Combining style and substance

by Ella Lee

Janie Poon, design manager Chevon (Hong Kong) Limited

Top designer requires business and fashion sense

If your role in any type of enterprise is as a designer, people will expect you to be endlessly innovative and to have your finger on the pulse when it comes to understanding market demand.

Janie Poon, who is currently design manager of Chevon (Hong Kong) Limited and has over ten years' experience in the fashion business, is used to that, but still regards it as one of her biggest headaches.

"It is challenging to find new inspiration for every season's collections," says Ms Poon, who leads a team of designers in creating two new collections each year for the spring/summer and autumn/winter seasons. The process begins with extensive market research and sketching out some initial ideas. It then leads on to the full design and development process, which includes decisions about colours, materials, styling, accessories and cut. There can be many modifications along the way before each design is finalised and can passed on with appropriate instructions for the next stage of production.

To spot trends and get new ideas, Ms Poon visits overseas trade fairs and researches market developments in Europe at least twice a year. Other regular visits to the company's head office in France provide her with direction on themes and the "silhouette" for the season ahead. These directions will be adapted and interpreted in her collection to take into account facets of culture in the Far East and the climate.

To get a real feel for what customers want, Ms Poon and her team make a point of visiting retail outlets and talking directly to shoppers. In addition, useful feedback is obtained from the company's merchandisers and sales team, who reflect their own views on what is likely to be received well by the market and, more importantly, to sell.

Different options

In the local garment industry, businesses can be classified as OEM (original equipment manufacturing), ODM (original design manufacturing), or OBM (original brand manufacturing). The latter two can involve a design element in Hong Kong.

"To design OBM products, you need to focus on the overall brand image and identity " says Ms Poon. "The design effort will stay close to the brand statement and incorporate trendy elements. We design collections with seasonal and colour themes that can be coordinated with each other." In contrast, general ODM services will involve developing more varied designs suitable for a different clientele. The focus will be more on individual items rather than a collection.

Ms Poon generally works on branded designs and enjoys the chance to turn an abstract idea into products which sell in a retail store. She has always been fascinated by the tremendous variety and shifting nature of the fashion business.

Professional requirements

In general, designers need relevant qualifications and training, together with a real sense of fashion. They must also be knowledgeable about fabrics and the different stages of the manufacturing process. "This technical knowledge is necessary so that designers can choose the most suitable materials and will understand their various properties," Ms Poon says. She adds that a range of soft skills are required, especially for presenting designs to internal sales and merchandising teams, and for negotiating with external suppliers. It is also important to be familiar with the software programs and technology which are now widely used for research and various aspects of design. "The new generation of designers must definitely be computer literate," Ms Poon notes.

In her view, long-term success in the business largely depends on three things: a wholehearted commitment to the business, being prepared to take the initiative, and being able to cooperate effectively with other departments during every phase of the design process. Tight deadlines must be expected, so self-discipline and good management skills are also vital. Anyone hoping to move up to a senior management position must be able to handle complex costings and have a good business brain.

In her current role, Ms Poon says it is important to respect the individuality and ideas of each designer, objectively analysing and discussing their work, and training them to understand the market. Her philosophy is to motivate team members by getting them to participate fully. "The more involved they are, the better they understand, and the more devoted they become to the job," she says.


Taken from Career Times 28 July 2006
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