What a mysterious profession fashion design is, do you agree?
Its certainly been an ongoing mystery with lots of layers that reveal themselves to me on an ongoing basis as I continue down what has been almost a 15 year path. The questions I am asked on an ongoing basis run the continuum from "how do I start designing my own clothing?" "how do I get my start in the profession?" "how do I create collections" to "how do I make clothing that stands out in the industry?" I'm also asked lots of business and career questions too!
So many, in fact, I'm going to make a note to come back to this post later, and maybe write a new email series, if you read this blog, you know I love a series, that can cover more of these topics in depth. But really, to get started in any kind of design, the first thing you have to do is start to develop your own perspective.
A perspective in art and design is the whole reason why you would want to go into a field like fashion in the first place. If you don't have a perspective, or a way you think or want to see things be made, then why on earth would you go through all of the trouble to learn the technical skills that you are going to need to master to bring your unique idea and vision into form?
If you are wanting to just make copies of what's out there, because you want it and its somehow not available to you, while that can be a form of craft mastery and hobby, that's not really design. When you are really designing, you are creating something new. Now, that can be a remix of items that are out there, whose combinations of the classics create something entirely new, or it could be a unique way you figured out how to solve a problem. But I think to really approach clothing from a design based stand point, you have to start seeing what doesn't exist and use your technical skills to draw, pattern, sew, and fit to make it exist.
To get started, we are going to just start with the beginnings of how to start developing a perspective. What you can expect from me is a very conservative approach- because there are so many ways you can participate in the field of fashion design, I think its important to identify what you really love about the idea of this business and where you ideally see yourself participating.
By focusing on why and how you want to participate in the field of fashion, you can narrow your search as to where to research, what skills you will need to learn, and what ideas you are most compelled to develop.
In this post I’ve chosen these 2 areas of focus because there are a lot of layers toward developing your fashion design voice and perspective. You must start somewhere, so you can find out where you are most compelled to begin your technical work, and how it relates to your unique ideas and visions for future fashion and clothing projects. In my private lessons, focusing on these 2 areas really help students to identify their own unique perspective, as well as help them to see if fashion is really an investment they want to consider.
1. Your Own Wardrobe
Your closet will tell you a lot about what kind of clothing interests you. We often collect items that tell a personal story about how we live, the roles we embody, and how we relate to our community, career, family, and the general outside world.
I want you to set aside an hour to look at your own closet. Find the items that are your go to, and then consider why do you love the items that you love? No matter how trivial they seem to you right now, trust me, thats some valuable input to get you started.
Why do you have other items that are languishing in the back? These are clues to where your own perspective as an aspiring designer lives, and they help you identify your own unique vantage point. Where I used to have confusion in my design process is mixing fantasy with reality- items I designed for runway often had no place to be worn in my daily life. So I learned that I was designing just for the show, and that reconciled my problem. If you really consider that that job of a fashion designer is to not only develop your own identity as a brand and thought leader in design, but also remember that your client has to wear it and love it because it serves them well, then you are off to a much better start than most college fashion students.
If you like it, then likely another person will too. Hone in on the key elements in your closet that you love, and really spend time articulating why that item works for you. Is it the cloth, is it the color? Pick at least 10 items and describe why you love them- this will show you what you appreciate about design and where you can focus your practice and study. Brands like Ace and Jig have very simple construction and silhouettes to their clothing, however they weave their own cloth and design the pattern. They are focusing on what they love, and building a compelling brand through the cloth of their clothes.
I recommend this approach because identifying what you are drawn to and love is a very authentic and personal way to start designing. A pitfall I see happen in an aspiring designer is to look at another successful brand and decide that since it looks like they are selling, then they need to make something like that. That’s not going to be sustainable because its not coming from within you. Its okay to be inspired, but ask the deeper question. Why do I like this so much? That will help you identify your core feelings around why you want to design clothing.
2. Clothing Brands That You Love
I hesitated as I wrote this- I don’t want you going to style.com to dig through everyone else’s work to find yourself and what you want to design. Be careful- do the first exercise I talked about above, and first get solidified in the questions I asked you to consider. Make sure you have thoughtfully considered the questions I have included in the workbook, and if you haven't already, here is the link to get it here:
However, being a designer is about participating in a conversation. Who are you interested in? How is that brand speaking to you? What emotions or feelings are you experiencing when you look at that designer’s collection? What story does their collection tell you?
These questions will help you dig past copying another designer’s perspective or work. However, clothing is presented in iterations… Don’t get discouraged that J. Crew already nailed a perfect shirt. What is it about J. Crew’s shirt that you find perfect? What story does it tell you? How would you wear it? By asking yourself the critical questions as to why you like this particular item or collection, or designer, you will start identifying where you want to participate. Ask those questions, and then go make your perfect shirt. The questions I’m asking you will help you flush out your unique perspective and help you get started making your own compelling clothing. By identifying your interests and core feelings around clothes, you will start to pull those into your own designs.
A very beneficial self assignment for you aspiring designer’s is to consider the questions I asked above and apply them to 5 brands that you are drawn to or a designer you love.
This type of post is the way I teach fashion design. While its very important to become technically proficient in sewing and patternmaking, to really make an impact with for yourself, and later others, you need to learn important and exciting fashion design concepts and how you can apply them to your sewing practice. In my email newsletter, I send articles to teach you sewing practices to create clothing that is meaningful to you. Sign up to receive email lessons on garment design, the latest blog posts and video tutorials, and all the latest class announcements and promotions.