Who is Susan Howells?
Susan Howells is the brains behind many an Elizabeth Martin piece; she is the talented pattern cutter who creates the structures that make our garments fit so well and look so polished. Former pattern cutter for Christopher Kane, with experience spanning as far back as 1998, she’s the expert that helps us be us.
Here, we chat with Susan about her career.
An Interview with Susan Howells
Q: When did you first realize you wanted to pursue this career?
A: I studied Clothing Design and Manufacture at Heriot-Watt in Galashiels. The course included a 6 months industrial work placement, which I did with a clothing supplier in North London. I had never really considered pattern cutting until then, everyone wanted to be a designer. There I worked with an incredible pattern cutter who really took me under his wing and gave me a great grounding in patterns.
Q: How did you get started?
A: My work placement really influenced me. I still had 2 years of University left to complete after my work placement and it was a great foundation for the rest of my degree. I was also lucky enough to have a job lined up with them when I graduated which led me into my career as a pattern cutter. I have had some amazing opportunities including working for Jean Muir, Christopher Kane and a year working in a factory sample room in Vietnam. I now work 3 days a week from my home studio. It’s great having the flexibility of a freelance role when you have a young family.
Q: What does your average working day look like?
I live outside Glasgow with my husband and 2 little boys Rufus and Alfred.
I’ll drop the boys into nursery then get back home and start work.
Today I had some production patterns and technical production paperwork to finish for one of my clients in London followed by a design meeting with Elizabeth Martin at my home studio. We looked at new season shapes and fitted some development styles for next season.
The rest of the day was spent finishing the Spring/Summer ‘19 production patterns. There is always a nice cycle of change working through new developments or toiles and following styles through to production so no day is ever the same.
I’ll then go and pick the boys up from nursery and start the bedtime routine. If I’m really busy I’ll also do a couple of extra hours in the evening when they go to bed.
Q: How important is the pattern making process in designing great clothes?
A: Really important, you get to create someone else’s beautiful designs without the pressure of designing. I love problem-solving technical problems to create the best design aesthetic along with a perfect fit.
Q: What were some of your favourite jobs to work on/clients to work with?
A: I worked in London for 14 years before moving back to Scotland 2 years ago and have worked with some amazing designers. I was at Christopher Kane for 6 years, which was full on but really fun. It was a fantastic team to work with (a wee family) plus I got to make outfits for Kate Middleton, Salma Hayek, Stella Tennant among others. I still work with London designers now but what I love about my job in Scotland is that I get to work with a lot of smaller Scottish based fashion designers too. I feel lucky to have a wide range of diverse projects to work on.
Q: Which is your favourite Elizabeth Martin piece, and why?
A: My absolute favourite this season is the Ruth raincoat. I love the bright colours and easy shape. It’s a great transitional piece for the season.