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A checklist to be a fashion designer

To become a fashion designer is becoming a very lucrative dream day by day for modern-day youngsters. ‘Desire, status and identity’, three driving forces that led us to this modern world, can be tagged unambiguously for its immense popularity.

Either attracted by the flamboyant part of the fashion world, the charisma of the fashion leaders, promising career, or just for the sake of showcasing and expressing one’s creative side as a hobby, people are being attracted to this sector day by day.

checklist-fashion-designer
Figure 1: Designers can create an engraving effect in our minds, souls and our culture. This is another driving aspect of people’s craving to take a fashion designing career.

But to be a fashion designer is not a one-day task. Rather a fashion designer is made by a combination of a lot of skills in various areas. What are those areas and skills that a fashion designer must know?

Well, the author has interviewed the teachers and experts of the most prominent fashion institutes of Bangladesh to know exactly what a fashion designer needs to know, why he should know that and how he can hone that skill. The author has made a checklist which an aspiring student can keep with himself as a map or a beacon light to reach his desired goal.

Who are fashion designers?

Before going to the actual checklist, we should have some essence about the identity and activities of fashion designers. All the clothes that we see hanging on the stores are created first in the minds of some creative superheroes who are always on their way to make our apparels as appealing as possible.

The A to Z processes of making these clothes are orchestrated by these masterminds. As a result of their continuous effort to make clothes better, we are getting the best of what we want.

Designers can create an engraving effect in our minds, souls and our culture. This is another driving aspect of people’s craving to take a fashion designing career.

That’s why designing is not only about making dresses, it is more than that. It is about the combination of a lot of attributes, skills and experiences.

So what are those skills and why to learn them? Now let’s dive into the checklist and see what our teachers and experts have to say about each skill!

Studying color theory and color psychology

Studying color is extremely crucial because it is a very important factor in a customer’s purchasing decision. Fashion designers must pay conscious attention to the colors they use in their works. 85% of consumers believe that color is the main factor while buying a product.

Female fashion designer working on sketches with paint
Figure 2: Female fashion designer working on sketches with paint in the studio.

So a designer must keep his eyes on consumers’ preference for color, shade, style, patterns and the psychological needs of the target market and potential consumers.

Mahnur E Rahman, Faculty of Fashion Studies at BGMEA University of Fashion & Technology said it wonderfully, “What do people look first in a dress? It’s the dress’s color. If it attracts them, they may touch the fabric and take the hand feel of it. Then they may buy it. But if they are not attracted by the color in the first place, all the hard work invested in making that dress goes in vain.”

Every fashion designing institute teaches the students to be conscious about using colors.

Mahnur E Rahman said, “Students should be super attentive while studying the color theory, they should make colors with their own hands and enjoy it. Otherwise, it becomes hard for them to have a clear understanding of color and bring the exact shade of color on clothes.”

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Figure 3: An excerpt of the interviews of the teachers and experts about different skills needed to be a fashion designer. Courtesy: author

Studying design composition

Design composition is the arrangement of all the separate elements to come together to form one cohesive design according to the design principles. In fashion design, the elements are line, shape, color, texture, etc. and the principles are unity (harmony), proportion, rhythm and emphasis.

A successful composition ensures that all the elements have been arranged, distributed, aligned and compiled in a way that not only looks good but also expresses the message that we want to convey through our design.

After asking about the importance of design composition, Rebeka Sultana, the Assistant Professor of Department of Textile Fashion and Design at the Bangladesh University of Textiles explained it with a wonderful allegory.

She said, “If a child wants to write a story, he’ll need to master the alphabet first. With more exercise and inspiration, that child will be able to write his desired story. Similarly, in fashion design, a student needs to learn the elements and principles of design and then he can make good design compositions.”

“A student also needs to know about the definition and sense of art, contemporary arts, fashion history and creative design analysis as a whole. He needs to develop aesthetic sense by appreciating the best pieces of works around him.”

“So learning design composition is very much essential to put his story effectively and harmoniously in his creations.”  She also suggested training the eyes to look for inspiration.

Fashion designers working in studio sitting on the desk
Figure 4: A successful composition ensures that all the elements have been arranged, distributed, aligned and compiled in a way that not only looks good but also expresses.

She advised, “A student needs to see and admire the works done by the renowned artists and fashion designers, feel those works and immerse himself in artistic creations. He needs to study how he can turn his inspiration to his design compositions.”

Fashion illustration

Fashion Illustration is the art of communicating a fashion designer’s ideas in a visual form. Different designers have different ways of expression like hand illustration, painting, or digital drawing. It is mainly used by fashion designers to brainstorm their ideas.

About fashion illustration, Md. Kamrul Hasan, Faculty of Department of Textile Fashion and Design at Bangladesh University of Textiles (BUTEX) said “Most of the fashion designers always keep a sketchbook near their hands to capture their ideas. Maybe they are on a journey and suddenly an idea pops out.”

“They’ll immediately sketch it in their sketchbook for further manifestation. This system of visualizing the idea and expressing it to others is called Fashion illustration. Ideas are intangible, they can’t be communicated without expressing them through words or pictures.”

“Fashion designers use this wonderful technique to show the buyers how the dress will look on a model artistically,” he said.

“What do people look first in a dress? It’s the dress’s color. If it attracts them, they may touch the fabric and take the hand feel of it. Then they may buy it. But if they are not attracted by the color in the first place, all the hard work invested in making that dress goes in vain.”

Mahnur E Rahman, Faculty of Fashion Studies at BGMEA University of Fashion & Technology

To be good at this skill he said “The learning should be started from the basics. The stronger the basement, the better it will be. He should sketch and practice a lot.”

“After mastering the hand-drawn fashion illustrations, a student should also focus on digital illustrations. This will equip them to be adaptive to the future.”

Pattern drafting

Pattern drafting is defined as a technique or method of drawing patterns on brown paper with accuracy and precision, based on the body measurements or standard measurement chart.

Garments are made of patterns. So a clear understanding of pattern is inevitable to make garments.

Md. Kamrul Hasan clarified it further in his interview. He said, “A pattern is a template or a blueprint of each part of a garment. Just like we can’t do any architectural work precisely without any blueprint.”

“So to check the technical feasibility of an idea or illustration, pattern drafting is a must. It’s a bridge between idea and production.” Kamrul Hasan added.

He also advised a way to learn pattern drafting effectively.

He said, “At first, the student needs to learn pattern drafting manually by heart. He needs to do the basics first. Then he should practice pattern manipulations. After mastering these manually, he’ll have a great command over various patterns and he’ll be able to visualize them easily. As a result, he’ll  learn the CAD software like Lectra, Modaris, Gerber, etc more easily, take their advantages and sharpen up his skills.”

different-skills-fashion-designer
Figure 5: An excerpt of the interviews of the teachers and experts about different skills needed to be a fashion designer. Courtesy: author

Fashion draping

Fashion Draping is the process of draping a two-dimensional piece of fabric around a form, conforming to its shape, creating a three-dimensional fabric pattern. It is done by positioning and pinning fabric on any size of the dress form to build up the garment structure.

After that, the toiles are removed and copied onto pattern papers or cards and the anomal lines are adjusted so it doesn’t create any fitting related issues in the end products. Then finally, the end products are made using the adjusted patterns.

Many experts don’t need to go through the elaborate process of copying toiles on pattern paper. Rather they can make the end product directly by draping fabric on the dress form. For example, many Haute couture experts from Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Chanel, etc. fashion brands do this effortlessly.

Ummey Hani Barsha, the Adjunct Faculty of Department of Textile Fashion and Design at Bangladesh University of Textiles (BUTEX) said, “Like pattern drafting, fashion draping is also a way for a designer to turn his ideas into reality. But 2D patterns are made in standard sizes. On the other hand, fashion draping is done for making bespoke dresses so that it fits the model perfectly. Getting the garment structure in 3D form and good fit are the specialties of fashion draping, in other words, toile modeling.”

She also gave some pragmatic suggestions from her experience in this area.

She advised, “The more one can engage with the mannequin and practice draping, the better he’ll be in this area.”

“Fabric sense is also very important to develop because the fabric for draping should be chosen according to the fabric with which the designer wants to make the end product.  If one doesn’t choose the correct fabric without thinking about the end product in the process of toiling, he won’t be able to get the desired outcome,” said Ummey Hani.

Studying fabric
Fabric knowledge is very important for a designer. A Designer puts his imagination to paper using different media like pencil, pen, watercolor, marker, sign pen, etc. Then ultimately he has to use fabric to make garments according to his design.

That’s why he needs to visit fabric stores and check out the fabrics from time to time along with their handle, drapability, texture, fiber content and their constructions. He needs to get familiar with their price and from where to source them.

Ummey Hani Barsha said “Actually many people think that fashion designing is only about creating artistic designs. But the truth is, it’s more than that.”

“One can never get a proper end product unless he chooses the right fabric,” Barsha added.

Sewing

Sewing is an area that should not be underrated. Learning the sewing basics can help to speak intelligently with sample making team in production facilities.

Every teacher and expert stressed learning sewing because it gives an extra advantage to keep more control over the works.

Learning CAD software

Adobe Photoshop is a very popular software and we become always amazed to see photo manipulations and other stuff done by this software in social media. But what is the use of this software in fashion design?

Shawkat Hossain Sohel, the Chief Designer of Unifill Composite Dyeing Mills Ltd. And Part-time Faculty Member, Department of Textile Engineering at Ahsanullah University of Science and Technology (AUST) said, “Back in the days, designs were done manually for mass production also. But now the era has changed and so the industry has adopted Computer Aided Designs. For this, computers have inevitably invaded the industries.”

Shawkat said, “The basics of apparel design can be learned manually but ultimately the works have to be rendered digitally for production purposes. For being an all-purpose and easily available software, learning Photoshop is given priority.”

“Not only for designing a dress, but a fashion designer can also simulate a model wearing his designed dress and see how it looks in 2D, displays a buyer without spending a single penny on fabric and other stuff. Making repeat designs for AOP printing are very effective and the rendering is directly compatible with the printing machines,” he said.

Shawkat added, “For trendy Digital Printing, Photoshop is totally compatible. Almost everything can be done with it if a student pays attention to the features of the software. Though Adobe Illustrator has some limitations in creating print repeats, it should be learned too.”

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Figure 6: The industry has adopted Computer Aided Designs.

“For chest printing and other graphic works, this is great software. Both the software should be learned by heart. They will complement each other.”

While suggesting the students he added, “The students should not be confined in the lessons of the classes, they will have to do a lot of self-study. They will have to play around with the tools and the applications of this software. The applications are so vast that they will find many new uses along their journey.”

Adobe Illustrator is another invaluable tool for fashion designers. It’s also a multi-purpose and easily available tool for all.

Md. Mahamudul Hasan, the Head of the Department of Textile Fashion and Design at Bangladesh University of Textiles (BUTEX) said, “Adobe Illustrator is a 2D drawing software. It helps a designer to render his design with more perfection.”

He said, “Sketching and designing can be done very flexibly in this software. It’s very much helpful for creating repeat units. The digital presentation can be done with fine quality which enables the artists to create professional standard vector graphics. Another very important use of Adobe Illustrator is making Flat sketches.”

“These technical sketches of garments with details like styling and stitching can be done with this software. Customized patterns, textures and designs along with the models can be presented in different fabric types with each fabric’s typical material pattern using this software,” said Mahamudul.

Marvelous Designer is another CAD software which is very important for three-dimensional works.

Md. Mahamudul Hasan said “Marvelous Designer is the best solution for making, editing and reusing 3D clothes. This software adopted a real traditional cloth production method into 3D cloth modeling, created a re-usable 3D asset for various 3D characters. It provides the most accurate and fastest cloth simulation.”

‘‘The customized mannequin can also be developed using this software. The Library of these solutions provides fabric and garments swatches for frequent use. Virtual sampling and virtual modeling can be introduced through this and fittings of the garment can be assessed by using this software. In a nut, it’s a great blessing for the designers,” added Mahamudul.

“A student can sharpen his skills by practicing CAD software regularly,” he added.

Learning to draw flats

A flat sketch is a technical illustration of a garment which is used in the fashion industry to present all the information about that garment.

Naila Sharmin Kanta, Faculty of Department of Textile Fashion and Design at Bangladesh University of Textiles (BUTEX) said “When a designer draws a fashion illustration, he mainly gives the physical form of that dress. The technical information is not provided there. But a flat sketch is an illustration where all the technical information of that dress are provided for the manufacturer.”

“It is called flat because the view of that dress is flat; as if it is kept on a flat table. The views can be front view, side view, inside view, etc. These sketches bridge between the designers and the manufacturers. The flat sketches can convey much technical information easily to the manufacturer,” Naila Sharmin added.

Creating tech packs

A tech pack is a document containing all the technical information about the product that a designer has designed.

Naila Sharmin Kanta said, “It’s a blueprint of a design created by a designer. It’s a document for designers and production teams for the production of new collections. It helps to communicate every detail of the garment to the manufacturer.”

“It conveys the technical information of trims, accessories and every trivial information of a garment in such a way that the designer doesn’t need to explain anything to the manufacturer. Rather the manufacturer can understand it effortlessly.”

creating-fashion-tech-packs
Figure 7: A tech pack is a blueprint of a design created by a designer.

“To develop skills in making tech packs, a student can read books, see sample tech packs, take courses and start making them in Adobe Illustrator or other software. Creating tech packs for some garments for each project will be a very good practice,” Naila Sharmin concluded.

Fashion forecasting and trend analysis

Md. Kamrul Hasan said “Fashion forecasting is the process of predicting upcoming trends by analyzing the previous trends. A fashion forecaster predicts the colors, fabrics, textures, materials, prints, accessories, footwear, different styles that will be presented on the fashion shows and in the stores for the upcoming seasons. This is needed for the students because producing any kind of dress without studying the need of the time can fail.”

“The designer has to ensure the value of the product for the consumers, how they can adopt the product, how the product can reach them, in which social class, gender, age, geography the consumers belong, etc. If a designer does his design by keeping these things in mind, the designs become successful,” added Kamrul Hasan.

Hasan said, “As it’s quite expensive to have access to WGSN and such type of networks for a student, it’s better to study the previous trends and see how they work. He needs to dig deep into those past trends by searching them on the internet. By training his eyes, he can also find the upcoming trend analysis on the internet by visiting trend sites or reading blogs about recent or future trends.”

Fashion category, season and fashion segmentation

Yesmin Tuli, Faculty at National Institute of Textile Engineering and Research (NITER) said, “A fashion designer must know about the dress category. For example, formal dress, semi-formal dress, cocktail attire, etc. are some categories. When working for a big brand, there’s no room to make any mix-up in categories. So, a designer must be aware of the differences of each category and design by keeping in mind the age, demography, culture, season, etc. of the customer.”

“Proper knowledge about segmentation is also very important for a student. Haute couture, ready to wear, mass production- these segments should be very clearly engraved in a designer’s mind. If he designs a very expensive dress like Haute Couture for mass production, the design will fail. This will be difficult to produce and won’t sell. That’s why the cost and selling price along with the knowledge of segmentation should be at his fingertips.”

Presentation skills

Yesmin Tuli also suggested the students develop presentation skills.

She said “Teachers, designers and marketers are always presenters. If a teacher can’t express his mind, the lectures won’t be fruitful. In the same way, a fashion designer needs to present his works clearly to its customers. If his presentation is not proper, the customers will never buy his products.”

Yesmin Tuli also gave some advice about visual presentations and portfolios.

Yesmin said, “While presenting visually, all the important elements should be emphasized and that presentation should not be cluttered. Scale, color and alignment should be maintained. More than 3-4 elements should not be introduced in per slide or portfolio. He should convey a story in his presentation so that the message can be easily communicated to the customers. The customers may not understand the technical stuff but the designer must make things easily accessible to them.”

Yesmin added, “Students must be aware of the fact that a portfolio speaks for a designer. That’s why he should have a proper portfolio. In addition to this, a designer should also keep a high-quality digital version of his portfolio.”

“Nowadays many employers want to see digital portfolios. So keeping a digital version will give an extra advantage in applying for those jobs,” Yesmin concluded.

Some valuable guidelines from a fashion designer and academician:

The author has also interviewed Mahnur E Rahman, Faculty of Fashion Studies at BGMEA University of Fashion & Technology and the founder of Mahnoor, a non-profit organization to get a perfect overview of all the skills. From her vast experience as a fashion designer, academician and a social worker, she pointed out some skills which are paramount to excel in fashion designing career.

She said “Imagination is very crucial for a fashion designer. This will enable an incumbent to visualize all the breathtaking creations he wants to manifest. Along with this, a fashion designer should have very well-trained eyes to see the finer details of a dress because a little change can make a big difference and these differences count big time. They could create a fine line between an expert and a novice.”

To emphasize the importance of soft skills Mahnur E Rahman said, “I would suggest the students develop excellent communication and strong interpersonal skills because fashion designing sector demands teamwork, many people and processes are involved here. So becoming a team player is a must. A student should also develop problem-solving skills.”

Fashion design is not a mere artistic approach to design dresses, there are a lot of works in finance, sales, marketing, sourcing, etc. without which it’s not easy to thrive.

Mahnur advised, “That’s why a fashion student needs to study and understand the market and the target customers very clearly.”

While speaking with her she also stressed that the students need to be skilled at Photoshop, Illustrator to be relevant to the current world. She also disclosed very important but often overlooked skills-building resilience and time management while multitasking.

She said, “Another important aspect where a fashion designer should focus is, he needs to have the resilience and also be able to maintain and follow up numerous design tasks at the same time. So, time management skill coupled with multi-tasking is paramount. This will help a designer further in his career.”

Mahnur E Rahman also gave some pragmatic advice about trends.

Rahman said, “A fashion design student needs to analyze the trends. Every day he needs to ask what’s new and find a way to learn the new trends emerging all over the world. He needs to study the history of trends, target customers’ tests, geography, age, socio-economic class, etc. For getting good at trend analysis, he should know clearly about the brand names, what they do and what kind of products they make.”

“The students can also visit the fashion shows arranged by these brands from time to time if possible. As it’s not always possible for all to gain practical first-hand experience, Google should be the best friend for a student. Specifically, social media can help a lot in this regard. A student can follow the mainstream fashion pages and see what are becoming viral and trendy. In this case, Instagram is a very good tool. Students can easily explore and make the best out of it,” she added.

Mahnur also pointed out the importance of sustainability in the whole business. According to her, it is an aspect which should not be overlooked.

Mahnur said, “Sustainability is extremely pivotal for the business now. We need to make products by maintaining the 3Ps (triple bottom line) of business- People, planet and profit; an efficient balance of all three will make the whole business sustainable. We should think about reducing, reusing and recycling.”

“Traditionally for many years among these 3Ps Planet was not being given that much importance in this industry. But now the whole world is realizing the importance it holds and many processes are changing and evolving with this realization. Now we can wash denim with only one glass of water.”

“That’s a huge leap towards sustainability. And it has been possible because we are thinking about a sustainable world. Now many brands are also coming forward towards sustainability and they are promoting this by recycling, reuse and awareness.”

“The students can think about making sustainable products, they can promote the use of natural dyes in their designed dresses and also uphold the use of Khadi, Jamdani and other traditional fabrics made with natural fibers in various kinds of national and international fashion shows so that our culture and sustainability both get promoted,” Mahnur concluded.

Conclusion

Fashion designing is a vast sector, the depth of this career is as deep as an ocean. That’s why to be relevant in this industry one must adapt himself to the above-mentioned skills. The basic skills which are discussed elaborately in this article create the foundation to be a fashion designer.

All of the experts who are interviewed in this article strongly believe that practicing these skills can take a designer to a bold position. They also believe that fashion designers need to be adaptive to the time and situation. So a designer must need to develop a mindset to get himself adapted to any situation, any time and acquire the skills which time demands.

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