What it takes to be a Successful Technical Design Leader in the corporate world of apparel

Photos courtesy of & Heritage Brands

Nidhi Puri didn’t set out to work in design or apparel. But after a transformative summer spent working at a garment factory, she went on to attend fashion school and work for major brands like Liz Claiborne, Tommy Hilfiger ,J.Crew, Gap Inc, Macys and PVH ( Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger & Heritage Brands). She is currently the  Senior Director of Technical Design for Dress shirts & Sportswear PVH Heritage Brands.  Nidhi has experience on a national and global scale with teams developing physical and digital apparel (3D).  She has experience in product categories across the board, from men and women’s apparel, to boy’s, swim, and intimates. Here she shares her insider insights, including how employees can stand out from the crowd in a big corporation and why you should treat every meeting like it’s your last.

Van Heusen shirts

IFD: Can you tell us about your career path in the world of apparel?

After I completed my accounting major, I was prepared to pursue my CPA. But my life took a different turn after a summer spent working at my father’s apparel manufacturing company (now known SS International, Gurgaon) made me realize how much I enjoyed working on garments. I decided to join NIFT [National Institute of Fashion Technology] and continued working in a factory to really understand the garment creation process in depth.

I loved learning about pattern making, creating embroidery artwork, putting together a collection for the buyer, and the little details that can make a garment so much more functional and desirable. Working on the floor gave me an opportunity to learn about different fabric construction, in-depth sewing of pattern pieces,  an understanding of supply chain, and taught me tips and tricks to engineer a garment most efficiently.

I decided to move to New York to pursue FIT, however, I had to find a full-time job to support my living expenses and school fees. My first job was with an import house called Viva Sportswear, it was a great stepping stone to known apparel brands. 

FIT gave me an opportunity for a fully paid internship with Liz Claiborne. Getting an acceptance letter for the program was one of my happiest days. Liz Claiborne about 20 years back was a great name to work with. I left my job at Viva, and I still remember the CEO being supportive of my decision. I learned my biggest asset was going to be building relationships and networking. In just a few months, my former manager at Viva referred me for my first technical design job at J.Crew. 

Looks from Izod

After working at J. Crew for two years, I wanted to pursue women’s wear to ensure I was getting exposed to both worlds. I joined Tommy Hilfiger when it was owned and run by the designer. I was on the top of the world being part of Tommy brand. I started with boy’s team and progressed to working on women’s wear. 

While working at Tommy, an offer came from Gap Inc. for Senior Technical Designer. At Gap, traveling to Brazil, Hong Kong and other countries gave me a global perspective. My time at Gap Inc. not only helped strengthen my technical and managerial skills but also gave me an opportunity to form strong partnerships. By this time I have learned one thing: that a recipe for success in any corporate company is a combination of exceeding in your role and forming a strong network with your cross functional teams. 

Looks from Izod

After 7 years at Gap, I was ready for a new challenge. I accepted a role of Senior Manager at Macys and was later promoted to be a director of the technical design team. My biggest focus was to elevate talent and set my brands and teams up for success. I have always believed that success of a strong leader depends on how well their teams perform & shine.

Along came an offer from my current company PVH [Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Heritage brands]. With a strong manufacturing background & years of experience in perfecting fits for specialty retailers to department stores. Moving into wholesale/retail supply chain as a Senior Director Technical Design felt like coming full circle.  These past 5 years with PVH have been incredible leading US & global technical design teams for the dress-shirt division across Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger & Heritage brands. This is one of the few companies where diversity in workforce, diversity in culture as well different opinions are well embraced! Employees are encouraged to share their opinions & ideas across all levels. I am proud to be part of a company that never stops trying to do better & better. The apparel industry is going through a major shift during Covid-19, but I am certain PVH will come out on the other side as a much stronger company.

ARROW is known for its classic American styling. The brand's heritage is in dress shirts and the category offerings have been expanded to include sportswear (casual apparel) and neckwear. The brand is primarily sold in the U.S. and Canada through department store customers (in stores and online). Outside North America, ARROW is licensed in approximately 80 territories and appears on a broad assortment of men's, women's and children's apparel and apparel-related products. There are over 340 free standing ARROW stores globally.

IFD: Can you share what insights you’ve taken away from working with major brands?

Working in a corporate company to me is like fish swimming in a well-guarded pool where there’s a great structure and equal benefits offered to all fish. For one little fish to stand out from the entire school to get noticed, you have to be innovative and deliver over and beyond results.

I have been lucky enough to work in companies which have been employee-oriented, had a great work culture, are team-oriented and, of course, believe in being consumer centric. Management style can vary from company to company and even from division to division. I have mostly accepted positions where I have felt a great connection with my hiring manager. 

Most companies have a philosophy which defines their goals, methods and processes. An employee should always be looking to add value or update these methods or processes to be most current and efficient.

IFD: What are some of the highlights and key takeaways from your work?

I have enjoyed leading US & global teams dedicated to perfecting fits for our consumer. Have also thoroughly enjoyed leading the 3D (digital transformation) initiative for my division. I have had the opportunity to onboard & train my team as well as my vendor partners on creating 3D renderings and setting up the 3D prototype pipeline.

My experience with each company taught me something different. My key takeaway from my recent leadership roles has been that for a leader to succeed, you have to believe in your team, invest in them and make them shine. The true test of one’s leadership is how well they can function during crisis.

looks from Izod brand

IFD: What advice would you give a younger professional in the field?

The most essential skill at any level is to be confident in yourself and always be willing to voice your ideas. Remember, a fish has to showcase different skills than the other fish in the pond to be noticed. You have to drive your own success and make things happen one step at a time. Keep thinking of creative ways to bring value to the company within your role.

Some of other professional skills I look for while hiring are digital experience (3D), pattern making knowledge, PLM knowledge, and technical skills in different product categories.

“Be agile, willing to learn, maintain professionalism and a positive, can-do attitude. Treat every interview and meeting as your final one and never burn bridges with your leaders or colleagues—this industry is all about networks. ” - Nidhi Puri

Want to hear from Nidhi live?  Check out Fashion Made’s podcast.  Click on the link here:  Leading Internal and External Transformation, with Nidhi Puri

Thank you Nidhi for sharing your work, your personal career journey and words of wisdox`