The Fashion Designer Process: Feeling Overwhelmed?

Charlie Bradley Ross Thursday, 8 January 2015

I truly believe that to be a great business person, to be great in any industry, you need to be ten steps ahead. As Confucius said, “A man who does not plan long ahead will find trouble at his door.”


“A man who does not plan long ahead will find trouble at his door” - Confucius #fashiondesign

Starting a business can be overwhelming. Organisation and a clear head are paramount when you're juggling 100 different things. In order to be organised, you need to have a definitive understanding of what is happening in three months time, not just three weeks.

I discovered fashion entrepreneur Deborah Campbell (well, technically she discovered our fabrics first!) the founder of fashion startup Deborah Campbell Atelier, and thought she could share some fascinating insight into her yearly design process.

The pieces in Deborah's collections are British made, with bespoke prints inspired by modern art and nature. Each abstract print is different on every garment, which makes every piece completely one of a kind.

In this interview, I dive right into her startup fashion experience, to give us her firsthand knowledge of the design process, so you can understand all the elements that goes into creating and selling a collection and plan ahead!

Let's start with the basics: When do you start working on your Spring Summer and Autumn Winter collections?

I work on Autumn Winter from September, for the following Autumn Winter season and I work on Spring Summer from January for the following year.

How do you come up with your collection's concept - theme, colours, silhouettes etc?

I get inspired by all sorts of things, particularly modern art, architecture, ceramics, nature and I love texture. I loosely follow trends and keep a close watch on websites and blogs like Trend Atelier, Pattern Bank and Patternity.

As an ethical designer, I imagine you have difficulties finding fabrics to work with your design, so do you start with fabrics or do you start with the design?

I love fabric and more often than not I do start with fabric, however sometimes a shape is the inspiration and I work the other way around.

There are so many things to think about when you launch one collection, what is the fashion designer process that you go through from your collection's concept to getting it in the store?

  • Look at colour and trends from a variety of sources
  • Source fabrics, trims and linings
  • Start designing shapes & prints
  • Get the patterns cut
  • Fit the first samples
  • Pass all sample packs to my factory
  • Approve strike offs of prints
  • Create a critical path for samples and production - work closely with the factory
  • Book and do photoshoot
  • Engage with graphic designer to create lookbook ready for printing
  • Send lookbook to printer
  • Begin the marketing and sales of new collection August sales for SS Feb Sales for AW
  • Place bulk orders of all fabrics and trims.
  • Place bulk orders with factory
  • Start placing styles on website
  • Marketing & social media ongoing while all the above is going on
  • Start shipping orders to clients wholesale and direct
  • At what point do you consider your expenses versus your wholesale or retail prices to your end client?

    I consider costs constantly as prices can change or costings can change. For example if a fabric cannot be used for any reason and the new choice is narrower than the original cloth chosen the fabric consumption may go up and costs change. I look at my costs on a daily basis on an excel spreadsheet.

    How many items do you decide on per collection? As a startup it must be incredibly important to have enough pieces to appeal to a buyer, but you don't want to have so many that you can't afford to make them.

    I have a limit of 16 peices per collection

    Working on your own, I imagine you can begin to question your design decisions, so do you have help with selecting your final designs?

    I have a few sounding boards from experienced design colleagues who I have known during my time working in the fashion industry. They are excellent barometers and keep me sane!

    How long does it take you to pattern cut and put together a sample? Do you do it yourself?

    I employ an experienced pattern cutter as this is a highly skilled job and although I have cut patterns in the past I prefer to employ someone to free my time up to do other areas.

    How do you know what will sell? What market research do you do?

    I utilise my past manufacturing and retail experience and I am a trend forecaster so study the cycle of fashion and I can often predict what type of shapes have longevity and have a timeless quality.

    How do you work out your prices and do you include your own time?

    I work on the standard margin of 2.5 times my cost for wholesale and for direct sales I fall in line with the Recommended Retail Price that I quote to wholesalers, this is usually and additionally 2.5 or 3. I do not pay myself a living wage.

    Footing the bill to manufacture designs can be hefty - particularly if you're not selling into shops but retailing your designs yourself. How many of each product do you make and in how many sizes?

    20 to 50 units of a style at the moment. Going up to 150 of a style as I gather momentum in the market.

    Many startups have to do this entire process on their own. Do you outsource any resources?

  • Accountancy - I am not an accountant so best left to an expert.
  • Pattern cutting
  • Manufacturing
  • What's your main way of generating sales?

  • My own website
  • I am in the process of signing up with a website called Green This Season
  • My charity tie up which will be revealed in the new year
  • I am looking to affiliate with a blogger
  • Newsletter
  • Social media
  • Press Gatekeepers and influential people in ethical and main stream fashion - in the process of reaching out to a variety of people.
  • What advice would you give to a fashion designer producing their own brands on not becoming overwhelmed?

    It’s tough, you have to be organised and prepared that design is only 10% of what you do, the rest is sales/marketing and sourcing. The key to any business success is to understand where the product will sell and who will buy it. I will be spending the majority of my time ensuring that the product has a strong sales avenue and fine tuning my collection with regards to price and where it will sell.

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    "It’s tough, you have to be organised" - on starting a fashion brand from @dcampbelatelier

    Understanding the elements that go into creating and selling a fashion collection.

    @dcampbelatelier tells #fashiondesigners how not to get bogged down and overwhelmed