The fashion industry is more progressive, consumer centric, sustainability conscious & size inclusive than ever before !
Nidhi Puri, our next pathbreaker, Vice President, Technical Design & Raw Materials at PVH Corp (New York), leads a global team that specializes in digital ( 3D) & physical product creation, & elevation of fashion apparel using futuristic tools.
Nidhi talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about her work with globally renowned apparel brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, J. Crew, Gap Inc., Macy’s, & the role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in apparel design.
For students, applications of digital technologies in fashion are growing by leaps and bounds. Its exciting to be in a space that merges creativity with innovation !
Nidhi, can you tell us about your growing up years?
I come from a well-educated family with modern upbringing. I grew up watching my parents working in full time jobs while raising me & my brother. Growing up, I witnessed my dad being bold enough to take calculated risks, lean on my mom, leave his job to start his own business, evolve & embrace change to grow, & provide a brighter future for our family. From my early childhood, I was an above average student with a flair for numbers as well as creativity. I remember I used to take kid’s magazines & spend hours drawing characters from them to create random bookmarks from my drawings. I used to love taking drawing classes & going for karate (self-defense) classes as extracurricular activities.
What did you do for graduation/post graduation?
I did my B.Com Honors from Delhi University followed by a course in Fashion Design & Garment Construction from National Institute Of fashion Technology Delhi.
I also pursued another degree in Fashion Buying & Merchandising, at Fashion Institute Of Technology (New York) and a certification in Organizational Leadership from Columbia Business School
What were some of the influences that made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
I had strong inclination towards numbers & so I decided to pursue B.Com honors from Delhi University. After I completed my accounting major, I was prepared to pursue my CA. But my life took a different turn one summer while working at my father’s apparel manufacturing company. Drawing & sketching have been my hobby since my childhood. My dad initially inspired me to explore the apparel industry, however both my parents were very supportive of me choosing whatever I wanted to choose as my career path. The only condition was for me to give my best shot to whatever I chose to do & ultimately be successful at it. They made sure that I was not given any special treatment being the boss’s daughter & all… to carve my own path. So I had to start from scratch just like any other employee starting afresh from basic assisting & training. Working in an apparel manufacturing set-up during my summer vacation made me realize how much I enjoyed working on garments. I decided to switch gears from CA & join (National Institute of Fashion Technology) fashion school & continue to work in the factory to really understand the garment creation process in depth.
I loved learning about garment creation & the sequential process of designing, sampling, elevating the garment with the right fabric. Then marrying it with minute details to make it functional & ultimately putting a complete collection together for the buyer.
I enjoyed it for some time, but then in the back of my mind I always wanted to create a path of my own & accomplish something on my own. Though I did not have clarity on what specifically I wanted to go after. Working in the factory & dealing with buyers, I desired to become a buyer myself one day to become the final decision maker. (Thinking back now, it was my desire to lead instead of being led & being on the receiving end). As one says, always be on a look out to elevate yourself & drive your path forward.
After some time, once I was done with NIFT curriculum, I decided to pursue FIT in NY to explore the garment industry from a buyer’s point of view. Luckily, most of my family (parents, aunts/uncles) had green cards, and so traveling abroad was not restricted from a visa perspective.
I landed in NY to pursue my Fashion buying & merchandising degree at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology).
But I was also determined to financially support myself which meant I needed to aggressively search for a job. I wanted to optimize my opportunity of staying in NY. So, I decided to only focus on apparel related jobs. I had few weeks before my college classes started, which gave me a chance to fully invest my time in job search. Local online papers with fashion jobs is where I started. I made many calls with no positive response & finally sent my resume & got myself an interview with “Viva Sportswear”. My initial interview went quite well, I think they liked my “can do” attitude, overall personality & general eagerness to learn. As the second step, they asked me to sketch a casual collection in a week based on what was selling at that time in their stores. When I went back for my 2nd interview, the head designer did not like my collection much, however he thought I had a spark to learn & improve. Based on my understanding of manufacturing processes, they offered me to work as a production assistant instead of a design assistant. Though I was not thrilled, and even a bit disappointed at the time, I realized that this was my entry into New York’s fashion apparel industry & I was determined not to miss the opportunity. My approach has always been to make the best of what I have & keep working on the next step to get to the desired destination. I decided to accept the offer, however I negotiated for flexibility in schedule which I knew was very crucial for me to balance a full time job with full time classes. This office was luckily in the fashion district, just a 15 minutes run from FIT institute (got my exercise for the day taken care of as well !!). All said & done, I was thrilled to walk out of that 2nd interview with an offer in my hand for working 40 hours a week.
With my scholarship assistance in FIT, this job helped me sustain myself financially, to set foot into the NY apparel industry & all in all, took me one step closer to my desired goal.
I still remember that feeling of being on top of world with my first job on my merit in NY as a production assistant. My boss at that time was kind enough to agree to flex timing where I could leave for my classes in the afternoon as long as I worked early hours & in the evenings to make up for my 40 hours a week. Full time job & full time college @ FIT was quite intense but felt great at the time. This enabled me to accelerate the job experience along with studies so I could optimize my time & get closer to my goal.
How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path
My Career Journey
It’s only after I connected with my professors & peers at FIT that I understood that for an immigrant, becoming a buyer was perhaps not the most suitable career path. By this time, I had learn not to box myself into career paths I was historically familiar with, instead keep an open mind towards new possibilities. I believed I would do well as long as I pursued a career path in fashion where I could play on my strengths combining both creativity & a flair for numbers. Through networking & guidance from my professors at that time, I decided to apply for an Internship as part of my semester credits & that was another turning point. I got selected for the post interview screening process by Liz Claiborne where they had one of the best structured internship programs. Pursuing this internship meant I had to leave my full time job. So I decided to get some advice from my company’s CEO at that time & he encouraged me to take the leap & learn to swim in a big corporate company vs. a relatively small import house.
I went into this fully paid internship interview process with an attitude of being open to learning about the corporate culture, exploring fashion & building new connections with people & leaders who I would work with. I enjoyed the overall experience of working with the business planning department for a few weeks & then being placed with the technical design department which I was initially clueless about. Interning with the technical design team made me feel as if I had finally found my calling. This was the perfect blend of creating detailed product sketches & playing with numbers as in measurements & then analyzing it all together to elevate the product’s fit. I just loved it, and wanted to absorb as much as possible in those last few weeks. Though I was excited, I also quickly learnt that they did not have any open positions within their technical design department. But nevertheless I was determined to pursue this field. I reached out to my ex-manager at Viva sportswear to seek his advice & also drop in a word that I was looking to explore opportunities in the technical design field. I also asked him if he would provide me feedback on how I performed & what I could do differently to improve in future.
My key learning from this experience which I follow till date is never shy away from asking advice from experts & leaders with experience & keep expanding your network to move ahead.
To my pleasant surprise, a few weeks later, my ex-manager, through his network, learnt that J.Crew (a well known fashion brand) had an opening in their technical design department. I only wish I had the right words to express my gratitude, excitement & nervousness all at the same time. Getting into J.Crew to learn technical design could do wonders for my career. So I was determined to give it my best shot. ( Key learning here for me was that it always pays off when you seek guidance, ask for feedback, leave any job on a high note & keep in touch with your mentors & teachers).
At least, I was made aware of the opportunity & had a strong recommendation letter to support my candidature. I had three rounds of interviews with J.Crew leadership at the time as there were multiple candidates being screened for the role. Though I desperately wanted this opportunity, the key through the interview process was to show your eagerness to learn & adapt but not let your desperation take charge. I had to go through a fit test where my product understanding from my past experience really helped me. Finally, the day came when I got the call from HR about the offer & of course I accepted it right away!! There was no looking back from there, I was finally on the right career track moving ahead towards my path to success.
This was great on the job experience for me as I learned a lot about pattern making, garment construction, working with live models, analyzing specs & paying attention to minute garment details. This opportunity taught me to truly understand the corporate way of working, expanding my work social network as it’s the relationships you build in every company which end up being your biggest wealth.
After a few years, I felt the need to grow further & move on to the next thing. I started to explore other internal & external opportunities through different company websites & recruiters. Which is how I moved on to be part of Tommy Hilfiger which at the time was owned by the designer himself. I was focused on my future roadmap by now as I wanted to be very selective about the companies I chose & product categories I select to work on. That was the day & till present I am grateful to be part of & lead teams in some of the best apparel companies
Working with Tommy was a fun learning experience. My job as Technical Designer was to perfect the fit for the women’s division which meant fitting a lot of different styles on our fit model. Creating block patterns, building technical packages in PLM, elevating garment details were part of the role. This also required strong collaboration with other cross functional teams such as design & product development. This was the first time, based on my performance, I was promoted to manage an associate under me which was incredibly humbling & an exciting experience for me. This made me understand that I had a natural aptitude towards developing associates, training & setting them up for success. I learned a lot about womenswear, managing knits, wovens, outerwear for their retail division. To top it all, Tommy Hilfiger (TH) had the best employee store ever where all employees could buy the clothing, accessories at 70% off!! I met with some wonderful colleagues & friends that I am still in touch with, as TH is now owned by PVH which is my current company.
I started @ Gap Inc. as a Senior Technical Designer & in some time, was promoted to be a Manager Technical Design. The reason I accepted the job at Gap Inc. was due to the connection I made during my interview process with my hiring manager. I took this new opportunity to learn from an exceptional leader /mentor who was my boss at the time. She taught me to invest in developing talent & setting up high performing teams. She taught me the skill to inspire others to ultimately achieve the best possible results together. Thinking back, I am so grateful to have had an opportunity to work with such a talented selfless leader. Till date, I push myself to follow her footsteps & invest the same way in my teams to bring out the best like she did for me.
Working at Gap not only gave me a strong foundation for what kind of leader I wanted to become, but also taught me how to balance & collaborate with cross functional leaders who might not share the same opinion. Key is to respect different perspectives, find a middle ground when necessary & still keep moving ahead with what one believes to be the right thing to do & stand up for. In my 7 ½ years at Gap, I learned a lot about fabrics & what impact the fabric drape can have on the overall fit of the garment. I expanded my category experience by working on Men’s & Women’s ready to wear woven & knits, to understanding swimwear & intimate categories. I was given an ‘EXCELLENCE AWARD’ for my performance in swimwear & underwear categories. My experience in Gap focused on managing teams & working with global teams as well. Traveling to Brazil, HK & other countries gave me a global perspective, I was internally promoted to be a manager. I still fondly remember my first international trip & the excitement of representing my company & visiting a factory (being on the other side of the table this time!!). By this time, I had learned one thing, that a recipe to succeed in any corporate company is a combination of exceeding in your role as well as forming a strong network with your team & cross functional teams. After spending close to 8 years at Gap, I was ready for a new challenge. One day, one of my ex-colleague reached out to share details about an open position at Macy’s Inc. That’s when I decided to pursue it & go through the interview process to find out about the company & their culture.
I joined as a Senior Manager Technical Design at Macy’s & later got promoted to be a Director of Technical Design team overseeing their ready to wear private brands with a team of 40 plus people. This was an exciting challenge as I moved from a specialty retailer brand to a department store corporation, overseeing teams across multiple brands. I was fully vested & focused on developing my team’s strengths & driving corporate goals. In this role, my biggest focus was on launching a new ‘Latino’ brand fit, elevating talent, perfecting the fit for the consumer & setting my brand teams up for success. After a certain level, a leader’s results & success are measured on how well their teams perform. I won a few ‘Make Magic’ performance awards during my years in Macys. After spending little over 3 years at Macy’s, came along another amazing opportunity @ my current company PVH Corp.( Phillips- Van Heusen parent company that owns Iconic brands such as Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Dress Furnishings & TUG ). Someone from their HR team reached out to see if I was open to learning about their open position. Key takeaway here is that always keep an open mind & be curious to understand what the opportunity is all about. Even if the job is not for you, at least you get to learn about a different company & expand your network by meeting other people within your industry. Informational interviews can open up great opportunities for future
How did you get your first break?
I would consider my 1st job at Viva Sportswear to be my 1st break which got me into the NYC fashion world.
What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?
From balancing work with studies in my first job, adapting to different corporate cultures, to quickly learning the ropes in the fashion world, every new opportunity brought with it different challenges that I learnt to handle.
Where do you work now? Tell us about your current role
I currently work at PVH Corp.( Parent company which owns iconic brands such as – Calvin Klein/Tommy Hilfiger/TUG/Dress Furnishings Group) where I started as Senior Director & got promoted to my current role of Vice President, Technical Design & Raw Materials.
PVH is exciting as well as challenging, as It’s a wholesale/retail company where technical design is part of the supply chain. The focus of my role expanded to overseeing NY & Global technical design teams for all dress shirt brands ( Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Kenneth Cole, Michael Kors, Lauren & dress furnishing brands) as well as driving supply chain aspects such as efficiency, optimizing processes, training & elevating talent.
After spending a few years in that role I got promoted as Vice President of Technical Design & Raw Materials. I currently oversee teams in New York as well across the globe in India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Shanghai & Africa. I & my teams specialize in digital ( 3D) & physical product creation & elevation. We excel in utilizing futuristic tools such as 3D driven digital avatars, Artificial intelligence driven data & in-depth product knowledge to provide a perfect & size inclusive fit for our current & future consumer. I continue to enjoy working with some of the best industry leaders who have taught me to be a visionary, strategic & an empathetic leader driving product & people excellence!!
We excel in providing the best innovative fabric, driving sustainability & traceability within our supply chain. I as a leader take pride in unlocking potential with people, products & processes that make a significant impact in achieving organizational goals.
What problems do you solve?
How to perfect the garment fit across multiple brands & make it size inclusive for the brand consumers.
How to strike a balance between digital product & physical product creation to get the best of both.
How to secure capacity for the most innovative fabric @ the optimum price.
How to drive sustainability within the given calendar timeline & cost framework.
How to scale up digitalization across supply chain
What skills are needed for your role? How did you acquire the skills?
Garment creation technical knowledge- gained it through fashion colleges NIFT, FIT , factory experience & have perfected it through these past years via pattern making, live fit sessions & product expertise.
Digital & Data Skills: 3D understanding opened up new avenues to learn & train teams to create digital products.
Digital product certifications from companies such as Browzwear course
It’s all about how a technical designer takes advanced tools such as 3D, Artificial Intelligence driven consumer body data & combines it with in-depth product understanding. This has enabled me to drive consumer centric fit strategies for my company.
People Skills & Leading Experience: This is a must have & some of the people skills are instinctive, also comes with leadership courses (Columbia ), exposure & experience managing different size global teams.
What’s a typical day like?
My day is typically filled with back to back meetings related to product, innovation strategies, fabric strategies and supply chain challenges.
Mostly starts with a meeting about product related elevation/innovation we are trying to achieve.
I am also part of multiple leadership projects where we are trying to achieve a futuristic strategy & coming together with like- minded people to create a framework for that. This at times is product focused or at times is consumer or sustainability focused.
Mostly during mid day, we have meetings to solve supply-chain related problems or future opportunities.
I like to reserve a small window daily to be able to take a few minutes just to pause & think. This enables me to take a step back & re-assess if I need to approach a certain team or project or meeting differently. I call this ‘My think tank’.
Then I mostly have one or other live fit session, which is where I & my team put our fit blocks on our fit model or digital avatar & the magic happens to perfect the fit for our consumer & brands.
What is it you love about this job?
It’s hard to pinpoint one particular aspect that I love. Overall, I love being in the fashion industry, being part of a corporate fashion culture which is more progressive, consumer centric, sustainability conscious & size inclusive than ever before. But what I love the most is the people I work with including my network from my past companies. I am grateful to have had a chance to learn from them, mentor others & grow from different experiences, good or bad.
How does your work benefit society?
The Fashion industry has become much more sustainability conscious than ever before. We as a company are driving huge initiatives around circularity & sustainability of apparel by reducing wastes across our supply chain.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
I have led multiple brand launches in my past companies focused on unique fits across ‘Latinos’ & ‘Plus-Curvy’. However the one which has been closest to my heart recently has been the ‘AI Data Driven Fit’. This has been one project where I & my project leads have been able to combine digital fit avatars with garment expertise & AI driven body data to then apply and create a new size construct which can increase fit coverage across our brand consumer base dramatically. It enables a brand to achieve the highest Return on investment ( ROI) on their fits. I have been invited to do various pod-casts, and have been invited as a keynote speaker. This has enabled me to create an opportunity to celebrate my team’s successes within the fashion industry. Here are some links
Invited By NG Retail Digital Summit As Prime Closing Keynote Speaker
Key note speaker: Invited by Vietnam Textile Summit ‘ Supply Digitalization- Digital & Data Fit’
Fashion Institute Of Technology ( FIT) Chair invited me & my team to present ‘ Supply Digitalization- Sustainability, Digital & Data Fit’ to FIT students. Goal was for them to understand what does future of fashion supply chain looks like
Future Chain Think Tank Invited me & my team for a podcast: Technical Design Supply Chain Team to discuss Supply Digitalization- Digital & Data Fit’
You can access the podcast episode here:
Article about my journey by a Fashion Blogger in the magazine.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
My advice to my fellow students as I feel I am still learning new things every day. Education is extremely important for a strong foundation, and after that it all depends on an individual as to how far you can push yourself every day to keep moving forward towards your goal.
Aim high, have an open mind & be ready to change & evolve to maximize the opportunities that come your way. No matter what,where & with whom, ‘ Have a Voice’ & never shy away from sharing your point of view. People will amaze you by listening in & supporting your ideas if you can show them value from their point of view. It’s not about if your idea is the best idea, it’s always about what you can improve for them through your ideas.
Keep learning, elevating my teams & myself to keep moving forward.