Designers get close up and personal
DESIGNERS who have wanted their creations to be advertised by gorgeous models on the biggest billboards in town should focus on underwear.
At first glance, it might seem that the glamour belongs to other areas of the garment industry. But there is more to the underwear segment than meets the eye - trends, fabrics, colours, fit and comfort, just to mention a few things. Also, you can be certain that almost everyone is a potential customer, which is not the case in the world of haute couture.
Designers may be regarded as contemporary artists but to do their job well they need specialised training in a range of technical and commercial skills.
One such programme is run by the Ace Style Institute of Intimate Apparel at Polytechnic University's Institute of Textiles and Clothing.
Winnie Yu, associate professor and programme leader, said the institute was the only one in Asia that gave qualifications in intimate apparel. De Montfort University in Britain offered a similar course.
Dr Yu, who oversees the development of the next generation of designers, reminds them that fashion is a business and new styles cannot be considered successful unless they sell. The institute opened in September last year, helped by a substantial donation by Andrew Sia, managing director of Ace Style Intimate Apparel, one of the leading local companies designing and manufacturing lingerie.
The Ace Style Institute of Intimate Apparel, with a 1300 square foot studio, has advanced computer systems and special equipment to explore design concepts and prepare samples.
Students have the option of completing the bachelor's degree in intimate apparel in two years on a full-time basis, or they could finish it in four years on a part-time basis.
Most full-time students already have a relevant higher diploma, while those studying part time are usually working in the industry.
The course has proved very popular, with 160 applications for 35 seats in the full-time programme. For graduates, the degree could mean excellent career opportunities in the fashion and textiles industry.
'The course content was developed from industry and student surveys,' Dr Yu said.
'Graduates can expect to be lingerie designers, merchandisers, pattern/fit technicians, retailers, buyers or colour technicians. They could progress to divisional managers or chief designers.'
Dr Yu said the industry offered exciting openings in Hong Kong, the mainland and around the world. Fresh graduates can expect to earn starting salaries of about $9,000 while senior professionals could draw up to $40,000 a month.
Connie Yiu, managing director of Hong Kong-based underwear manufacturer Wai Shing Brothers Manufacturing, has been collaborating with designers for 20 years and understands what it takes to co-operate effectively.
She said designers had to give the manufacturer specific details, including the required material, colour, size specifications, label details, washing requirements, weight and even packing instructions.
'There are many aspects to cover and all of them need to be thought through before I am given an order. My orders range between 1,000 and 100,000 pieces, so it is important that all the specifications are correct when the order is received,' Ms Yiu said.
She said underwear design had moved with the times, as had other areas of the fashion business. Many of the items her company produced now bore little resemblance to those that were made when she started in her career.
One of the biggest changes was that underwear had evolved to designs that looked like, and were being worn as, 'outerwear'.
For example, some of the more recent designs for men featured two front pockets, similar to a pair of jeans, and women's designs were becoming more like a pair of shorts, almost suitable for a visit to the supermarket. Ms Yiu said such changes reflected the need for underwear to become more versatile but that sexy underwear and the revealing g-string were as popular as ever.
Be aware of the budget. A good designer must check the price of materials before starting the design process.
Understand the purpose and nature of the garment. It cannot be too complicated. Simple is usually better.
Be familiar with sewing techniques and pattern-making skills. A good underwear designer should know what types of seams and stitches will be used.
Use design principles and different elements effectively by mixing materials such as lace, trims and motifs.
Manage time by watching deadlines and co-ordinating tasks. Ordering, sending materials for dyeing, checking samples and organising schedules are all part of the designer's responsibility.
Acquire good language skills. The majority of companies now want designers to be able to speak English, Cantonese and Putonghua.
Develop good communication skills to deal effectively with pattern makers, vendors, sample makers, merchandisers, customers and your manager.