Pivoting Departments

I’d love to hear your stories about pivoting from one department to another in the fashion industry. For example: my background is in tech dev and patternmaking but I have a strong passion for design. I can’t seem to get any attention from companies recruiting creative designers. How have you handled changing course in your career? Do you have to start from the beginning no matter how many years of industry experience you have?


Our industry is very short sighted and linear. Therefore, it is almost impossible to switch from Tech design to design: any employer will want to see that you are currently in a design position that is very similar to the product that they make. The same outlook applies to changing price points in fashion: you will never be hired to design a contemporary line if your background is Walmart. Bottom line: you must be doing exactly what they want already. Grandpoobah–do you agree?
I suggest that you keep your profession for now, and do your own creative work on the side for a small customer base.


This is exactly what I’m struggling with currently, I’ve been getting shot down even trying for low level design positions from tech

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Covid has taught our industry many things and one of them remains - wearing many hats as companies struggle to stay afloat. With my background of sourcing & factory production, making POs or packaging sheets was a relatively low skill but I did it happily as we could not afford a full time person for that profile.
So many similar stories in our team… senior designers playing sales assistant, sales assistants doing reception …

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I pivoted from production to development to design to graphics, so I think it’s totally possible. Rework your resume & portfolio to show that you can do the creative stuff. I’ve been in nearly all categories except for outerwear, so having range & experience is super beneficial. Poise yourself as a jack of all trades - a lot of smaller companies who may not have the budget for very specific jobs will appreciate your skillset.


Regardless this is not the best time for everyone in our industry…
I have seen in my careers switching from tech to design, mostly in the bottom level though.
Assistant/associate Tech (mostly they had to take a job as TD, since they couldn’t put their foot in the design at the begining) were able to move to design(we happened to be needed one urgently, so rather take one who “knows”)

Always thought it’s a bit easier transition from designer to technical designer it seems… if you’re trained working directly communicate with factories a lot…

If you build up your career more than a senior tech but moving to design, almost impossible…comes along with why? question-

Anyway, if you’re really have a true heart/passion for the design -my passion has gone down and jaded after working in the field almost two decades,

Make a side project, and make the strong portpolio (sadly those TDs wanted to be a designer, I’ve seen their portfolio,pretty weak) and appeal your background as TD would be a plus for the design job- it could be a huge plus depending on the job/companies
Also voice up/appeal within the company and your network that you want to move to the design, you never know where the opportunity comes.


Sadly, I agree with @artcouture … our industry is overall very short sighted, and tends to value only things that you do that EXACTLY line up with what the job opening is. If you’re someone who is a knits designer, you MAY be able to go to a soft wovens position; but then again, they’ll probably choose someone who already has wovens experience.

As someone who has a “jack of all trades” experience, I’ve endured many interviews that have gone done the path of ending with: but you are a “master of none.” Most places don’t want to know what a well rounded designer you are. For years I did full collections- knits/wovens/tops/bottoms/dresses, etc… and struggled when making a move to a company that wasn’t set up the same way. I always enjoyed working in multiple categories, because I get bored easily. Then I somehow fell into doing swimwear/resort, did that for over 10 years, and then became JUST a swimwear designer, despite my previous years of RTW apparel. No recruiter would represent me in any job offering that wasn’t swimwear. The industry is just THAT myopic.

One thing to keep in mind is that the industry is also incredibly, incredibly ageist. (See the thread Ageism Is Rampant). Designers are a dime a dozen, and there are always a dozen young new things clamoring to do your job for way cheaper- is the overall feeling. A lot of designers- seeing their age and experience slowly has become a hinderance, not an advantage- see opportunities dry up, and jobs being replaced by people who will do the job for wayyy less pay. (No matter that a lot of these don’t work out- but that’s a different story). A lot of Designers turn to Tech Design/Patternmaking, because it’s one of the few areas where having extensive experience is an asset, not a curse. That’s what I did.

I don’t know how old you are, and I truly understand the drive to do something creative and bring your full skillset to a design role. However, it will take a small, very special company that will see through the bulls**t to realize that you bring a wealth of experience with you, and can be such an amazing asset. And this IS possible, but very hard to come by. But to be a realist- you are probably making a pretty good salary as a professional TD/patternmaker ($85K+) but in most places’ minds, you have zero design skills, and are thus entry level. Are you really willing to take a design asst job at $28k? And knowing- if you do that- you will have to climb through the ranks like everyone else… so know that you probably won’t reach a designer position for at least a few years, and may not even reach close to your current salary. And then, take a good long hard look at how old you’ll be then. Because at that age (38? 40? 45?) you will probably be regarded as irrevelevant, and “old” and also, too experienced to compete with those 22 years olds just out of design school who have their thumb on the pulse of what’s new and hot in fashion.

I know this sounds incredibly depressing, and it is. I’ve lived through it. However, I would say that there are some places where maybe your “passion” for design can get you rewarded, in spirit, even if not financially. Maybe you start a little side hustle doing design; or start your own small apparel company; maybe you teach at a local college or sewing school; maybe you translate your skills into an asset for a little company and you help provide consulting to. One thing I have learned, through of all of this, is that I actually enjoy fashion now more than I did when I was in the pressure cooker of design. I continually felt the heat to “find the trend, find the trend”- every visit to the mall felt like a comp shopping trip; I found myself taking pictures of garments/trims/details during my vacations and my honeymoon. Shopping wasn’t fun anymore; reading fashion magazines was about pulling out tear sheets for my next meeting; everything was about work. When I switched to TD- after an initial cooling off period- I found myself walking through stores actually enjoying the experience, appreciating and critiquing as I saw fit, but I wasn’t just gathering notes to present at my next sales meeting. Sure, I might linger and check out how a certain bikini is constructed, but I am no longer thinking of every Target run as being a chance to get the upper hand in my next meeting by improving upon it. I now read Elle on my lounge chair in the sun without tearing out pages to scan in for next design presentation. For me, there is a freedom in that.

Thus I find, at the ripe old age of 42, that fashion can be fun again; and I get to remain in a craft I studied and trained for; and now I work with a bunch of people that are much younger than me, and I enjoy being someone who can help instruct and teach in turn. And for now, that is also creatively fulfilling.


I love this post! I’ve been asking the same questions to my industry friends for years! I was a trim buyer, fabric buyer, raw materials manager and would love to do something else in the industry (anything else!). Even if it means starting from the bottom. But no one hiring is interested. You would think they would be thrilled to get someone with industry experience for less money right? So confused!


I have seen a lot of shifts from people in the industry and I have done it myself. It is hardest if you are trying to shift into a design role. Otherwise my advice would be to do it at the company you are at. They are
The most willing to take employees who have proven performance and give them a chance at another role. The other way is to freelance. Sometimes companies just need temp people and are more open. This is how I shifted from various roles.

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