There's 26 year old me, a Senior Designer in my company, designing fast fashion clothing for some of the biggest brands on the highstreet (names of which I probably shouldn’t mention).
On busy months I'd design hundreds of items, maybe 30 styles of which got booked, and of those 30 styles, maybe a couple of hundred thousand units of garments would have been produced in factories and shipped into store. To give you an idea of the scale of the production, I could walk around a festival and every few hours probably point out someone who was wearing something that I had designed. It was a crazy business. You could literally have an idea, sketch it out, get a sample made in a day, and within 6 weeks it would be in someones shopping bag.
For the first few years of doing this I was living the dream. The company I worked for gave me so much responsibility and creative freedom, and looked after me well to keep me there. It was very much a sales job too, we would have to pitch our styles to our clients every few weeks and try to convince them to buy our product over someone elses. The people buying had such huge budgets due to good sales, that sometimes you could walk away from a meeting knowing that they had just ordered 200,000 units worth of clothing. Occasionally a buyer would ring up our office and say “I have 2 million pounds to spend on blouses this week, what can you deliver into store quickly?”
That was really the heyday of highstreet fashion where almost everyone was doing well. Customers just seemed happy to fill up their baskets with any old stuff because it was cheap and accessible. People were proud to have found the cheapest possible item going; tops for £2, shoes for £5, and there seemed like no limit for how cheap it could be. When I was younger I was definitely guilty of shopping in that way too, it was the rise of the cheap highstreet brands. But after some time I sort of realised that I didn’t value cheap clothing and my respect grew for skills found in the manufacture of vintage or second hand clothing. I didn’t want to wear the same thing as everyone else, and also maybe I started to know a bit too much about the industry and the consequences of this kind of mass production.
A few years later, we had a few seasons of bad trading and had to let a few people go in our company. We had predicted that sales were going to continue at the rate we had been used to but for whatever reason it didn’t happen and we were scraping by. The work days seemed to get slower and longer, and I had a lot more time to think things over. I always loved working at our office because the people made it amazing. We had our own little family there where we looked out for each other, people of all ages and all backgrounds were friends, all working together in this funny melting pot. Some of the older ladies would cook lunch for us on almost a daily basis, and we called them ‘mummy’ because they really treated us like their kids.