Who do you hang with? pt.3
A friend of mine, a colleague who consults with DEs on line development, called to vent about a client. This client -amazingly- hasn’t gone broke yet after having spent well over $200,000 in the past two years (she hasn’t turned a profit, ever). After an initial line assessment (sportswear separates), my colleague recommended that the designer buy my book but the designer said she already had it, loved it and considered it to be her “bible” (we’re wondering what she could have read, she’s not following any of the advice in it). My friend says that her client has the problem of failing to “merchandise” the line properly with respect to the reuse of fabrics across styles as we’ve recently been discussing, as well as some other problems. We’ve decided that some designers aren’t far enough along to worry about being able to hang with someone else. Rather, your line must be cohesive enough that you can hang with yourself first.
First a digression on how the term “merchandising” is being used these days. Until Miracle started using that term to describe the failure of mixing and matching prints and colors across styles, I didn’t realize or think that was a merchandising function. I’d always thought of that as part and parcel of the design process. As I said in my comment to Miracle’s first post:
Isn’t it funny how things that are advantageous in one area, are also advantageous in another? Consider fabric purchasing. If you’re repeating fabrics across styles, you’ll have a much easier time of making minimum fabric purchases. Plus, you’ll have fewer fabrics per bodies to test. Testing one will give you the parameters for any other affected style which can -in some cases- dramatically lower your product development costs. For the life of me, I will never understand why designers will use a different fabric for every single style. If you’re making ball gowns or cocktail dresses, I can see it altho you’d still want to repeat solid colors to give your line continuity.
In other words, you want to repeat fabric selections, repeating usage across styles to create a look and identity and also, to reduce frustration in making minimum buys. It all works out. I asked my friend why her client didn’t do this and she said that she doesn’t because the designer fancies herself an artist, each style is a “piece”, a work of art. ~Spare me~ this is sportswear. DE swimsuit designers in particular do this all of the time. If you can find a top that fits, the matching bottom only comes in one style configuration, say a thong. We need options! Optimally, there would be three selections of bottoms and three selections of tops in each color and print family so one could mix and match. This would amount to six separate patterns. If you used three separate color and print groupings per styles, you’d end up with 18 different pieces, offering consumers a total of nine different style options to choose from per group or a total selection range of 27 pieces. This would immensely improve your sales possibilities while keeping your costs lower. With only six patterns, you can get twenty seven different choices -why don’t DEs do this? It boggles the mind.
The same holds true in sportswear separates. If you’re cutting a top in one print, have at least two different bottom options in that print or color family, like a skirt or casual slacks to match, people may buy both. If you really wanted to get fancy, you’d mix solids and prints into the style grouping too. For example, I’d be inclined to buy a print top with solid colored slacks because I could wear the slacks with another outfit*. If you’re making unique styles of separates with different fabrications per, that don’t mix and match, your line just looks lost. It doesn’t look like it belongs together, it’s a line of orphans. Not only can you not hang with somebody else, you can’t even hang with yourself.
Returning to the topic of things my friend’s client does wrong is repetition of style bodies from season to season. She doesn’t repeat any styles. Each season, she’s creating entirely new patterns from scratch. This is ludicrous. Buyers cannot go to this designer and order a rerun of a given style from the previous year in a new fabrication. If that body sold well for them last year, they’ll want to buy it again. The designer does this because she considers herself an artist -and she may well be, a starving one too. Every season, the fit of her clothes is a crap shoot. Because she’s not repeating bodies, she will never know which patterns or styles are her signature pieces or blocks. I worked for a company that sold the same style year after year for over 40 years! Buyers expected it, it was a staple that consistently sold for them. Each year, the only thing that varied in that style was the colorways. When Eileen Fisher launched her line, she only had four pieces. Over twenty years later, she is still selling those same four pieces. I’m not arguing against artists but be real. If you’ve made something people like and they want to buy it over and over, that should be a bigger compliment to your artistic vision because you designed something so good it is relatively timeless, a classic. Her product development costs must be staggering. Like I say repeatedly in the book, reusing patterns from the previous season is a huge time and money saver. The kinks have been worked out with them, they’ve already been digitized and graded, the costing is done, you can often reuse existing markers, the contractor already knows how to sew them, the production quality is more predictable and stable -and buyers want to buy them. What’s not to like? Sure, you can be an “artist” but you have to be frightfully good with a long term track record to keep pace with anybody else. Your costs will always be higher and your profits lower than others you hang with. Besides, being an artist doesn’t work in separates. You need to be in a higher price point like bridge, making fancy outfits and dresses.
Failing to develop and maintain a consistent identity is also irritating to consumers who are collecting you. If I buy a pant from you this season and I really like it, I’ll look for it next season and probably buy more of them than I bought the first time because I didn’t know how well they were going to work out at the time. If I can’t buy that pant again and it was perfect for me, I am disappointed and won’t search you out anymore because in my mind, you’re not consistent or you’re not designing for me so I’ll find someone else. Failing to repeat pattern styles means you will always have to find new customers each season to replace the customers who dropped you. It always costs a lot more to find a new customer than it does to keep an old one. In this case, keeping an old customer also saves you a lot of money in product development. Again I ask, what’s not to like? I just cannot see how your self image as an artist gains by this. Nobody says you can’t introduce new styles each season but (as I explain in the book) drop the ones that don’t sell and keep the consistently good sellers, these become your signature pieces. If you’re always splashing around, wildly thrashing at the market, you’re unpredictable and people will hesitate to buy from you assuming you’ll be unpredictable in other ways too. Like failing to test your fabrics for shrinkage and performance.
*~dragging out the soap box, clumsily standing atop it, arms lowered, palms up and pleading~
Why doesn’t anyone put pockets in pants anymore? I hate this. Designers invariably say they can’t wear pockets but who are you designing for? Me or you? If you’re buying all of your own product, fine, but if you expect others to buy it, we need options. One doesn’t have to use the pockets. Believe me, I commiserate if you’re bottom heavy but another layer of fabric is not -realistically- the tipping point between looking slender or heavy although it can be a matter of how you’ve designed them. And please, make the pockets substantial. Please don’t apply tiny slit pockets into which you can barely fit three fingers halfway. The key pocket I attach to my running shoes is larger than most of those. In any event, it doesn’t make sense to incur the expense of a pocket if you’re not providing any of the functionality.