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A few weeks ago myself and my colleague Fazane Fox from the Production Lab spoke to Leicestershire Garment Manufacturers about the way we streamline and organise processes in business in order to save time, money and resources. The event was hosted by Leicester Council and Fashion Digital Solutions who delivered an extremely informative workshop on the principles of Lean Manufacturing and how it can reduce waste and increase profitability in a fashion and textiles industry setting. The workshop has really inspired me to delve further into what lean processes can do for design and how we can adapt them.

To demonstrate, I am going to take on the view of a UK garment supplier; designing for the fast fashion high-street and the online retailers who have taken this modality to a new level. Each day is a challenge and they are continually expected to produce things for lower prices and in less time! This can put a huge strain on the business as a whole but in most cases its the design process that takes the hit. I have worked in places where this has happened and been in the position where we didn’t have time to design properly. I spent years at college and university learning how to research, experiment and develop ideas into well thought out designs only to shortcut past them and rush through the process. I would jump straight into sampling, creating versions of garments I had seen (yes we all do it!) and taking the “send as much as possible to a buyer just in case” approach. I was fighting a losing battle; and funnily enough, it took going back to education, as a lecturer this time, to make me realise what I needed to do. After taking students through the design and development process and sharing all the valuable advice I had been given by my lecturers, I vowed to practice what I preach.

I want to share with you a few things I have picked up on, put into practice and observed so far in my career (usually through mistakes!) all of which has lead to a smarter, faster and a more effective design process. 


Buyers are just like any other customer. Identify their needs, what they want and what they don’t want and take into consideration their behaviour; when and how is best to communicate with them, do they want to have a say in the designs or do they want you to read their minds?  We can get a pretty good insight into what they want by researching; this can start early via trend sites, Inspo trips, trade shows or simply when the customer releases their trends/stories. If they are holding a presentation for the new season or a walk around then make time to go; really listen, take notes and ask questions, take all you have learned and use it to present relevant, focused ideas. Chances are as with every customer they want things to be as easy as possible for them to make a decision, for example; is there a style that they like to update every year or season? Be ready to get that business with full-colour design CADs showing at least six variations/developments for them to choose from. The combination of giving them what they want before they ask and giving it to them in a way that has covered all bases makes it easier (and so much quicker) to get to a point where they can make a decision and you get the business.  


A good supplier-buyer relationship is vital to ensure ongoing sales. Be as informative and transparent as possible; the buyer wants to trust you and trust that you know what you are doing. Provide as much information as possible along with your designs/samples, the more information they have to hand the easier their decision is and you have a head start if the garment is selected. It helps to think like them; what questions will they have the instant they receive your designs? What should they know? Own shade or stock, rotary or digital, MOQ restrictions, initial CMT estimate? etc. this not only makes it easier for the buyer, it will also help to reduce mistakes and eliminate the need for emails back and forth delaying things for days or even weeks. When it comes to dealing with any issues or queries be sure to include a reason, a solution, and an alternative; help them to understand the issue as well as your capabilities as a designer and/or a factory. Put this effort in early on and you will save a lot of time in the future and they will appreciate your help.


Its an age-old saying that a workman is only as good as his tools; we can do our best with what we have but there will be limitations to what we can achieve. With technology being such a huge part of the Fashion & Textiles industry its crucial that we embrace the possibilities technology can give us; CAD/CAM software, Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop and the latest on-screen 3D sampling. All of these are designed to increase accuracy and speed up processes. As a designer one of the most useful tools you can learn is CAD drawing; using software like Adobe Illustrator you can create full-colour designs with trims, prints and texture all in clean lines that are easy to interpret and even easier to edit, change and develop. When used in the right way Adobe Illustrator becomes more than just a drawing tool; it becomes an interactive library of styles, shapes, sleeves, skirts, buttons, zips and so much more, ready to be called upon by any member of your team to be adapted and assembled into a new design in minutes.

Here is a short video where I have taken a basic dress shape and created 3 different designs using a small selection of the huge library I have access to.  


I hope you found something useful in the first half of my ramblings! In part 2 I will be telling you how Adobe Illustrator can be a powerful sales tool, why its so important to get your design teams working together, why training is is crucial in making your lean processes work and how presentation is everything.


Please feel free to voice your opinions on this huge subject, if you have some tips that helped to streamline your design process then please share. I would love to hear about how you work and if there is anything you are looking to implement in your team. 

Until next time!

Erica Horne

Owner of CAD for Fashion

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