Carol Pittendrigh – My Story

My career in the clothing industry began in the 1970s after I’d successfully completed a Fashion Design course. Those exciting early days working as a design consultant in ladies’ and children’s wear presented me with the opportunity to travel extensively in Europe and the USA to immerse myself in the world of overseas fashion and pick up new trends to pass on to South African retail groups. To spread the information I’d gathered, I compiled an illustrated book of new fashion ideas and trends which could be presented to colleagues. This glamorous and exciting 8-year period was followed by a period of work in design rooms in the garment manufacturing sector. I was responsible for trend analysis, fabric selection, design, patternmaking, pricing and presentation of my completed ranges which were then sold to top fashion boutiques. In some factories I was responsible for all the various stages of clothing manufacture, and in others I worked as part of a team – all these skills being safely stored in my skills-bank!

The decision made by many South African clothing companies to outsource manufacturing to China changed the local market radically. My work subsequently became more administrative, and largely entailed the management of pre-production procedures. During this time, I was offered the opportunity to change my career path and I was responsible for production of a range of luxury bed linen and accessories – from design right through to store presentation. This change of direction also led to my involvement in Visual Merchandising which entailed presentation and taking care of upmarket brands in local boutiques and retail chains.

As happens to many people, this period concluded in my unexpected enforced retirement and I was compelled to consider my options and attempt to reinvent my career. To do so, I turned to “what I know” and, drawing on my now well-stocked skills-bank, I began with a range of fashion accessories – the production of which relied on my experience in manufacturing, while the selling and presentation were a mini version of what I had previously done in the clothing industry. I also started teaching sewing lessons – a natural progression for me after decades of seeing how factory machinists worked. It proved challenging to recruit potential students when my experience thus far had largely been in the clothing manufacturing sector. The advertising and marketing of one’s services coupled with sourcing of materials and the manufacture of products presented additional challenges. My previous experience provided the much-needed resources to overcome these obstacles. I was also very fortunate to be offered posts teaching sewing skills to unemployed women through corporates offering skills training programmes.

My advice to anyone seeking to prolong their careers – for whatever reason – is to keep a positive outlook and believe that there is work out there. Build on what you have learnt and do what you love doing. Present yourself with confidence, youthfulness and energy. Do not sit and do nothing! I need advice myself – I’m 66 and STILL looking for a new career path that can carry me forward for at least another 20 years!