We wear clothes all day and every day, but most people don’t think about how their garments make their way from the fashion designer’s imagination to the store. Sure, we know that designers come up with the concepts, and that stores sell the clothing, but what happens in between? As you’ll see, the fashion design process has many steps and countless professionals involved along the way. It really makes one appreciate the work that goes into what we wear – and how large the fashion industry is.
1. Research. Before any design can begin, the fashion designer has to do some research. First of all, who is the target market? Is it men or women? What age group? How much money do they make? What are their interests? The second type of research needed is trend forecasting. Since it can take up to two years before a garment makes it to retail, designers have to know what will be popular in the future in terms of styles, trends, and colors. Fortunately, there are companies who specialize in market research and trend forecasting, so apparel companies can subscribe to the information without actually doing all the legwork.
2. Design. After digesting all the research, the fashion designer begins creating. He or she will hand sketch the designs using the industry standard Nine Heads drawing technique, or sketch them with a computer program. In the margins, the designer will write specs, e.g., the color, fabric, texture and other details. The fashion sketch is called a “croquis.”
3. Sourcing materials. Once the sketch is completed, the materials need to be found. Either the designer or a design assistant looks for fabric, buttons, trim, zippers, anything that is necessary to complete the garment. It sounds like a fun shopping trip, but keep in mind that the person sourcing has to stay within a budget.
4. Pattern making. Next, the pattern maker takes the fashion designer’s sketch and creates a workable pattern from which the actual garment can be sewn. The pattern maker also develops the marker, a layout for how the pattern goes onto the fabric. All the pieces of the garment, in every size, are configured on the marker so there is minimal fabric wasted.
5. Production. When the pattern is created, apparel manufacturing can begin. This step involves many areas including costing, production planning, global dynamics, and quality control. At this stage the company must decide whether to manufacture locally, or even within the United States, or overseas, where labor is cheaper. With so many components and production channels involved, the manufacturing aspect of fashion design is an industry within itself.
6. Buying. Unless apparel companies have their own stores, they will present their merchandise at trade events to fashion buyers. Buyers then choose the pieces they feel will sell at their stores at the best price. Just as the fashion designer must forecast the styles that will appeal to consumers in the future, so must the buyer.
7. Marketing. Behind the scenes, the fashion marketing machine is in full motion so that when the clothes are manufactured and hit the stores, shoppers will want to snap them up off the racks. Marketers need to understand consumer attitudes and behavior and develop a keen sense of the emotional triggers that will persuade them to make purchase decisions.
8. Merchandising and retail. Once the clothes hit retail, it’s the job of the fashion merchandiser to create a visually appealing merchandise display to lure consumers into the store to buy, buy, buy. Mannequins, props, and sometimes very unexpected elements all work together to stop customers in their tracks. But merchandising is only part of the equation at retail. Savvy fashion design companies educate retailers on their merchandise so the sales staff can be knowledgeable about the product line and more effectively sell one-on-one with customers. Marketing and merchandising hooks them in; the retail staff closes the deal.
Although the preceding was a very basic rundown of the production of a garment, it’s clear that the fashion design industry is huge, with many layers and players. It bodes well for those interested in a fashion career, as there are myriad job positions besides the fashion designer. Therefore, whatever interests or skills one might have, there’s probably a career in fashion for them.