How to Find Your Design Voice: Learn Fashion Design Principles for Beginners

What does the clothing you make say about you and how does it communicate to other people? 

I know what its like for me when I find a designer that I am inspired by- its happened to me many times when I see a collection and it is so compelling to me I either dream of owning every single item in the collection, or the story presented is so interesting or inspiring to me that I wish I had thought of it myself. When I have that level of appreciation, I know that the designer of the item is making something that is telling me something about myself, what I have experienced and what I appreciate about the material world. Sometimes its the way that the materials are arranged and sewn that tells the story, or other times its that color the designer chose that every single time I see it I squeak a little bit in delight. Either way, this is how I know I am experiencing something that is compelling to me, and I will remember it and revisit this work again.

If you’re an aspiring fashion designer, check out this blog post + free workbook to learn how to discover and refine your unique design voice. Download the FREE WORKBOOK to learn my 3-step design process for beginners!

How does a designer do this? How are they creating this reaction and how do I do that?

You have this ability too, and likely it is happening when you are speaking. Words are being used to describe your experience, your day, to tell a story, to explain what you need or want to experience. We have all of these words to describe exactly what we need and how we feel, and actually the language of materiality isn’t that different. It does take some getting used to- heck, I can’t name one language I learned in a day, but here is some insight into the process of design and some exercises to find your unique voice. 

When you are seeking to find your unique perspective and voice in design, its important to find out what is important to you. If you think about it, when we are communicating with our friends, family, coworkers, and clients, we are sharing a conversation about what is most important in that moment- be it a memory, a list of action items, a problem that needs solving, or a solution to a shared situation. Clothing design actually works the same way! But in order to communicate effectively through your own authentic voice, and hopefully find other people who share the same viewpoint, you have to really nail down your perspective as to what is important.

In this post, I am going to give you a 3 step Design Process for Beginners. This will be great if you are new to sewing and want to make your own clothing. Or if you are an aspiring fashion designer and are hoping to refine your process beyond the level of construction and pattern drafting and get into the specifics of why you are making- these three steps will help you identify some core design values that you might not have seen before.

I’m also giving you a downloadable worksheet so that you can use this process again and again. This will help ensure that you make an item that you love or will provide the basis for a collection of garments that you are going to make! Wardrobe sewists- This will help you develop consistency in your items so that they all complement each other and can be paired together nicely :)

Getting Started: 

1. The functional analysis: 

Okay, now that you have your workbook printed, lets take a look.  First lets consider the item that you are going to make. If this is for a clothing collection or wardrobe building, print the worksheet for as many items as you are making.

For the purposes of this post, we are just going to consider this for one item. First, lets consider the purpose- what do you need this item for? For what type of purpose will you wear it? This might seem obvious to you, but its really important to consider the function AND the form. Often my wardrobe mistakes are because I liked the idea of an item, but could never find a real reason to wear it.

When you really consider the function, you will ensure you make an item that you like AND wear for many different reasons. If its a specialty item, then its a specialty item and you need to consider that. I once had a merchandiser tell me that dresses are so hard for her to sell. And I asked her why? It seems like everyone needs a dress at some point or another. She went on to describe that while dresses for day and casual wear are a little easier because theres a lot of uses for them, when a woman needs a dress for a particular function she is going to be very specific about what she wants. She has to find a match for that, and thats why dresses are hard to sell when you consider all the different priorities and opinions a woman places on that item of clothing.

What are your priorities, and opinions as to how that garment will function- go to the worksheet and work through the questions presented. This will help you get very specific about what items you really need to be making and help edit some out.

If you’re an aspiring fashion designer, check out this blog post + free workbook to learn how to discover and refine your unique design voice. Download the FREE WORKBOOK to learn my 3-step design process for beginners!

2. Color and Material Swatching

If you are considering wardrobe sewing or developing a collection, you are really going to enjoy this and get a lot out of this exercise. Often I design clothing for myself in batches, or when I am creating a collection, I identify the main palate of the collection. Most collections that are successful pick a very small, yet strategic pallate- and I encourage you to pay attention and do the same for your wardrobe design or for your upcoming collections.

Gather the fabric you are most drawn to and from the questions I give you in the workbook, derive 2 to 3 primary colors, and 2 to 4 secondary colors to make elements pop. I want you to consider where and how they are using color strategically and record it. If you are working with textile design, its important to use this same process for the prints and patterns you will using.

Get super critical and eliminate too many patterns on top of prints, unless you are going for that look and in that case, go for it! Again, if you are developing a collection or wardrobe sewing, you should print out the workbook a few times so that you can have more pages to work with.

3. Storytelling

Now, take the first two sections and start mixing and matching. This is how to develop a design voice, through story. If you are just working on one pattern, then do this exercises for a few of your color swatches. Take the garment and consider it next to your primary color or fabric choice and answer the questions in the workbook. For example, if you are making a shirt, why will it be made from this lightweight material? What is the purpose, and what who would need or want this type of material. Move on to color, if you make the shirt in red, what does that signify? When will it be worn, and how will that fit the purpose when it is worn? These exercises are going to help you tell a story, which is going to help you see how clothing has its own language. 

The more often you work with this exercise, the more you will be able to recognize your specific design priorities and be able to communicate that in your own voice. By having to really pay attention, and focus on your reasoning, you may realize that you need to develop the idea further or that there is more to add that you become inspired by. And by filling out the questions in your workbook, you place words to your decision making process and articulate what is important to you.


Update - Bonus Video Lesson now available!


That’s finding your design voice, for beginners. If you enjoyed this post, I just gave a talk recently on how I applied this exact methodology when I created my first clothing collections. It is now up on the blog, go here and watch and learn how this process works when put to action. 


If this was helpful to you, I write and share lots more in my monthly video fashion workshops. Do you want to learn how to create cohesion, style, and focused design in your collections and closets this year? Or maybe you want to learn more about how to customize patterns toward your own design? Each month we tackle a topic to help you develop and grow a personalized wardrobe sewing practice, go here to learn more and sign up!