The process for developing your fashion designs is somewhat linear; it’s a step-by-step process starting from concept all the way to a perfect, fit-approved, sample. In the process there are 3 overarching phases: Roadmapping, Designing, and Sampling.
“Road Mapping” your line is the process of determining your general line plan (i.e. 2 styles of women’s turtlenecks in white, black, and blue & 3 styles of men’s jogger pants in black, white, and gray) and setting target retail prices per sku, setting target margins per unit sold, and thus setting a target cost-per-unit in bulk production. Both the general line plan and the target cost-per-units are 2 important parameters to consider right at the beginning of the process. Why and how do we develop these parameters?
1. Line Plan
A line plan is a graphic map, laying out the styles and colorways you intend on developing for the collection. While creating a line plan, you should always consider “holes” in the market by doing extensive market research. What does your “market” need more options of in terms of silhouette, color, fabrication, etc.
Questions to ask yourself:
- Does the collection have enough variety to satisfy various outfits? If not, how can I most cost-effectively vary the line?
- Should I add more colorways or more styles, or take some away?
- Do the tops compliment the bottoms?
- Am I considering seasonality in outfitting?
- Am I considering industry-best-selling colors like black? Is the line cohesive with my overall brand DNA?
- Do I have enough for social media or marketing content?
Example of a visual line plan
2. Target Costs
You must consider the numbers behind your product at the beginning of the process: target retail, target margins, and target cost-per-units in production. Cost targets must be repeatedly considered throughout the design/development process. You can design, source, and develop prototypes without financial strategy, but if in the end you can’t make a margin, then your business is not going to be viable. You should research your competitors to get an understanding of your target retail prices. Ask yourself: do I want my products to be more expensive, less expensive, or in-line with my competitors?
Your strategy will be to reverse-engineer into your target cost-per-unit. This starts from design (with certain constructions costing more than others) to sourcing materials that fit your target costs, and also factory partners who can hit your target costs in cut & sew labor. Note, if you can’t find factory vendors that hit your target costs with the minimum order quantities (MOQs) you desire, your targets or production quantities might need to be adjusted.
With a line plan and financial targets, you are ready to design the styles! The phases of apparel design are as follows-
Gather inspiration images/samples and fabric swatches. You can gather inspiration samples from your own closet, a local boutique, or by shopping competitor and non-competitor lines. Purchase the best of these samples for silhouette, fabric, and detail direction. You can gather images from anywhere online; consider vintage images, Pinterest, product shots from competitors/non-competitors, etc. You can also visit your local retail fabric store for fabric inspiration; many of these stores allow you to cut swatches. Also, consider attending trade shows targeting emerging brands such as DG Expo to gain inspiration. Once you have gathered retail samples, images, fabric swatches, etc. organize them on either a physical board or in a drive file per style, per colorway. Every style in your lineplan should ideally have physical and visual inspiration behind it prior to sketching.
There are 2 types of sketching: fashion illustrations and technical flat sketches. Fashion illustrations are stylized sketches meant to convey the overall look with a creative, aesthetic focus. Flat sketches are line drawings meant to communicate the technical aspects to the factory. Flat sketches should represent desired proportions and show at least front/back and if necessary, interior views.
Example of fashion illustration
3. Technical Packages:
In an ideal world, you have full technical packages developed for each of your styles. These are blueprints to communicate the technical details of each style to the factory for sewing/construction/sampling/producing the styles. These “tech packs” are a communication tool; all factories are adept at reading tech packs. Tech packs should include the following elements:
-Design call out sheet for all sewing and details
-Measurement specifications for a sample size (specs)
-Graphic or artwork placement
-Bill of materials (recipe for each garment: which fabric, trim, etc. go into the style)
As you progress through your rounds of samples, the tech packs should be continually updated to reflect any changes made to the style. Once you have a fit-approved sample, the tech pack is the digital record of that style. This way, you can refer to the tech pack for future style iterations, or easily transition to another factory if necessary. Think of the tech pack as the IP (intellectual property) behind your style.
The industry standard for developing tech packs is Adobe Illustrator, though newer technologies have also allowed for 3D design, such as Clo 3D or Browzwear. When considering who/which company will develop your tech packs, keep in mind that the more detailed and the more accurate the tech pack, the better of a chance you will end with exactly what you envision, aesthetically, functionally, and to your target costs. Not all tech packs are created equal!
Example of a Tech Pack
Technical sketch and sewing callout sheet
Measurement specifications for sample size
Bill of materials
The development process is commonly known as “sampling” or “prototyping.” Once you have a preliminary tech pack, you will work with a factory to develop your samples. To avoid unnecessary waste and expense, companies typically aim for 3 rounds of samples in 1 sample size, usually the middle of the range, like a women’s Small or Medium. Sampling in more than one size is called a “Jump Size” set and is usually done to double check the grading of the style before it goes into bulk production. That said, jump size sampling is not 100% necessary to do for every style. Note, if you’re developing more than one size range, ie: plus/extended sizes, toddler/big kid sizes, etc. we would recommend sampling a few sizes amongst the ranges to account for the grading.
The general process for sampling is as follows:
- Factory or pattern maker follows the specs in the techpack to create a pattern (either a paper or digital pattern)
- Factory cuts and sews an initial prototype following the directions in the tech pack
- You will fit the 1st sample on a fit model and update the tech pack to reflect any changes you would like to make to the fit, design, fabric etc.
- Factory cuts & sews a 2nd sample based on the updated tech pack
- You run another fitting on the same fit model and update the tech pack
- Factory cuts & sews a 3rd sample/pre-production sample based on the updated tech pack
- You run another fitting on the same fit model, this time hopefully approving the sample for production.
All factories have unique ways of working, so your process might not exactly match the above sequence. This is totally fine, as long as you end up with an approved sample to be graded (meaning all of the measurement specs for all sizes are added to the tech pack) and then cloned in bulk production.
Example of a graded spec sheet for an entire size range
You’ve done it! You’ve now gone from a style concept in your head to an approved sample that accurately represents your vision. You are now ready to transition from the development phase to bulk production. Congratulations!