institutions offering dedicated courses to train undergraduates in this dying art, the onus now falls on the shoulders of companies like ours, who believe this type of expertise should be championed and nurtured in equal measure. In the first of our stories from the factory floor, we speak to Jo, a brilliantly smart and supremely talented pattern cutter with an unquenchable thirst to become a master of fit, flow and functionality.

You’ve chosen an analogue profession in the midst of a digital age. We’re told that millennials are always looking for a fast-track to success, but instead you’ve chosen a to pursue something that will take decades to fully conquer. Why?

It all depends on how you perceive a millennial. People assume you’re constantly stuck to your phone, watching You Tube or looking at Instagram. Some say we think we ‘know it all’ and aren’t interested in listening to anything the ‘older’ generations have to say. I see things differently – we have the opportunity to do whatever we want. There are so many new portals to go down and it’s easier to access information and find out about what’s happening in the fashion industry. Nobody needs to covet an invite to a catwalk show anymore because it’s online straight away. In the job I do, my contemporaries are in their fifties or nearing retirement age, so it’s essential for me to get as much information as I can from them. If I’d have chosen differently I’d be sat in a generic office, being trained the same as everyone else. In this role, I’m on my own, pushing for knowledge, which is fine because this is my passion and I love it.

Pattern cutting is viewed as a ‘dark art’ by some, probably because it’s often done behind closed doors by people who tend to fly solo with a permanently furrowed brow. What can be done to raise the profile of a skill that if we’re not careful, could become obsolete?

This is the annoying thing. Everyone in the fashion industry knows that pattern cutters are a dying breed – and by that, I mean, they are, literally, dying. It’s so frustrating because nobody is willing to invest in them – brands generally don’t want to take a risk and hire a graduate and spend valuable time and money training them.

 

I got my ‘foot in the door’ here and count myself as one of the lucky ones. The thing about pattern cutters is not all of the true masters are born teachers, so you’ve got to pick carefully. You need to seek out the ones who are willing to share and capable of thoroughly explaining that deeply ingrained knowledge, and showing how it’s done.

You could be on the banks of the Seine in a pristine Parisian atelier, but instead you’re here in a Victorian factory building on the outskirts of Manchester. What made you choose to work at Private White VC?

This is the perfect environment for me. It couldn’t be better if it tried! I spent time working in Milan, which was very colourful and classic, but I knew I needed to be back in the UK to be able to ‘think outside the box’ and stretch myself a little more. Here at Private White I have access to the other pattern cutters and can speak directly to the machinists working upstairs. I can see something evolve from start to finish, from first sketch to final garment, knowing that I’ve helped create it. I can see faults first hand and correct them on the factory floor. Together we can work out how to construct a garment,trouble-shoot any problems together and have face-to-face conversations in real time, which is a real luxury in this industry.

 

In your career, have you noticed any significant differences between the way men and women feel about the importance of fit?

Men are detail driven, which means a lot of work for the pattern cutter. If a man tries on a garment that isn’t instantly comfortable, he won’t buy it, regardless of whether it looks great on the hanger or not. Men want practicality, they want a good fit and something that’s going to be useful (our biggest sellers are coats with inside pockets!). A woman is more likely to buy something because it looks nice, whereas a man may also love the aesthetics, but if it doesn’t have the qualities they’re after, forget it. I enjoy the problem-solving aspect of my job the most – you spend a lot of time in your own head thinking about how something will eventually come together, it’s all about the engineering. I spend my days asking myself ‘how is this going to fit? How will it look? If that doesn’t work, how can I do it better?’. Outside of work I can be walking down the street, or sitting on the metro and I’ll be constantly looking around for interesting details in people’s clothing – things catch my eye all the time. I’ll start working out how they were made, thinking about the maths and the angles.

It sounds like you’ve found your vocation in life – would you say that’s true?

Absolutely. I want to make beautiful garments that look amazing and serve a purpose. If something isn’t working because it’s a few millimetres wrong, then I want to find that issue and perfect it. I’ve picked a path that isn’t about sitting at a computer screen learning how to use a Microsoft program. It’s about being a curious, hands-on person with a certain type of brain, and that’s something you can never switch off, and besides, I wouldn’t want to!

 

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