The 8 essential steps to take your fashion design from idea to best seller

Charlotte Mackenzie
June 18, 2022
8 min

Ever wondered what it takes to bring a piece of clothing to life? From the initial conception, through to design and finally the finished product, we take a closer look at all the steps involved in the fashion design process.

Becoming a designer in a fashion retailer takes a lot of determination, passion and time. Every fashion designer takes a slightly different approach to the design process. Whether you’ve got the technical genius of McQueen, the commercial prowess of Tom Ford, or the ability to determine trends like Miuccia Prada, every garment must start somewhere.

Some will use fashion software to support them along the way and others might take more of an old-school approach. There are however some general steps that every designer will follow from initial concept to producing a final garment.

So let’s take a look at the steps involved to bring your ideas to reality.

1. Inspiration & research

Oh, to be a designer travelling the globe, on international trips to some of the fashion capitals of the world (New York, London & Milan) to gain inspiration on new trends, colours and silhouettes, one can dream! Reading trend reports to stay ahead of the game is an absolute must.

After returning from their travels bursting with inspiration, the natural next step are mood boards (yay). Designers often use Pinterest, a significant fashion technology tool to create mood boards and document images reflecting colours and textures they wish to incorporate into their designs and easily reference when needed.

Taking the time to organise your ideas will result in a better final garment.

Quick tips for mood board success:

  • Be emotionally connected so that your design is unique. Think about your culture, a personal experience or even a book you have read
  • Use the latest fashion technologies to help you collate your ideas in one place. There's some really cool stuff out there. Here's one of our Faves!
  • Your mood board doesn’t need to be only fashion images - include images from architecture or history, whatever it is that truly inspires you.
  • Do a lot of research and gather a lot of inspiration - you don't want to have to go back and start again
  • Create several mood boards - you will start to see a pattern or trends that re-appear throughout and that is the beauty of discovering your signature style

Design brainstorming session
Design brainstorming session

2. Initial sketches

This step is all about getting your ideas down on paper and helping you visualize your design and create your range. It's the first time your design comes to life and the technical elements are outlined: darts, seams, sleeve length, fit and shape.

Some designers will use fashion software such as Croqui or Adobe illustrator, others might just free draw to keep the inspirational juices flowing! Keep drawing and testing until you come up with a final design. Be patient with the process, there’s no time limit to sketching your ideal piece. Adding colour and movement will help you finalize it.

Style Arcade’s Range Plan software allows designers to upload sketches and product details so they can easily visualize their collection as it comes together.

Style Arcade Range Plan showing sketches, runway images and product metrics
Capture your inspo, sketches and ecomm images all in the one source of truth

3. Technical designs & tech packs

The next step in the process is to create the technical sketches which will include the correct construction of the garment. This is called a Computer Aided Design (CAD) but can also be referred to as a technical sketch.

Designers will create a CAD using a fashion technology such as Adobe Illustrator. A CAD is a 2-dimensional computer aided drawing of your design using fashion software. Eventually, these CAD designs will become the blueprint for the manufacturer to create the first sample or prototype.

Once you've created your technical CAD drawing the technical designer will create a Tech Pack.

So, what is a tech pack?

A tech pack is a document that the production factory uses to know everything they need to know about your design: it's the blueprint of your design. It must include all of the following details to ensure they can produce the garment to the exact specification:

  • Cover - this will include a version of your design with the brand name, product code and season details
  • Bill of Materials (BOM) - this includes all of the information on the materials you are using to produce the garment including the body of the garment and any labels. The BOM includes the colour, composition, finish and quantity of the fabric to be used
  • POM (graded spec) - this will include info on your tolerances, grades and specs
  • Callout page - includes your technical sketches
  • Colour - coloured sketches to show clearly the placement of colour in your design if there are several being used
  • Pricing - outlines the price of each item needed to create the final garment. It also houses the pricing information of the final garment so the swing tags and labels can be produced.
  • Packing information - this will need to include any artwork for your labels & details on how you would like the garment to be packaged to avoid it being damaged in transit.

You won't have all of the information above immediately, this is why the tech pack is continuously updated throughout the design process. It’s pretty much the bible for your design that anyone can refer to at any point for the latest specifications. Say you’re away from the office one day, this pack is so you can trust whomever picks it up can carry on as you intended.

Alongside the designer creating the tech pack, the merchandising teams run the numbers and track the costings to know what the retail profit margin will be for the garment.

As you can imagine it's smart to house all of this information in one place: Style Arcade's Range Plan can do this for you. From housing your mood board images, to first sketches to tech pack details, Style Arcade has you covered.

Everything contained in one place and easily accessible by anyone at any time.

Did we mention it’s visual? A designer's dream.

4. Sourcing fabrics & colours

Once the tech pack has been created you can send it out to various manufacturers and suppliers to source different parts of your design. This is an opportunity to negotiate with potential new partners and find the best fabrics, trims and labels for your design.

As part of this sourcing exercise, you'll also need to find the best manufacturer to assemble your design.

Here's a few things you'll want to think about when sourcing fabrics & colours

  • What fabrics will you choose? Are you after a structured or floaty look, and will you select or design your own fabric?
  • Think about the weight, thickness and construction of the fabric to understand how it will sit on the body
  • Shop for swatches online (there's a lot that can be sourced over the internet)
  • Colour depicts the mood of your garment and is often the first thing the customer notices. Don’t skimp on the important task of choosing your colour palettes.
Fabric sourcing and colour selection
Fabric sourcing and colour selection

5. Obtaining samples & fittings

You've now decided on the factory that's going to assemble your garment for you, and you’ve sourced all your fabrics, the next step is to produce the first sample. The fun part where your drawing literally comes alive into something tactile that you can actually WEAR.

The tech pack should be updated with all your newly sourced information and sent across to the factory for them to produce the first prototype. Sometimes the factory will substitute your fabric and trims for something similar whilst they are still being finalised so you can get the first sample asap and keep the process moving.

Once the sample comes in, the garment is fitted onto a model so the technical designer can see how it sits on the body, its size and mobility.

There's a few key things the technical designer checks before and during a fitting:

  • That the measurements of the garment match the tech pack (this is done prior to the garment going on the model)
  • Construction of the garment vs your technical design in the tech pack
  • Fit of the garment: ensure it lays correctly in the right places on the model
  • Takes notes on what's different to the tech pack and what needs to be changed so the tech pack can be updated and sent back to the factory to receive sample no.2!

Sample No. 2?!  More often than not, there are multiple samples as tweaks are made from fittings and design approvals. An example sampling process includes:

Merchandising Sampling Process
Merchandising Sampling Process

This process continues until you are happy with the final garment and you approve it for bulk production. Often there are 2-3 samples before the garment is approved for production. It's important that the tech pack is updated each time so the latest changes are reflected and the factory can produce a new sample.

6. Sizing using fashion software

Prior to approving for bulk production, you will need to decide on the quantity you want to purchase across each size. Ensuring you have full size availability on your product for at least 4-6 weeks is crucial to optimising sales and profitability.

So, what is size availability?

Size availability, in this instance, is reporting on the number of sizes you have available (have stock units in) of your total number of sizes. A simple example would be: If you have sold out of 1 of your 5 sizes then your size availability is 80%. Your size availability should remain at 100% for at least the first 4-6 weeks of the product's life.

Why is size availability important?

It cannot be underestimated because getting the size curve wrong and selling out of sizes too quickly can result in a**20-30% impact to your retail profit margins.** Imagine a customer lands on your online store and falls in love with a dress you have designed, only to find it's sold out in the size they need. That’s a missed sale for your business and a lost customer.

Style Arcade Size Curve
Style Arcade size curves show your true demand, so you waste less and sell more

And what's the opportunity in getting it right?

You can expect to see up to a 12% increase in your retail profit margin. There's no need to make guesses here as there are intelligent fashion technologies that can give you the answers in seconds. Need help in deciding what's the perfect size curve? Talk to the team to see how we could be achieving more profit through sizing for your brand.

7. Final approval

Once you're happy with the final sample and you have decided on the correct quantity to purchase you can approve the garment for bulk production, hooray! At this stage, you must make sure your tech pack is 100% up to date with the final design revisions.

It's common practice to request a Pre Production Sample (PPS) for final review before bulk production commences. If this is all good, then and only then, are you ready to start production! Depending on the factory this can take 6-8 weeks. The suspense!

Whilst this stage is being completed you can keep busy organising the freight shipment for the goods to be delivered to you or your warehouse.

Final Approval
Final Approval

8. Production

The final stage! Now you have approved the garment for production you will agree on a few final steps with your factory before you receive the goods:

  • Ship date
  • Quality (QC) checks prior to shipping
  • Tagging

There’s no doubt designing is the creative step in the production process. From inspiration to mood boards and first sketches; this is often a job many dream of but don't realise the amount of data collection and tracking required to take a design from conception to first sample and beyond.

With so much information that needs to be maintained, stored and referenced it's easy to lose track when things are stored in different places - files, boards, systems.  Style Arcade’s Range Plan can assist design and production's part of the range planning process by collating all the things into one source of truth.  From storing mood images, tech packs, tracking of sample dates, and all the changes in between, we have you covered.

If spending more time creating and less time collating gets you excited, reach out to one of our team to discuss in detail how to take the creative process to the next level while keeping all your data in check.

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