I have a deep love for snow, growing up skiing as many days as I possibly could. Consequently, I’ve seen, bought and used a lot of outerwear. As a product designer, I’m very curious if anyone out there in our field has experience with outerwear design. I’ve loved the softgoods projects I’ve worked on (lots of bags and packs), and in my mind design is design. A graphic or fashion designer might go about it a little differently, but the end goals are the same. What are your thoughts? Was it an easy transition from product design? What surprised you about the process? I’d love to get to know that side of the industry.
Yes I have both experiences. I have done a lot of softgoods and some clothing items. I found clothing to be a little outside my comfort zone because it follows a different process from the other soft goods I did. Much more unpredictable what you would get back from a sampling perspective. You would make one change and 3 other things would change on the next sample. I did mostly technical clothing for cycling so those materials are very hard to sow because of the stretch. You can do it as mentioned because design is design but you might not be satisfied with the process. I found it to be frustrating.
That’s interesting you say that, singletrack. I’ve had very similar experiences during the development process on a couple of bag lines. I will say, though, that I like how hands on the proto/sampling process is compared with hard goods. It seems like a lot of time we spend ages in 3d, tweaking this and that, at the end of hard goods projects, but with soft goods one of my mentors always told me, “Just get it to first sample.” We would refine from there. Design is still an integral part of the development process, as opposed to attempting to get it perfect on the first try.
I transitioned from a traditional Industrial Design background (BFA of ID, designing hard goods). I found the most difficult part of the transition, was learning how to not see objects as solid forms. Basically, Industrial Designers generally design bags/packs that look like they’re injection molded or solid shapes, with a shell of fabric wrapped over top of them. You can achieve shaping via complex tailoring, but that has to be understood first. When working with other IDers on bag projects, they always ask how to “not make it look like fabric” or to have “zero fabric folding/crumpling”. So that was interesting. What I’m getting at is… you need to learn how to see an object in 3D, convert it into a flat 2D pattern and then take that 2D pattern and bring it back into 3D, in your brain (and it needs to be inside out too). Also, the manufacturing processes are completely different, using their own specialty machines/processes/factories/etc. You just have to learn it and experience it, then you’ll know it. But it is not like you’ll transition in one day.
Also- I completely agree with engelhjs, getting the first prototype is probably the 2nd most critical step in the product’s creation. First, a great design. Second, getting that prototype. Even if the prototype is 100% off, you’re still 99% closer than you were without it. You can get a new prototype made in a few days, then refine, refine, refine. I’ve worked on pack projects where we’ve gone through at least 30-40 different prototypes, just dialing in the perfect technique/construction/aesthetic/features/functions. Much more rapid than hard goods, at least if you know what you’re doing.
I have had similar experiences to Jeff in working with softgoods. I don’t have that much experience with it yet, but I have found the development process to be a bit more exciting. You have to act on the fly and make quick confident decisions as the products are being sampled.
While models and prototyping are incredibly valuable with any product, I find that with softgoods I want to move to 3d as fast as possible. This may change with experience, but I’m just now beginning to understand how the material behaves. I can get a pretty good idea of the volume and form of a hard product from a sketch, but I find it much more difficult with fabrics. When I’m experimenting with size and shape, it seems like half of the rough prototypes end up looking ridiculous on the first try.
When we were working on a wallet design this summer, we moved to prototyping almost immediately. We realized we were able to iterate and learn more quickly than with sketching. As the concept became more refined, we went back to sketching to work out alot of the details. It was almost the opposite of what I was accustomed to.
Jeff, Like you, I’d love to get into developing some outerwear. We are thinking about doing some later this year, but we’ll have to see how our strategy develops.
Singletrack, was is just the sampling process that frustrated you about developing clothing or was it more than that? Can you explain a little about how the process was different for clothing than other softgoods?
Yes I can explain a little more. I will give you a little more back ground on what I have done first. So I have done gloves, backpacks, shoes, athletic apparel and protective gear (knee pads, chest protection,etc). So for everything besides athletic gear was pretty straight forward. You make a techpack get your first samples which tend to be off as mentioned before but much closer then with apparel. From there you keep making revs till it is what you are looking for. As mentioned you will have to contend with the fact that it is a fabric so there is going to need to be some tailoring to get it right.
The reason I found the apparel process is different is it is far more inaccurate then the above mentioned. For everything else you can hold dimensions pretty well with in 3-4mm. With apparel you are talking the best sewers with the technical fabrics can hold about 8-10mm at best. This means you will end up with inconstancy that are noticeable. Especially once you put it on a fit model. Most companies use live people to get the fit dialed. This is great and is about the only way to get it to fit a person. But you would then make changes and due to the low tolerances a lot of other things would change. This would lead to a lot of revs. Most revs very unhelpful because they are not building on themselves. After about 5 revs that have nothing to do with the last one it gets a bit old. There are some difference in the techpack phase they use different kinds of measurements. But once someone shows you how to do this it is straight forward.
I really enjoy doing everything else on the list expect for apparel. I just found it does not fit me well. I really enjoy doing gloves and there is a lot of fit things with gloves but there fun to work on. I am really glad I got the chance to do some apparel I am better for it. I learn a lot from some very good people. That can only help me in the future. I also completely agree with the statement get to first sample as fast as possible. This rule applies to all soft goods. As mentioned for all of these things I did enjoy the hands on aspects.
I appreciate you taking the time to explain your experiences. It definitely gives me something to think about. I think I’d still like to give apparel a shot somewhere down the line, but it may be a short lived experiment.
silhouette I just wanted to say one last thing. That you should not be tentative about trying apparel. It is a great experience I just wanted to relay my thoughts on how it was for me. Everyone is going to take to things differently. As I said it was a great experience and has really helped me with other softgoods I have designed. There is no harm in trying new things and you will have fun/learn a lot. You learn more from failure then from success. At least I do.
Fascinating observation. I’ve noticed it in shoes too - when you learn to make shoes, you understand that leather and other materials move and stretch in different ways, you cannot place pattern pieces anywhere on a hide and expect to get a great shoe - you have to learn the anatomy of a hide - it has thick bits and thin bits, stretchy bits and non stretchy bits. Depending on the animal, it may stretch a lot or a little or stretch a lot one way and not the other. It’s an emotional process, especially pattern cutting, taking this into account.
Then there’s the fitting aspect. It’s not quite the same fitting a person into a car seat as it is fitting a person into a garment is it?
As for folding and pleating - I find the conceptual works of the Japanese designers Issey Miyake and then if we go into knitwear, designers such as Mark Fast, fascinating - once you add fabric, it’s a whole extra dimension to play with. I did admire a woman on my degree course who managed to make her final shoe collection by handknitting it. Incredibly difficult, especially as she still managed to achieve a contemporary look with it. Playing with a piece of fabric - figuring out a woven upper for a sandal, you have to actually ‘make it,’ it’s not enough to sketch it - sometimes you begin by crafting something, not rendering it. It’s a different process
Of course we’ve now got the Nike flyknit. I can totally understand why brands such as Nike work with fashion industry trained designers as well as industrial designers - combined skills of both equals amazing product.
My neighbour has a luxury lingerie brand.
As well as dressing A list celebs, she sells all the prototypes that didn’t make it into her range to Victorias Secret.
She doesn’t sketch anything. Goes straight to prototype, doesn’t understand the point of sketching, to her there’s no point, it’s an extra step, until she’s made a sample, she has no idea if it is going to work out. And lingerie is all about good fitting.