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Portfolio Profile: The Emma Jeans

I was once told that I would never become a pattern maker. I was told it was a dying art that would fade away from existence, and there was no chance I could make a career out of it. Since that advice was coming from a retired pattern making legend in the apparel industry, I immediately felt two very strong emotions:

  1. Disappointment. Pattern making and fit engineering were career goals that I’d had since I learned that they existed as professions in the first place.

  2. Defiance. The pattern making industry might be fading out as it existed right then, but a new evolution of digital and 3D pattern making was just beginning. I was someday going to be a leader in that newer, bigger and better industry!

It was soon after this encounter that I was given the opportunity to lead a “Denim Re-do” project for Fossil’s Apparel line in 2011. I was still very young in my career and had not had the chance to develop any patterns from scratch as a professional. This would be my first. Tradition told me that draping and drafting a brand new pattern from scratch was the “proper” approach to take. That was how I developed all of my patterns in school when I had nothing else to start from. And the pattern work I’d done so far in my career all started from a robust “block” system. (We’ll talk more about block patterns someday soon…)

Instead of going down this familiar path though, my small team and I decided to figure out how to take bits and pieces of all our favorite fitting jeans on the market. So we started with a giant shopping spree, trying on every brand of denim we could find. We looked at different leg cuts, hip fits, stretch options and pocket configurations. After weeks of research and wear testing, we ended up with two clear winners for our favorite pairs, both from Diesel. (They clearly had an amazing denim fit team at the time!) So we bought as many pairs as we could afford on our company sample budget, along with a few other pairs that won for best bootcut leg shape, best straight leg shape and best pocket positions.

First, we measured, photographed and noted everything about the jeans that we loved. The Diesel fit at the waist and hip were superior to anything else we’d tried on, and the rise shape was seriously on point. They were clearly doing some magic with their darting and seaming techniques, and our goal was to come as close as possible to their fit while eliminating all of their excess seams. We wanted our denim line to look simple and classic, so we knew we had a lot of work ahead of us.

In the initial pattern making process, we unpicked and traced out the garments on muslin. From there, we got to work transferring to paper and manipulating the pieces to come together into as few pattern pieces as possible. The back yoke was the hardest part. So much shaping had been put into their seaming techniques to give their denim the fit that we all loved so much. It basically pre-curved the entire back garment so that the wearer’s butt wouldn’t look flattened or lengthened at all. Getting this curve right without all of the same darts and seams was extremely difficult, but we were super happy with the result when we launched our new line.

At Fossil, each of the products were named with a person’s name: “The Lucy Dress,” “The Bridgette Romper,” “The Claire Jacket,” etc. So when it came time to name our denim line, we were inspired by the fabric itself. With just enough spandex to help make the pants feel comfortable but not so much that it took away from the vintage, almost-rigid denim look, the fabric we chose was actually called, “Emma.” And so “The Emma Jean” was born. I’ve owned my pair since 2012 and they are still going strong an entire decade later. They’re the only pair of jeans I’ve owned that are almost a decade old but don’t have any holes or frays. The fit is now practically molded to my own specific shape, but that is one of the amazing things about your favorite pair of jeans. Over time, they become more “yours” than anything else in your wardrobe.

The pattern making techniques that we implemented on The Emma Jeans were such a huge learning tool for me. I’ve taken that experience with me to every job I’ve had since, implementing new ways of thinking about blocks, pattern engineering, pattern revisions and fittings. Over time, I’ve come to realize that the methods we were using at Fossil weren’t really that unique… The apparel industry has been innovating and improving upon top products for decades. It just wasn’t something I’d experienced in that way yet! Meeting and coming together with other open-minded pattern makers and fit engineers throughout the last several years has been so refreshing. There are quite a lot of us figuring out new ways to make apparel work better and fit more comfortably. I’m happy to say that the pattern making profession is certainly not dead or dying… it’s evolving.

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