Designing fashion takes a lot of timeline balancing. On one hand, you want to wait as long as possible to start designing so you can react quickly to the trends of the moment and make better predictions about what will sell well for the season. On the other hand, you want to give yourself enough time to actually get the designs developed and made so you don’t miss your delivery dates and end up with upset customers or canceled orders.
The best way to figure out when you should start designing for each season is to work backwards from your release dates. Write down dates of when you need to start shipping orders and any dates for photoshoots or wholesale markets. Those are your deadlines. Some of those dates are at the end of the timeline, and some are in the middle, so once you’ve backed up your timeline from the release date, you may have to move your design calendar forward a bit more to accommodate a middle deadline. As you are backing up the timeline, makes sure to allow adequate time for each of the following.
You’ll need to allow for shipping time. Unless your factory is drop shipping orders to your customers or sales reps, you will need to add in time to ship orders to your customers once the garments have arrived to you. Getting from the factory to you also takes time. How long it takes depends on where you are located in relation to your factory. If you are both in the continental US, it shouldn’t take more than a week to deliver. If you are in the States and your factory is overseas, it can take 6 weeks by boat, plus over land time to get through customs and from the coast to you. Air shipping will get the order to you faster, but it is much more costly.
If you are planning on doing any internal quality control of production before you ship to customers, make sure to add in a day or two after your production order arrives.
Production orders, on average, take around 6-8 weeks at your factory for the actual cutting and sewing, so back that time up on your calendar.
Don’t forget to give yourself time to order all the production fabrics, trims, labels, etc. and ship them to your factory. If you are having any fabrics custom-made, dyed, or printed, this can take 6-8 weeks as well.
If you are taking presales or are selling wholesale, you’ll need to create time for a sales window. This can vary greatly depending on your brand and your sales type, so you’ll have to decide how much time you’ll allow for taking orders before making the call on how large of a production order to place.
Before you can start selling, you’ll need to get size runs, photoshoot samples, or sales samples made. These are typically small quantities and take your factory around 2-4 weeks. Even before this, you need to allow 2-3 weeks for your factory to make you a costing sample and provide you with a per-unit price for production.
Development takes another big chunk of time that you have to consider for your design calendar. This timeline can vary a lot depending on your brand and team, but I recommend allowing 3 months to pattern and tweak the fit of your design and to put together the tech pack.
Once you’ve considered the time each of these steps takes and backed that up from your release date, you have the date that your design needs to be finished. Decide how much time you need for your design process and add that in, and you’ll have your start designing date. Keep in mind that you should be researching and sourcing fabric ideas before you start designing. These steps can be an ongoing process or you can add in additional time at the beginning of your design phase to do these.
So how far ahead of season should you be designing? At least 6 months to a year. Direct to consumer brands can design closer to season since they skip wholesale markets and sell straight to the consumer within the season. So, for example, in Spring of 2020, a direct to consumer brand should be finalizing designs for Fall of 2020 and starting to design for Spring of 2021. Wholesale brands have to work further ahead to have samples ready to show retail buyers who are buying ahead for the season following. Designing for a wholesale brand starts closer to 12-18 months ahead of season. So, if you’re a wholesale brand, you should start designing for Fall of 2021 in Spring of 2020.