How Does Clothing Design Work?

New fashion trends and styles seem to appear out of nowhere. And it seems like as soon as a new idea becomes a “thing,” stores are automatically stocked with the latest and most popular iterations of these concepts.

However, the process from idea to market is much more complex than you might think, and there are many fascinating nuances littered along the path from a designer’s mind to your wardrobe.

Square one: concept

While it might seem like new trends are born spontaneously, they first originate from an initial concept—and these concepts, like trends, do not magically come into existence. In the majority of cases, these new ideas come from research.

Research is central to the process of formulating any feasible idea. Whether the final product will be a Versace dress or Bethany Mota’s lace trim denim shorts, how and why a product will be made is just as important as the product itself.

The kind of research that is undergone can differ from designer to designer. And like with any other artist, designers intend to tell a story, send a message, or perhaps embody some sort of inspirational emotion or idea.

When it comes time to do the digging, some designers go on the hunt shopping for a plethora of clothing that catches their eye in order to compare and contrast between the pieces, trying to find some inspirational pattern or cut—or some element they can improve.

Others focus more on the feeling they want to embody, latching onto the emotion before working out how to make that emotion wearable.

Still others dive into historical texts, taking inspiration from the past (be it from the history of textiles or history otherwise). Location can also play a large role in finding the proper inspiration for a design; in designer lab coats, for example, styles are fashioned specifically and intentionally for safety and utility (or, in special cases, genuine style and properly-fitted confidence).

For labels that focus more on mass production, another important facet of research comes in the form of analyzing and predicting trends. Is a certain color coming more into fashion? A certain style? Material?

Once the concept has been well researched and the initial design is totally thought out, it’s time to put all the elements together. This step can come in the form of anything from seeing how different fabrics work together to putting mock-ups on figurines to even sophisticated Computer Aided Design models.

This element-assembly step is all about refinement—really getting the concept to be exactly what it needs to be both in the eyes of the designer and in the eyes of the manufacturers and the market is crucial for a product’s success. Throwing every iteration of an idea into production and onto the racks is not a feasible plan of attack monetarily, and designers cannot afford to not get the majority of their concepts onto the market, so every idea destined for release needs to be finely tuned to ensure the best possible outcome every time.

Coming to life

Once the product has been put together and showcased, key buyers announce interest and production begins. As with the research process, the production process is different for everyone.

Depending on what the label wants or can afford to do, designers might decide to go with local or overseas production. Of course, cost is a major consideration, but so are other things like quality control (something we’ll touch more on later). Apart from location, it is also vastly important to consider what materials will be handled and what techniques will be used. Some production firms handle certain materials and techniques better than others, and if a certain product deals with a lot of zippers and leather, the chosen factory had better be able to handle those.

Stepping away from the physical production part of manufacturing, other things that need to happen include scaling and resizing. Unless the design is ultra-exclusive, the entire design needs to be able to look good on every version of the product, which most commonly means that the pattern on the size 2 dress needs to look the same as the pattern on the size 8, the size 14, and so on.

This is a lot more complicated than you might think.

Careful, technical calculations need to be made to make sure different amounts of fabric and different dimensions in general don’t warp the intended design, maintaining the original intended concept of the designer.

With professionally-designed lab coats, the whole idea behind them is to look better in a fitted coat than you do in the traditional box-size lab coat “tents.” In these cases, this sizing math is especially important.

Returning to quality control: good quality control is expensive. Perhaps one of the biggest factors in deciding to keep production local is precisely this—if the product is being produced in the same country, even the same city, then the designer has the luxury of being able to visit the factory themselves in order to ensure the process is proceeding with the upmost precision and care.

But that’s not always possible, unless you want to pay, say, $200 for a lab coat. Should production take place somewhere further away, technology has played a huge role in making the “blind trust gap” less of an issue—especially where design is drawn up somewhere closer by.

Into the world

Once the concept has been fleshed out, put together and properly produced, all that’s left is getting it into consumer’s wardrobes. This final step, however, is a bit more nuanced than a simple delivery.

For one, there’s the question of time. Many labels choose to ship their items from the factories to warehouses, where the articles are sorted, packaged, and sent to where they will be sold. Any logistical complication in this process could cost the designer dearly, as any form of delay will result in the product reaching the market later and ultimately getting less sale-time which, apart from simply affecting sales, could affect the impact of the product or how it is received in general.

Online storefronts definitely have the advantage over brick-and-mortar shopping when it comes to time and convenience.

Data collected during the final step is also important for the label, as it serves as specific feedback for design. Sales data can be used to know what is selling and what isn’t, and can help determine if it’s a matter of design, material, or region, among other possible culprits.

Finally, this final step is where the apparent magic comes into play. After all of the research, after all of the production, after all of the sourcing and control, after all of the behind the scenes work, if the items make it into online (or in-store) sales portals, then it might just seem like “magic” to consumers that these new fashion trends and concepts appeared suddenly and out of nowhere…despite being the products of months upon months of dedicated work!