When choosing intimate innerwear, women look for a design, colour and shape to their liking. However, designs in female underwear are vast since they cover a full range of attire for various occasions. Such a wide field of choice means that professionals in the lingerie business are facing a severe challenge to keep up with today's changing trends and keener competition.
Nancy Chang, chief operations officer of Clover Group International Ltd has a success story to tell. Ms Chang studied business administration in Canada but on returning to Hong Kong could not find a related vacancy and instead tapped into the merchandising industry, where her degree was welcomed. She has never looked back.
Started in label merchandising, Ms Chang gained experience in such areas as fabric and quality control, and only turned to merchandising lingerie eight years ago. "It is a very demanding industry and my academic background gave me a platform that has enabled me to learn new things easily," she says. Besides frequent meetings with clients, her boss and colleagues, Ms Chang also oversees all the in-depth planning that goes into manufacturing.
"We emphasise efficiency and calculate everything down to the finest degree. I must handle all the details from fabrics trimming to the delivery of finished products," she explains.
As such, liaising with the engineering department is also part of the job, one that plays a crucial role in the production process, providing input by offering solutions and answering questions.
"The industry used to focus on the manufacturing side but now requires more precise planning that goes all the way down to the choice of machinery," she says.
Despite the hectic work schedule, Ms Chang enjoys her job and hopes to see the company elevate its profile to another level in the coming years as it reaches its goals and moves into the next generation of lingerie production.
While academic qualifications are still not prerequisites for entering the field, Ms Chang believes that having a university degree enhances a candidate's ability to acclimatise faster to the industry.
She strongly believes the industry is a viable option for university graduates wishing to embark on a career and open to wide exposure to different areas and people. She also notes that other qualities for success are character and effective communication skills since the merchandiser will be expected to converse with people at all levels from different cultures.
Merchandising may seem an easy profession to get into but Ms Chang cautions that succeeding in the job requires a strong will to learn and work hard. "There are no specific guidelines outlining your job specifications but then you will need in-depth knowledge of all the related areas of the industry. It's important not to be petty about what your job is and what isn't," she points out. Furthermore, since clients come from all over the world, including China, the ability to speak good English and Mandarin is a must.
Currently, Ms Chang is concerned about the demand exceeding the supply of talent, specially as related to technical skills. She also urges staff to think strategically and not consider they are merely doing a job but appreciate they are on a career path.
Ms Chang describes herself as a strict person, adding that when her staff realise the necessity for her strict demeanour and thank her, she feels gratified.
"I manage 6,000 staff and need to be strict since the manufacturing of lingerie involves a series of meticulous processes, and that requires careful management," she explains.
Fame and future
The Clover Group is one of the major producers of famous lingerie brands that are currently on the market around the world, and is now celebrating its 51st anniversary in the industry.
Client demand for upgraded product attractiveness and improvement usually requires still greater technological input in the manufacturing process. With all new designs, Clover produces many that are constantly re-tested to minimise glitches and ensure the best quality when the new model goes into mass production.
She predicts that the industry will become even more dependent on advances in technology and that industrial engineering will play an increasingly important role as processes become more intricate, specially under the pressure of outside competition.