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Design and Product Development

Design and product development are the cornerstones of a fashion start-up.

It is no secret that the fashion industry is predominantly a product-based industry. Success is often underpinned by great design, strong product and well-structured collections. Many fashion companies and brands launch and eventually fail as they often focus too much on the “design” itself, without realising the additional components required to create a long-lasting product, rather than a short-term fad.

In this instalment, we will explain what you need to do for your fashion business in order to have your ideas translated correctly into the products that you want.

Read the previous instalment in the Toolkit Series here.

The starting point

There is no right or wrong here. How one designer designs is different from another, some get inspired by a piece of material, an exhibition they visited, a holiday, or a movie – whereas others start with a product in mind and build around it.

Moreover, success means different things to different people. Publicity is great to have and is enough for some, but commercial success is often vital in order to move forward and to continue creating new designs and building the business.

In some ways, creating your first product or collection is the most difficult part but it can also be the most exciting: you are starting from a blank slate with no feedback or sales history to refer to.

If we look beyond the first season, here are a few things that one must consider, and which will help you work more effectively and make more profit.

Creating a strong collection

A good fashion collection may vary in size from small to large businesses, but what counts here is to have a well-considered overall size and breadth, especially if wholesale forms part of your selling strategy.

Think about the season and the customer base you are designing for, and consider all the various items a buyer or shop will want to see and purchase into, in order to represent your brand well commercially.

A good collection is structured as a triangle split into three parts. The base is where your “bread and butter” product will sit, this is the product that forms the foundation of the overall product assortment and sells season after season with little design change, also known as an  “evergreen” product. Think Burberry and their eponymous Mac, Tory Burch and her Reva flat shoes, Chanel and the 2.55 bag, ACNE and their denim.

This solid foundation is what will underpin the growth of the business. Let’s be clear, while the press may take a vague interest in this product, this is not what will drive your PR and marketing. But if you are lucky, it’s what will make your name known, and bring in loyal customers repeatedly.

Related reading: Read our guide on how to write a fashion press release here

The centre of the triangle is where seasonal product ranges sit. This is where your basic silhouettes and best-selling products are refreshed and updated, and where more exclusive, more trend-driven and seasonal products are added. This is what buyers will want to see and purchase, and what you will talk to the press about.

The very top of the triangle is the small space where your creativity gets unleashed: press communicator pieces, special products – exclusive in price and availability – your “WOW Factor” pieces, that every successful collection needs to have. They are expensive to develop and hard to predict the success of, and it can be difficult to capitalise on the buzz that they generate, but they are essential for your marketing and for building your brand’s image.

Best and worst seller seasonal review

Being continuously successful means knowing what works and what doesn’t work. In other words, knowing your best and worst sellers.

Analysing every season and collection in terms of the publicity and sales generated allows you to design better with your customer in mind, which results in stronger sales, season after season. Analyse this vital information in whichever way you choose. The data may present you with many surprises, but you will discover answers that will prove invaluable to your future fashion business. Look out for repeat behaviours in your data and let them guide your decision-making.

Know your competition

Some designers do not believe in knowing their competition. They design in isolation and do not follow trends. To be truly successful long-term, however, fashion designers and brands should know their competition and how they contrast and compare.

The old adage “knowledge is power” holds true. Don’t get obsessed with what others are doing, but be aware and be clear on what makes them a worthy competitor.

Know your customer

Knowing your client is important, speaking to them and getting first-hand feedback is essential. Your clients and loyal customer base will more often than not be delighted to share information with you on how your product makes them feel, what they like and do not like about it, how it fits and so forth.

Be open to all feedback, whether it is positive or negative. It is, in fact, the negative feedback that will make the biggest difference.


Something that all good fashion designers know and do well is to find the balance between great design, and value for money. In today’s competitive fashion industry, where retail markups are on average more than six times the materials cost of the product, assessing the worthiness of a design’s detail is important.

Having good manufacturing knowledge and designing with a price in mind will help keep costs in check. Start with an end price in mind and work backwards with what the manufacturing cost of the product should be. That will guide you in terms of design, and the materials you use in your design and development process.

Finally, keep your sampling budget in mind. If you don’t have a budget, set a limit for yourself. Sampling is the single most expensive category in a fashion design business, and can easily turn into a black hole for your business’s money and put even the most successful fashion business into the red.

Next Time…

In the next instalment of our series, we will focus on what goes into creating collections that sell.

To Do List

design and product development


  • Farfetch: look for how other top fashion designers structure their collections.
  • Pinterest: for research and organising your inspiration and sources.

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