Behind the Seams: Turning Ideas into Reality
We all have our favorite pair of jeans. The ones that fit just right and are broken in to fit exactly the way you like. But have you ever thought about what it took to create that pair of jeans? From the initial idea into a finished project, Kontoor’s Els Jennart plays a major role in creating apparel that inspires confidence, every day.
As Director of Development for Kontoor Brands based in Antwerp, Belgium, Els works on both the Lee® and Wrangler® brands. Her 25-year career in the fashion industry was born from an interest in the technical side of textiles. And just as every orchestra is dependent on a conductor to bring everyone together to perform a score, in apparel, ideas are brought to life through the coordinated effort of a product development director.
“The start of a new seasonal collection is the one I like the best,” Els said. “It’s chaotic but exciting.”
We caught up with Els to learn more about her career journey and why no two days are ever the same when you’re in Product Development.
How would you describe the work a Product Development Director does?
I focus on all the product developments across the Lee and Wrangler teams. In partnership with designers, we help solve challenges in the development process, like helping with fabric selection and technical developments. We collaborate with the Design team and do the technical work. Many people in a product development team have a technical background. I'm an industrial engineer in textiles. In my role, I make sure that the team gets a framework to work within and ensure that we get our targets achieved on time. My goal is guiding, coaching the team, making sure they stay on track and helping them when there are challenges.
How has your experience throughout the years helped you in your role today?
I have been involved in all the steps of how jeans are made through different roles and responsibilities, so I've learned a lot on the job. My education gave me the foundational knowledge, but there’s no substitute for hands-on learning, being in factories, being responsible for certain collections, and bringing them to life.
What do you love most about your job?
The challenges. It's never the same. A collection is never the same. There's always the next step, and things move very fast. I like it when it's a busy day and there's a lot of things happening at the same time. And that's what I like about the job, the complexity, the puzzle that you need to make, and putting it all together to get the finished product.
I imagine it requires a lot of vision to create a new product from scratch.
Yes, it's the part I like the best. How do we create a newness? How do we define it and work around that? The start of a new seasonal collection is where you do the research, connect with your suppliers and figure out how to incorporate new elements. I love that journey.
What’s your staple piece from Wrangler or Lee in your wardrobe?
For years, I’ve been a fan of Lee's Scarlett line, it’s a skinny jean with many different washes and fits making it very versatile. At the moment, I'm also really in love with the Stella A Line. Both Lee and Wrangler have fantastic fits. It's one of our strengths.