Who do you hang with? pt.2

In response to my first post when I mentioned that DEs don’t cross merchandise their lines by prints and colors, Oxanna asked:

You mean DEs don’t do this?

Many do not. I think many designers are (or feel) limited by the fabric options and tend to create collections that are isolated. For example, a designer might show 5 groups at market, but all of them will use distinctly different fabric and none will cross merchandise. Within the group, you can put together a top and bottom, but you can’t pull a top from one group with a bottom from another. It’s almost as if each group was designed in isolation, as though they are individuals, not part of a family. I’ve seen it so much, that it really has become a pet peeve and frustrating.

In a larger enterprise, where the designer does not have to manage the entire production process, where they are not as intimately involved with the intricacies of fabric sourcing, and where larger production affords more options, I don’t see as much of that. The designer creates a cohesive collection from a bigger picture perspective.

DEs can do this too, with clever resourcefulness, but many do not. As a result, when you look at the entire line, all the pieces, it doesn’t make sense, there’s no harmony, there’s no story, there’s no cross merchandising.

In terms of cross-merchandising, is your peeve more that lines cannot be mix/matched within the same collection or with other lines in the store?

To me, they are inseparable. Lines that are cross merchandised within, tend to better merchandise across the board. Why? Because it really is a matter of designer perspective and a broader view. I said before that when you see lines like that, they appear that each group was designed in isolation, with tunnel vision. A designer who looks at their own line with tunnel vision is highly unlikely to consider the broader scope of merchandising when putting their line together.

If you’re doing a small line (6-10 pcs) is it ok to have 2 groups or would retailers prefer 1 grouping in such a small collection?

That’s a difficult question to answer because there’s no hard rule. If you have 6-10 pcs and you can only use 2 fabrics, when your next market date or delivery comes, pick up the same color family. That way if a consumer comes in and buys (for example) a girls pant set, they come back in 2 months later (in the same season) and pick up another piece that still coordinates. The retailer can keep fresh merchandise without having to completely isolate the customer’s previous purchase.

Let me give you a really good example, using my category (lingerie). A woman comes in and buys a really pretty bra and thong in coral (for example, any color but black, white, ivory and nude). If you designed the way that frustrates me, that woman can never come back and get anything else from your line to match what she has already invested in. If you cross merchandise, a month later, after her original style has sold out, she can come and get a boyshort and camisole in a print with that same coral in it. She can wear the boyshort and bra, camisole and thong, you get the picture. Clothing is the same and you will notice that really large companies try to keep with the same hue of a color throughout the line, throughout the season.

Try it, go into a designer’s retail store. You can’t always tell when you’re in a boutique or department store because the buyer has edited the offering. But if you walk into any designer’s retail store (if you live in a big city, you can do this), you will see a lot of color harmony throughout the store. Even at places like GAP, J Crew and such, you still see harmony, the store doesn’t look like a mish mash.

I find that when your line is well thought out enough to merchandise well within, the rest just takes care of itself.

Related:
#1 mistake of new designers
Who do you hang with?
Who do you hang with? pt.2
Who do you hang with? pt.3

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9 comments

  1. J C Sprowls says:

    I’m curious if the criteria and exercises for creating a collection in school have changed? I mean, if this issue is widespread, it must come from somewhere, right?

    When I was in school, each year we were assigned the project to design a collection with the criteria that it ‘come from the same closet’. In other words, picture your “ideal” client and then design 13 looks (no limit on the number of pieces) that fit the color story and would all hang in the same closet. The common failing point was that students overlooked what their ideal client already had in their closet (to your point).

    In reviewing programs, recently (I’ve considered going to back to finish a BFA) this exercise is now known as the “Senior Project”. That doesn’t provide an opportunity to make mistakes and learn through the experience. I’m curious if the situation you describe is that students are pushed through programs too rapidly and they’re left to mete out this experience in the marketplace?

  2. Julie Knox says:

    “I think many designers are (or feel) limited by the fabric options and tend to create collections that are isolated.”

    I found this to be a real problem getting started with my line. I have been trying to create a collection of separates where everything coordinates (although certain styles may not suit being worn together) and have been having a terrible time getting fabrics (with small minimums) to work together. The ‘interesting’ fabrics – which is what I really want to make the line more exciting, seem to come in a range of 1 – 4 colours, the basics come in a wider range, but with both it’s not the same colours as any other fabric, unless it’s black. Most of them don’t match or even coordinate that well with each other. I can’t seem to get a set of 4-5 basic solid colour fabrics in 4-5 matching colours, unless it’s black and white – even the ivories don’t match from one fabric to another.

    My first set of sample fabrics I chose mostly based on trying to find a set that coordinated, and although they went ok together, they really didn’t work out very well with being suited to the customer/purpose of my line.

    I think if you’re big enough to order custom colours then you’re ok, but if you want (for example) chiffon, satin and lace in the same colour, in less than 100yd orders – it better be black or white.

  3. Oxanna says:

    Hmmm…on second thought, maybe I don’t completely understand what you mean by “groups”. I understand cross-merchandising within a line, but what are “groups”? Example: sportswear line. Would pants, blouses, skirts, etc. be groups? Or are groups “mini-lines” within the line, if you will? (“This outfit is for weekend wear, this is for work…”)

    I recently designed a line for a school project, and it was incredibly difficult to get things to coordinate in style – do I have enough bottoms? Tops? I’m not making it too similar, right? But now I have to make sure they still work together, etc. And this was only 5 pieces. :P Once I added color it became a zoo. Each piece came in only 4 colorways, but I had 8 colors. (Not all main colors, but accents too. Don’t shoot me, please, it *was* a class project!) Can you say “zoo”? Coordinating all the colors, and trying to make sure that I wasn’t making one-of-a-kind “outfits” with each color choice was quite interesting!

  4. Abigail says:

    I think I made a mistake similar to what you are referring to about a 1 1/2 years ago with my children’s line. I had my standard line from regular cotton fabric in spring/summer colors and in an attempt to come up with something more fall and winter, I added a black and deep tan velveteen option with different detailing. After a tremendous amount of time and some sampling costs, it totally flopped and there were no orders. I feel the mistake I made was trying to grab a different market segment from the one I was already in to boost sales. I was also trying too hard to come up with a ‘new’ design that was fresh and completely different from my original idea.

    Now I spend my energy and money designing new pieces to coordinate with previous top sellers. So far only one of these designs has been dropped after one season. The rest have sustained themselves for 2 years now. Same with fabrics. I have four fairly standard colors and every year I pick fabrics that are different but are based with these four colors.

  5. Amanda says:

    I also prefer to have all the groups in a collection telling a whole story or having a theme. The problem that I come across when designing this way is that it may completely alienate a potential customer who does not relate to that particular story although the product is a good fit for them….for example, an entire collection designed with bright colors like fushia, electric blue etc with a few good neutrals to co ordinate may look great to someone who is drawn to that palette but for doesn’t do anything for certain skin tons therefore will not draw them at all for an entire season.

    I thought it would be best to have at least three groups with different colorways, stories and themes.

    ps I want to buy your book so bad but my husband cut me off spending on my business for the moment and the duties on books are pretty high in Canada.

  6. trish says:

    I love all the comments today. JC has such a great point.

    Also… “If you have 6-10 pcs and you can only use 2 fabrics, when your next market date or delivery comes, pick up the same color family. That way if a consumer comes in and buys (for example) a girls pant set, they come back in 2 months later (in the same season) and pick up another piece that still coordinates. The retailer can keep fresh merchandise without having to completely isolate the customer’s previous purchase.” is such sound advice!!

    I would add, think like a retailer if you want to be a great designer for retail.

    With that said, if you are more of an AE, artist entrepreneur, please follow your dream. If you are doing one of a kind, this is still often great advice to evolve your color story.

  7. J C Sprowls says:

    Thanks, Trish. Based on some comments, I was concerned that I didn’t articulate my point well enough.

    To Miracle’s point, a Manufacturer’s customer is the Buyer. And, the Buyer’s customer is the Consumer. So, it is in a Manufacturer’s best interest to deliver value to the Buyer by meeting Consumer expectations.

    One exercise that behooves a Designer and a DE is to know the Consumer so well that you know what is already in their closet. By doing this (keeping an eye on the end use) you won’t stray far from meeting the Buyer’s needs at market. Or as Yoda says: “start with the end in mind”.

    Wait… was that Yoda or my Dad? Either way… It’s good advice!

    I suspect Miracle’s point was that she is tired of (or, at least tiring of) shopping across 10 lines to find 20-30 separates that *might* work in her store. I can see that point because it makes the Buyer’s job difficult. And, if you makes someone’s job difficult, well… you (should) get the point.

  8. jinjer markley says:

    I noticed this at Baby Gap when I was exchanging a gift for my infant–there were clothes in the sale rack (last season’s stuff) that coordinated with the newer stuff–just 2 or 3 of the colors were different.

    One way the Baby Gap collection kept it’s items coordinated was with embroidery. This seems like a trick that’s accessible to DE’s, since embroidery thread,or maybe even screenprinting ink, comes in a lot more colors than the fabrics available to you–& even a little embroidery/topstitching or screenprinting can give the item a coordinated look.

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