Passion and Perseverance: Gathering Insights from the Women of the Sewn Products Industry
Updated: Apr 6, 2021
This month, Behind the Seams is focusing on women in the sewn products industry. We spoke with Shoshana Burgett, Owner & Explorer, Colorkarma, Pink Elephant Productions; Koskia Bello, Design Director Retail Markets, Greg Norman; and Kristen Dettoni, Founder, Design Pool LLC, to learn more about their experiences working in the sewn products and textiles industries. All three women will be speaking at the next Texprocess Americas & Techtextil North America Virtual Symposium session on direct-to-consumer manufacturing. Read below for more details.
We are so excited for the opportunity to speak with three talented and successful women, who are leaders in the sewn products industry. Please tell our readers a little bit about your current role and the career path that led you there.
Kristen Dettoni: I am the founder of Design Pool LLC and Domanda Design (a subsidiary of Design Pool). I started the business in 2019 and prior to that I was the co-founder of Patten Pod — a consulting business for commercial and residential textiles. I graduated with a Bachelors and Masters of Fine Art specializing in Fibers. After graduating, I needed a job to pay my student loans and was fortunate that I chose an art medium with an industry. I worked at textile mills in the U.S. and Canada for the first 23 years of my career. I primarily worked at the mill and I love being around manufacturing and equipment. It is so much fun to see products being made. During those 23 years, I designed textiles for office, hospitality, and healthcare furniture as well as car interiors. I also, sadly, watched the industry dissolve before my eyes and had concerns about my career longevity in the field. I am an avid crafter/DIYer and watched the print technology start to make “one-offs” and customization possible, so I decided to take my strengths of pattern design and merge that with the current print technology and started Design Pool!
Shoshana Burgett: Over the past two decades, I worked in various roles at Fortune 100 companies, living in many different parts of the globe. My background is graphic design, and most of my career has been in print. I spent several years at X-Rite and Pantone as Director of Global Marketing and Strategy. I became aware that all types of creatives have similar challenges executing their designs. I took the culmination of decades of knowledge to create Colorkarma, a resource for all kinds of creatives to learn about technology and manufacturing in a way that is appealing and adds value to their careers. Why repeat mistakes when we can help you be the smartest one in the room?
Koskia Bello: I am the Design & Creative Director of all performance apparel products for Greg Norman - Retail Division. I oversee from Color & Concept, to Design & Development, working cross functionally with our Technical & Production teams ensuring we deliver the best quality at the best value. Prior to that, I spent several years designing all categories of Men's sportswear at PVH in several brands, and finally, the start of my career at Perry Ellis, where I honed my skills in textile design, both Wovens & Knits. With over 20 years experience, It’s exciting to experience the changes in the industry, specifically the growth in technology.
How were you first introduced to the industry? And what attracted you to it?
KD: In art school, the foundation department was next to the fiber department. My roommate was also in that department, so in visiting, I became very interested in fiber. I also did a lot of sewing in high school and made most of my clothes. I liked the versatility of the fiber department since it incorporated so many techniques, weaving, sewing, printing, and papermaking.
SB: I was introduced to apparel and footwear when I worked at X-Rite and Pantone. As the Directory of Strategy, I had the opportunity to talk and listen to thousands of customers all over the world. It did not matter if the designer was in the apparel, packaging, graphic, or footwear industry. Their challenge was the same; working with suppliers to design and execute to their intent. I love helping others succeed and saw the technology wave coming in the sewing and garment industry. It's exciting to watch and be a part of.
KB: Both my grandmothers on both sides were sewers and garment makers. They were a major influence in my interest in sewn products. As soon as I started drawing, I created clothes. I sharpened my portfolio during my teen years, and off to Parsons School of Design NYC for my BFA.
Over the course of your career, how often have you found yourself to be one of only a few women included on a team, project, or meeting. What was that like?
KD: Most of my career I was one of only a few or the only woman on the team. I started my career in design where it was predominantly women and when I moved into product development or moved up and became director of design, there were very few women in textile development or in management. Unfortunately, that was normal. I did what I could do to advocate for myself and prove I was capable of doing the job. It felt good to break ground for other women coming after me.
SB: I come from print and manufacturing and found it all too frequent. Only a decade or two ago, it was pervasive. People assume what you will act like, speak like, or behave. Sadly people judge the book by the cover, and sometimes you can feel like you always have to prove your worth. As I got older, I learned to let my passion shine and stay true to myself — perseverance, authenticity, and genuinely striving to make the business better is the best way to ground yourself in those situations. Business is business, but that does not change the emotions on challenging and exhausting days. Some men take passion as anger or tears as a weakness when that is simply not true. There was a time when I found myself transitioning into a role I wanted, but when the moment came, I found myself in tears on my last day. My boss at the time did not know what to do and had never seen me tear up. I told him to give me a moment to gather myself together. He paused and said, “A well-working team builds a bond, you have gone into battle together every day for years. It's natural.”
KB: Throughout my career I have had the pleasure of working with, or for women in executive positions. I have learned the need to speak your mind, and ideas with conviction. As a creative, your passion is as important as your talent. That’s the best way to be heard.
Based on your experience, what obstacles do women face when it comes to breaking into or moving up within the sewn products industry?
KD: The obstacles are what everyone faces, the need to prove yourself and find a balance of advocating for yourself within the company culture. If you don’t agree with the company culture, unless you are the president, find a company that fits your belief and ethics system.
SB: No matter your sex or age, people judge you. Your voice, tone, looks, and behavior are all evaluated. You have to find a balance between working within the industry and being true to yourself. There was a period where women wore black business pants and dressed more masculine or asexual. I spent some time overseas and saw these powerful, strong women wearing very feminine clothes, with tall heels. They did not have to hide their femininity; they wore it proudly. When I returned to the states, I wore heels, skirts, and blush-colored blouses. The men were still in their suits, and most women wore the same asexual pants and white blouse. I would not let the company define me. Is it easy? No. Is it lonely sometimes? Yes. Are there other women in the same situation? Yes. We must not hide our femininity or make excuses for it, which was the case for decades. Women bring skills, knowledge, experience, and a perspective that has been lacking in every industry for decades or worse, centuries. Being a woman is only one piece of who we are. Don't let others define you by your sex, but don't let your sex define you either.
KB: Historically, there have been more female designers than male entering fashion design. At the beginning the executive floor had been male dominated, however there have been forward changes on that front, even if it has taken women having to work twice as hard to get there.
Where do you see the most industry opportunities for women now? In the future?
KD: A lot has changed since I started my career in the early ‘90s. The playing field probably won’t always be equal, but I believe companies are looking for women to be in leadership roles, especially in areas they traditionally haven’t been, such as manufacturing or development.
SB: I see the most opportunity in engineering and manufacturing. I know how great it feels to create, but I learned solving problems is creative too. Women can bring new perspectives and ideas to manufacturing; there is some incredible technology out there and more on the horizon. There are also many men in manufacturing; it is a sea of silver out there. Women can bring a new view and voice. When it comes to the environment, I also believe that women can steer manufacturing better than men.
KB: Technology has changed this industry so much, new software with multiple capabilities has helped enhance designers’ workflow. There is tremendous growth in technology/software use and development.
In the past, it seemed like women were often involved with the design side of the industry, whereas men primarily held leadership roles on the manufacturing side. However, all three of you seem to have built careers on melding design with technology and manufacturing. Is this the future for design in the sewn products and textile industries?
KD: I believe finding people that are both creative and technical is a huge asset to any company. It allows the designer to better engineer the product and allows the engineer to be more creative. Yet, it is challenging to find people with both of those characteristics. I am fortunate to have a passion for both. This has helped me be a more well-rounded designer and move around in my career between design and product development.
SB: Big brands do not need designers; they need intelligent designers who know business and manufacturing. You can be a great designer, but if it costs too much, or the wrong material is chosen, then the design fails. Brands want designers who understand the technology and can leverage their designs to optimize that technology and the supply chain. I have been able to live on both the design and manufacturing sides, and it provides a unique skill that is needed and valued today.
KB: In agreement with Kristen and Shoshana. Being creative is not enough to be successful. A designer must wear many hats to ensure the complete lifecycle of the product meets design aesthetics, function, and saleability. Both the right and left sides of the brain need to be incorporated to be able to deliver great product at a great value.
Do you think this shift will have (or maybe already has had) an impact on the prevalence of female leaders in the industry?
KD: I hope so.
SB: It has and will have an impact. Covid has sadly turned the tide a bit in the wrong direction. I speak to friends and colleagues, and they take Zoom calls, go on mute, talk to their kids and go back to Zoom. I was making a birthday cake for my daughter while on a FaceTime call organizing a big launch event. We should not deny our family for work. I hope those who needed to focus 100% on their family during Covid, come back to the workforce.
KB: I certainly expect so. Women bring creative, diversified solutions to the table, and if there is still someone not listening, they should be.
You are all speaking on the upcoming Texprocess Americas & Techtextil North America Virtual Symposium session on direct-to-consumer manufacturing. How is this trend transforming the supply chain?
KD: Direct-to-consumer is changing business as we know it. Items like micro-manufacturing, pricing algorithms, product mapping, flexible automation, and open design software are just a few technologies that have enabled people like me to open an e-commerce store with a minimal price of entry. I also believe it is helping to keep what little manufacturing is left within the U.S.
SB: The Texprocess Americas & Techtextil North America Virtual Symposium is a great platform to learn and hear from different industry areas. We are used to being on a trade show floor, but this year we are learning virtually. I was on a great webinar listening to a panel discussing the latest textile material technologies. It gave me a slew of new ideas for how we can use these new textiles in the future.
KB: As with the change in Texprocess Americas & Techtextil North America Symposium discussions from in-person to virtual, so is the rest of the industry changing in the way it is conducting business. It goes back to the importance of technology allowing us to pivot the way we were used to functioning in order to maintain business flow.
What do you think the next generation of the sewn products industry workforce will look like?
KD: I think the next generation of sewn product industry workers will be much more diverse and much more tech savvy. People can start a direct-to-consumer business from their laptop, without even stepping onto a production floor. This makes it much more accessible for anyone with a good idea to get started.
SB: I see the future for semi-automated or fully automated manufacturing lines. People are naturally fearsome of change, but we don't sew by hand or by a hand wheel any longer. The industrial revolution changed that. The future of sewing and textile manufacturing is automation and digitization.
Robots make less errors and can repeat a process over and over. We know in some regions, hundreds of people are lined up, sewing or applying glue to a shoe. I am one to say let the machines make it. We have more value in solving problems and creating. Fast fashion clothes disintegrate in a few months. I want my clothes to last 20-years, as they did in the '80s. I would rather have a shirt manufactured using automated robotics and machinery so humans can solve how to enable those textiles to last 20 years or be repurposed.
KB: I agree there can and should be more automation in manufacturing. There are many assembly line functions that can be digitized. The only area I do not agree with automation in, is design. No robot can ever take the place of the human eye.
Finally, what advice would you give to women looking to follow in your footsteps with a career in the sewn products industry?
KD: Do what you love and don’t let anyone deter you from following your passion. Be open to change. If one day you find yourself disliking what you do, explore alternative or new options. Life is short — carpe diem!
SB: Know you are not alone. Understand social media is a false-looking glass and that every day is a new day. Nothing happens overnight. Women today have an easier fight than the suffragettes. This fight is more of a marathon, and men don't understand because they have not experienced it. It will take another half-century or more. What is essential is we unite and work together to make our daughters and granddaughters' generation better.
KB: Do what you love with passion and conviction. Never stop learning, and teach others as you thrive.
Want to hear more from Kristen, Shoshana, and Koskia? They will be speaking on the next Texprocess Americas & Techtextil North America Virtual Symposium session, March 24th, along with Ryan Stanley, Senior Director of Color for PVH Corporation.
How Direct-to-Consumer is Transforming the Supply Chain Direct-to-consumer is transforming the manufacturing supply chain. Time to develop, produce and ship is condensed, and consumers are demanding faster delivery with more customized and personalized options. This session will focus on the designer’s place in today’s digital and how creatives can leverage data driven and on-demand technologies to speed up design rounds. Attendees will learn how to leverage the latest innovations to create new colors, patterns and products. Click here to register.