Fashion design is an exciting, constantly evolving field. It also takes a lot of work, and can be incredibly competitive. If you want to become a successful fashion designer, you have a long road ahead of you, but there are some straightforward steps you can take to begin the process of designing clothes, regardless of whether or not you want to do this for a living.
Assembling a Mental Toolkit
Learn about drawing. You don’t need to be a master illustrator; a lot of designers use a funky personal style when they design. That said, you do need to be able to communicate your vision visually. Take a drawing class, study some books, or just practice, practice, practice.
- The most important part of learning any new skill is just doing it a lot. Set aside 30 minutes every day to practice drawing.
- A good book to reference is Mark Kistler’s You Can Draw in 30 Days.
Learn about sewing. Even if you don’t want to be the one to actually sew your designs, you need to know about sewing. Understanding the possibilities presented by your medium is an important part of being able to come up with innovative, exciting ideas.
- Many craft stores like Jo-Ann Fabric offer relatively cheap sewing classes.
- Studying pattern making is a must if you intend to sew your own garments. You will need to know how a garment is physically assembled. Knowing how to break a design down into shapes is a crucial part of being able to sew a garment.
- Buy some simple patterns at a craft store to practice with.
Learn about design. If you want to produce innovative designs, you have to know about design theory. Molly Bang’s book Picture This: How Pictures Work is a great place to start. It will help you learn to think like a designer.
- Don’t limit yourself to studying fashion design exclusively. The principles of design theory apply across all sorts of disciplines. It may surprise you how much studying something like typography can teach you about fashion design.
Learn about fashion. If you want to design clothes, you may want to learn all you can about the world of fashion. You may think of yourself as a very stylish person, but knowing how to dress yourself well is only the tip of the iceberg. If you are designing based on what is hot right now, by the time your design is complete it might already be out of style. Professional fashion designers are constantly thinking ahead, to what the next big thing will be.
- Watch videos or look at pictures from high-profile fashion shows online, or go in person if one is happening near where you live. Professional designers design their seasonal collections months in advance, so these shows can give you an idea of what kinds of trends will be trickling down into commercial fashion in the future.
Learn about technology and resources. There are more tools available to designers now than there ever have been before. On top of knowing your way around a sketchbook and a sewing machine, you will need to know your way around Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator.
- Websites like Linda.com or Tuts+ are good online resources.
- If you want to do your sketching on a computer instead of in a sketchbook, you will need to purchase a good pen tablet, such as a Wacom.
Dreaming Up Designs
Find your inspiration. What are you passionate about? What makes you itch to create? It might be a particular fabric, a work of visual art you saw, something you want but can’t seem to find in stores, a garment you saw on the street, a particular color pattern, a retro trend you want to bring back, or any number of other things. There is no right way to get inspired. The important thing is to find something that excites you.
- Consider your customer. What kind of person do you imagine buying your designs? What does that kind of person need in a garment? Be practical when designing clothes for yourself, design things you’ll love owning or wearing.
- Combining existing styles and trends can be an interesting way to generate new looks. What would it be like to blend military elements with softer, more flowy ones? What would 1990s meets 1930s look like? How can you incorporate menswear elements into womenswear?
Consider fabric. Do you want a stretchy material, or something with less give? Is your design flowy, or rigid and architectural? Should the fabric be smooth, or textural? If your original inspiration was an amazing fabric you found, you already have this covered. Otherwise, think about what kind of material your design demands.
- Consider embellishments such as buttons, lace, beads or embroidery floss as well. These can often impact your fabric choice.
Consider color and pattern. A lot of the impact of your design hinges on your use of color and pattern. Think about the garment’s intended purpose and how you imagine someone wearing it. Consider your customer, and what she might want to wear. Most of all, go with what you think looks good. There are no hard and fast rules here. You are the designer, and you should be true to yourself above all things.
- Look at a color wheel. Remember, contrasting colors (the ones across the color wheel from each other) make each other stand out. This can add a dramatic affect to your design, but if not handled well it can also be jarring and off-putting.
- Get some paint swatches from a paint store, and use them to experiment with different color combinations before you purchase fabric.
Drawing Your Design on a Croquis
Draw the outline of a person. When designing clothes, it’s important to think about how your garment will look on the body. This is why most designers draw their designs onto a human form. It can be intimidating and time-consuming to have to draw a figure from scratch every time you make a new design, so many designers use a croquis. This just means a template you can use each time you sketch out a new garment. You will need to start by drawing the outline of a person in pencil. This is an intimidating prospect, but it doesn’t need to be difficult.
- If you’re not too daunted, freehand it. The idea here is not to be anatomically correct, and most designers’ croquis drawings are rendered in some kind of personal style. Your design will look even more unique on a figure you drew yourself. Don’t worry about small details; think of your drawing as a 2-dimensional mannequin.
- If you don’t feel up to the task of drawing a human figure from scratch, use someone else’s work. Trace an image from a book or a magazine, or download one of the hundreds of free croquis templates you can find online.
- Many designers use something called the 9 heads method to make sure their drawings are evenly proportioned. The idea is to use a head as a unit of measure, and to draw a body that measures nine heads from the feet to the top of the neck.
- Draw a straight vertical line, and divide it into 10 equal parts. This will be your guide as you draw.
- Section 1 starts just under the head, and measures the body from the top of the neck to the middle of the chest; section 2 measures from the middle of the chest to the waist; section 3 from the waist to the bottom of the hips; section 4 from the bottom of the waist to mid-thigh, section 5 from mid-thigh to knee, section 6 from knee to upper calve, section 7 from upper calve to mid-calve, section 8 from mid-calve to ankle, and section 9 measures the foot.
- 2Retrace the figure in dark pen. You are going to need to be able to trace this drawing onto another piece of paper laid on top of it. To make that possible, you’ll have to retrace the lines of your figure drawing with a dark pen.
Trace the figure onto another sheet of paper. For this step you will need to put down the pen and pick up a pencil again. Lay another piece of plain white paper on top of the croquis you just drew. You should be able to see it relatively well, as long as you used a dark pen and your paper isn’t too thick.
- If you have a lightbox, this would be a good time to use it. Just lay the croquis onto the lightbox, put the blank sheet of paper on top of it, turn the lightbox, on, and trace away.
- If you don’t have a lightbox and are having trouble seeing through your paper, try taping the two sheets of paper to a window on a bright day. You’ll have to trace at an odd angle, but the effect is basically the same as if you used a lightbox.
- 4Start sketching your design. Still using your pencil so you can erase inevitable mistakes, lightly draw the garment you’ve been imagining. Start with more general things like the basic shape of the garment, and gradually add details as it takes form. When you are satisfied, retrace the whole drawing in pen.
- 5Color your design. You can use whatever drawing materials you want for this step. Markers and colored pencils work particularly well, since they lend themselves to layering. Start with the lightest colors you plan on using, and shade in larger areas with long, consistent strokes that move in the same direction as the fabric. Gradually incorporate darker colors, patterns, and shadow as you go.
- 6Repeat as wanted. Now that you have a croquis, starting a new design should be much faster. Just trace the figure, and get going.
Make a dummy. You will need a dressmaking dummy to be able to see the garment as you work on it, and make sure it fits a human form. If you don’t have one, you can create a makeshift one yourself, in your own size.
- Put on a shirt that you don’t want, and cover it completely with duct tape while wearing it. This will create a stiff duct tape form in the shape of your body.
- Remove it by cutting it down the side, from your hip to your armpit, and then up along the sleeve.
- Tape back over the cut to make the form whole again. Stuff it with newspaper, and close up the bottom, neck, and sleeves with more duct tape. You can decide whether to keep the arms, or cut them off.
Draw your pattern on butcher paper. Use a pencil in case of mistakes, and label each section to avoid confusion later. Remember the old carpenters’ adage: measure twice, cut once. You can waste a lot of time with a single mistake. When you’re done, cut out the shapes.
- 3Recreate the pattern on muslin. Lay the butcher paper pieces of your pattern onto muslin, and trace them. Cut these out too, and pin them into the basic shape of your garment.
- 4Sew your mock-up. Introduce your pinned muslin garment to your sewing machine. Remove the pins, and put the garment on a mannequin, or on your own body if you are designing for yourself.
- 5Evaluate the garment. Look at how it fits. Think about the shape. What’s working? What isn’t? Take notes, make sketches, draw on or cut the muslin, or whatever helps you make sense of the changes you want to make.
- 6Decide what your next step is. How close is the mock-up to what you had envisioned? Are you ready to move forward with this design? Do you need to make another before you try it with nicer fabric? Depending on how your mock-up looks, you may want to go back to the drawing board completely, or you may be ready to move on to sewing the actual garment.
- 7Move on to the real thing. It’s time to bring your design to life. Proceed as you did with the muslin mock-up. Remember, you are going to make mistakes, especially the first few times around. Make sure you buy more fabric than you think you need, give yourself lots of extra time, and always double-check your measurements. Things will not always go according to plan. Be prepared to problem solve, or tweak your design as you go. Sometimes the most exciting innovations come from mistakes.
Selling Your Work
Build a portfolio. Document your work in photographs as you go. This is how you will sell yourself as a designer as your career progresses. Keep in mind that you want to showcase your versatility, while also demonstrating that you have a unique voice and point of view. There should be a variety of pieces in your portfolio, but they should all scream “you.”
- Take quality photographs. Don’t just lay the dress you made on your bed and take a poorly lit picture with your phone. Put your garments on live models, make sure they are well lit (if you don’t have the resources to do this inside, go outside on slightly overcast day—this will give you even lighting), use a decent camera, and pay attention to details like hair, makeup, and accessories. The way you present your work plays a huge roll in the impact it creates.
- 2Do some research. Are there independent clothing boutiques in your area that sell clothes with an aesthetic similar to yours? Are there websites that sell clothes that remind you of your own? Try to find designers doing work that reminds you of yours, or of what you would like your designs to evolve into. Observe their tactics.
Use online resources. Some websites will fabricate your designs for you, if they or their users are sufficiently impressed. Look into websites like Gamz and Fabricly if you think you have a killer design that you’re not up to sewing on your own.
- If you are more of a graphic designer, but think your work would look great on clothing, look into sites like RedBubble, that can print your artwork on a variety of different products.
- 4Build a website. If you want to sell your clothes, the world must know about your genius. Almost anyone can design a beautiful website these days; use a platform like Squarespace to create a site to display your portfolio. Keep it simple and elegant. You want to the focus to be on your clothing design, not your web design.