Figuring out what you need in order to start your fashion brand on the right foot can be confusing. There’s the business side, branding, your website, the sales and distribution, and of course the actual products. When it comes to the latter, I often get asked “should I make pattern blocks for each category before developing and launching my collection?” Blocks and slopers are what we all were taught to start with in fashion school and it seems like having a block for each product category lined up before launch is a great way to start off with consistency. However, I recommend a different approach that gets you testing your market quicker and is more efficient for future development.
First of all, let’s talk about what a block actually is. There is much confusion about the term and I hear it used interchangeably with ‘sloper’ and ‘fitting shell’ when, in reality, they are all completely different. A sloper is a pattern with no seam allowances. A fitting shell is a pattern that fits closely to the body and has no specific style or design features – essentially it is like making a second skin for your dress form. A block, though, is a successful style from your line that you base future design variations off of. By definition, you can’t really start off with blocks because you don’t yet have sales to tell you which designs are successful yet.
Most people who ask about starting with blocks are really asking if they should create fitting shells for dresses, pants, knits, etc. before launching or developing specific styles. Even so, I don’t recommend doing so. It is alot of work to draft fitting shells, test the fit, make changes, etc. when they aren’t actually useful in real-life development (unless you are actually re-covering your dress form). It just doesn’t make sense to start from a fitting shell, add wearing ease, add style details, and so on every time you want to create a blouse. Patternmakers will just start from a blouse pattern block. We wouldn’t use a fitting shell as a block and you probably aren’t wanting to sell fitting shells, so they aren’t really useful.
Another reason to skip the fitting shells is because as your brand grows and you get more customer feedback, things will change anyway. The more feedback, reviews, and sales data from real customers that you have, the more you’ll be able to hone in your brand’s fit and aesthetic for future styles. If you developed a bunch of fitting shells before you got much customer feedback, you’d have to change them all anytime you wanted to improve your fit. If you start with just the patterns for your core designs, you can more easily and quickly test, tweak, and improve your products.
So if you shouldn’t start with fitting shells, and you don’t have blocks for your brand yet, what do you do? I recommend starting with the pattern development for your core launch styles. If you’re launching with three tops, only develop and get patterns made for those three top designs. Base these designs off of your fit model’s measurements and your design intent. As you start getting sales, identify which styles rise to the top and are customer favorites. Those are your blocks for future styles of the same product category (e.g. tops) and similar fabric (e.g. no-stretch woven). When you are ready to branch out into other product types (e.g. pants, knit tops, dresses), then invest in the development of patterns for your designs in those styles.
Making fitting shells as you start your brand takes alot of effort with little reward. By starting with the patterns for your actual styles, you can get your designs to market quicker, get customer feedback, and more easily make tweaks that will eventually lead to your brand’s pattern blocks.