This site was originally established to help fashion students learn the art of making ready to wear patterns for swimwear … as a pseudo textbook in the absence of a suitable college level text. Since then I’ve expanded it somewhat, but stretch fit pattern making for fashion students is still the main agenda. If you want to be a fashion designer you need to learn the appropriate skills right? Well many people think that simply because they have a good idea then they’ll be a good designer … afterall necessity is the mother of invention right? Well not really. All good inventors have some background and education in their relevant field. And really, would you visit a doctor who hadn’t been to medical school? Would you hire an architect to construct your house, or a handyman? I say all this for a good reason …
You don’t need a degree to be able to sew something. You don’t need a degree to be able to draw a picture of a pretty dress. You don’t really need a degree to be able to do anything in the fashion industry … you can pretty much learn all of it by picking up a book (where they exist) and having a go at it by trial and error. Of course you’ll learn it all much faster at college and you’ll actually get to find out if you’re really doing it right … but there aren’t any laws that say you must be a qualified designer to make a swimsuit for retail sale (at least not in Australia).
I’ve known many designers (some very successful ones too) who never went to college. They spent years learning how to do things the hard way and often lost a lot of money in the process … but they still got there. I’ve also known many design graduates who’ll never be successful or who’ve already given up trying to find work. College doesn’t guarantee anything … but the same person will do significantly better with, than without, a college degree.
Sure if you have a knack for business you might be able to hire an entire team of qualified people to do all the technical stuff for you, but how do you know they’re doing the job properly (or indeed if they’re even the right people for the job) if you don’t know what to look for? Very often I get emails from people who’ve simply had a really good idea they want to manufacture (and yes they’re great ideas!) or from people who feel that a particular figure type is missing from the market place (these people really just don’t know where to look) or from people who don’t like how the system works and they want to change it by offering something different (in competition to existing successful businesses). There was an article on Fashion Incubator last month called 3 stupid reasons to start a clothing line. The authour Kathleen Fasanella knows much about the business of fashion and is the authour of a book that anyone entering the fashion industry for the first time must read (that’s must read, not should read). If you’re simply looking to enter a glamorous career and you think you’re especially talented at being stylish then you’re probably doing it for the wrong reasons.
Swimwear is certainly glamorous and it can be an awful lot of fun. It’s really easy to promote (I mean who doesn’t like looking at beautiful women in swimsuits), the sampling process is fast and easy if you have a skilled machinist, you will need a very good pattern maker (who are few and far between), but it’s all really possible for a new graduate or someone with experience in the industry. The biggest problem most novice designers face is the massively huge competition for space in the market. Competition means you have to sell a better product for a better price if you want to survive … and that’s not always easy for a beginner. In most cases it is actually impossible to even produce swimwear in a first world country for less than they can get it to the first world retailer from China or India.
Now if you aren’t a qualified designer, with machining and pattern making experience and able to produce your own samples the first few times around, you’re going to be spending a lot of money for professional services … money you need to factor into the equation (see Kathleen’s book). What I’m trying to say here, is … don’t go into being a swimwear designer until you’ve studied the market, your potential buyers and done all the sums … don’t be blinded by a good idea or the glamour of calling yourself a “swimwear designer”.
OK so you’ve done your sums and checked out the market thoroughly and you’re even able to make up your own samples … what next? Well, what is your competition doing? Are you really objective about what you can offer that others don’t? For example, would you offer a wider range of sizes? What about mix and match tops and bottoms? Do you really think the public will like your styles or prints better than those of your opposition? How about a wider range of prints? Do you provide a better quality garment?? The list goes on … I’m trying to be very realistic here …
So let’s answer these questions. Everywhere I go on the net I see the words “high quality”. What exactly does that mean to the average shopper? Does it prove the garment has been made to comply with a minimum manufacturing standard like other goods? Does it prove a garment has been tested after manufacture to assert it’s performance? Not at all. The words “high quality” are bantered around without a second thought. But here’s the thing …. most designers use those words as their only point of difference in the market place!! There are standard testing methods and performance standards, but how many websites do you see publishing the actual quality standards they’ve met?? The answer is very, very few indeed … and for those that do, that is their point of difference.
Many swimwear retailers and websites are now offering considerably more than mix and match. Not only can you chose a different size top to bottom, but you can essentially “design your own swimsuit” by choosing sizing, features and prints and having the retailer assemble it for you. There is an extra cost for this kind of flexibility, but it was once considered a significant point of difference that was marketable … now that so many places are doing it, most don’t even charge an extra fee. Take a look at the website of Zena Swimwear as an example. Now I’m not endorsing them as I have no idea how good they are, but take a look at how you can choose different designs, features and sizing … not to mention a list of fabric and print choices that’s so large it takes forever to load the page!
The reason I hear most for people going into swimwear design is that “as a women I know how hard it is to find good fitting swimwear so I’ve decided to do my own range”. These people generally have no fashion qualifications or experience whatsoever but they think they can find a stretch fit pattern maker (the one who’s usually subcontracting to all those bad fitting designers) to make their patterns better than all the others. What most people don’t realise is that their are many different body shapes and they’re probably not getting a good fit on themselves and their friends because they aren’t the average shape … meaning they really need to try a few more designers. Making a range to fit “not the average” is of course really stupid. I’m not talking about plus sizes here, I’m talking about shape. Have you ever wondered why some women only perfectly fit a limited number of designers and complain about the other designers not knowing how to make clothes properly? They arrogantly assume their shape is normal and all shapes are the same. Most couture designers know the shape and size of their target market and they cater to it precisely and repeatedly in hope of catching the same customer next season. This is also sensible as it means a designer can keep using the same pattern blocks safely over and over again. Furthermore, trying to increase your market share by changing your fit can often alienate existing customers and lose you money! Something to think about. Let me assure everyone that every shape and size has been catered for already … it used to be hard to find plus sizes once, however the internet has well and truely fixed that problem.
The last point of difference is usually one of style. Now I’ll accept this one. If you can design something amazingly different and appealing that hasn’t been done before then you might be on to something. But can you do it consistently every year or just once? Please be objective. I’m not talking about different prints here, I’m talking about the actual cut of the garment and its style lines. There are billions of prints available and their desirability is purely subjective. When it comes to bikinis there’s really not much you can do differently … at least not significantly (hence my earlier admiration of Herve Leger for managing this). Ten years ago we saw a huge revival of the monokini and cutaway one pieces but even these are looking considerably recycled now.
Then there’s the flipside to the style difference argument. Women are generally very self conscious in swimwear and while they like to look good, very few like to stand out. Fitting in with the crowd is incredibly important for teenage girls … hence the success of surfwear – the boringly standard bikini brief and triangle top.
Lastly, do you really need a point of difference? Can you simply make swimwear because you like doing it and think of it as a way of providing an income and nothing more ? Absolutely … and this is the single best reason for becoming a swimwear designer … or any kind of fashion designer for that matter.
Here are two articles I found on becoming a swimwear designer ….
… not the most insightful articles, but another perspective never hurt anyone.
All of the above is simply trying to get people to objectively analyse why it is they want to be swimwear designers and to be sure they’ve got all the experience, facts and figures right when they make the decisions. Being a designer can be very rewarding, but it’s also hard work and not for the feint of heart … anyone who tells you otherwise is lying!