Whether you like it or not, everything is subject to seasons. Learning to ebb and flow with them is one of the most powerful skills you can develop as a designer. Since I have been an entrepreneur and clothing designer long enough to have seen a couple cycles people keep reaching out to me for podcast interviews, business input and one on one questions which I am thrilled to participate in. Over and over I notice they seem to be shocked about how Covid rocked the world and put all us not-so-starving artists on the brink of famine but if it wasn’t Covid it would be something else that put our practices on ice.
Out With the Old, In With the New
It’s time for a clearing out. It’s time to assess what really isn’t working and what serves us best. And it’s time for a break. Over the spring of 2020, while I was busy designing Devil May Wear’s fall collection we were put on lockdown. Not knowing if we would ever open our store again I was forced to keep moving forward. I have seen enough disruptions in the supply chain to know it’s always good to have a little extra material on hand so I was sitting on enough fabric stock to sew a smaller collection without having to wait for much to be shipped. This gave me the confidence that making a collection was a safe choice. Regardless of our retail position by the fall I was surely going to be offering something on whatever platform we had left at our fingertips should that be virtually or physically.
The uncertainty had an impact on my designs as it remind me of my experience designing in the 2008/09 Great Recession. Back then people were only buying underwear and basics if they were buying anything at all. Things like jeans, panties and everything black is what brought in the measly pieces of bacon back then and I was prepared to go down that path again. This time, though, with all the work from home it was sweats rather than pants but either way I was going to focus on the undergarments and simple items out of our ever popular bamboo blend jersey fabric.
So on I went designing, spending much much more time on each individual garment reflecting, prototyping and adjusting for the ideal fit. It’s amazing how much time you can spend as a designer getting a t-shirt just right and equally amazing how great it feels when you do. This fall’s collection aesthetically ended up being much smaller and much more basic than collections I had previously developed but the process of working with the products was so much more satisfying than I have experienced in years. It may not be my most epic or interesting or best selling collection ever but it is my most satisfying. The lessons learned in this collection and the development of these patterns is something I will have for years.
Product designers don’t start from scratch every year, rather they reinvent from experience. Most clothing designs in a new collection stem from patterns that have been worked, reworked, and tested before. Every time I take extra time to get a pattern just right it leads to big impacts on product development down the road. For example the basic black dress I developed this fall may end up being an elaborate silk frock with lace and beading down the road because I now have the fit just right I can begin to take time to rework the details. This is also why your first clothing collection is your most expensive collection, you’re essentially creating from nothing. If you do it right though, it is the basis of your entire future of design.
Design it and They Might Come
Unexpectedly reusable fabric masks were also about to become a staple item in my store taking a lot, and I mean a lot of time away from sewing or designing anything else whatsoever. But this was also an item I was able to redesign. Using my skills as a lingerie designer I wanted to make a mask that was much much more comfortable and stayed in place better than the masks that go around the ears. Looking at what people were wearing online and utilizing the supplies I had since the stores were all closed and shipping had slowed to a near halt I designed a fitted mask with adjustable elastic straps that go around the head. I specialize in designing things that lie flat, accommodate movement, adjust and offer tremendous comfort which I learned from developing bras. A lot of people have pointed out how much these masks remind them of bras and they’re absolutely correct. After all “masks are like underwear for your face,” as my staff have grown accustom to pointing out.
It’s going to be a few years before we have recovered and we are back to designing carefree like we’re unstoppable but in the meantime this is the time for all of us designers to look at the foundation we have built and really ask ourselves is it the foundation we want to continue building upon or is it time to tear it down and start again? It is a blessing to have a moment to assess what our best assets are and what truly needs an overhaul so that when the good times come roaring back with no chance to breathe we are really ready to put our best foot forward.