In the Image Wear and Uniform industry, change drives sales. Whether hospitality or healthcare, your clients expect you to present a uniform program that is cutting edge with the latest colors and styles as well as the latest high performance wear and comfort features.
Every year and every season, apparel collections come to life across many markets and industries. Although the target audience and end use will vary drastically around the world, the genesis of all apparel lines always shares a common goal: they must find the ultimate combination that will attract the attention of the consumer by offering the best of style, price and value. By offering the best of these attributes, you only begin to attract your consumers’ attention. Other factors that come into play include service quality, customer loyalty, brand recognition, and quality of goods, just to name a few.
With all this in mind, designers, merchandisers and marketers go to work every season to come up with the best they can offer to attract you, the distributor, in hopes to not only gain your attention, but to keep it and entice you to come back to see what is coming up season after season. In this three-part series aptly named The Genesis of an Apparel Line, I will offer you my perspective and share some of my knowledge with you; after all, I’ve got to keep some of the magic and secrets to myself! In this series, we’ll break it down to three integral parts of the process: Creation, Building, and Launching of a Collection. In Part One, we’ll look at what’s behind the creation process, from concept to research to planning.
In the creation process, concept is where it all starts; no matter if you’re an internationally renowned company or a start-up, the concept defines the direction of your business. When building an apparel collection, suppliers often ask themselves what they can create that represents their company and defines the very reason their customers should come to them versus the competition. Think of every collection starting as a clean sheet of paper, then through research, analysis and planning, that page starts to fill up with new concepts. Things get erased and new ideas get added along the way, to finally become an apparel collection that you see shipped to the distributor.
This often is the very reason you think to approach one brand over another in the promotional apparel market. As the distributor, by understanding and asking the suppliers you work with, “what new concepts can you offer me this season?”, will allow you to take advantage of the strengths of your suppliers, and strengthens your awareness of what’s available and offer it to your customers.
RESEARCH and ANALYSIS:
To support the concept stage mentioned above, research and analysis must be compiled. Many different forms and aspects of research must be done to come up with a successful collection.
For this article, I’ll keep it to the fun stuff. Part of the research and analysis process includes staying up-to-date on current, as well as upcoming National and International trends. How, you ask? Attending shows to see the latest colors and trends, visiting factories to learn of the latest technologies and techniques, and of course, shopping for inspiration (be it a very focused mission to look for something specific or running into something unique while doing some personal shopping, the objective is the constant awareness of what’s happening in the world).
Beyond the fun stuff, the more critical aspect is to introduce these findings in a timely manner into the industry for which you’re designing. Knowing the customer and understanding how the garments will be used and worn is crucial in creating a successful collection. I always love to engage in conversation with the sales force and our customers. In my opinion, any feedback is good feedback, good or bad. Designing is a growing process; my goal is to continually improve the products offered by asking the right questions, offering comments, and becoming part of the research and analysis process.
Now comes the plan; information is nothing without a plan! After the analysis and research, storyboards, line plans and countless other documents take shape in support of the creation process. A plan is put into place to ensure any collection stays on track. This information becomes the blue print of the development process. In the automotive industry, for example, prototypes are done through rough sketches, CAD drawings, clay models and even hand-built one-of-a-kind vehicles. The apparel industry is no different. Sketches are drawn and redrawn. Fabrics are tested and cut. Finally, garments are fitted and altered until the concepts that started out as an idea, now starts to take physical form.
As with any industry, the depth and breadth of expertise varies, dependant on the company. The pride and attention to details of the final products delivered to the distributor and end-user cannot be imitated. This goes back to my earlier point of what represents the company; what is the reason that the customer chooses to do business with one company over another? Many pieces create this customer loyalty and experience, but it’s the underlying objective of a quality company that will make the difference. As the distributor, make sure you engage in conversation with your supplier to utilize the tools and expertise that’s offered.
Stay tuned for the second and third installments of The Genesis of an Apparel Line where we’ll take a look at the Building and Launching of a Collection.
Elson Yeung is the Product Line Manager for Ash City, now part of the alphabroder family, which provides customizable promotional apparel for corporate and casual markets.