How to Develop Fashion or Textile Products
Time to read: 7.5 minutes
The first stage of making anything is the design & concept. We’ve covered why and how to design your product first here. So, now that you have decided on your materials and how your product will look… we need to create the first physical manifestation of your product to test your design out!
Create your first prototype
Why bother do this you may ask? Why not just a get a factory to do it for me later?
The first iteration of your product isn’t going to be great. Don’t expect it to. You’ll want to keep the process as agile as possible at this point. It can be frustrating paying for factory samples + shipping and then spotting the most basic errors. This can be annoying for your factory/sewing contractor too. The goal for the first prototype is just to get an initial & working visualization of your product. To get the ball rolling on the development and sampling process!
So if you’re creating a first prototype yourself but can’t sew, what to do?
The first and most traditional option would be to hire a pattern cutter and sample maker to do a prototype (proto for short) for you. A pattern maker creates life sized templates (paper or digital) that can lay on top of your fabric. These templates are used to cut your fabric out around before the pieces are sewn together.
A pattern cutter will need to see a sketch and know the fabrics you are using to create your pattern. More on what a pattern maker does and what a pattern actually is from Makers Row, here.
A sample maker has a self explanatory job title and your pattern maker should be able to point you towards one. They will put together your design from the pattern (the actual sewing part).
The DIY Route
The second option is to DIY your own prototype, which is do-able even if you can’t sew. All you need is a bit of creativity!
You should have researched your product category & similar products at the design stage. Now is the time to purchase one of these... or anything off-the-shelf that roughly represents the fit and shape of your design. Once it’s in hand - you can get customizing.
Cut this up or use safety pins to change the shape. You can even use a stapler/staple gun as an easy way to join pieces of fabric together. Masking tape is also useful here, you can use it to test out new seam or stitch line placements. Fabric markers or permanent markers are great too.
You can buy additional materials and components from anywhere. Craft stores, fabric stores hardware stores or your local 99c shop. Amazon, eBay, Etsy or even Alibaba might be useful for anything more specialist.
Test, test, test & keep an open mind
Once you’ve created your first prototype you’ll want see how well it works IRL. Try it on, put it to use and make sure this does what it ‘says on the tin’. Are happy with the size and shape of your product? Also check your choice of materials. Do they work well with your design once put together? Color or pattern is another consideration too.
If your design is a piece of clothing, check how the product fits on the body. Look for any areas that might be too tight or too loose.
Now get some outside feedback, not necessarily from friends and family. People in your actual target market... those who would ordinarily be buying your product are best for unbiased feedback.
Keep an open mind when reviewing your prototype and your feedback. No point in forcing pre-existing ideas if they don’t work in real life. If your feedback is suggesting a slightly different path then just take it! You want your design to be the best it can be, so you can reap the sales benefits later. Don’t forget that you are making this product for your audience to buy, not for you to love.
You might need to create a few prototypes to get something you are happy with. Whether it’s your own efforts or a contractors’, be patient. Creating something from nothing takes time and money! Better to take the time now than make expensive or irreversible mistakes later. Once a factory has started production, it’s too late for even small tweaks.
Minor delays in production are normal, you must have some buffer room in your timelines. Contractors have many clients, vendors and projects all happening at once... so logistics are always difficult. Materials can go out of stock and mistakes can be made by any party. Manufacturing is a long and difficult process so don’t expect otherwise.
As you go through the prototyping and testing process it's essential to keep on top of everything. Always keep old proto’s, emails, notes and phone logs. Chronological order works well when you need to reference what happened when, later.
When you arrive at a prototype you are happy with you’re ready to start a tech pack. Your prototype doesn’t need to be a 100% perfect, photo ready sample - not at all! All you need is a working representation to start with.
Once you have your tech pack completed, you can start contacting factories for quotes. Or if you already have a factory, you can request a first sample from them.
The first sample from your factory should be one step up from your prototype. If you don't have the right fabric yet, you should be using something as similar as possible.
From here there are many types of samples you can start requesting from your factory. From sales samples, size samples to production samples. You can read the full list here.