Who do you hang with?

Based on the comments to Kathleen’s post yesterday, I have some ideas on figuring out which lines you’d hang with. Yahzi Rose asked:

What I’d like to ask is what factors do you use in determining who you would hang with? Other than price points, do you look for something with a similar style, color story, fabric or a line that compliments? I know which lines I personally like but its hard to choose not coming from a retailer’s perspective.

The answer to this question is that you really have to know your market. You won’t know who you hang with based on color story or fabric, because to do that, you’d have to see other lines before hand and know what they were making. I find that this is (surprisingly) a difficult question for many DEs to answer.

As an example, I have a friend who was designing a line of handbags and I asked her “who is your customer?” She went into a description of lifestyle terminology like “she likes to travel, she goes to social events on the weekends.” Since I felt like her descriptions were too vague, I flat out asked her, where does she shop, what does she wear, give me specific stores and brands.

This is how you answer the question of “who do you hang with”. It’s not about you, it’s about the buyer and the end customer. It’s about how that customer shops and how that buyer merchandises. When you don’t know who you hang with, you don’t really know where your line fits into the retailer’s store. Sometimes it is a matter of finding a complementary line, when you make tops or bottoms, and sometimes it’s a matter of “fitting in” with other lines.

How do you find out who you “hang with”? You visit stores. Don’t just rely on your knowledge of the competition, visit retail stores and view their merchandising.

Can I tell you what my pet peeve is? Granted, I have many, but one of my main frustrations with purchasing what I call “independent designer brands” is the lack of cross-merchandising. I believe this is generally true across the board, but a big brand usually merchandises across the board. If a large brand picks up two colors for a delivery– say peacock and mango, or bean and grass, or whatever (because you know the color names are always exotic) usually, that color merchandises across the line. If they have a print, it will usually have one of the colors as either the base or the highlight, and several groups in the collection will use that color, enabling the buyer to pull pieces from various styles/groups and cross merchandise them. A dress here, a skirt here, a top here, a scarf here.

“Independent designer brands” seem to have a difficult time doing that. It almost seems as though each group stands alone and very few pieces, if any, cross merchandise. Cross merchandising your line, or at least thinking of it from a bigger perspective, helps you deal with the “who do you hang with” issue. It provides a cohesive collection that enables the retailer to view your line as a whole and merchandise your line with others.

#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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  1. Kathleen says:

    If a large brand picks up two colors for a delivery … that color merchandises across the line … it will usually have one of the colors as either the base or the highlight, and several groups in the collection will use that color, enabling the buyer to pull pieces from various styles/groups and cross merchandise them. A dress here, a skirt here, a top here, a scarf here.

    “Independent designer brands” seem to have a difficult time doing that. It almost seems as though each group stands alone and very few pieces, if any, cross merchandise.

    Boy, I say this over and over till I’m blue in the face and for an entirely different reason. Isn’t it funny how things that are advantageous in one area, are also advantageous in another? Consider fabric purchasing. If you’re repeating fabrics across styles, you’ll have a much easier time of making minimum fabric purchases. Plus, you’ll have fewer fabrics per bodies to test. Testing one will give you the parameters for any other affected style which can -in some cases- dramatically lower your product development costs. For the life of me, I will never understand why designers will use a different fabric for every single style. If you’re making ball gowns or cocktail dresses, I can see it altho you’d still want to repeat solid colors to give your line continuity.

  2. Miracle says:

    I can see it altho you’d still want to repeat solid colors to give your line continuity.

    Not only that, but it’s frustrating when a line makes a really great item, but only makes it in 2 colors. Let me give you a good example: yoga pants. I don’t do yoga, but I wear them (as do many women) as a comfortable daily run errands pant because they tend to have a good fit. I have seen so many brands make a yoga pant in black, heather gray and some color like spruce or dusty green, an earthy color.

    So we buy 2 pair of black and maybe the gray (maybe) and that’s it. What can you do with that? I never understand why a company makes a great fitting basic and limits the color ways or (worse) assumes that all yoga pant wearers are unto earthy tones. And worse, the earthy tones usually only match with their tops, not any other tops from any other company.

    Leah (Wiley) gave me one piece of advice very early on: if you want to know the best seller, look for the one available in the most colors and sizes. This is generally true for larger companies (and larger doesn’t necessarily mean the Ralph Laurens of the world). I find that some DEs do this, but not many.

  3. Yahzi Rose says:

    Thanks Miracle. you’ve given me a whole new perspective. I’ve dedicated a large portion of my time to walking stores, and being in the SF bay area we have some of everything here. I know the brands and what I think the target markets are for them based on what kind of boutique it is. But, I never once thought of the ‘hang with’ question in terms of the customer! I went into 5 stores today (different reason-sales) and tried to guess where the buyer would put my line on their racks. It was frustrating because I’m a manufacturer not a retailer, and I don’t know how to merchandise a store. I knew my things would work in a couple of them but not where or with who. However after reading your post, if someone asked me who I would hang with, I can think of my customer and what else they would have in their child’s closet besides Yahzi Rose and instantly be able to rattle off 3 or 4 lines.

    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? 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?

    I spent alot of time trying to figure out which fabrics (&colors) would work with both my boy & girl styles. yes, maybe I’ve bitten off more than I should have doing both but… the fabric sourcing was just so hard in terms of minimums/quality/price and availability that I felt up against the wall with having to settle for what I could get. And lord knows it would be nice to have a full collection with 6 colors but it is terrifying to think that I may get small orders for each of the colors and have to drop a color(tell the buyer you can’t do it) or pay sample prices because you can’t meet the contractor’s (or fabric) minimums. I ended up doing 2 base fabrics in 2 colors.

    All these decisions are so hard to make just starting out because you have no idea what your orders are going to be. My plan for spring is definitely having only 2 fabrics and now I’ll keep cross-merchandising in mind when finalizing the styles. Thanks again.

  4. Oxanna says:

    If they have a print, it will usually have one of the colors as either the base or the highlight, and several groups in the collection will use that color, enabling the buyer to pull pieces from various styles/groups and cross merchandise them.

    You mean DE’s don’t do this?

    Sort of related, from a consumer standpoint, and maybe something for you DE’s to note: I really, really hate it when I find cute clothes that come in 4 different colors and all of them are either warm or cool tones. For example, yellow, brown, blue, and green – but they are all either “cool” or “warm” colors. (Now I know this probably sounds like that “Color Me Beautiful” seasons thing – but I hope you know what I mean, generally.) It’s particularly frustrating to not be able to wear *any* color from the line if you don’t match the designer’s personal color vision.

  5. Connie says:

    As a consumer, I wholeheartedly agree. I don’t like to be too matchy, matchy but I do like to look somewhat co-ordinated. I’ve stopped buying a “separate” unless, I can buy something to go with it in the same store. From my experience, if I can’t find something in the same store to wear with the item, the likelihood of finding it somewhere else is also about nil.

  6. Paize says:

    Very timely article for me. I was just walking the stores yesterday thinking to myself repeatedly “who do I hang with?” I couldn’t come up with an answer. Maybe the answer is that I don’t hang in Bloomingdales, which is where I was.

    Anyway, thanks for the insight. I appreciate it.

  7. Lisa Bloodgood says:

    The whole color thing is frustrating to me, too. I look good in warm colors and moderately ok in black and white. I do not look good in gray, blue, or pink. Most clothes, especially summer ones (that I can afford, at least), seem to come only in black, white, pink, and blue. Actually they’ve been a bit better with adding red or tan or something. I know that a lot of warm colors don’t sell as well to us white women, but almost everyone who isn’t white can wear them. If DE’s or any size companies want to make more money, they oughtta have more colors!!! :-)

  8. J C Sprowls says:


    It’s not that mfg aren’t offering colors. It’s that the retail buyers are only buying certain colors. Actually, it’s a vicious cycle. The weavers offer fewer colors because the customers (i.e. the retail buyers) are buying fewer colors; and, mfg are caught in the middle.

    I would venture a guess it’s the DE and other small manufacturers who are ordering custom dye lots that are responsible for any amount of color, print or uniqueness in the marketplace, actually.

  9. Jasmin says:

    hmmm sounds like extending personas from user centred design (refer to http://www.provoke.co.nz or http://www.zefamedia.co.nz/) as a basis for fashion design. I love the concept – it works for web design, because you identify primary persona(s)and make sure your end product meets their needs in an intuitive and usable fashion.
    So it would make total sense to figure out defining characteristics and collate them into a representative persona. Then,every time you make a decision, you relate to a specific person(a), and whether or not they will find it useful/user friendly/attractive.

    eg – Emma is a 42 year old, menopausal 5’5″ slightly plump woman, who is a little uncomfortable with her stomach & thighs. She works fulltime in an administrative role, often moving office supplies, and performing reception duties. She values comfortable clothes that look professional that can be layered to help cope with her hot flushes. She budgets $200 a month for clothing, and expects to be able to use her clothes for at least two years, preferring quality to quantity. Colours are important, but not extremely bright as with an aging complexion, extremely bright colours are unflattering and make her look sallow. She walks at least 500 meters to and from work, and wears flat shoes most of the time.

    Boy oh boy doesn’t that just make you envision Emma, the clothes she’d like, and how they should be constructed?
    Wow you’ve just triggered off a whole lot of thinking, I’m going to talk to the (web) designers at work tomorrow :-)

  10. nadine says:

    Happy Bday Kathleen!

    This is a common dilemma for any designer. I make it mandatory for all my students to give a short paragraph with every project detailing who their target customer is and lifestyle, 3 stores where they envision their product will be sold, and what is the price point for their product. I started doing this when I noticed that they were never thinking in these terms. Actually they really love it as an exercise.

    For DE’s I find they don’t always have the training or the work experience in large companies to hone this skill. However, if you use a showroom or a rep, why don’t you ask their input when you are presenting your line. I find showrooms can often give input in editing a line when a small DE doesn’t have a big design department for that purpose.

    Whenever I’ve asked a DE that question of who is their target customer they always refer to what they want and state that their target customer is their self. That could be true but it could be a big mistake if it is covering up for lack of going outside and doing the research. A few designers I know who are successful always answer the target customer question with what the market niche they are going for. It is never about themselves. One of them recently started a handbag line and within 3 months she became a regular in several fashion magazines and her sales are growing and growing. But she also had experience in a large company before going on her own which I feel really gave her an advantage in knowing how to target her market. Knowing her target market really gave her an advantage on how to sell and speak about her product (talking points). She sounds informed and knowledgeable always.

    Just some thoughts.

  11. trish says:

    I have my students answer the same questions as radine. It is not easy, at first, to target your ideal and real customer. However, a little exercising and the flood gates open.

    My opening assignment for Fall 2007, Fashion Collection Design: Choose a photograph of an interior space (I will determine the market in this exercise, so I will use Architectural Digest tear sheets) and sketch three items that would be worn, by the same person, in this room.

    The student determines the garments’ classifications and details the purpose of the garment including the time of day it is being worn.

    Later we will price point these garments and discuss who (in the market arc) is wearing it and where they are shopping.

    These are just short exercises.

    The students design a comprehensive collection… and we always discuss color as it pertains to fashion, trend, socio-economic group, age, occasion and skin tone. We also work to cross merchandise our line within and without our own labels.

    Students learn that making yardage minimuns or gaining a discount are valuable reasons to use textiles across a line.

    NOTE: it is also valuable because 1) you have a greater chance of using the textile completely, and 2) if you have already purchased the textile, you are more likely to be able to cut it… if one style in the textile is rejected and does not check with the buyers, another style may be a hit, allowing the textile to be used. 3) there could be times when you can make a tighter marker if you have more than one style in a cut, thus you could increase your yield and improve your dollar margins.

    Welcome to Fall (in my brain… I start to teach the next class when the last one is over.. or some time before that, LOL!!!

    I don’t think enough can be said for getting into the stores. DEs who live in remote areas would be well served by “comparison shopping trips” to urban centers where your goods should be sold. You do not have to visit every city. Choose two or three keys cities (for your design niche) and do some serious shopping.

    When this is not possible (and even when you do get to travel and “shop”) use the internet to determine who is wearing garmentss that “hang” with yours. Do not overlook the value of catalogs. Each catalog is a well merchandised store waiting for you to understand it.

    I have my students read catalog descriptions so they can begin to understand “features and benefits”. Ahhh, there is always so much to learn. I love this industry because of this need for continual learning.

    One more thing: making collages and story boards is not a waste of time.

    Make a story board of your target customer, include everything you can think of that helps to shape the image of your customer.

    Start by grabbing the images that best visually describe your target customer. (Pull these images from magazines or printed from the web, from used picture books as varied as art to zoology–anything that can create the mood YOUR customer lives and feels.)

    Remember to add pictures of rooms in which the customer lives, activities in which the customer engages — pictures of the stores they shop, the restaurants they use, the vacuum cleaner and the dog… or better yet, the cat!! Show the hotel they use for business and the hotel they use for travel and leisure… do they have a pool? What does it look like… do they do charity work, where? If you find pics of people using a vacuum, and it looks like your customer, throw it on your collage/story board. Have fun.. add the purses and the plants and the window views from the home…the treasured old ring of great-granmother’s. Remember to add any written words that help… add a few newspaper articles/headlines that might apply to the customer’s lifestyle, (i.e. University of Pittsburgh graduate wins coveted international peace award.)

    If your customer works on Wall Street, or invests for a living, use the stock sheets of the newspaper for a background. If you customer travels, use atlas pages or maps as the background and then cover it with images.

    Build your customer in your mind’s eye and then dress them in their best light.

    Create a dream board — the place your customer hold her dreams… a bigger house, a baby, a college education for her daughter, the ability to pay the hospital bills… DE, know thy customer as you know yourself, LOL!!!!

  12. Shelley says:

    How’s this for hubris? Even though I thought I had a good handle on my market research, I sat down and did the exercise suggested above. When I reviewed my profile, I discovered I had described myself! After a good laugh, I have gone back to the drawing board to cast my net a little wider. Is this a common experience for new DEs?

  13. Kathleen says:

    Shelley, it’s not hubris (unless you carry it too far) and it’s not so unusual. Keep an open mind. You may be forced to a fork at some point in that people you hadn’t intended to appeal to are buying your stuff. Your choice will be to run with it and modify the vision of who your customer is or to scrap it all and start over. If you have demonstrable sales, the latter would be hubris, go with the former.

  14. Sherrie says:

    What a great idea from Trish!

    I am struggling in identifying my target customer.

    I want to design and manufacture office and leisure skirts for the 40+ market.
    Eventually adding tops and dresses.

    The exercise Trish outlined will provide me with a clear visual presentation of
    exactly who my customer is, what she looks like, what her daily activities are, etc.
    This will allow me to confidently design with laser focus.

    I especially like Trish’s suggestion of adding pictures of
    the different rooms where my targer customer lives and (works) and design an
    an outfit for the room! Such a great idea!

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