While visual communication is part of the job of fashion designers and any fashion school program includes drawing courses, not every fashion designer is good at drawing. Plus, not every fashion designer went to fashion school. So, if you can’t draw, how do you communicate your fashion design ideas to your team, patternmaker, or factory? Luckily, there are other ways to describe your vision visually that don’t require art skills.
Collect reference images
If you can’t draw the details of your own design, find other photos that show those details. You most likely won’t find a single image that shows exactly what you want to make (and if you did, please don’t just knock it off), but you can find images that show a single detail you want to include in your design. For example, find one image with the neckline of your design, one for the sleeve detail, one that has the overall silhouette you want, etc. Collect and organize these reference images in a folder, notebook, or Pinterest board and make notes about what you like in each image. Then, thinking about the proportions and each side of the garment, decide how you want each individual detail to be combined into your design.
This collection of reference images will help your patternmaker, factory, or team understand your vision and the outcome you are wanting for your design. The images can also provide clues to your patternmaker about how those details can be constructed as well.
Gather example garments
This method works similarly to collecting reference images, but instead of photos or magazine tears, it references physical garments. You can use these actual garments to show specific details – same as with the images – but you can also use garment samples to communicate what fabric or color you want.
Your patternmaker or factory will be able to look inside at the construction of the garment as well in a real garment sample. If your sample can be taken apart, you can cut swatches of the fabric that you like and send this to fabric mills as an example of the type of material or color you are looking for for your design.
Use AI to generate an image of your design
A new, digital way to communicate your design ideas is with AI. With a detailed text prompt, AI can generate images of what you’ve described and do the art for you. You can then choose the best option and have AI tweak it further until it matches your vision. Midjourney and OpenAI seem to be the most popular software at the moment, but there are others, too, that work in a similar way. This type of AI technology is fairly new to the general public, but it is already changing the way that designers – including fashion designers – create.
These AI tools are powerful, but they still have their limitations. There are some details that AI still struggles to get realistically correct. It has been known to generate some weird-looking hands and mess up belt buckles and pleats. You can generate an image that is very close visually to your design, but don’t rely on the AI image alone. You might need to supplement the fuzzy details of the image with reference images of real garments or text descriptions.
AI is imaginative and extremely powerful for creating a visual for something that doesn’t exist yet elsewhere, but it doesn’t have the design knowledge that you have about the functionality and purpose of the garment. It also doesn’t have the technical knowledge of a tech designer or patternmaker to know what is possible or at least financially feasible to produce as a real product. Reference images or garments, in contrast, are items that you know have been made in real life. You can let your and AI’s imagination run wild while designing, but you’ll probably have to double check or refine the outcome a bit in order to actually manufacture it.
Add text callouts
The best way to communicate your fashion design ideas without drawing is to use a mix of visuals and text descriptions. When you’ve found a photo, garment, or AI image that shows a detail that you like, call that detail out with a text or sticky note and write what you like about it. This highlights the important details and further communicates why you like it and what makes it special to the design.
For printed reference photos and images, you can create a collage of details in a sketchbook with notes off to the side. For digital images, these reference photos are often included in a design spec document that calls out the key features, fabrics, and design details. For physical garment samples, you can pin a sticky note with your comments to the area of the garment you want to reference.
Think through the functionality
Even if you can’t draw, imagine how the front, side, and back of your design will look and what detail you want where. Then you can walk others through your design showing your reference images, samples, and notes as you describe each side of the garment.
Sometimes the functionality shows visually on the garment or reference photos, but sometimes it is not so apparent. For example, if there are pockets hidden in the side seam, they are usually hard to see in a photo, but they are a key detail to the functionality that needs to be called out. If you want the garment lined, make a note of this too. If there is a particular way you want the design to fit or feel, this can also be communicated with a written note or physical garment example.
Whether your drawing skills are non-existent or confined to stick figures, you can still design clothing and communicate your vision to others. Between reference photos, garments, new AI tools, and written notes, you can efficiently and accurately convey your design to your team, patternmaker, or factory – no drawing necessary.