Six Steps in the Design Process

Perhaps a good way to present a picture of a designer at work is to trace a garment 'line' from its inception as a series of ideas in the designer's mind through the manufacturing processes until the garments reach the retail store from which the customer is able to purchase them.  We shall choose a misses daytime dress line in the popular-price category because this is the largest of all categories and one in which a young designer often finds a job.


The first step in preparing the individual garments that make up a line, is the creation of their design.  Each garment must have individual styling and although it may be similar to other garments in the line, as well as to the garments in the proceeding line, it will have new individual features of its own.  Its similarities will reflect the silhouette in fashion (a IMGP1994
silhouette that is being followed generally by all the manufacturers women's apparel).  The similarity of the garments in a line also stems from individual house requirements for producing the particular type of styling that its retail-store customers demand. 

In addition to these two specific limitations on free creativity, there are other general limitations that affect all designers of apparel:

a) the necessity for good taste and good proporiton

b) the necessity for effective use of the qualities inherent in the fabric

c) the necessity for good fit

All these factors are covered in detail in later chapters.  To perform these miracles of styling, the designers use the tools of structure, trimming and fabric, the designer who understands their possibilities and limitations and the principles that govern them has the greatest creative freedom in styling.


Within the limitations listed, the designer plans a line.  The number of models or pieces in a line depends on the type of garment, the price range of the house, the method of distribution and the number of lines that the house makes.  A certain number of garments will be planed for each type of fabric selected and for each of the various categories of garment in which the house specialises.  A certain proportion of the line will be basic and conservative and a certain proportion will be high style.  The designer usually helps to select the fabrics and to plan the colour ranges to be featured and chooses the belts, buttons and other trimmings to be used.  The choice of fabric and trimmings is influenced by the price as well appropriateness.

The techniques by which a designer works to develop a line vary.  Once designer may make sketches that are turned over to an assistant to be developed first in muslin and then in the chosen fabric.  Another designer may work entirely with muslin or with the chosen fabric, using a dress form or even a live model, draping and pinning the pieces together to get a desired look and then giving the partially completed work to an assistant to be finished.  Or a designer may work 'on a flat pattern' as it is called when a new style is developed simply by making changes to the basic pattern according to geometric rules.  The choice of method used depends on the designer's preference and the type of garment and IMGP1986
styling.  Whatever the method, the result must be a garment that fits a live model who will 'show' it to the buyers as they come to the showroom to choose among the various 'numbers' on the line and place orders for those pieces that they feel are right for their particular store.  Every designer makes a great many unsuccessful numbers.  Designing is truly experiemental.  A good number has a fortunate combination of the right fabric, the right cut, the right trimming and can be sold for the right price with right margin of profit.


The line is appraised and 'weeded' before it is shown.  Often half the numbers are discarded.  The most attractive are discarded because they cannot be fitted into one of the price lines featured by the house.  For example, if the price lines are $29.75 and $39.75 as they might be for garments retailing for $49.50 and $69.50 the overall cost of production (materials plus labour plus overhead) of a garment that will go into the $29.75 price line cannot be more than $29.75.  A garment must either fit into this lower price line or look expensive enought to go into the $39.75 price line, otherwise it is discarded.

Weeding practices:

The method used to weed a line depends on the policy of the house.  The sample model (on whom the line was made) may show the line to the head of the company who reviews each piece and decides for himself whether it can sell for the price that is must bring to be a profitable item.  In one successful firm in which this method is used, the model is asked how she likes the numbers about which the head of the company is in doubt.  Models frequently develop great sensitivity to the line, for they show garments day after day and often overhear the buyers reaction, are frequently asked to participate in weeding the line.  There are also houses in which the line is weeded on the advise of a favourite buyer who is consistently successful with their merchandise.  Weeding by whatever method used, generally reduces the line to relatively few garmets, as is necessary for economical production.  It takes only a few really good numbers for a house to have a successful season.  As a price of the line increases, the number of pieces in it also increases.  Very high-price lines contain a great many numbers since exclusiveness can thus be promised to customers, a sales factor that outweights other considerations in the high-price market.


Once the line is set, it is necessary to make patterns for each garment in it in every size offered, 6-16 being common in misses sizes, for example.  Pattern development is such an expensive process, that production patterns are not made until the line has been weeded.  The more or less rough pattern used in the sample room for cutting the original sample is made to fit a live model who seldom is a perfect size.

Models more often have the idealised proportions used in fashion drawings with broad shoulders, narrow hips and long legs, and thus the clothes, as they model them, have a look of greater elegance and chic.  The more expensive houses use very tall girls, popular price houses may use smaller models and in the low-end market garments are shown on hangers.


As head of prouction or under his supervision, the pattern maker cuts an accurate or perfect pattern for each sample on the line.  He does not rip up the sample garments, but by looking at them and taking measurements and perhaps by also looking at the original sample-room pattern, he is able to develop a pattern for whatever regular size the house uses for duplicates generally size 10 or size 12 in the misses range.  The pattern maker has a duplicate cut and made in the sample room to prove the new pattern.  The duplicate is then modelled by a duplicate model who is a perfect size and it IMGP1990
is compared with the first sample that is modelled by the sample model to see that the duplicate fits properly and has not lost too much of the smartness of the original sample.  Unless the designer has a good understanding of garment construction and thus has designed the sample with seams in certain necessary locations, the pattern maker may have made drastic changes in the lines of the garment so that it can be cut in a standard way and laid out economically in production.  If the first duplicate is not satisfactory, the pattern maker changes his pattern and has another duplicate cut, made and compared with the sample garment.


When the duplicate is satisfactory, a pattern grader, who is the pattern maker's assistant, then uses the perfect or master pattern to make the other required sizes, by mathematically and mechanically reducing or enlarging each pattern piece.  From size 10 for example, the pattern pieces are reduced to produce sizes 8 or 6 and they are enlarged to produce sizes 12 and 14.  One reason for keeping a line as small as possible is the expense entailed in producing the sets of patterns that each number requires.  Money is saved when the same set of patterns can be used for more than one number in the line or when certain pieces of the pattern, such as the skirt or the sleeve, can be used in more than one number, a practice followed where ever possible to reduce the cost of production.  After the pattern is graded (the range of sizes made) a duplicate may be made in one or two off the sizes to prove them also.  Finally a marker is made for the complete pattern set for each number.  It is similar to the direction sheet of a commercial pattern that shows economical layouts for various widths of fabric, but in this case the layout probably will be very long in length, since it must contain all the pieces for all the sizes in which the number is made, and laid out, of course, as economically as possible.


The designer and the patternmaker generally work at the showroom location, whereas the factory or production department usually occupies less expensive quarters elsewhere.  The cost of space in the area of the city where the showroom is located is often prohibitive.  The factory may be owned by the apparel firm, or it may be owned by a contractor, who works for several no competing apparel firms and thus is better able to keep the workers busy the year around.  For contract work the garments maybe cut out and wrapped in individual bundles on the home premises, otherwise the bolts of fabric and the master markers are shipped to the factory where the entire work of cutting and assembling the garments are done.

PIECE WORK: Factory work, which is generated (piece work) is managed and payments for it controlled in this way.

A serially numbered ticket with five identical, perforated parts is used for each garment made.  One section of the ticket is attached to the garment for identification.  The other four sections of the ticket go to the workers who assemble the garment.: the operator who stiches it together; the finisher who does the handwork required; the presser who gives the garment its final pressing; and the examiner, who checks the garment when it is finished, cleans off the threads, attaches the labels, tags and so on.  Each part of each ticket is worth an individually set amount agreed on at the beginning of the season by the company and an elected union representative or shop steward.  Thus each worker is paid according to the number of tickets of each serial number that he has accumulated by the end of the work week.  Factory employees on piece work have work only when there is work in the house.  They may be laid off when a season is poor.


The sales department consist of the head of sales, who is usually the owner of the business, and the salesman who work under his direction.  Often there is a directress, who is in charge of the showroom and the models, and who maintains the line in up-to-the-minute shape and keeps up the book of sketches and swatches.

Buyers from retail stores in all parts of the country are invited to visit the showroom for the presentation of the seasonal showing.  Between showroom visits buyers are able to replenish stock in these three ways:

a) A buyer may reorder numbers that are "runners" phoning if necessary with a written confirmation to follow

b) Company salesman regularly visit the established customers, taking some of the numbers from the line,        especially new models added since the line opened - a book of well executed sketches, and a complete set of
swatches for the entire line.  In low priced houses most of the contact with buyer may be made in this way.

c) As a rule the retail store is affiliated with a buying office, a headquarters organisation through which groups of retail stores, each in different cities, join in a loose federation to obtain up to date information on the market.  When buyers come to New York or Paris, the buying office with which their store is affiliated may brief them on resources as the wholesalers are called or accompany them into the market to furnish help if desired.  Buying offices keep in regular contact with the market by seeing the various lines.  They furnish their member stores with information on new items and new resources, and they often buy for their member stores between their regular buyer visits.


The order department receives buyer orders.  An order always bears two dates; the date after which shipment can begin and the date before which it must be completed to avoid cancellation.  As orders are received, they are numbered, collated and sent to the production department.  When the garments have been completed by the factory, they are sent to the shipping department where they are grouped according to the customer order number and shipped out.  On arrival at the receiving department of the retail store by which they were ordered, they are checked in and delivered to the department that placed the order.


An initial order may not be very large.  A buyer often waits to see how the stock comes through and how it sells on the floor.  The numbers that prove popular are re-ordered in great quantity, whereas numbers that do not sell satisfactorily go on the markdown rack.  A buyer learns what type of garment sells best and from which manufacturers they come, by analysing the stock records that are kept by the department to show how many of what sizes and colours of each style are sold each day.  Armed with this information, a buyer will return to the manufacturer for profitable styles or types of garments: softly detailed print dresses, costume suits with contrasting overblouses or sophisticated cocktail dresses, for example.  Retailers as well as wholesalers are in business to make profit.


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