I bet you’re wondering what it takes to become a great fashion designer! How can I be so sure? Well, because this is the #1 question I get asked. It comes up so frequently that I decided I wanted to really get into the nitty-gritty of what it does take to become a great fashion designer. And what I came up with, is not what you may think!
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Today we are going to be talking about “How to become a great fashion designer” because people are asking me this all the time. It’s a really good question and I think it deserves a good answer. So, we are going to answer that today.
What You DON’T Need in Order to Become a Great Fashion Designer
Contrary to popular belief, most people think that to be a great fashion designer, you need to be good at sketching and sewing. Actually, sketching and sewing are not absolutely necessary to be super good at, so these are not actually on my list that I’m going to go over with you today. But, I wanted to talk about it briefly because I think there’s this huge misconception that you do need to be great at sketching and sewing.
Now, I became a head designer by the time I was 24. I was the head designer for multiple companies. I worked my way up to VP of Design and Merchandising and I don’t consider myself very good at sketching or sewing. Yes, I can sketch something to the point where someone can understand it. You don’t need to be great at sketching and doing really great artistic, illustrative types of sketches. But, you need to be good enough to be able to put your ideas down on paper and explain them to someone else because most likely someone else is going to be sewing your line or manufacturing your line for you. You’re not going to be the one doing it and so you can use your sketches in order to convey that message to them.
Now, you don’t have to always use sketches. You can purchase garments and use things like that. You can take photographs of seam finishes and treatments and different things like that that will help to be able to explain your ideas to someone else. The same goes for sewing. I don’t consider myself a great master sewer or seamstress. Yes, can I make a pair of pants or shirt if I had to? Sure. But at the end of the day, as a fashion designer, you’re probably not going to be the one sewing. You really shouldn’t be the one sewing because that has to be left up to someone else so that you can focus on the things that you need to focus on. Focus on the creativity, focus on the design, and all sorts of things.
So for instance, when I was a head designer I only needed to understand how to construct a garment, not actually be able to construct the garment myself. If I was making a really high-end chiffon gown, I knew that I needed a French seam because the French seam is more expensive. It’s a little bit harder to do and it’s what’s mostly put into high-end garments. So all I had to do is tell the seamstress to put French seams on the side, in the center back, on the shoulders, or wherever there needed to be a French seam, and then she would be the one to sew it. If I had to sew the French seam, it would look horrible. It would probably be wavy and not the greatest. But I understand what a French seam is and how it’s constructed. I understand that a French seam takes double the amount of seam allowance that you normally need for a normal seam and so, of course, the patternmaker when she’s making the pattern for this needs to build that into her paper patterns. If I look at her paper pattern and see that her seam allowance is too small, I will say “Hey I asked for a French seam here and you need to make your seam allowance bigger”. So certain things like that. You need to have a basic understanding of how to sew and how to sketch, but you don’t need to be super good at sketching and sewing. For more information on how to take your idea from sketch to sample, while making a profit, I recommend you taking my Source, Design, Create online course.
1. It Takes Creativity to Become a Great Fashion Designer
So number one, the first thing that it takes to be a really good fashion designer is to be creative. So what do I mean by that? In my opinion, being creative means being able to take something from nothing and turn it into something else that is a piece of art”. Taking let’s say a seashell that you see on the beach and understanding how to make a picture frame out of seashells. So, you’re taking something from nothing or something that’s originally used for one type of purpose and you’re turning it and you’re transforming it into something else. That’s what being creative is. As a fashion designer, you are taking something that’s two dimensional, a sketch or paper pattern, and you’re turning it into something that’s three-dimensional.
When you’re looking at fabrics as a fashion designer, you need to be able to understand in your brain and your mind what that’s going to look like as a garment. How is that fabric going to treat? If it is a really stiff fabric, what type of garment are you going to make that’s going to suit that fabric the best? And that’s what is going to make you become a great fashion designer. So, number one being creative.
2. An Eye to See How to Make an Item Better
You need to have an eye to look at something and see how to make it better. When I was younger, around 16, 17, 18, I hated shopping. Honestly, I still hate shopping now. I hated shopping because every time I would go into a store, I would look at something and say “Well, I really like that but I wish the sleeve was longer” or “I wish the neckline was shorter” or “I wish it was more open” or “I wish they put this thing here instead of here” or “the buttons are too low”. I would always find something wrong with every garment that I looked at and it was so frustrating! At that very moment, I knew that I was meant to be a fashion designer. I could look at something and see how it could be better or how it could be fixed.
Now some people when they go into a store, they see a garment like a T-shirt or a shirt for instance, and they automatically think in their brain what is that going to look good with? Oh, that shirt will look great with the skirt that I have or that will look great with a striped skirt that I need to go out and buy or that outfit there looks great and these shoes that I have at home would look perfect with that. That’s more of a stylist mentality. When you’re taking something that’s already there and you’re just styling it, you’re just putting them together. You are not actually creating something new or changing something. You are literally taking two garments and saying, “Oh this and this will look great together, let’s put them together.” That’s more of a stylist. A lot of people get confused with the difference between a stylist and designer and all these different types of fashion jobs that are out there. It’s fine to be a stylist, but understand that usually if you are good at styling, you’re not always good at being a designer and usually, they’re not together or they don’t overlap very much.
I have worked with a lot of stylists that let’s say wanted to start their own fashion line and it’s tricky because they can’t see something from nothing. They can’t look at a fabric and see how it’s going to look in the skirt. They have to look at a final garment and then they can say, “Oh that skirt will go right with this top” or “that dress would look great with these shoes.” That’s how their brain functions. If that’s how your brain functions, maybe you would be better as a stylist. That’s good to know up front ahead of time so you don’t go down the wrong path.
3. To Have an Eye for Fit on the Body
Okay number three, you have to have an eye for fit. How a garment should fit on a body, whether it’s a woman, a man or child. Whoever you’re designing for, you have to have that eye for fit. You have to be able to see if something is even a quarter of an inch off. I used to do tons of fittings every single day and I would be able to look at a garment and say, “Oh this strap is a quarter inch lower than this strap on this side.” It’s really important to have that skill and that is going to make you become a great fashion designer.
I was fortunate enough to grow up with a father who was great at carpentry and woodwork and he taught me from a very young age how to measure, how to add measurements and line things up and make sure things are even and balanced and all that sort of thing. That was really important to me and I took that with me into my design career. We have a saying in our household “measure twice and cut once” and that applies also to fashion designing. Once you cut your fabric, that’s it, it’s over, so you better measure twice and cut once to make sure that you don’t ruin any of your fabric and that you’re cutting exactly what you need to be cutting.
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4. Great Fashion Designers have a Talent for Color and Style
I say talent because I think that these two things are really difficult to learn. I think it’s something that really has to be born within you, it has to be innately put inside of you. God has to create you to have these things like talent, color, and style already within you. It’s really important as a designer that you have this. Now, I work with a ton of different designers that I coach all of the time and I see them design things that honestly have no style or the colors just do not go well together. You have to have that eye. You have to be able to say this color is a little too red or it’s a little too blue or the yellow needs to be reduced by 10%.
Even if you have a job in the fashion industry, as a head designer you are going to be approving lab dips for production all the time, and they are going to need comments. You can’t just say, “Oh I don’t like this red.” You have to give them comments so that they can actually fix it. So, your comments might be to add 10% yellow, reduce 30% blue, make 10% darker. These types of things you have to have an eye for. You have to have an eye to see how the color needs to be tweaked just a little bit to make it the color that you’re looking for, to make it the color that’s going to match everything else that you’re designing. You need to know, why do certain colors look good together? Why does orange and blue work well together? Why do the colors in this dress that I’m wearing work well together? There’s a reason for that. Having that sense of style and color is really important. You can get better at it over time, but again I do think it’s something that you can’t really learn and has to be kind of innately born within you.
5. To Have Stamina and Determination
This is a big one because working in the industry, whether you’re working for another company or you’re working for yourself, you will be working very long hours. I’m talking 16 hours a day, six days a week. It never ends. You are going to be working really long hours, so just get used to it now. Get used to it now because it’s going to take a lot of stamina and determination. Things are also going to come up that are very frustrating. Maybe your factory is not going to make something the way you wanted it, or your fabric is not going to be available, or things are not going to ship on time. Things are going to constantly come up, so it’s really important that you have the stamina and the determination to just keep going.
6. Having Problem Solving Skills – Think Outside the Box!
Number six is problem-solving. I used to go around and people would ask me all the time, what’s your job as a head designer? I would always say, “I’m a firefighter because all I do all day long is put out fires,” meaning, all I do all day long is problem solve. Literally, my job was to problem solve. My job was to go around and make sure that everything was going according to plan, according to the way that it needed to happen. So when a fabric didn’t come in on time or we couldn’t get the fabric we wanted or something came up and it needed to be solved immediately. That’s really really important. So just get used to the fact that you are going to be problem solving all the time and to be good at problem-solving you need to think outside the box, you need to be creative.
I will tell you guys a story. One time I wanted this soutache, mesh, fabric that our factory had made for us. I wanted it made in a blush color and the factory said to me it’s going to take three weeks. We had a buyer coming in and she specifically requested the blush color and I knew I needed to have this dress made up in time before the buyer came. I did not have three weeks to wait, so I had to think of something else. No fabric vendors had it in the U.S. where I could get it from. I had already checked all of them. I called over 20 fabric vendors and looked at all of their soutache fabrics. No one had this blush color soutache. Literally what I decided to do was take home four yards of white soutache and dye it in my kitchen sink over the weekend. This was so I could have it done and dry by Monday and we could cut the dress and sew it by the time the buyer was going to come in.
I’m not tooting my own horn here, just giving an example of how to think outside the box. Nobody told me, “Hey why don’t you take the fabric home and dye it.” This is something I thought of myself. I knew a buyer needed to see this and I knew it had to get done in time before she came. This was the only option I could think of so I literally took it home in order to get the exact color that I wanted. I used teabags to dye the fabric and let it set in my sink for a couple of hours. I dried it for a couple of hours and it was ready to go by Monday morning. That’s the type of thing you need to think outside the box. You need to think how can I accomplish the same thing or something similar to what I’m trying to accomplish in a different way or in a new way. That’s what’s going to make you become a great fashion designer.
7. Ability to Focus on One Idea or Concept
Number seven is, the ability to focus on one idea or concept. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Most creative people have so many ideas. They have thousands of ideas. But, the problem is, they can never focus on one idea and bring it to completion. So please, whatever you do, make sure you pick one idea and see it all the way through. I see so many designers and have so many clients come to me and they have all these ideas. I tell them okay pick one and go with it. Then the next time I meet with them, they have five more ideas and they never finished the one they told me they were going to finish in the first place. So please, make sure you’re picking one idea and nursing it all the way through to completion. Otherwise, you are going to have a ton of ideas, and nothing is ever going to get finished.
8. To Become a Great Fashion Designer You Must have the Ability to Multitask!
This one is huge. I know as women most of us are great at multitasking which is good. But in order to become a great fashion designer, you need to be super good. You need to be a superwoman as a fashion designer to multitask because you’ve got a million things going on at once. Most fashion designers are working on anywhere from two to five seasons at once. You might be working on your spring line, approving your fall production strike offs, sourcing fabrics for your spring 2 line, spring-summer line, or doing trend forecasting for the trend’s line that’s coming up.
You have so many things going on at once and you need to be able to juggle everything in your head. It’s really important that you be on time and stick to a calendar. Staying organized, multitasking, being able to do multiple things at once, is very important to become a great fashion designer.
9. Being Able to Work Well With Others
Number nine is being able to work well with others because obviously as you are doing all these things, you are going to be working with a ton of different people. You have fabric vendors, your factory, patternmakers, sample makers, cutters, your production coordinator, your salespeople, production assistants, tech designers etc. There are so many different jobs and functions that are people that you’re going to interact with on a day-to-day basis. If you’re an introverted person, being a fashion designer might not be the best job for you. You literally have to talk to so many people on any given day that it is going to be really important that you are good at working well with others.
And not only that, but you’re treating others really nicely. I made it a point to always treat everyone with respect, I think it’s really important. I treated the cleaning lady as if she was the CEO of the company and that’s just my mentality. When I worked at a job that’s my MO, that’s how I walked in every single day. I said hello to everyone. I said good morning to everyone. I had a smile on my face the whole time. That will take you very far in this industry where people are not smiling and people don’t say hello and they’re very mean to you. So being nice, treating people with respect, and really working well with others is going to be definitely to your advantage as a designer.
10. A Great Designer Can Separate Your Own Personal Style from The Style of The Line You Are Designing
Number ten is to be able to separate your own personal style from the style of the line you are designing. Now I know you’re probably saying, “Well I’m designing a line for me. I’m my perfect target customer and I’m designing my own line and I am the customer.” That might be true, and that might be how you start out your fashion line, especially if you are not working for someone else and this is your own fashion line. But that probably won’t be how the line evolves. Over time, your customers are really going to dictate what they want. You might find that the ugliest thing you think is so ugly, but your customer loves it. This is business, and because this is business, you better be selling and making that ugly thing that you can’t stand because your customer wants it and they’re willing to pay for it. That’s really important. You need to have that separation from your own personal style, what you like personally for yourself; and who you are designing for or what the line really is. This is especially so if you have a job because most likely you are going to be designing things that you hate.
I remember having to design mother of the bride stuff. I don’t know about you guys, but I just think mother of the bride stuff is boring. It’s disgusting, and it’s blah, and everyone has to have sleeves because they are old ladies and they don’t want to show their arms, and it’s just not fun. It isn’t fun that they don’t want to wear bright colors. It’s just boring okay. There’s not a lot of options out there for mother of the bride and it was actually a really hard line to design but I actually did very well with it. If you can be able to separate what you like and what your customer likes that's going to help you be a really good designer. Click To Tweet
11. Being Able to Detach from Your Emotions
Okay, number 11 kind of goes along the same line. It’s being able to detach from your emotions. So again you might love something and someone else hates it, you can’t take it personally. You just can’t. You’ve got to be able to detach from your emotions. I talk to my clients all the time and teach them ways to detach from your emotions and not let your emotions stand in the way because you’ll never get anything done. You’ll never reach your goals and you’ll never achieve your dreams if you let your emotions stand in the way. So it’s really important that you detach from your emotions, especially if you’re working with these Devil Wears Prada ladies.
Every boss I ever had was this crazy Devil Wears Prada, yelling, screaming; my assistants were always crying. She was telling this girl she’s fat; she was yelling at me. We were all getting yelled at and we were all actually being treated the same, horribly, and so you just can’t take it personally. It’s not a personal thing and this is just the way that they are. It’s sad, but it’s true. It’s just crazy!
That’s part of the reason I got out of the industry. I wanted to be on the other side of coaching and teaching and helping others because I want to see people have success. Part of having that success is being able to detach from your emotions, not get emotional, not take things personally and be able to stand up for yourself and have respect for yourself, but at the same time not let people walk all over you. That’s really important to become a great fashion designer.
12. Ability to Design Within a Price Point
The last one is being able to design within a price point. This is the most important one. I think that the primary reason I got so far in my design career and I was able to be a head designer by 24 and then VP of Merchandising and Design by the time I was 30 was because I understood this principle of being able to design within a price point. Now, if you’re designing a high-end line, the sky is the limit. You can choose any fabric, you can choose any trims, you can have hand beading done, you can have any seam finishes that you want. It really is “sky is the limit” and you have no limitations because you’re probably charging thousands and thousands of dollars for these garments.
But if you’re designing a low-end line, especially if you’re trying to compete with these high-end designers and trying to design something that’s cheap but yet looks high-end, you have your work cut off for you. This is going to be a challenge for sure. Understanding how much fabric costs, how much your trims cost, how much labor for certain things costs, (certain seam finishes cost more than others) etc.
For instance, flat-fold seams or flat-lock seams on leggings in an active-wear cost 10 times more than a regular five-thread over-lock stitch. You need to know that. As a designer, if you’re designing active wear, you need to know that. You can’t just be putting all these flat-lock seams anywhere you want and then your garment ends up costing through the roof and no one can afford to buy it. It’s really important that you understand your costing; you understand the costing structure of how everything works together. Whats the markup going to be and all of the different calculations which I teach to all of my clients. It’s really important so that when you’re designing, you are designing within that price point. That way you don’t design a dress that no one will be able to afford to buy at the end of the day because you wasted all your money and time designing that dress to begin with. So, I always cost things out ahead of time before I even go into making a sample. It’s just so crucial, there’s no sense in using something or designing something if it’s not going to cost out properly.
So those are my 12 skills that are needed in order to become a great fashion designer and again if you want the checklist, I will email it to you. Just share this video, put shared in the comments and I will email you my cheat sheet of these 12 things, so you don’t have to write them down. I love you guys. If you have any questions, please post them in the comments below and I will try to answer them.
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