Whether you want to learn how to design clothes for yourself, or because you’d like to be a fashion designer with your own clothing line, this article will guide you through the process of designing fashion.
When you see a collection of clothing – on the runway or in a store – and you feel it is cohesive and works together, it’s usually because the fashion designer has gone through a process.
While some people think that buying a few sewing patterns and fabric types to create clothing is ‘designing’, it really isn’t.
You’re just creating a capsule wardrobe using someone else’s designs (the patterns) and fabric that you bought because you liked the color / print / texture. That isn’t design and it won’t look cohesive.
There are many skills needed to be able to design clothes and I will be covering those below, but if you’re excited to learn more about fashion design, do sign up for my upcoming challenge which I’ll be running in September 2022!
The first step in any design process is to research, and this is no different for fashion design. When I start working on a new collection, research is where I spend most of my time. I’m looking at and thinking about:
I’ll gather primary and secondary source materials as part of the research process, and I’ll be compiling all these into a sketchbook or onto big pin boards so that I can see how it all fits together.
Aspiring fashion designers should spend time researching and gathering inspiration. It could be scraps of fabric you like the feel of or a color combination in a magazine, keep it in a folder of scrapbook for future reference.
I actually have a great concertina folder which has many tear sheets from magazines and books which I find inspiring.
Color & Fabric
While at fashion school I was encouraged to use trend forecasters to get an idea of which colors and fabrics would be on trend each season.
I no longer worry about forecasting – they’re expensive to subscribe to if you don’t have the subsidized access from your school – and instead I now get a thorough idea of future trends from visiting the various fabric fairs, like Premier Vision.
Whether you’re vibing off a certain era or digging into the history of a specific garment, historical research is an essential step for any clothing designer!
I’m a big fan of buying old garments and books, and digging into the history – it’s the sole reason that I own a vintage Burberry trench coat, and I only just refrained from deconstructing it to analyze in more depth!
Mood & Feeling
If I’m designing based of a mood, or feeling, I’ll gather research that helps me ‘feel’ it. For a collection that was based on serenity, I might be gathering images and fabric samples that are blue or green – perhaps even some pastel pink. Anything that has that ‘calm’ and ‘serene’ vibe is inspiration.
One of my collections was inspired by the film ‘Artemisia: Rise of an Empire‘. I had watched it several times, and felt saddened that the main character didn’t have the childhood she should have had. So the collection I designed and created had fun, playful and feminine designs – such as the pale pink tulle skirt she might have worn as a child interested in ballet. I was giving her the childhood she lost in that film.
Something to be aware of when designing clothing is seasonality. You really do not want to be working on a collection inspired by the dark and misery of the long winter in Game of Thrones (as an example) and then try to sell it as a summer collection! It just won’t feel cohesive, and nobody will want to buy into it.
Most people would throw texture in with color and fabric, but texture can be created in other ways, not just through fabric alone as you can see from the above collection I showed at Graduate Fashion Week.
Texture can also help to get across a feeling – heavily textured fabrics with a nap, like faux fur, can make you feel cozy and warm.
Spend time thinking about all of the above and how you can gather research for a collection.
You’ve done all the research, gathered fabric samples and filled a wall (or sketchbook) with your ideas. What’s next?
The design process! This can be done digitally or traditionally, and happens in 2D and 3D!
Digitally – Fashion Design Software
Some designers have no interest in drawing or developing designs in physical 3D. That’s perfectly acceptable, and some of the students I learnt alongside at fashion school went on to work in the fashion industry as designers.
There are many clothing design software options available now, and I am in all honesty unfamiliar with many, as I prefer the paper and pencil route alongside draping, but here are some that I am familiar with that you could research further that will enable you to design in 2D/3D:
- Adobe Illustrator – this is the main design software that I use for any digital fashion design and pattern making
- Adobe Photoshop – while not a CAD program, I do use it for pulling color schemes from my visial research and creating digital prints
- Alvanon – makers of dress forms, they also have a ‘virtual’ form which is available on a subscription basis
- Clo 3D – 3D design, but I haven’t used it as it’s not fully compatible with Apple Mac computers
- Gerber AccuMark – professional level software (acquired by Lectra)
- Sketchbook – works on the iPad, but I’ve not tried it on other devices
- Tailornova – quite new but looks more accessible
- Valentina – pattern drafting software which is free
- Wild Ginger – for design and pattern making, though appear to be more targeted for sewing enthusiasts
If you’d rather learn how to design on a dress form, you can start by taking my beginner friendly Drape & Contour for Beginners course!
The more traditional method for the fashion design process is to pull out a pencil and some paper and start working on some fashion sketches!
I make sure to have all my visual research in front of me, and I draw from elements to develop garment design ideas.
I sketch, and refine. Sketch and refine. It’s a process that happens over several stages, and I also add in some 3D research, draping ideas on the dress form, and sketching from that.
The next stage when you’ve refined your design ideas is to create the patterns. This is essential in apparel design so that you can check fit and proprtion, and is a step that I never skip. Your 2D sketches will now start to come to life in front of you!
You’ll use a house block (or a personalised block if you’re designing clothes for yourself) which will hep you to stay consistent with sizing and shape across future collections.
Once the sewing pattern is created it’s time to sew up a sample – this is usually in shell form only using muslin / calico, and is to get an idea of the size, proprtion etc.
Once the design is perfect, the final sample is made in the actual fabric, but it could take several toiles to get to this stage.
Selling Your Designs
You’ve learned how to design clothes, but what next? If they’re for yourself – congrats! You now most likely have a fabulous capsule wardrobe that is cohesive. If it’s intended for others, you’ll be wanting to sell your designs.
Your first option is to find a clothing manufacturer who will make your designs for you, which you then sell under your own clothing brand. You can sell them from your own website at retail pricing and / or store or you can sell them to boutiques at wholesale, who will sell them on.
You can also go the route of making everything yourself, and selling each item as a piece of custom clothing. This means that it is only made if you receive an order and is more cashflow efficient, as you’re not going to have money tied up in unsold stock.
You can also sell your designs as sewing patterns. To do this you’ll need to get the patterns graded and test across a size range before selling, but this is also a business type that many trained fashion designers move into. You can learn more about this in my article on
As you’ve learned, there are several ways that you can design clothes, from the traditional approach that I favour to the more modern digital design software. As long as you work on refining your ideas, so that the garments form a cohesive collection, the clothes you design will be fabulous!
And if you’d like to be guided through the entire process of designing clothes for yourself, or as a collection for your fashion brand, get in touch. I have the perfect course coming in September!
Eve Tokens (aka The Creative Curator) is a fashion designer, creative pattern cutter and sewing pattern designer.
Eve graduated with a 2:1 in Fashion Design from the University of The Creative Arts in the UK, has a BTEC diploma in Creative Pattern Cutting, a Foundation Degree in Art & Design from Wimbledon College of Art and gained extensive experience in the fashion industry by interning and freelancing for London based fashion brands – Hardy Amies, Roland Mouret, Peter Pilotto and others.
As well as running her own small sustainable fashion brand, Eve has more than 25 years experience sewing and making clothes for herself and family members.
Thursday 28th of July 2022
I just finished this post and holy. You really went above and beyond with the value! Particularly with the research and brainstorming side of the design process. I appreciate it lots.
I'll get to penning and report back with progress!