All in the detail

by Charles Mak

Petula Mak, vice president, technical, product design & development
Clover Group International
Photo: Nolly Leung

The art of Shu Fa (Chinese calligraphy) unveils much of an artist's individuality and personality. An undemanding or seemingly lackadaisical brushstroke can denote such mental strengths as character, sophistication, confidence, diligence, poise, as well as seamless coordination of body and mind — all the qualities that Petula Mak, vice president, technical, product design & development, Clover Group International Ltd, weaves into the design of the company's brassiere collection.

Conforming to certain expectations and functional properties, brassiere design encompasses an ever-growing range of styles and forms through careful control of material and the construction process, accentuating the shape and curve desired by the user, and in some cases, spectators alike.

"My job is in many ways similar to a scribe's but with greater flexibility as far as the colour palette and the variety of material permit," says Ms Mak, who is also a skilled calligrapher and seal engraver.

Personal choice

Ms Mak's venture into the industry came about initially because of need. Disappointed by the overall inadequacy in lingerie options as she came of age, Ms Mak was determined to find herself the perfect "cups".

"As a young girl, I felt that my choice was restricted by a very conservative and scanty market," she notes. "In fact, this has been a challenge for women of all ages."

Discussions with her friends and fellow students only fuelled her flame of discontent. At the same time, an unsatisfying stint at an electronics manufacturer after graduation further confirmed her aspirations. "My true passion lies in lingerie manufacturing," she states, explaining next move to a major lingerie manufacturer.

However, after an eight-year tenure, she migrated to Sydney with her family, and spent four years in the wedding dress business. "My role was one of a consultant. Interestingly enough, making a wedding dress is very similar to that of lingerie — every inch counts," Ms Mak remarks.

Back in Hong Kong at the turn of the millennium, she signed up with Clover, a leading lingerie manufacturer that has a strong foothold in the US market. The past few years have seen her grow from designer to manager and her current position. Now juggling between duties in merchandising, design and production, Ms Mak finds challenge and great satisfaction in the people she works with.

"People management is an art. To master the essence, you must learn to align individual standards and foster constructive relationships," she says.

Part of her job involves assessing designs, meeting customer requirements, managing their expectations and eliminating any uncertainties, on top of countless discussions with suppliers and her teams. The ultimate aim is to make a design work for all parties in the logistics chain.

"Facilitating communication with external parties is the most important aspect in my role and it tells people that my teams and I have the expertise they want," she stresses. "This is how we exceed expectations."

Due to time differences, evening calls and conferences with overseas buyers and suppliers are "part of the day's work". "Garment manufacturing is fascinating but very tough," Ms Mak says. "My passion and the human facets in the job give me the real push."

Nip tips

Spoilt for choice, women today struggle to find the perfect fit. In this regard, it is only natural that friends confide in Ms Mak their innermost concerns. She says, "I'm always happy to answer any request for advice."

She cautions though that forcing the wrong fit can lead to hazardous results. It is therefore wise not to compromise comfort for style, she emphasises. "Even the most fabulous design serves to assist with the overall functional exertion of the female body. Getting the wrong support is worse than getting none. It's a common cause for back pain," she explains. "Wearing something too tight, for instance, not only marks your skin, it also prevents regular lymphatic flow, increasing the risk of breast cancer in the long run."

Fashion shows and trade fairs do much to inspire budding designers but Ms Mak prefers to obtain the latest in lingerie fashion and insider information from her trusted customers and suppliers. She suggests that young aspirants stay focused and cultivate their innovative capacity.

Having such experience on the technical side of things, Ms Mak is looking to raise her sights on the design department. "I'm confident that my technical know-how will help me deliver successful designs," she enthuses. "Although I've had my fair share of excitement in the entire manufacturing process, I'm hoping one day I will see my own design on a mannequin in a department store window. This is very much like complementing my works of calligraphy with my own seal imprint. It's satisfaction on another level."


Taken from Career Times 22 May 2009, p. B10
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