A Complete Guide to Fashion Product Development

Rising competition in the industry calls for fashion product development to create innovative products catered to customer needs to gain a competitive advantage in the market.

Planning the fashion product development process can set up a business for success because overseeing the entire innovation process ensures that each of its stages is optimized for delivery.

In this article, we’ll explore what fashion product development is, what the production process looks like, and the importance of creating sustainable products in the fashion industry.

What is Fashion Product Development?

Fashion product development is the process of developing and manufacturing new products for the fashion industry. The main goals of fashion product development include creating clothing that satisfies customers, to increase competitive advantage, and innovation.

5 Stages of the Fashion Product Development Process

Designing Concepts

The fashion development process starts with an idea. Fashion designers take the first step to turn their idea into a reality by crafting concept sketches of the design. Ideas for the sketch may be drawn from mood boards which act as a source of inspiration for the product. A concept usually starts as a paper sketch by the head of design and then it is handed off to other designers.

Designers join in and brainstorm ideas to enhance the initial sketches and decide on specifications such as colors, patterns, accessories, and fabrics. After creating a basic outline,the design may make the rounds, gathering approval from team members. It then moves on to a technical designer who dives deeper into the details of the design and transforms it into a more workable sketch.

Technical designers will craft their sketches in a way that communicates the details of the fabric to the manufacturers. They’ll highlight measurements, placement of trims, location of the seam lines, and other useful details which makes the sketch much more practical to work with. The end piece is a technical sketch or a fashion flat which is a two dimensional representation of the finished garment made with software like AutoCAD or Adobe Illustrator.

Preparing Tech Packs

A tech pack is a detailed document that includes instructions for a supplier or manufacturer on how to make a specific piece of clothing. Suppliers don’t take product orders without a tech pack because they require guidance on what’s expected of them and how to deliver that product.

Creating a highly comprehensive tech pack will ensure the manufacturing unit has the key information needed to fulfill the product requirements. When creating your tech packs make sure to include the following information:

  • Technical drawings of the garment
  • A visual mockup of the finished garment
  • Size charts with appropriate grades
  • Spec sheet with real-life examples
  • Placement of tags and labels

Assigning different grades to the garment can get advanced in the later stage of the production process, but including sizes for XS, S, M, L, XL, etc. is a good starting point for manufacturing.

Creating Samples

After finalizing your designs, it’s time to create the first few samples of your garment. Samples are made primarily to test how the product will look in real life. There are two types of samples in this stage: proto samples and fit samples.

Proto samples are made from stock materials and colors. The main purpose of a proto sample is to have a visual representation of your fashion design without getting into too much detail just yet. These samples are then tested to pinpoint any errors in order to make adjustments that assist in creating the fit sample.

The fit sample is a refined sample made from the correct measurements and the right fit after taking in feedback on the proto sample. This sample is then tested to eliminate any final errors.

Consistency is key in this stage. Make sure to use a model with a consistent fit of the sample as the fit sample needs to have the correct fitting and measurements. This is the stage to fine-tune the fabric before sending it to batch production. Take your time with this as making multiple copies of the wrong fabric can waste a lot of time, material, and money.

This is also where you should be using the correct fabric as opposed to the stock fabric used for creating the proto samples. This is because some fabrics may differ in tension, fitting, and draping which may cause inconsistencies in the final design.

Other than the look of the garment, you need to see whether the mass production of the garment fits within your organizational capability. Take into account the following factors:

  • Time sensitivity – is the production process able to handle creating the product within a set time frame? Consider the level of difficulty and complexity of creating the finished product and get rid of the products you think won’t be as productive
  • Price Point – At what price do you plan on marketing the product? Are you looking to maximize profits or build strong brand recognition? See if your price point makes sense with the style of clothing and your customer base.
  • Expenses – How much would it cost you to create the product? Calculate your labor costs, fabric costs, and costs of hardware/software and see if it aligns with your price points.

After completing these tests, choose your final sample and forward it to the manufacturer to give them the go-ahead to start production.

Manufacturing the Cloth

With your designs finalized, your tech packs in place, and a clear idea of the fabrics you want you’re ready to move on to production. The garment manufacturing process includes numerous complex phases including:

  • Pre-production
  • Production
  • Cutting & sewing
  • Quality control and checks
  • Delivery of the final piece

Explore your options. Contact potential manufacturers for quotes. Once you’ve found a quality supplier, see if they offer any production packages and whether or not they can help you source fabric materials and package the final products.

Before placing bulk orders you need to have an idea of the required production quantity. To help with this, you can take orders early on, known as pre-sales, to accurately estimate these quantities. This will give you the confidence to start creating products with minimal risks since you have already taken orders for that specific piece of clothing.

Consider adding grading to your patterns. Product developers may work with pattern-makers to add pattern grades to the garment. By using mathematics, you can assign different measurements to grades such as S, M, L, XL, etc. Approved measurements go to the manufacturer which creates the product accordingly.

Finally, confirm the quality of the manufactured cloth by conducting tests and collecting feedback on a pre-production sample. A pre-production sample is supposed to be the perfect replica of your final product with no room for error. To create such a sample, manufacturers take into account all the previous feedback from the proto samples, the approved measurements from the fashion designer of the fit sample, and gradings from the pattern-maker.

Make sure the factory you are working with has a production manager. Communicating with a production manager will give you an idea of the factory’s production process and how the manufacturing process is proceeding.

Quality Control

Whether you’re working with a third-party quality control team, a design agency, or doing it yourself, implement a quality control process across several phases of the production process to ensure the final product is ready to market. This saves you a lot of time and money down the line and helps maintain a positive and trustworthy relationship with your suppliers.

This includes performing quality checks on the fabric once it’s received, during its preparation, and before they are packaged and distributed.

When assessing the quality of the fabrics keep a sharp eye for the following common defects:

  • Shade variation from the original
  • Uneven dyeing or printing marks
  • Offsetting of printed designs
  • Neps, knots, or holes in the fabric
  • Differences in measurements

Once everything looks good, the final product is ready for packaging and shipping to its target location.

Role of the Product Developer in the Fashion Industry

A fashion product developer is a professional who plans, develops, and produces fashion products according to customer needs. They are primarily responsible for the entire fashion product development process from design to distribution.

Responsibilities of a Fashion Product Developer

  • Research fashion trends and explore customer preferences
  • Communicate with designers to develop a design concept that aligns with customer needs
  • Make improvements in the current process and develop seasonal collections
  • Plan purchase samples and launches for collections
  • Source cost-effective and high-quality materials to reduce costs
  • Communicate with the factory line manager to oversee the entire production line
  • Monitor sales and eCommerce traffic and see which products perform better than others

The most essential skill for every product developer in the fashion industry is communication. Without effective communication, the whole fashion development process falls apart as product developers are responsible for closely working with fashion designers and factories. Having an in-depth understanding of the fashion production process as well as the overall manufacturing process is vital for product developers to collaborate with the product development team and confidently explain the product vision.

Use of PLM Software in the Fashion Product Development Process

Fashion brands would traditionally manage most of their inventory manually through the creation of spreadsheets and documents. This made the process time-consuming and caused issues like having:

  • Lack of historical data to make accurate estimates and track bestsellers
  • Ineffective decision-making due to information barriers between management
  • Poor visibility of progress throughout the production process due to limited access

As a solution to the above, larger fashion enterprises switch to fashion PLM software to keep up with the increasing volume and manage the product development lifecycle more effectively.

PLM, or Product Lifecycle management, software is used for managing product development efficiently. It handles all the important information about a product from the concept stage to its completion. Although this type of software was reserved for larger brands, nowadays many versions of PLM software have emerged to keep up with today’s business dynamics. This makes it possible for small fashion brands and startups to embrace the use of PLM software for their business.

There are a few Fashion PLM software solutions you can try, such as Infor Fashion PLM, which makes it possible for management to collaborate and manage the entire fashion production process on the cloud.

Typically, the main key roles to come together would be the product developer, manager, buyer, and supplier. PLM software provides a dashboard to users with functionality that streamlines the workflow and makes it easy for all people involved to complete their tasks with minimal stress. Through fashion PLM You can manage specifications and approvals, sample requests, track development progress, and gather information on purchases.

Importance of Sustainability in the Fashion Industry

In recent developments, fashion businesses are becoming a major contributor to environmental harm. According to a 2017 report by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), the textile and dyeing process in the fashion industry alone is responsible for 20% of global water pollution. It is also responsible for using a lot of water, energy, and natural raw materials which creates a shortage of natural resources and increases carbon emissions in the environment.

The fashion industry is one of the most polluting in the world. It uses huge amounts of energy and water and generates up to ten percent of global CO2 emissions

Dr. Alan Hudd Founder of Alchemie Technology

To meet sustainability needs and reduce the negative impact on the environment many major fashion brands such as Nike, M&S, Timberland, and more have opted for sustainable fashion development.

Sustainable fashion development emphasizes the product’s supply chain and compels brands to manufacture garments with eco-friendly materials to minimize their carbon footprint. This has led to brands competing on product greenness that is producing fashion products using green materials and sustainable methods.

There are several business models to promote the development of sustainable fashion products including:

  • Circular fashion – circling the production of garments whilst making efficient use of resources with non-toxicity, biodegradability, and recyclability in mind.
  • Upcycling – reusing unwanted or discarded pieces of fabrics to create new clothing pieces without a decrease in value
  • Biomimicry – using materials in harmony with natural cycles to make infinite use of natural resources and create long-lasting products
  • Reselling – recirculating and selling old repaired vintage or second-hand clothing to lower production of new garments
  • Connected clothing – Digitizing clothing to enable personalization and live tracking of the source of the fiber

A fashion business should also source sustainable materials for creating fabrics. This includes using sustainable alternatives to resources such as bamboo fibers, organic cotton, kombucha, soybeans, and protein fibers. A good example of this is major fashion brands like Nike, H&M, and C&A which started using organic cotton for their fashion products in the early 2000s.

Sustainable fashion development is the future as more brands are taking advantage of technological advancements. To ensure business success in the long run, it is essential for fashion product developers to obtain key operational knowledge on sustainable fashion techniques and models to create long-lasting fashion products while preserving the natural environment.

Conclusion

By working closely with the design team and manufacturing unit, fashion product developers can enable a fashion brand to create high-value products that do well in the market and are popular with consumers.

Clearly defining the production process of your fashion products will help  you to create great innovative products consistently. As the fashion industry becomes more competitive, having an efficient workflow may not be enough so gaining a competitive edge by introducing sustainable fashion products to your brand may be the next step to improve customer satisfaction whilst reducing your carbon footprint.