becoming a designer means samples, sketches, and travel
They all say it. And now with experience I'm going to say it too. Just promise not to sigh. Make sure you have your big girl pants on for this one. And pull up the boot straps, because the annoying as hell and utterly discouraging "fact" is, that designing your own collection will literally be like, less than half of your work as a fashion startup owner. You heard me right. So you better be 100% okay with that. Because #realtalk, that shit is true. I'll tell you what, I wouldn't change it for anything though, because the distant memory of putting pencil to sketchbook is reassuringly enough fuel for an entire season while the bittersweet longing to reach the new moment you can stroke new fabrics, caress the handmade detailing of your competitors in fine boutiques, pretend to be a watercolor artist for middle-of-the-night textile designs, well, that is rare but oh so freaking joyful. Its personally my cocaine. I know enough from movies to say that whatever that adrenaline sweaty, shaky, hyped, turn up behavior is after taking a hit, definitely resembles my crazy ass when I know its time to design new pieces without distraction. So here is how it went for starting my very first collection. Brace yourselves.
I feel like when I read the story behind the collection of design houses' inspiration each season, its so lofty and preposterous that my humble inspiration isn't worthy. But damn ya'll, can a girl just be inspired by nature, and colors, people on the street, and my own fabric swatches? Not to mention sweaty dreams, which are where my best ideas come from! Like an acid trip, I can literally dream up entire collections in my sleep. But sorry Mr. Lagerfeld, the roses of Germany and the marble finish of Hallway #303 in the Louvre was not on my list of inspiration for this season. I think the advice that's starting to become universal among indie startups is to not pay any attention to what's going on in the design world for a hot New York minute. And I just read this advice distilled perfectly over on Megan's blog, where one of the designers she featured said to just design for yourself. I couldn't agree more! It may sound narcissistic and selfish, but point of view is literally the definition of being a designer. If you follow inspiration and direction from everyone else, what's the point of launching your own line or your own store? So having one's self as their muse is a safe bet for a humble start. Take it from me. I've shown my collection little by little and the feedback was always so overwhelmingly positive in terms of it not being something you normally see in a Macy's or West Elm. Tap into your deep down fantasies of what you wish were in existence, and the right kind of inspiration will follow. I mean, would men really be wearing leather jogging pants to the grocery in droves if Kanye West wasn't tripping over himself to see that crazy idea in the market? #justsayin
Everyone starts different, but my road to becoming the designer I always wanted to be is purely about passion. Know your target customer, budget cash flow, seek funding, create a business plan. Blah blah blah. If I am not religiously passionate about my work, to me there is no point. Passion is one of those things that literally propels you over mountains. I know, because its the reason why my other startups sustained for what will be two decades without any steady job needed to fall back on. Every other aspect of running a business is just as desperately important, but a design business in my world starts with the first swatch. You know that thing they always say to stressed out head honchos who need a comeback, something along the lines of, "remember why you started this...". Well for me fabrics and freshly milled textiles are the reason I genuinely love design. Raw materials, possibilities, color palettes, indulging in the craft of textiles. I am so overjoyed by learning the process of fibers, being able to swath myself in the finest wools and silks, dizzying myself when presented with a plethora of prints and patterns. So my journey for this specific winter 2015 Letitia Elizabeth collection, my first ever, actually began with swatch collecting back in 2012. Nothing to say about the obsessive addiction I had of hoarding swatches all the years prior. That's a story for another day. But I'll knock a hoochie out if they take my fabric, the same way biatches be running over old women at sample sales.
To be honest, designs for me went from purely following my passion, to interjecting an ounce of trend forecasting and marketing here and there, which isn't my choice but would be the Shark Tank way. I had a collection I designed in 2012 for homewares and a collection dating back to 2008 of apparel, and when it came time to finalize my plan for the season, it being winter 2015, I realized I would have to have a geometric print to appeal to contemporary West Elm addicts and an animal print for my cheeky, more daring, urban girls. But just like with inspiration and being your own muse, I did contemporary in my own way that is completely not available yet. My signature gold zippers and muted pastel color palette allowed my designs to be more mix and matchable. Designing also starts to lean toward costs which really hinders creativity, but its a crucial aspect of longevity. I designed my collection twice before doing cost breakdown so as to not purely design for the sake of selling. That's too corporate for my tastes. Finally, after having something to be proud of that really spoke to my muse's personality, I found ways to order certain things in bulk for more affordability, whereas deal breakers like organic thread and luxe zipper closures could be part of my design aesthetic and signature branding. All I have to say is...its a process. Don't rush it. And this is coming from me, a gal that launches things in 24 hours. There was no speeding this up. And I was happy not to do so.
Look, samples can make or break you. Period. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. I've never been angrier than when trying on supremely publicized high-end designers in a local boutique, only to see the shoulder seams are two inches away from where they should be, or that a pencil skirt rides up even before I take one step, and hey I know I have quite an ass, but I should at least be able to wiggle from sidewalk to taxi cab before everyone can mock my inefficient clothing. Whether you're doing apparel or decor, and I'm doing both, investing in a spectacular sample maker and or pattern maker is as definitive for your fashion brand as choosing your spouse. Unless, of course, you've always been okay with the notion of divorce, then you probably don't find going bankrupt over horribly sewn products to be much of a loss either. To each their own!
But I want to make something perfectly clear. Screw those stupid articles and books that say you need no less than $25,000 for patterns to start a fashion business. I gave myself a budget of $1000 and would have rather died than go a penny over. Stubbornness can move mountains, but an eye on quality is the compass.
I can't attest to how to find said miracle workers for a permanent position on your roster since I haven't reached that stage yet. My method is the lean startup method and just how to actually get started. And for that, only two bootstrapping methods popped to mind: Craigslist and trusted recommendations. I didn't do the latter thoroughly since I lack connections with designer friends and acquaintances who shared a similar ethos, budget, or otherwise. So to Craigslist I went, searching in all the top cities hoping to land on a boatload of seamstresses who had decades of experience and samples to back up whatever sales pitch they were spewing. My criteria was pretty basic and veered from response speed to competency through email, a wiliness to chat on the phone and answer dozens of questions, as well as someone who would send a digital portfolio just as a test to see their technical complacency. I finally landed on someone just as vibrant and outgoing as me but spoke horrible English. Luckily my fashion school required learning Spanish and that's what she spoke, so we got through the tough confusing meetings just fine. I now await my samples. One thing another designer reminded me is that you should really know your shit. I mean for real. Lucky for me this is a family business and would not even be remotely feasible without my beloved, immigrant, sewing fanatic grandmother. She taught me all I know about sewing which helps me spot a flaw from a mile away. Know your shit. Don't hire a sample maker unless you can understand how to even evaluate the samples returned to you. Don't hire a photographer if you don't even comprehend lighting and aperture, or sharp images versus blurry images that weren't intended to be blurry (cuz you know photogs be tripping saying they meant for things to happen). If you wouldn't give your newborn baby to Amanda Bynes the babysitter, don't trust your baby business to someone who might be just as unequipped. And at the end of the day, some people are more than happy to share all of their resources, but its rare. When you find a chatty designer who knows what they heck it takes to get flawless samples, then #carpediembitches
UPDATE: Samples are in! Take a peek below at some of the brand new collection thanks to a photo shoot we did Monday. The story on how these came to be is a nightmare, but I'm so thrilled for the collection so let me know your thoughts. More tomorrow!
above photos Honey Lake Studio