In this blog, we interviewed Candace Barritt, Assistant Product Technologist & Innovation across John Lewis & Partners and Weekend. Candace explains to us what is involved in a fast-paced day of working as an assistant product technologist, how she stays stress-free and whether enough is being done to address gender imbalance...
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your career?
I work as an Assistant Product Technologist & Innovation across John Lewis & Partners and Weekend. This covers all the product areas (wovens, jersey, formal, casual, outerwear, knitwear….). Besides working on clothing from our Victoria office, I do some sports to keep me zen. My two main sports are rugby and rowing. I’ve played rugby for 6/7 years now! I’m still an avid rugby player for my club, Hammersmith & Fulham. My position is a flanker, so I do enjoy tackling people. If that wasn’t gruelling enough for my body I decided to learn how to row almost 2 years ago when I first moved to London which I thought was quite a chilled outsport, but no one tells you that it's horrible. Rowing is such a skilled sport and very challenging. Definitely not a praising sport. I think I’ve staying in the sport because of my height (5’10 on a good day), as they keep putting me in boats!
What is a typical day in your career?
Check my e-mails from suppliers from India, China, Turkey and Portugal. Pull out any samples to review comments with the sourcing offices or factory to ensure they understand our comments and respond to their concerns or queries as there is a time difference. Review/approve the grading on production and ensure the sealed garment is up to our standards of quality and make.
Fit sessions, which is what my job revolves around and is the Product Technologist's main role, as we run them. It is 2-4-hour fit sessions with a model trying on different garments and fitting it correctly for our end-user. In the room, we have a designer and head buyer as we ensure everything looks like they designed it. I have these fit sessions every week on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Since I’m an assistant, I’ll take photos of the garment, ensure the Buying Assistant is recording all the comments correctly, and anything not flagged yet during fits I’ll raise.
After the fit session, we gather the samples and prioritize which need the fit comments sent out first. This involves updating the measurement log/specification based on what we need to add or takeout of the garment. For example, if the model says it's tight under her armpit, you would drop the underarm by 1 or 2 cm flat. We then check the make of the garment (stitching technique used) and the quality of the garment. I would normally have catch-up meetings with other assistant techs and technologists throughout the day from other departments or categories. Once I’m done with fit comments I’ll use my free time to work on individual projects or others set by my managers. I also have ownership over the reviews and ratings of our products on my category. So I’ll read all the reviews that come through and flag anything good or bad.
What made you choose this career?
My mom was a fashion buyer in Canada and Bermuda for 20 years. So she had a large influence on me studying fashion as she never was able to. She showed me how fun it could be to buy and develop clothes too. Watching movies and reading through so many magazines, made me dream about living in one of the cities were Fashion Week takes place. I chose to study the business side of fashion so I studied Fashion Management at Nottingham Trent University, with the dream to work and live in London.
How did you get to where you are now and did you face any challenges along the way?
I found school very difficult, the work was too much for me and I really didn’t enjoy any subjects. So once I found out I could actually study fashion without having to design anything, I was amazed. So the first hurdle was applying to UK universities while also convincing my parents this would be the best decision for me. I had to do all the research and apply on my own as my Canadian high school had no idea what to do and neither did any of my friends or family. After being accepted to study Fashion Management at Nottingham Trent University I was just over the moon that I would be moving and was able to discover a whole new country and culture.
After two years at university, we had the option to take a year out to do a work placement anywhere. After applying to those companies which I thought matched my values, I was able to land my first proper job as a Product Development Assistant at Timberland.
That year was hard doing my first 9-5 job and having projects while having a basic student salary in London. Once I finished my final year I landed an amazing job as a Denim Product Development and Production Assistant for a small premium London based brand- M.i.h Jeans. I was in the job for just over a year, which was sadly cut off when the company went into administration and made all the employees in the London office redundant. M.i.h Jeans didn’t have enough money to pay us for the month's work we did before being made redundant as well as our notice pay! That was the most challenging period I had during my career, I had so much government forms to fill out while not having any knowledge of when or how much I would get paid by the government. Most importantly what my next job will be and even if I wanted to stay in fashion after something like this. I felt undermined by recruitment agents and they didn’t understand my values and what I thought I should be paid for my experience. After a lot of phone and face to face interviews, I had a solid 3 weeks of being unemployed before being offered my role at John Lewis.
What is an important initiative that you feel passionate about in your role?
Sustainability (sorry for the buzzword) and responsible sourcing. Since I started learning about the industry I realized how wasteful it is. People don’t even realize how much waste and harm is done to workers that can be done to make one garment. I’m passionate about my role as product technologist and innovation, as I literally know the product inside and out. So if I do why can’t I make it more eco-friendly and safer for the environment?
What do you think gave you the drive and determination to succeed?
I found something I was actually good at that didn’t involve reading a textbook or writing a research essay. The fashion industry is such a creative ever-changing industry and I just love a challenge. I just want to make the fashion industry better and the more I learned about how messed up it was whilst everyone was just quietly sitting around, made me more determined to challenge management.
What’s great about being a female in your role?
I work with other women who build products for other women. So all the designers, buyers, merchandisers, technologists and models are women working together to build a product fit for purpose for other women. Plus I get to see what everyone will be wearing a year in advance!
What three tips would you give to young females starting their careers?
Research everything about the company/brand.
Only apply to places that match your values.
Be willing to learn different areas of interest.
Do you think enough is being done by businesses to address gender imbalance?
No businesses still have people that disrespect women and I feel there are not enough reviews in place or people strong enough to put those in their place. There is a prominent gender imbalance in high leadership roles in businesses. Why is that? Working in fashion, I barely work with men so I’m constantly surrounded by women, so in this case, we need more men in our business. Yet the owners or CEOs of these fashion brands are most likely to be men!
“Trust your instincts, listen to the other person talking to you, always be willing to go the extra mile.”
What advice do you have for women aiming for leadership positions?
Trust your instincts, listen to the other person talking to you, always be willing to go the extra mile to finish a project or goal.
What’s one key leadership lesson you’ve learned along the way?
I had a really amazing manager and head of production at Mih Jeans. She taught me to not over stress about the little things and pick your battles. There is always issues everyday in production and for someone in that job you really need to be level headed and know how to not crack underpressure.
Feeling inspired? Read more about inspirational women in business with our other recent post on Kate Burgess!