Building a unique business: Julia Van Der Sommen

This article first appeared in the November 2022 issue of Australian Printer

Melbourne-based Pattern Room is not your average business. It bridges the worlds of printing and fashion, combining the work of the textile industry with dye sublimation and direct-to-garment (DTG) printing. In short, the company offers a catalogue of more than 200,000 patterns, many of which are the common styles custom printers might want.

At the helm of this distinctive company is its director, Julia Van Der Sommen.

“My career has been a journey. Since I was very young, I sewed my own clothes and with a creative, but numeric mind, found myself in pattern making roles for several well-known labels. This resulted in me starting a pattern making and development business, Sample Room,” Van Der Sommen said.

“But then I grew increasingly aware of the frustrations of people, especially in the custom sportswear industry, who struggled to get patterns for the styles their customers needed.”

This was the catalyst for Van Der Sommen to create Pattern Room – a catalogue of digital clothing patterns that are created and tested by her team.

“For my entire career I have seen myself as being in the textile industry, but Pattern Room has us working mostly with printers – dye sublimation and DTG. The team is constantly working on bringing more to the catalogue, so that you can get Ai and DXF files in less than 48 hours,” she said.

“From there, it is a case of applying graphics, printing, cutting, and sewing. Traditionally the biggest challenge is getting access to digital patterns in a timely fashion and which work. We think Pattern Room will solve that challenge.

“It is a shift in my thinking from Sample Room, but the industry has been so welcoming. In my 30-year career, I have seen huge advances in digital printing which has changed the game in fashion. Now, there isn’t a need to have to print 300m as before with rotary or screen printing, which allows people to create unique products.”

Technology has been the biggest driver for Van Der Sommen’s business. She said the constantly evolving technology in printing machinery and inks has made it easier to access amazing print capabilities. Advancements in fabrics and paper have also supported its growth. 

“Sure, there are some tech changes but nothing, until now, which has challenged the norm. More importantly, our clients aren’t afraid of new technology,” she said.

“I am passionate about showing that the technical side of developing product is just as rewarding as the design roles in the industry. There is so much for people to learn so I hope the way I talk about the process, our workroom and the success we have in our business will inspire people to consider the technical roles in our industry to be a great career choice.”

Van Der Sommen believes strongly in supporting people in having strong career pathways and in achieving their career goals. In her career, she said she found it hard to progress because she did not know how, so now takes the time to nurture her team in their goals.

“It is important that we create training opportunities and support for our staff so that they can grow in their careers but also have guidance if anything is out of their reach. For me, this extends beyond career growth into personal growth,” she mentioned.

“I have also always been an advocate for mentoring young women. But it is not possible to mentor young women if they are resistant to enter the industry in the first place. This is something that I have turned my mind to increasingly of late – how do we make the industry more attractive for young women to work in?

“This can only be done through guided career pathways, training, having more inclusive workplaces and flexible working. There is plenty of scope for change and now is the time to make those changes.”

Van Der Sommen said in her career, she found it hard to find mentors, which is one of the reasons why she has stepped up to help others.

“I found it very hard to find good mentors as in my line of work, there are not many women running businesses or challenging the conventional. I observe people from afar and carefully watch how they operate and act,” she said.

“I also look to women in other industries that have an entrepreneurial spirit and the courage to act on big ideas. I am inspired by people who look at problems in a different way and are willing to take chances and trust their instincts. I translate that to my own career and business.”

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