Layla L’obatti gets JobShadowed about her career as a fashion designer.  You can find her at www.btslingerie.com or on her Twitter feed in the sidebar of this interview. 

What do you do for a living?

I am an entrepreneur, and fashion designer.

How would you describe what you do?

I design, manufacture, and sell high end women’s intimate apparel, sleepwear, and loungewear.

What does your work entail?

As a designer working at a company I did a lot of specing, cads (computer automated design – usually refers to flat and technical sketches of garments in illustrator used for production and sales), linesheets (present the line in photographic or cad form along with price and relevant product information), print design and recoloring, and worked alongside product development and production teams to ensure designs were being executed into samples and production properly.

As an independent designer/entrepreneur… I think its easier answered by what do I not do?

Basically I source materials, come up with designs and merchandising plan for future seasons based on current sales and product performance, and at the same time I sell current and upcoming seasons, plan photo shoots, find and book models, design email campaigns for our blogs and social media and update all of those, tweet and interact with stores and consumers daily, shop the market for trends and direction for upcoming seasons.

I drape and pattern new designs, more often than not I even sew the first samples, and then I communicate how those patterns should be graded (generated in other sizes) and how the patterns should be sewn into finished garments during production. I then assure quality control in everything from threads, stitch types, finishing, pressing and packing.

What’s a typical work week like?

I don’t really have a typical work week, and that’s because depending on where things are in the season my activity can vary greatly. Also some weeks unexpected things can come up, like press pulls or production issues that can throw a day or a week off.

Typically I spend some time each week working on our website, blog, and social media. I also spend some time each week during production at the factory inspecting and checking in on production, even folding, packing, and inventorying product. Packing and shipping orders to boutiques and online customers. I try to find time each week to look at or read something inspiring, and also to have a life. I work 7 days a week at this point, some days over 12 hours a day but it doesn’t feel like work. I do get to draw, design, source materials, pattern, fit and spec garments but that is a small fraction of what I do to keep business moving forward.

How did you get started?

When I was in high school I took a tech theater class where my professor, after seeing me create patterns w/no formal background, introduced me to the idea that I could study and in fact work in fashion. None of my guidance counselors knew about schools or careers in fashion at that time so I turned to the internet, I found summer programs and decided to go to the Istituto Marangoni to take fashion art/design classes and developed a portfolio that got me into the Fashion Institute of Technology.

What do you like about what you do?

I love seeing product on the body for the first time, I love seeing product hanging in stores, I love meeting customers and hearing their thoughts and concerns at our trunk shows… the list goes on but to sum it up I enjoy the process of creating and supporting those intimate moments in someone’s life with beautiful product.

What do you dislike?


How do you make money/or how are you compensated?

I have to source, design, create, sell, produce, market, and deliver product to customers and consumers before our business makes any money – it is a very large investment to be a manufacturer/producer of product with a great deal more time between conception and distribution. We make money by selling finished product to stores and consumers each season.

How much money do Fashion Designers make?

Entry level designers can expect to make between 25,000-40,000 depending on the role – there are assistant tech designers, design assistants, and assistant designers of varying experience levels and job requirements for each really depending on the particular company and its structure. The bigger the job title the longer it will take to get their, head designers or creative directors can make over $100,000 but it takes many years of experience and work as an assistant to work up to that..

How much money did/do you make starting out as a Fashion Designers?

I made 32,000 and 40,000 a year at my first two jobs. I know people who started out with less and more and it really depended on the company and even the division within that company, also I believe jobs in NY pay more than other parts of the country in part due to the cost of living. Both of my jobs were at a startup divisions of already established companies.

What education, schooling, or skills are needed to do this?

I have a 4 year BFA degree in Fashion Design from the Fashion Institute of Technology, as well as 6 or 7 internships with varying levels of responsibility under my belt when I got my first job. The classes in Fashion design cover everything from draping, pattern making, print and textile design, fashion illustration, at that time a small bit of tech (I believe there is much more in the curriculum now) which involved garment specs, tech packs, and technical design drawing.

All of those things would be considered basic knowledge and were expected at all of my interviews. Internships and job history demonstrated that those skills went beyond “school” to a working knowledge of how those tasks fit into a work environment. I believe there was a time when an Associates or 2 year degree was enough to get your foot in the door but with reality shows highlighting fashion careers the need for a formal background and education is increasingly necessary.

What is most challenging about what you do?

When I worked at a company I found the politics to be the most challenging, but I attribute that to the particular culture created within those workplaces.

Working for myself it is still the politics. But its not within my own company, rather within the industry at large, and frankly that doesn’t affect my day to day life nearly as much.

What is most rewarding?

I love being a part of an industry that makes things, and I love actually being able to see that process because we make everything in New York’s garment center. So many industries have left but the fact that I can sew a sample myself or go to the factory to have a hand in production makes me so proud. You know that scene in Pretty woman where Richard Gere says he wants to build things instead of breaking companies apart and selling off the bits… that’s the feeling I wake up to everyday.