How products come to life: An interview with Hermin Uzer from Napapijri
You might ask yourself: How exactly does a sketch from a Designer turn into a real product? As we just have a very general answer to this question ourselves, we passed it on to an expert in this field.
Hermin Uzer, Head of Product Development of Napapijri since 2011, translates design ideas and transforms them into three-dimensional products on a daily base, through all of the stages involved in developing outdoor apparel from concept to final product.
We were lucky to have her give us passionate insights into her work at Napapijri, shed some light on what exactly product development is (and what it is not) and after all, how it brings the brand to life.
Sportyjob: Let’s jump right in. I have to admit I always found it difficult to really explain what Product Development actually is. Maybe you can help me and the readers get a better understanding of it. What exactly is it that you do at Napapijri?
Hermin Uzer: In a nutshell, product development is making the garments three-dimensional. You know, we make the garments real. There’s a lot that needs to be done, so where we start is basically when we get the briefing and the target from our merchandising team where they note the retail prices, the line architecture, what kind of innovations or carry-over-styles we need to consider. What the general direction is. It’s the same briefing that the designers get.
Based on that, we deliberate who the right vendor would be. And after that, we would get the initial sketches and ideation from the designers and we would work with the raw materials team to arrange all the components that are needed to make the product real.
SJ: So it’s basically the entire journey from the product. And if you would break it down how your department develops new products from scratch to market, how would you describe it?
We would start with the sketch from the designers and create a technical description for it. We then send the technical sketches to the vendor.
So, we make detail sheets, we scan sketches for construction and design features that we have to specify. This might be a very specific sleeve-construction, a specific fit or functionality that we need to take into consideration. It’s really about every single detail. The color, the applications, prints, specific stitches. Maybe other features or handcrafts. Completely sketch out every single thing and component so that it’s absolutely clear what the vendor needs to produce.
SJ: And after that?
HU: For the second step, we actually visit the vendor and together with them look at how the construction came out. Is it nice? Are there limitations? Do we have to make some adjustments? And directly in the factory, we work together with those vendors, making sure that the design is something that we can realize in the garment.
SJ: What’s the biggest challenge about it?
HU: Our most intensive work is maintaining the design integrity within the possibilities that exist. So, coming back to what I said back earlier, the target that the merchandiser’s define is a very important factor in product development, but keeping the design integrity is even more important. Because that, you know, that gives the wa-woomm and the life and the DNA to the brand!
The target that the merchandiser’s define is a very important factor in product development, but keeping the design integrity is even more important. Because that, you know, that gives the wa-woom and the life and the DNA to the brand!Hermin Uzer
HU: Anyway, that’s usually the part where we spend 80% work time on, going back and forth to the vendors, working on the washes, applications, the sizing, the construction, the workmanship, the pricing, the fabrics and everything. It’s a lot. It’s basically everything.
That’s why I said in a nutshell it’s making a design three dimensional. It’s not just going to the vendor and a sample comes out. It’s really working in translating the inspiration from the designer, but maintaining the KPI from the merchandiser in order for them to place it on the market.
After that, we would get a first product, we would have a review meeting with both merchandisers and the designers to get their feedback on the execution, on the color, on the intensity, on the price, etc. And usually, we construct a garment further until we get to a second prototype. And so on until the final product comes out.
SJ: A very extensive process.
HU: We also have to take into consideration the testing part on quality: this requires testing of the fabric and the components, but also full testing of the garment – do all features and benefits work in construction, such as seam-taping, or wash details, colour migration? Does the fabric work in combination with the excecution – pilling, snagging, and so on. To make sure we deliver an up to standard product to the consumer, we have to look at each and every aspect while developing.
SJ: It seems like Product Development and the Design process are very entwined. You studied Design yourself at the AMFI. Does it come in handy for your position?
HU: I would say yes and no. It’s very difficult. I mean I started out as a Designer indeed. However, at the time that I started, Design, Development, Coloring, being responsible for graphics and production, was all-in-one.
In that period of time, you know, as a Designer, we were obliged to go to the factories and take care of the realisation ourselves.
And I clearly remember the moment it had changed when some bigger corporations came to Holland – that is in my case, as I work in Amsterdam – there was a moment when I had a talk with a large international company and they asked me „Ok, you have to make a choice. It’s either design or either development.“ And I was like „What do you mean? Design and Development is one and the same.” But in this company, Designer’s were in charge of setting up and designing the collection, but the developers were responsible for the realization of the product. That’s when I decided, I’d rather go into the product development side, because realization for me is more important. Because you can have a beautiful sketch, but then the outcome might not be like you imagined.
So I wanted to be as close as possible to the design. However, when I look at some of people that I worked with in the past who have been in my team of developers, you know, most of them they are younger and they didn’t have any design experience, but they’re extremely good developers. I think if you have a combination of understanding creativity, even though it’s not your own design, and understanding the DNA of the company and the creativity of the Designer, being able to translate it into a construction so that you don’t change the styles too much – that’s the most important asset you can have as a developer.
If you have a combination of understanding creativity, even though it’s not your own design, and understanding the DNA of the company and the creativity of the Designer, being able to translate it into a construction so that you don’t change the styles too much – that’s the most important asset you can have as a developer.Hermin Uzer
SJ: That’s incredible! I need to admit that I’ve actually never really distinguished between Design and Product Develoment.
HU: Honestly, I think you shouldn’t. Over the last 25 years, it’s how the development went. I am happy to see that nowadays, especially with the upcoming of digital design, the new master studies at fashion schools turn their focus on creating styles digitally. I see the fusion of Design and Development come back more and more. Because those students are obliged to really understand construction, pattern making, fabrics, applications and everything, whereas there was a time when design was only focused on creativity. Realization was important, but not in depth. I see that coming back in the newer generations.
SJ: Yeah sure, it is really important that the Designer’s have an understanding of the overall process.
Yes! It is! In my opinion, designers and developers do have different strengths, but they should actually know exactly the same. It’s like your left and right arm. And without one the other would not function.
SJ: Let’s finish with a personal insight. What is your favorite part of being a product developer?
HU: It’s being in touch with the product. Even though it’s something that I don’t design, it is designed in my brand, so it’s also something from me. Just having the challenge to realize that design and enable the adaption from all sides, from quality, execution, targets and design integrity. That’s – it’s always nice! It becomes your little baby. You’re responsible from Step B onwards – but even without Step A, it’s your little baby.
Editor’s Note: Napapijiri is part of VF, the the global company behind around 30 of the world’s leading sports, outdoor and lifestyle brands.
With a finnish name, the norwegian flag as a logo and found in Italy, Napapijri represents a global mindset through the intersection of boundaries, culture, nature and art. The brand portfolio includes Menswear, Womenswear and Childrenswear.