5Qs: Carhartt’s Director of Technical Design on Delivering Consistency


Dearborn-based Carhartt’s new director of technical design, Mia Isom, has more than 25 years of experience in the field. From her first job at Liz Claiborne in New York to her most recent position at Lane Bryant in Columbus, Ohio, she has worked her way up to the top technical design positions at some of the largest retail companies across the country. DBusiness Daily News spoke with Isom, a recent transplant to metro Detroit, who shared a behind-the-scenes look at technical design, and her plans moving forward at Carhartt. 

1. DDN: What are your responsibilities as the director of technical design at Carhartt?

My role at this stage is really just learning the inner mechanics of the company and how we work together. We are growing really quickly and we just want to make sure we’ve got the right people, and the teams have the tools that they need to be efficient and ensure that we are getting our facilities accurate information. The ultimate goal is that we want to deliver the customer with consistency, and that is a really good portion of what I do. I have direct reports here in Dearborn; Irvine, Ky.; Madisonville, Ky.; and two direct reports in our Mexico facility.

2. DDN: Can you clarify the differences between technical design and fashion design?

The technical designers are the ones that carry out the vision of the designer. We are given a flat sketch and we add specifications, i.e. measurements, to that flat sketch or sample size. When we receive a sample we make sure that garment fits to the body standards that we’ve designated for the customer market share. We also apply construction details for the manufacturing side so they can make the garment. From a technical design standpoint it’s really behind the scenes. We make sure the garment fits and make sure we’ve got the right specifications applied to that garment to ensure that we’re hitting the aesthetic that this designer has set. You can have this most beautiful designed T-shirt that’s out on the floor, and if it doesn’t fit, (a customer is) not going to buy it.

3. DDN: What are the most challenging aspects of technical design?

The only thing I could see as challenging, although with today’s technology is not so much a problem, is the return time of communication with the manufacturer because it’s usually overseas. One of the incredible things about Carhartt is they do have a U.S. manufacturing presence, which is quite unique in this day and age and in this business. This is in general, not at Carhartt, but I think a challenging role for technical design is just assuring and educating our design team when something can be executed and when something cannot be executed. Sometimes it can be a little bit difficult because you’ve got designers who are so very, very creative and they want their vision to be carried out. So we try to do the best that we can, but it doesn’t always work out that way due to fabrication and manufacturing limitations.

4. DDN: How do you navigate the changes in your field?

We just need to stay on top of what’s going on in the industry. Technology out there evolves and changes all the time. If we were to continuously change, it would just be very, very costly. It’s just really important to look at what we have in current state and what’s out there, and if it would be applicable in any sense for our business. In terms of change within the organization of technical design, I just think that we have to form relationships. I was on a panel with FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology in New York) to try to bring back pattern making in technical design into their curriculum. When (people) go to fashion school they don’t teach (the students) about technical design. Maybe one little course here and there, and even if (they) take it, most people don’t know what technical design is and they don’t know what to do with it.

5. DDN: What are your plans going forward?

I will be instrumental as (marketing towards millenials) goes forward. It’s still really in the inspection stage for me. I can only foresee that we’re going to have to establish who this customer is, what the body standards are for this customer, and ensuring that we understand their lifestyle in order to apply proper specifications and construction for that particular customer. I’m looking to also build a relationship with Wayne State (University). I know they have a good fashion design program there, and they offer courses in sewing construction and tailoring. I’d like to build a relationship with them because I think there’s a huge opportunity for an internship program with Wayne State and Carhartt.

The newest Carhartt retail store will open Thursday in Detroit’s Midtown District and will carry nearly 550 styles of men’s, women’s, and kid’s apparel at the store, along with footwear and accessories.