Industry Spotlight: Trim Engineer Uses Fashion Skills for Automotive Career
Trim Engineer Whitney Jones moved to Farmington Hills from Arizona at the age of four, grew up in the mitten and when she reached college, she knew she wanted to work in the design field but she wasn’t sure if the fashion or the interior design route was the right choice. As it always does for DG3, fashion won; she received her Bachelor’s Degree in Apparel and Textile Design from MSU but as she got out into the real world, she realized that most of the fashion jobs were out of state. Not wanting to move, she put her skills to good use in the automotive field.
DG3: Tell us a little about yourself, Whitney.
Whitney Jones: My family moved here from Arizona, I grew up in the Farmington Hills area and went to Marian High School in Bloomfield Hills. For my first year of college, I went to Arizona State University in Tempe and they did not have a fashion design program, so by default I wound up studying interior design. I got really home sick and decided to move back to Michigan after my freshman year. I transferred to Michigan State and learned that they had an excellent fashion program, so I switched majors and got my BA in Apparel and Textile Design.
DG3: How did you get into trim engineering? Is it similar to any of the specific fashion design applications?
WJ: I got into trim engineering for similar reasons that I ended up at Michigan State. Once I graduated, I found that most of the design work was either in New York or Los Angeles. For as many times as I flew home to visit friends and family while I lived in Tempe, I decided moving away again was not a good choice for me financially – I would be spending every dime I made on air travel! I began applying to every opportunity I felt I was even slightly qualified for. After a couple of months with no luck, I received an email from MSU stating that an automotive company in Novi was searching for Apparel and Textile graduates for an entry level Trim Engineering position. I jumped at the opportunity, and here I am, four years later.
Trim engineering has a lot of similarities to pattern making, but it comes with a lot of additional responsibilities. The basic concept of making a trim cover is very similar to making a garment: you pin up a foam pad with muslin (or other drape-able materials), draw on your design lines, add in your selvage and notch your patterns, just like you would when patterning/draping with a mannequin. The main difference is that you are working to strict safety and quality guidelines, as seating is a product that gets used daily and must look great and function perfectly for many years.
DG3: What exactly do you do as a trim engineer?
WJ: Each Company varies a bit when it comes to the responsibilities of a trim engineer, however the basics are all the same. We receive a customer driven design, with very specific expectations in terms of seam placement, and materials being used. Foam pads are made to match what the customer expects, which I also have the responsibility to design the foam, and on the development side, I would then create patterns using the foam pad. The basic expectation is to have a wrinkle-free seat, which goes through all kinds of testing to ensure it will be comfortable, durable and safe. In order to get to that point, I have to use my patterning and sewing skills, as well as some knowledge of textiles in order to understand how to get the material to achieve the stretch I need to get the best fit.
On the engineering side, I work closely with design engineers to ensure that we are all happy with where the product is going. I attend meetings, work with the customer and respond to any questions or concerns the plants, suppliers or customers may have with the design. I am responsible for ensuring that every little bit of information that could possibly be needed to have production-ready product is available, and concise.
DG3: What are the pros and cons of being a fashion creative in the automotive industry?
WJ: A pro of being a fashion creative in the automotive industry is that you have an immediate opportunity to use and build upon the skills acquired in school, even as an entry level engineer. I have heard a lot of people who ended up in the fashion industry were not able to really use those skills right away in an entry-level position. Another pro is that we, as fashion professionals, have something unique to bring to the automotive table. We were trained to hone in on our creativity and that comes in handy quite often when trying to solve a design problem. The obvious drawback is that the level of design freedom is pretty low. The customer already has a design in mind, and we work to achieve the look they want. Also, the colors are usually pretty drab – black, beige, gray and sometimes the edgier terra cotta color.
DG3: What advice do you have fashion design students who are looking to obtain a career in the automotive industry?
WJ: My advice would be to really pay close attention in your patterning, draping, and textile classes. Utilize those skills as soon as possible, so that when you go into your first interview you can blow them away with how knowledgeable and confident you already are. Also, keep in mind that automotive is a very different world than fashion. There is going to be a learning curve when you first jump in. Words and acronyms you have never heard of will get thrown around left and right. Go with the flow and give it time. You will get the hang of it, and then you will love it.
DG3: Since you went to school for fashion, what direction would you go if and when you start your own fashion line?
WJ: I would love to do custom bridal gowns. When I was in college I was very interested in going into bridal design. The looks I created for the ATD (apparel and textile design) fashion show were both bridal. One was a recycled wedding dress turned into a short little feathery number, and the other was a blush pink fluffy gown. I have always loved the idea of getting to help someone look their absolute best in a gown they have been dreaming of, on one of the most important days of their lives. I even worked as a Bridal Consultant when I was in college.
DG3: You mentioned that you want to eventually start your own line. What direction do you want to go with it?
WJ: I would love to do custom Bridal gowns. When I was in college I was very interested in going into Bridal design. The looks I created for the ATD (apparel and textile design) Fashion show were both Bridal. One was a recycled wedding dress turned into a short little feathery number, and the other was a blush pink fluffy gown. I have always loved the idea of getting to help someone look their absolute best in a gown they have been dreaming of, on one of the most important days of their lives. I even worked as a Bridal Consultant when I was in college.
DG3: Describe your style.
WJ: My style is classic with a few trends thrown in the mix. I have to dress business casual every day to work, so I wear a lot of heels and dress pants. I try to mix it up with jewelry and some bold colors.
DG3: If you could choose any car and design an outfit based on it, what car would it be and what would the outfit look like?
WJ: At my previous job, I worked on the BMW X5/X6. There were a lot of complex flowing lines involved in those trim covers unlike anything I have seen before, or after. I would create a formal gown using similar organic shapes, maybe some top stitching to mimic the design. I have always wanted to create an automotive inspired look to wear to the auto-show black tie.
DG3: How do you take your coffee?
WJ: My daily Starbucks run consists of a venti Americano with steamed 2% and one Splenda. That is some serious caffeine.
DG3: GM or Ford?
WJ: Is it cheating if I say both? My current employer works on projects for both OEMs, but if I were to purchase a car, I would probably go for a Ford.
DG3: Cyberoptix Tie Lab or Detroit Scroll?
WJ: Wow that is the hardest question on here! Both have very cool and unique designs. I have to say though; Cyberoptix Tie Lab is a company after my own heart. I just saw perforated automotive leather ties! What?! That is awesome. I also love the graph paper bow ties. I can think of several engineers that should be rocking those.