Sometimes you have a great idea for a new design, but when you see the sample, the excitement wears off. The design doesn’t look nearly as good in real life as it did in your head or sketch. You’re not sure what’s wrong, but something with the design just isn’t working. There can be many reasons why a design isn’t working. Here are the five I see most often.
Wrong fabric for the design
Fabric has a huge effect on the design and how it comes to life. The fabric properties, color, and texture give shape to the garment and determine how it looks, moves, and feels. The wrong fabric choice can take away from your design instead of enhancing it. Often with the wrong fabric, the fabric properties are working against the look you are trying to achieve with your design. Maybe the design lends itself to something structured, but the fabric has a flowy drape. Maybe the design needs stretch and compression to be its best, but the fabric doesn’t return to shape after being stretched.
A mismatch between design and fabric can create sewing issues too. The construction needs to be appropriate for the fabric and the look of the design, but when those don’t line up, the sewing quality and finishing look sloppy. Sometimes the wrong fabric just looks dull, confused, or unflattering in the design.
Neither the fabric nor the design in this case are bad; they just aren’t a good fit in combination. Trying your design in a different type of fabric can give it a whole new look that really works for your vision. Before deciding on a fabric, identify what qualities your design needs to be its best so you know what you are looking for in a fabric. If you’re not sure, referencing other garments that have a similar look to your design can clue you in on what fabrics would really make the design work.
Design fights physics or gravity
Sometimes the design isn’t working because it isn’t functioning how it is supposed to. The visual look might be fine, but the garment isn’t performing as intended. This can be especially important for very technical and functional designs like athleticwear, intimates, and outerwear. Whenever the primary purpose of the garment is functional and not just visual, the design needs to consider the physical properties of the garment itself and the physical conditions of the wearer and the environment it will be worn in.
For example, a sports bra design wouldn’t work well if it didn’t support your breasts while exercising. In order for the design to work, it would need to have enough compression in the fabric, tension in the underband, and correct strap placement to hold the bra secure and provide the support needed. The design may or may not be conducive to this functionality, or the materials or construction of the design might need to change to achieve it.
Conflicting focal points or too many ideas
It is easy to overdesign, but it is much harder to design something simple. Why is that? Simple requires focus, editing, thoughtfulness, and attention to detail. Overdesigning is like a rough draft version that needs to be polished and decluttered. If your design isn’t working, it may be that you need to create a focus for the design and edit your ideas.
As a patternmaker on the technical side of fashion, I often emphasize that fashion is a functional art. The truth is that it is still a visual art as well. Like any other visual medium, the balance of the piece and how the eye is directed over and through the details is part of the artistry. The design won’t achieve this if there are too many details competing for attention. Choose one area of the garment to be the focal point (maybe the neckline, waist, or sleeves for example) and make sure all the other details on the rest of the garment complement and point towards that focal point. Think about how the style lines, folds, and even negative spaces create balance and move your eye around the design. Use the principles of design to create a fashion design that works.
Proportions are off
Proportions tie into the visual look of the design we talked about above, but they also affect the fit of the garment. If you’ve ever seen an outfit on a friend or model and thought it looked great, but then tried it on and changed your mind, you know how proportions and fit can make or break a design. When the proportions and fit aren’t working, we tend to jump to thinking that the design just doesn’t work for us. In reality, the design would probably be great on you too if it was proportioned for your body.
If your design looks good on a hanger, but terrible on your fit model’s or customer’s body, it is time to fix the fit and proportions. Doing so will make the design work how it’s supposed to.
No clear goal or purpose for the design
If you as the designer don’t know how and where your customer will wear your design (or don’t know who you are even designing for), that confusion will show in the design. This is why it is important to do your research and know your customer before designing your collection. The more you know about your customer and what their life and values look like, the easier it will be to design clothing that is exactly what they are looking for. It should be clear from the design what the purpose of the garment is.
Plus, if your design has no goal or purpose, how will you even be able to know whether the design is working or not working? How will you measure the success of the design? All the possible reasons we’ve talked about so far assume that you know what the design is supposed to be and are trying to figure out why it isn’t there yet. For your design to feel right and really work for your vision and your customer, you need to know what “right” is.
There are many reasons why some designs don’t work as well as others or need more tweaking to get to where they need to be. It could be because the fabric isn’t right for the design, the physics of the design aren’t functioning as intended, there are too many ideas in one design, the proportions are off, or because the goal of the design is unclear. Before you scrap a design you thought you loved because it isn’t working, see if any of these reasons are what is holding it back from its full potential.