An In-Depth Introduction to Producing Leggings

The athleisure craze doesn’t seem to quit. Increasingly, brands are seeking to incorporate activewear garments like yoga pants and leggings into their collections. Emerging brands might be wondering where to start. If this is your first legging design that you plan to add to your collection, it is important to focus your efforts on seamless integration with your brand. Here’s a very detailed breakdown of how to go about making leggings, from concept to production.

Concept and Technical Design

Your product starts here. In this stage, you consider high level questions like target demographic and trend infusion. Don’t worry if you can’t draw. You can find inspiration from the internet – Pinterest and Google Images are great starting points. If you like having a physical board to lay out all of your ideas, print out your concept imagery and tack them to a foam board. Circle the elements that you like, or engage in any way you feel helps to express your idea.

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Technical design (or “tech pack”) is the practice of taking all of these concepts and putting them in a format that you will hand off to your patternmaker and manufacturer. Similar to the blueprints contractors use to guide them in building houses, your tech pack is a blueprint for assembling the garment. It includes information about the construction and finishing of the garment, measurements, stitch and hem details, and so forth. Although some manufacturers may not require this information, tech packs are highly recommended to ensure consistency and quality throughout the manufacturing process. More detail is better.

The most basic things keep in mind when designing your legging are inseam length and utility. Beyond that, make the legging design your own with unique hidden pockets, print design, or color blocking. If you are designing your legging for running, incorporating reflective accents are a way to add functional style to your design.

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Patterns, Fabrics, and Prototypes

Not to be confused with print and textile design, garment patterns are a vital piece of development. Patterns are used to cut out the pieces of fabric needed to assemble the garment. Think of a tech pack as the picture on the front of a puzzle box, and the pattern as the puzzle pieces – assuming that the picture on the front of the box included all of the steps for putting the puzzle together.

Patterns can be drafted by hand or digitally. Each manufacturer has their own preference, so be sure that you choose a method that is easily transferable to your factory. If you are unsure, than connect your patternmaker with your factory. That way, they can work together as a team to make the transition as easy as possible.

While you are working through the patterning process, it is important to start perusing fabrics and trims that you would like to try and use for your design. Leggings are generally made from a knit Poly-Spandex blend, but don’t let this custom prevent you from being creative. Playing with different types of mesh or colors can elevate what could be another run-of-the-mill tight to a yoga pant that is fun and all your own.

Once you have developed your first iteration of your pattern, and you’ve received sample yardage for your selected fabric, it is time for your first prototype! This is the first time you will really see your design turn into a product. It is the stage where your efforts start to feel real.

Read more: 5 FAQ’s on Prototypes

Importance of Fit Models

The fit of the garment is one of the most important things to consider in developing a piece such as a legging, where fit is very related to quality. The fit should strike a balance of tightness and utility. It is rare that your first pattern will be perfect, and so it is important to see your garment on a body before your pattern’s next iteration.

Having a designated fit model, preferably one that has experience fitting, will help you to spot any issues in the development stage, before embarking on full-run production. Consider: Are the pockets on the waistband functional? Is the garment fitting the body the way it is supposed to? Is the in-seam length too long or too short? 

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Although plenty of emerging designers use themselves as fit models, this is less than ideal because you can only see one side of the garment on yourself without twisting your body. Instead, you mean enlist a close friend or family member that fits within your sample size and target demographic; but make sure to use only one person. Everybody is shaped slightly differently, and what might fit perfectly on one person may fit completely differently on another.

If your fit model falls within target demographic, ask his or her opinion about the legging. We have had fit models point out issues even our seasoned patternmakers didn’t catch because they could feel and move with the legging. We’ve even had a couple of our fit models wear the legging running or to the yoga studio as a trial! This insight is invaluable during the patterning stage.

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Samples, Grading, and Size Sets

Once the prototypes are approved and your pattern is finalized, the next steps are sales sample production and grading. Sales samples aren’t just used for sales, they can be used for photography, marketing, and working with a new factory. It is recommended that you produce a sales sample for each factory that you work with and each of your company’s sales representatives. This rule of thumb cuts down on transit times which would otherwise occur if you were shipping samples back and forth.

Grading is the process of sizing your approved garment pattern up and down for each size your legging comes in.  A size set is the collective group of prototypes created for each size, to ensure that the pattern was successfully graded.

Production

Choosing your factory isn’t a simple task. Although pricing is one important factor, other factors include, has this factory had experience sewing activewear? What are their minimum order quantities? How are the factory’s communication skills? If something goes wrong, will they notify you?

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Before signing on for production with any manufacturer, have them sew up a sample. This will answer any questions they may have, and give you an opportunity to adjust your tech pack and pattern to better fit the factory’s needs.

It is important to note that the manufacturing process is not perfect. No matter how perfect your tech pack is, how spot on your patterns are, and how soft and durable your fabric is, life happens. A fabric could snag, there may be a hole in the roll, or a pocket might come out slightly uneven. C’est la vie. Reacting with endurance and flexibility will help both you and your brand thrive.


Make your product

A search for “activewear” on Maker’s Row produces a list of 516 manufacturers. Get started here.

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