Ground Up: Getting Started In Production

Designing a collection from the ground up is an exciting and challenging endeavor. Not meant for the faint of heart, it takes time, patience, and a whole lot of drive.

My name is Alex Snyder and as the Creative Director and designer for three selling brands and a creative firm, I understand the challenges that starting a collection can pose. The road from designing a collection to producing a final product is long and challenging. The purpose of this blog series is threefold: help aspiring designers (or established designers) understand a bit more about what goes on behind the scenes, how a collection gets its stride, and what you need to do when production is complete and it comes to actually selling your product. We go through this for our three brands, four times a year, and multiple times with our incredible body of clients around the world.

Since its inception in 2006, Alexander Michael Snyder, AMS for short, was a label designated to high tailoring, silk blouses, and luxury design. As the years progressed, it’s developed itself more towards luxury products and made to order pieces. The first couple of seasons for AMS were difficult because we were just penetrating the market, didn’t truly understand the buying habits, and needed a few seasons under out belt to understand who was wearing our stuff. One of the largest misconceptions of the fashion industry is that success could be an overnight thing (it might be for some, but not the norm). Buyers, boutiques, and editors want to see growth and sustainability. They aren’t looking for the right now; they are looking for the growth and full realization of a brand.

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Many people ask us ‘where did you start? How do you start? What are the steps?’ Here are some of my top 5 suggestions for brands on getting started:

1) Establish your clients’ fit

Season after season we would re-analyze our fits, kill silhouettes that weren’t working, and, in some cases, completely return to the drawing board. You aren’t able to make everything perfectly the first time around. Remember, the only constant thing in the fashion industry is that nothing is constant; it’s always changing.

2) Who are you?

There are a lot of people in the industry that start projects and have no brand identity. As a result, the collections are all over the place and there is no personality, which usually sets one up for failure. When we started, it wasn’t easy, especially when you hire new designers and try to educate them on the culture of your company. An exercise that helped me a lot was creating a “mythical” client. When we would edit collections, we would step back and ask ourselves, would this person wear this? We then began a discussion on the full realization of this client: Where she lived, what she ate, even down to if she was single or married. All of these integers make a difference. Consider everything. This doesn’t mean that you won’t service other people, it just makes it easier to see things more clearly.

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3) Fit fit fit fit fit…

If you can’t tell, I cannot stress this enough. The biggest detriment to a business are when owners rush through things. We go through fit samples five, six, and sometimes almost ten times before we know it’s perfect. Our corset, used as an underpinning in our made-to-order dresses, we fit almost twelve times before signing off on the final fit. You cannot rush through this process. Whether you’re making a button down blouse or a ball gown, there is no room for iffy fits. Spend the time and money to make sample after sample: this step is crucial. The majority of the people in my company have a Masters in design, so we often consult for people.  In these sessions, we always urge our clients to continuously do fit samples, or what we call “toiles”. In the instance of our corset, all these fittings paid off and now our corset fits universally, we can do made-to-measure, and it is alterable to various shapes based on design.

4) Who are your best friends?

One of the important aspects to design and creating a design company is knowing who is your left and right competitor and where you would be placed in a department store. You cannot make numbers up or expect things to sell because you put a certain price on it. You really need to know who your direct competitors are. I can proudly say that all of the lines that I am creatively directing have been made here in America. I will never consider outsourcing overseas. It’s not that producing overseas is bad, it is just not in my vision for my company and lines. With that said, my prices are elevated as a result and smart design comes into play. We cannot have every bell and whistle in a garment without having a huge cost attributed to it. Knowing my left and right competitor has helped my company to understand the retail costs, which we then break down to what we can afford to compete with. Do not justify your cost thinking that it will sell better. You will hinder yourself if you get a ton of orders you cannot financially afford to produce. Believe me, it has happened to a lot of people.

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5) Educate yourself

One thing that is essential is to realize that companies in this industry all work differently, especially when you are going into manufacturing. Most of the time there is no right or wrong. However, communication is key. Find a company that you enjoy communicating with and open up communication with them. This is insurmountable. The way one company does a pattern might be different than another. Again, this doesn’t mean that it is right or wrong, the history and education are different. When my company works with clients, we are dedicated to enhancing the client’s experience because we want to see small design businesses flourish in America again. One lesson I learned quickly when I was younger was that the initial idea you have for your product is almost always going to be different from your finished product. Get comfortable knowing that your product is living and that it will need to change depending on the variables you put in its place. All of this is extremely common in the industry. Don’t get discouraged if your initial idea doesn’t fully come to fruition.

Did Alex spark your interest? Learn more about production and sourcing at the The Academy, completely free!

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