Tuesday, July 31, 2012

So... you wanna be a designer?

For all of you aspiring designers out there...

I'm taking a moment to share some things I think may be helpful.  If you agree, or are encouraged by this, please comment on this post.  Actually, comment if you disagree, or are feeling discouraged, too!

Some of you already know that in addition to blogging on this site, I am the owner of the Find a Dressmaker website. There are Facebook pages for both this blog and that site, to which you are all enthusiastically invited. Your participation is welcome, and I am really jazzed by all of the questions and comments I currently receive on a daily basis.

Links to the Facebook pages are below:

Shop the Garment District
I Love My Dressmaker

Visit and "like", please!

If you love this page, and you generally sit down at your tablet, laptop, or desktop computer to read it, feel free to subscribe (look to your right on this page).  If you use your phone to read it, I am totally impressed by your eyesight. If you use a Kindle, and don't mind a small service fee, go ahead and subscribe via Amazon.

I also have Twitter accounts for both groups. The link is to the right on this page, and there's a link to the Twitter handle on the Facebook "I Love My Dressmaker" page, for the other.

Your natural next question is probably,  "Why do you do all of this?" Well, I am  a member of a small tribe of garment industry fanatics who simply adore the process of sourcing, making, teaching, learning and interacting.  Because I am also a dressmaker and natural promoter of related things, I do earn some of my income this way, too.  None of the businesses listed on this site pay to be mentioned here, nor will I accept it if offered.  That's how I keep the reviews here true and useful.  I may be friendly with some of the owners, following years of interaction, but none are my personal friends.  Sometimes I may say some things in the name of constructive criticism, but I never aim to be mean, unfair, or hurt anyone's businesses.

For creative native New Yorkers like me, the garment district really does feel like the heartbeat of the city. If this describes you, too, you know exactly what I mean, and I welcome you to the family.  It's already in your blood. Those of us who have haunted the district since childhood, understand and embrace all aspects of this wonderfully creative, boot-strappy environment in a way many others just don't understand. And that's okay. We're a bit weird, and we know it.

Running the blog, the Facebook pages, and the website, I get lots and LOTS of questions. Among the most common are from aspiring designers, who just aren't quite sure how to get started. By this, I mean people who have creative ideas, want to make, or want to have things produced for sale, but have never actually made any business moves in that direction before. Having no idea where to begin can be overwhelming, confusing, and expensive.  Even some of the best books on the subject can also be overwhelming, if you are still learning the basic vocabulary to get started. So, this post is aimed at helping you. Be advised that any specific consultation that is unique to you and your goals, and really worth the time, experience, knowledge, and effort being expended on your behalf, comes with a fee.  You'll have more questions beyond those answered here, of course. So many questions.  There are  businesses who welcome your questions, and will guide and advise you through the process, should you choose to pursue your plan. Many of them charge a fee, while some consider it a value-added service, and will offer you a helping hand, in the interest of doing profitable business with you afterward.

Now, I think we would all agree that the creative/dreaming/thinking part of the process is the fun part.  A simple sketch is an idea,  not a design.  When it becomes a 3-D functional object, THEN it's a design. If you know how to drape, design, and sew, you can take yourself that far. And no, you haven't designed it, of you used a commercial pattern (Burda, Butterick, Vogue, etc.) to create it.  But you can always use a commercial pattern as a springboard for an original design of your own.

You may be in school for fashion design, in which case you have a built-in support system.  If not, or if that support system is lacking, here are some resources to get you started charting your path:

I regularly update a group of sewing related books I recommend, available through Amazon.com.  Click here to see them!

If you want to start a business, whether in fashion or any other area, the first steps are generally pretty straightforward.  You can't make things without money to buy the materials, equipment, and hands to make them.  You have to know what your product is, and who your customer is.  That imagined customer needs to actually exist. If you don't have the money to get started making a prototype, there are only a few ways to get it.  If you lack a generous back account or great and ample credit of your own, or willing friends, family, spouses or others to finance your efforts, you have a difficult road ahead, and you'll have to be very creative and resourceful to find another way. To better understand the financial end of things, assuming you plan to grow, read this.  As cool as it sounds, the idea of simply making a lot of stuff and selling it, is a bad idea, unless you are just incredibly smart about what to make, and who will want it, AND is certain to pay you well for it.

Fashion Institute of Technology sponsors a "City Source" event, where various garment industry services and providers offer their wares and talk shop with anyone who has questions.  I have attended two of them so far this year, and if you come with an open mind and ears, you are sure to learn A LOT! The FIT website generally advertises the event in advance.

The Fashion Center Kiosk, whether online or in person.  A recent post on this mysterious booth will give you more information.

Production Patterns and Grading
There are many things you need to do to get a pattern made for production.  Because there is so much to know, you've got to trust a professional to get you there.  A patternmaker with industry experience, Cherie Bixler can walk you through, make a pattern, and consult with you (for a fee) on the specifics of your plan.
Create a Marker is a company whose services you don't even know you need yet.  They make a practice of treating everyone who comes to them as if they are "the next big thing", and I just love their attitude. When it comes to grading, marking, spec sheets, file formats and so on, they know what you need to know, and will happily educate you as you move along. I met one of the owners at the City Source Expo at FIT, and felt an instant affection for this company.

Pulling it all together:
The GIDC (Garment Industry Development Corporation), which is a link between fashion designers and manufacturers, helping designers make the connections they need to survive and thrive in New York City, specifically.

Don't cut corners.  Your samples need to be perfect by meeting the same standards you need your production to meet. You don't want approximate samples. Invest in a professional, and don't let any non-industry person "try" to do it for you.  Believe me.  I say this as a dressmaker who has "tried"... Go to the kiosk for help finding samplemakers.

There are so many variables governing who and where you will want to make your items.  Lots to consider, specific to your needs.  Look to the GIDC for help in that area.

Read this blog.  You're already here. I've got you covered. When you need significant quantities, many of the places mentioned here can help you.  Negotiate discounts basde on the yardage you are buying. Designers go to these stores, too!

Work for someone else first.
You may not want to, but you actually need to.  That is how you shorten the learning curve.

"Good hands"
If you create beautiful garments with your own hands now, and your skills are mainly what you can do at the machine, consider your hands golden.  If you are in New York City, your hands are needed by designers like you wouldn't even believe.  You can work for a designer, and turn out beautiful things, if you have the skill set to do it consistently.  No, you won't earn a fortune, but you will have steady work, while taking no financial risk, so that's one way to go... Think on that a bit, okay?

While you're at it, read the articles in this series about starting a fashion business.

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At July 31, 2012 at 10:13 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks for this informative post.

At July 31, 2012 at 11:43 PM , Blogger mimi jackson said...

You are welcome!

At August 2, 2012 at 4:31 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cautionary tales about designers from the New York Times:

"A Hard Spill in Designer Shoes"


"As the Label Turns"


At August 3, 2012 at 11:58 AM , Anonymous Kristen said...

Thanks for the post! Mimi - do you do consulting yourself?

At August 4, 2012 at 7:55 AM , Blogger mimi jackson said...

Hi Kirsten,
Because I have never designed and sold a line myself, I don't think it would be wise for me to consult, although I've learned a whole lot from talking to others. I make a great cheerleader and information spreader, though!

At August 4, 2012 at 8:03 AM , Blogger mimi jackson said...

I had to think on your post for a bit. I think articles like these feed on the paranoia of designers that someone will swoop in and "steal" the business, while the real point is that this is BUSINESS. While it is fantastic to have an artistic vision and wonderful designs, people with strong creative and design skill, but without strong business sense, are best off selling their talent to a solid business. Working as a designer doesn't necessarily mean owning the business, too. People go out of business for a variety of reasons. There is a heckofalot to know, and businesses fail all the time...


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