This year has been a fascinating one. In the beginning of the pandemic, I was quite sure that things would really slow down as far as my business was concerned. No one was looking for a designer, much less a production house, amidst a nation-wide pandemic, right?
SO WRONG. I was so. Wrong.
This year has been my busiest to date and after speaking to client after client about their goals and why they’ve decided to start a clothing line NOW, I’ve realized that for most people, it’s now or never. Their work has either drastically mellowed, or faded altogether. I realize that for some this pandemic has completely changed peoples’ livelihoods, but for those who reached out to me, it was because they saw their newly-cleared calendar as an opportunity to do something they’ve always wanted to do-start their own product line.
It’s a refreshing change to be able to speak with people who’ve taken their lemons and are choosing to make *sweet* lemonade. They’re choosing to do something productive with their “down” time and I have SO enjoyed meeting and working with all of these ambitious individuals.
I wanted to write this post in case you, too, are on the fence about starting a new project. There is a lot of new opportunity to be had as people and companies shift the way they are clocking in for work.
Wonder where the best opportunities lie in the next year?
If any of these categories has been on your “someday” list, I dare you to take a leap of faith and just do it. For most of us, it really is now or never.
Glad you stopped by, because today I am sharing some free knowledge on the apparel design process from concept to shipped product.
I normally reserve this on-boarding guide for new clients who don’t know anything about the industry, but I’ve had a lot of requests for more content like this, SO I bless you with a quick 15-page guide that I hope will give you a peek inside the fashion world and what to expect when diving into a new project.
I’d love to hear from you with questions, so DM us @casualbrandcreative or email email@example.com. Until then, happy reading ❤
Forecasting trends today is completely different than it was 10-20+ years ago. It used to be that there were top players in the forecasting game who worked for companies like WGSN, Doneger, Trendswest, etc. They’d travel the world, going to fashion shows, immersing themselves in the street culture and snapping pics of the most forward-thinking dressers in whatever beautiful city they found themselves covering. They’d sit through the glamorous fashion shows and take note of necklines, skirt lengths, sleeves, color. They’d then take the rolls and rolls of film they used, get the pictures made, and start creating mood boards and stories around the information they’d collected.
Today, the same is true of trend-spotting, but the difference is that the forecasters behind the lense of the (iPhone camera) are you and I. Social media and the internet has completely changed the way trend information is shared and created. There is no longer a formula; no more rules. This makes a designers job both easier and harder.
One the one hand, it is easier because there is so much free information available at our fingertips. All we need to do is swipe through Instagram and follow top bloggers. There are also loads of publications and magazines you can subscribe to on a monthly basis that is still cheaper than paying $10-20k a year for trend forecasting services. As a designer, you can build a pretty solid collection using this free information.
On the other hand, because there is so much information and things are constantly changing and moving, it is hard to keep up. A skirt length that seems to be trending today and for the next month may be old news in the 9-12 months before you are able to develop and launch the idea.
How can I effectively design a collection without spending a years’ salary on a forecasting service?
If you are on a calendar where you need to be designing 2 years out, unless you can see into the future I highly recommend using a forecasting service. A couple I recommend:
Fashion Snoops is a very budget-friendly choice for freelancers and small business alike.
WGSN is the top choice, but is very expensive and not necessary unless you are a bigger company.
If you’re not looking to spend money, here are a few great places to find good information on trends (that is not Instagram):
Any women’s fashion magazine like: Elle, Vogue, Harpers Bazaar, Marie-Claire, W Magazine, InStyle
The subject of the design calendar has come up a lot with clients and potential clients this month. Something must be in the air, because I’ve had to have a few chats about why the calendar is so important when planning your new line.
In the past, I’ve worked on plenty of projects that were not planned properly.
And do you know what the outcome was?
Because there was no proper timeline or calendar (just a vision to get to a photoshoot and trade show and relish in all the glory), there’s a decent list of things that went wrong (and you can expect to go wrong,) if you don’t have a clear plan set out:
The line was sloppy, thrown together, and was not cohesive. There was no story to tell – there were hand-beaded gowns mixed with body-con knits and distressed-jersey tees. That’s the sort of threesome that’s literally never going to work out. You cannot start a brand new label and offer everything under the sun. No one will take you seriously and they’ll just be confused about who you are as a brand. A good designer or design team will take at least 3 months to really research and develop a cohesive story and line plan.
The fit of the garments were not great. When you’re offering a hand-beaded gown for $600+ your fit cannot be bad. It better hug that model in all the right places and not have a weird armhole. Fitting the line properly once you are in the development stage is crucial. Some designs are more difficult than others, and if you rush through and don’t take time to properly fit the garments, expect that your return rate will be high. You can expect the development process to take 2-3 months. Always plan for 3.
So then there’s production to work into the calendar. If you’re already pinched for time, running the proper QC needed and keeping attention to detail for the production is going to be non-existent. I don’t think I need to say why that would be bad. Plan for 3 months production lead time (+1 month vessel to port, total 4 months) if working offshore. Plan for about 2 months if working in the USA.
You’re basically giving birth to your new line – 9 months is the bare minimum it should take to set your new label up for success.
Don’t cut corners.
Don’t believe someone can get you up and running in 2,3,4, 6 months. They can’t.
Don’t trust that your USA production house says they will have your product out in 6 weeks. They won’t.
Do trust people (me) who have seen it all. Believe that if I had superpowers and could get your line up and running in a month, I totally would. But, I don’t. So, do it right!
Mood Boards are exactly what they sound like. They are made to represent the overall mood and vibe of the collection you are creating. They are essentially a brain dump for all of the ideas that pop into your head surrounding color, silhouette, fabric, design details, etc.
Yes, it’s basically your ultimate Pinterest board.
They are extremely useful for a designer when she/he is beginning to build a design concept, and ultimately the range plan. Before I even begin to consider design work for a client, I ask to see their mood board. Without it, I cannot possibly understand their design goals! It would be a waste of my time and their money if they booked me for design, let me run rogue and design whatever I want, and then turn in work that they don’t like because it was completely different than their vision.
Not only are mood boards critical to a designer’s role, they are also a really strong tool for the client. By laying out all of their ideas in one place, it is easier for them to organize and set themselves up for what exactly they will need to ask from a designer in terms of concepting and building out a range (or line) plan.
Mood boards are a lot of fun to make.
There are no rules when putting together a mood board. They totally bring back high-school vibes from when you were younger – cutting magazines to shreds and pasting all the images that spark joy to a large science-fair-esque whiteboard and displaying them proudly for all to see.
I mean, you’re probably not going to do it that way now (unless you want to, remember there are no rules here) when we are living in a digital age. I want to recommend a couple places that I’ve found work best for putting all of your ideas in one place:
Pinterest This is the obvious one as it is literally a mood board for all things. It’s a great tool for organizing specific categories – you can break everything down: Color, Silhouette, Overall attitude, fabrics, design details, trims, etc.
Canva This is also a really great tool that let’s you basically make your school vision board, except digitally instead of pasting onto a huge foam board. You can drag images and manipulate them on the board as you see fit.
Illustrator Since I do own this software, I use Illustrator to build out my ideas. The downside is that all of my images that I want to use will be living somewhere else (like Pinterest) anyway.
What Should I include on a Mood Board?
For a third time, there are no rules when it comes to making a mood board! So have fun with it. BUT if you are creating in in order to pass along to a designer so that she/he can create a really dope concept for you, please include the following:
Color Is extremely important. Unless you are going to be using a lot of pop colors and loud prints, don’t include rainbow everything on your board. The colors should represent the type of palette you want to use for your actual collection. Want to build a line plan with only core colors like black, white, navy, and grey? Those are the colors that your board should consist heavily of.
Silohuette Are you trying to build out an activewear line? Don’t send your designer a mood board with ethereal, flowy gowns.
Fabrics See above. You don’t need to have the specifics nailed down (that’s why you are hiring a designer!) but again, if you want to do activewearI wouldn’t present a board showing ball gowns.
Target Customer Designing for grandma and her dopest friends? Don’t represent children on your board.
That’s your mood board, in a nutshell.
Here’s ours, just for fun and for the sake of the post.
Now go have some fun with it! Have more questions? Either comment below or email me at Create@thecasualbrandcreative.com
I want you to have your fashion brand dreams realized.
I want you to have all of the creative fun putting together what your first line or product will look like. To feel the fabrics, create patterns and colors that you’ve dreamed about. To see the designs that have been sitting in the back of your mind realized, down on paper, rendered.
I want you to feel the accomplishment that comes with learning about the process and work that goes into building a physical garment.
I want you to build a brand that will one day be profitable, and sustainable.
I want you to have a really great time at your first photo shoot with YOUR product being shot!
I want to sip that champagne with you when you receive your first orders, be it online or through a wholesale account.
I want all of these things for you.
But in order to do any of these things, there are a lot of things to seriously consider before you decide to jump in and commit. And commitment is the baseline.
A few key considerations to reflect on before committing to starting your apparel line
I feel like this should be a no-brainer, but you would be surprised at how many people I speak with come to me wanting to build a product and brand without any real financial commitment to the project.
This is not to say you need to be a millionaire to start something. Different projects will require different financial commitments. If you are starting off with 1 sock design, you will not need as much money prepared as for, say, someone looking to build a 10-piece collection. Which brings me to…
How many items are you looking to start out with at the outset? You should have a solid idea of what it is exactly that you want to do.
One thing to note, is that you do not need to have a huge collection to start off. In fact, I work with a lot of individuals looking to launch 1-2 products in the beginning. And that is totally fine. I will say, however, that those 1-2 products should be the best in their category if that is the product that you will announce to the world as your brand.
Cliche but true: Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will your line be.
If you are sampling and producing in the US, you can expect sampling to take around 1 month for 1 sample (and usually you will need at least 2-3 rounds of sampling, depending on the complexity of the garment). Production will usually take around 10-12 weeks.
If you are sampling and producing in the overseas, you can expect sampling to take around 2-3 weeks for 1 sample (and usually you will need at least 2-3 rounds of sampling, depending on the complexity of the garment). Production will usually take around 3 months.
You will be har-pressed to find a quality manufacturer to make 50 units of one style for you.
Prepare for at least a 100-300 style minimum order requirement. And that usually covers 1 color.
So, of your minimum order requirement for 1 style is 100 units, and you want to offer 2 colorways, prepare to order 200 units for that particular style.
As a brand, you need to consider the calendar when beginning design. If you want to be in the wholesale business to sell to retailers, you will be on a less flexible calendar than someone who is doing a direct-to-consumer (D2C) business. Buyers buy at certain times throughout the year to fulfill their seasonal inventory needs, so if you want to sell to them, your collection needs to be ready to show at specific dates.
If you’ve considered all of these points and are confident that it’s time to move to the next step, I encourage you to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And even if you’re not confident…we’re here for that to!
When starting your own line, the design process is always the most sought-after position in any company. This is mainly because it offers the most space for creativity (which is why we all went to fashion school anyway, right?), and if you are starting your own line you have that much more room to play. But even though designing is a fun part of the process, it’s still a calculated and collaborative process. So if you think you think you can sketch and create away to your heart’s desire, take a beat and consider the below.
Designing is a critical first step in the development process. It’s fun, but it’s not a free-for-all. And here’s why:
The design process involves a lot more than just dreaming about a ridiculously buttery leather jacket and then throwing that idea onto paper and expecting to see it for sale on your website in a few months. It’s not going to morph off the sketch-pad into a live product without a tedious and meticulously calculated process, with many hands in the mix.
A designer is the captain of the developmental ship. Thus, the designer should be responsible for:
Understanding the company budget (you can’t create a leather jacket on a pleather budget)
Understanding fabric, and how it will work with your design and budget
Be able to express the construction elements desired
Understand the brand image – in other words, is the design on brand?
Designing a product that can be achieved with the available resources (do they have a manufacturer that has the capabilities they require for the design)? And if not, what alternatives could be presented OR how can we source the necessary resources?
Keeping on-track with the developmental calendar
Designing product that will sell
These are only a handful of responsibilities that a designer needs to be able to navigate and manage. This is why the design process is usually comprised of a team rather than a single individual in order to create the best product for the brand.