This month, Behind the Seams is featuring "rising stars" in the sewn products industry. The SPESA team collectively nominated Xochil Herrera Scheer for this honor. We followed Xochil on Instagram before actually meeting her at an industry event, and were impressed by her creativity and enthusiasm for her work. When we decided to open up SPESA's member committees to non-members, Xochil was the first to volunteer. She has since offered us great insight on how we can improve SPESA marketing and events to appeal to a wider audience. She continues to be a vocal supporter of our association, as well as others, and an exceptional asset to the sewn products industry. Read the Q&A below to see what we mean!
What is your current job position? And what does your role entail?
Xochil Herrera Scheer: I am a freelance pattern maker and product developer, and small business owner. My company is called The Chicago Pattern Maker. My team and I work with many different brands — primarily smaller to mid-sized brands, but a couple are larger ones that are well-known too. I help them bring their design concepts to life — from preparing design flats and tech packs, measurement specs, creating patterns, and going through the prototyping and revisions process. I advise clients with their material sourcing needs, and how to improve their products in various ways such as more efficient construction processes to save costs, as well as for functionality and fit.
How were you first introduced to the sewn products industry? What attracted you to it?
XHS: As a child I was introduced to sewing by my Grandma, who taught me how to make clothes for my dolls. By 9 years old I was learning how to use the sewing machine pretty well and got lots of guidance from my 4H leader. In high school I really enjoyed both art and tech ed classes — I took architectural drafting and even was able to convince my teacher to order an AutoCAD add-on application that could help me to work on patterns on the computer. Little did I know at the time that my future self would be spending a lot of my day using CAD!
Additionally, I had exhausted the resources for sewing classes in my school district, so I took classes at the local community college — learning how to make and alter patterns and fit on different bodies. All this before the age of 18.
I’ve always been interested in how things are made — and figuring out how to make things better. Like many young people who went to school for fashion design, I thought I wanted to be a designer too. But I quickly figured out that while many of my classmates enjoyed the creative and artistic side, I really loved the analytical stuff — drafting patterns, analyzing specs. Figuring out that I could have a career as a pattern maker was amazing — I enjoy problem solving and getting to be creative, but in a well-defined way.
What is the most important thing you have learned in your current role?
XHS: How important technical design and knowledge of the production process is as a designer.
As someone who has come up in this field at a time after off-shoring changed the industry, I see that technical design roles have replaced true pattern maker roles, and many companies operate with their sample teams across oceans. Being global isn’t going away (nor is it all bad), and technology continues to improve the processes for product development and production — but design teams need to understand how a factory floor works — which capabilities machines have and how a garment (or any sewn product) is put together. When you understand how a machine works, the order of operations, and other nuances about the production process, it can help to build a better pattern, and thus a better product. I love visiting factories whenever possible and always ask questions to ensure that my patterns work well for them.
I spent lots of time in my early days walking through my patterns with the sample makers in order to improve. I’ve also taken apart so many clothes, both as a tailor making fit adjustments, and just to dissect things because I was curious about how they were made. And, although I would not call myself a mechanic by any means — one of my favorite learning experiences was earning a certification from Union Special — where I got to troubleshoot, take apart, and re-assemble sewing machines ranging from single needle lockstitch up to a flatseamer.
What is the most surprising thing you have learned about the sewn products industry?
XHS: It still amazes me how large this industry is! I think many people have no idea how many companies and people are involved globally in a variety of roles. At the same time, it is also amazing to me how many people are connected and I enjoy seeing collaboration between companies — I think that is what is really cool about organizations like SPESA too.
What is something you have accomplished during your career that makes you proud?
XHS: I’m always so proud to see products I’ve worked on “in the wild” — real people wearing or using them is just so cool to me!
I would say though that helping a client to set up their own in-house production line was a great accomplishment. It was also my introduction to the Texprocess shows, and really where I came to know many of the big players in the industry. I researched machines as well as the production line set up — they were making basic items like t-shirts and hoodies — and then helped them to set up the layout of the space and get their staff trained, and then came back to help improve efficiency.
Are you working on any projects right now that you are excited about (and can share)?
XHS: I'm always working on a lot of projects — right now I am really enjoying some of the more complex items I’ve been working on. Blazers and jackets have become some of my favorite items to make. I’m also working on a project that incorporates wearable technology which I’m very excited about.
What are your long-term career goals? Do you have an idea where you want to be/what you want to be doing in 5, 10, 20 years?
XHS: I definitely see myself continuing to work in this field — I really love pattern making and product development. This past year I started teaching part time at Columbia College Chicago, which has been an amazing experience and I’m happy to impart some of my knowledge and experiences to the young people entering this industry.
I have a passion for on-demand manufacturing and see that as the future of this industry — so I would love to be a part of that somehow. I think that changes in technology and supply chain have made this goal more attainable, and I will support that in any way I can over the rest of my career. For both small and large brands, it offers a new way to compete as well as to reduce waste.
Another way I would like to contribute to our industry is to help find ways to steer younger people into the many roles within manufacturing and technology. I know workforce development is one of the number one challenges we face — if we can make manufacturing look cool (and it is!), then I think that will help inspire the next generation.
Thank you to Xochil for taking the time to answer our questions and for everything you do to support the sewn products industry!
Xochil Herrera Scheer is The Chicago Pattern Maker; she provides professional pattern making and fashion design services to businesses throughout the US. Xochil and her team have expert tailoring skills, and a strong skill set in fashion design, including first patterns, production patterns, technical design, and prototype creation. She collaborates with new and existing brands to help guide them through the product development process, with the goal of creating beautiful and functional products that are prepared for production, and ready to take to market. Xochil has a keen understanding of the production process through working with various factories, and being closely involved with clients throughout their development. She loves being involved in the local and domestic fashion community through promoting experiences, events and professional development, and is an adjunct faculty teacher in Fashion Studies at Columbia College Chicago. Xochil is very passionate about Made in USA products, sourcing and manufacturing.