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How to design a commercially strong fashion collection

Launching and running a product-based fashion brand more often than not revolves around the creation of collections. The quality of these collections and the consistency of that quality and presentation, is what sets successful brands from the rest. It is also what businesses are, rightly or wrongly, judged on.

“You are only as good as your last collection” is something we often hear in the industry. Don’t get hung up on this. The fashion industry is famously fickle, biased and often trend-driven, so it is vital to know how to design a commercially strong fashion collection that is cohesive and makes sense to buyers.

In the end, you will find a to-do list to create a strong fashion collection.

You are only as good as your last collection

What does a commercially strong fashion collection mean?

A commercially strong fashion collection is essential regardless of whether you are selling direct to consumers, in person, in your own retail store, on your website, via online platforms such as Etsy or to wholesalers reselling in their stores.

So let’s jump in and see what creating a commercially strong fashion collection that actually sells, looks like.

A strong fashion collection must have the following:

1) Signature Style

A good, commercially successful collection tells a story through the product. Where all the pieces work well together and merchandise easily.

One of the main elements a good collection must-have is a signature style that though it may evolve over time, should be from the start consistently present and recognisable.

Your signature style is what will set you apart from other designers and make you instantly recognisable. It can be based on one or more of the following: certain use of colour, shapes, patterns (e.g. Missoni’s stripes; Burberry’s check), techniques (e.g. Bottega Veneta intrecciato), stones, motifs or a particular use of materials (Alexis Bittar’s use of Lucite). How you use these signature elements in the process of telling a story through a product is what creates your design aesthetic.

Pro tip: Finding, defining and fine-tuning your signature design style is imperative. It will allow you to interpret common and often coincidently shared influences in your own unique way. It would make you stand out in today’s over-saturated and competitive market and help you strengthen the value of your brand.

2) Collection Types

We often think of designer collections as a selection of curated series of pieces that can be worn together. However, many designers also have collections revolving around a single product that sells in multiple colourways and/or sizes (e.g Longchamp famous nylon bag collection).

So before you start, consider what “type” of designer you are and/or what “type” of business you want to have. It is quite common to start with a single product type business and over time add to it and expand it to a full multi-item collection business. It is less often seen and traditional to do it the other way around though.

Developing multi-item collections usually revolves around:

  • A statement piece or a central piece, but there is a common thread that ties all the pieces within the collection together.
  • A main design influence/inspiration/theme/material is the design thread holding the collection together.

Failproof the success of your fashion collection by discovering and learning more in this audio episode of the podcast: Having Cohesive Fashion Collections Can Grow Your Brand (Part 1)

3) Collection Size

When developing your collection, many creatives often are told to aim to have a minimum of 12 pieces/looks. If your budget allows, it would be great if you can have 12 pieces of course, as a larger collection will allow for better exposure and versatility throughout the collection.

However, be mindful of the fact that depending on the product category you are in, this may translate into more individual pieces (e.g if you are an apparel designer working on 12 looks, this potentially can mean at least double the number of individual items e.g. top and bottom, so two items per look).

A better way to look at it is to think of the collection as a whole – as a “family” and ensure that the collection has a depth and breadth that allows customers to make a choice.

Discover more about how to create a collection that has a look and feel of a “family” in the book Become A Fashion Insider  become a fashion insider book

Once you have worked out your basic looks/items within the collection, you need to think of colour options.

Would your designs be sold in a single colour choice or would you offer extra colourways to buyers?

If you do, how many should you offer?

Sizing is another important element to consider but as it doesn’t impact the presentation of a collection, we won’t discuss it at this point.

What often happens here that leads to disastrous consequences, later on, is this: younger and less experienced designers, in their quest to be noticed and have successful launch talk to other designers to get feedback on optimum collection size.

They look at large online retailers and count the looks and colourways offered by bigger brands they aspire to be like, completely forgetting to consider the small detail that everyone they talk to and look at is at a different stage of their business cycle.

If that sounds like you, stop now!

Don’t compare yourself to others; stay in your own lane.

4) Why more is not necessarily better?

Well developed collections that sell can have anything from a few to 100+ designs depending on the brand.

Add colour options, sizes, materials (minimum order quantities from raw material suppliers) and production minimums from manufacturers, the finances required to bankroll such a collection can become eye-watering.

At best you are looking at a manufacturing and logistics recipe for disaster. And let’s not forget that unless this huge offering is extremely well-curated, executed and presented, a buyer will look at the overwhelming choice as a sign of a weak designer and poor decision making.

So, be tough on yourself and trim back anything that seems weak, doesn’t fit well with the rest, says nothing about you as a designer…etc

Related reading: How to Aim for Good Rather Than Perfection
How to decide on the quantity of your product idea?

On the other hand, single item/product designers typically design collections that contain a single item that is showcased in multiple colourways and /or sizes.

For instance, you might have a bag design that comes in 12 different colours. How do you decide what this item is?

(Discover more about how to create a collection from a single product idea in the book Become A Fashion Insider)

Well, some start small selling a single item in single size/colour/material and with gradual success expand on this idea. Others may think they have an amazing idea worth investing in and go for it.

Alternatively, you may be a One-of-a-Kind type of designer and create a collection consisting of individual one-of-a-kind pieces. Often they are limited in colour choices and sizes – being a one-of-a-kind designer brand is a business where you rely on selling an inventory of stock created upfront.

Here is a good example: When the size of the collection may be much larger than the above examples – most often these pieces are  sold as seen and do not go into production.

What do I mean by this? The more established route to market is creating a sample collection from which orders are taken and fulfilled at a later date. If there are no orders, the design does not get produced.

All the above types are commercially viable and there are many examples of designers that present such collections.

5) Price Variety

Successful collections must offer choices to the buyers. Not just in terms of colours and products but also pricing.

At any one point, you most likely will have three core customer types:

a/ completely new and unaware of your brand and products

b/ aware but not yet bought anything

c/ customers who have bought at least one product.

These three types of customers require a different approach in order to capture their attention, gain their trust and convert them to a customer.

cohesive commercially successful product strong fashion collection

Let’s not also forget that within your paid customers you will also have sub-sets of customers that you have to take care of in order to make them buy repeatedly.

Pricing is a powerful lever commercially successful brand founders know how to use and use well.

Key elements every strong fashion collection should have

Designing a commercially successful collection is not a melee of all the things you would like to wear/have yourself or your friends. But sadly this often is the case.

To create a collection that really sells (regardless of the above-mentioned type of collections), you will need to develop each of these key elements:

The Statement Piece/Press Communicator:

Statement pieces should be bold and eye-catching. They could be a one-off piece that never makes it to production or you make a very small run. This is a piece that grabs the attention of the press, the buyers, and your clients.

A piece that has the WOW factor, that people talk about and that draws attention to your brand and gets people through the door. This often can be your most expensive piece in the collection.

You don’t have to have many statement pieces. One or two per collection is enough.

The Gateway Piece/Bestseller:

These are the pieces in your collection that you sell the most of (or, if you are designing your first collection, that you think you will sell most of, based on research of your target audience).

Designs that showcase your signature style and hold the collection together. This would be the bulk of what a buyer will spend time looking at and selecting from. These pieces usually fall right in the middle of your collection’s price range.

The Up-Sell/Add-On Piece:

These pieces are usually entry price point products that allow a new buyer to your collection to enter into your brand world. They are products that are priced at the bottom of your price structure and are easy to buy as gifts, be an impulse buy or last minute add-on to your already selected purchases.

Regardless of whether you are a collection or item designer, you can use all of these elements as you develop your collection.

Should you have more variety or quantity?

Another aspect to consider is the size of your collection versus the variety/choice of styles offered. It is not enough to just tick the boxes of X styles, statement pieces, best sellers, add-ons, etc.

You also need to think if within your main bulk of the collection you are offering enough versatility of styles for the buyer to be able to select from and build a commercially viable collection to sell on that best represent you as a brand.

In plain English, this means that if you are designing clothes let’s say for Autumn/Winter season presentation, make sure you have as much as possible of the following: a coat (long or short or both), trousers, skirt, dress, blouse/top with long sleeve, short sleeve (maybe both), etc.

Don’t forget that the variety of design details will put the products in either mid or entry price range, which is great and what you want. You don’t have to cover each style in every price range, but it’s best to have the representation in general.

Perceived value and its importance

Perceived value is the difference between the amount your customers are willing to pay for your products and the actual price of your product.

This perception isn’t dictated just by the value of the materials you use in your products. There are countless intangible factors that help convince customers to pay that much extra for a given product because to them that extra is worth paying to have that product.

Here is what makes people pay more:

  • the service you provide
  • the originality of design
  • the quality of the workmanship
  • your proprietary techniques
  • extra special details like packaging, thank you note, etc.
  • additional value adders like your story, the process, etc.

So when you are designing and setting up your business, it is worth thinking about what you can do to add to your line/business that increases the perceived value? What can you do to add even more?

Final words of advice

When you have designed your collection try to merchandise it into looks and think as a buyer.

How would a buyer buy your collection and how would they merchandise it in their store? How many pieces should they buy at a minimum to be able to represent you best as a designer? Different shops have different aesthetics.

Play around with your collection and imagine how different shops will buy. In the process, you may see if you are missing anything or have too much of something. Adjust accordingly.

To-do List:

  • Work out what defines your signature style?
  • What sets your design aesthetic apart from your peers and competitors?
  • Am I designing a collection, items or OOAK?
  • Are there enough or too many units?
  • Is the perceived value in alignment with your price points?
  • Does my collection merchandise well and tell a story?
  • Does your collection have a Statement Piece, Gateway Piece, Add-On Piece?
  • What can be added/taken away to make the collection more cohesive?
  • How is the collection being packaged?
  • Does my packaging add or take away value?

Do you have any great insights on how to create a strong fashion collection? We’d love to hear from you. 

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