The fashion industry is competitive and intense. People who succeed in this industry know how to hustle, meet deadlines, and problem solve like no other. One wrong detail, fabric shipment or decision can mean lost sales instantly. It is a constant battle against time. You must be tenacious, yet humble, and able to switch gears to plan B without missing a beat. You are creating and launching repeatedly, year after year, season after season.

I started in the fashion industry when I was 20. I had previous experience working in customer service and shipping. The company I had my first job in fashion with was a company that was comprised of 4 owners who were starting to see an upward climb in sales and needed to hire some office help. That upward climb started at around $250,000 in sales and reached close to $15 million in about 3 years. I was working very long hours, 7 days a week. There was no business plan. There was no strategy. There was no time, we were all about the hustle and getting things done. I learned what no business course could have taught me in a very short period of time.

The greatest amount of importance was put in quality. Quality in every single aspect of its product and its brand. From the fabrics, construction, embroidery, labels and hang tags to the bagging and shipping. No detail was overlooked. No detail could be overlooked, as our product sat next to Tommy Hilfiger, Polo, Nautica in the stores we sold to. We were competing with some of the biggest brands at the time, who had much larger budgets and production teams than we did. It was extremely stressful to ensure that you are communicating clearly to all your suppliers, in Canada and in China, what exactly it is that you want, because there is little time to correct mistakes.

We were selling to stores all across Canada, and internationally. We had opened a store in Toronto, and in Winnipeg, along with a very popular restaurant/night club. We were creating a line of clothing that stores could not keep in stock, and were placing repeat orders. There was little time in a day to keep up.

I wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything. I now have gained an experience and knowledge that I believe is not truly understood through courses and classrooms, but real life experience.  I was then able to use my management skills to work for retail stores, sporting goods wholesalers, manufacturers and suppliers, and also create my own businesses.

I would not call myself a designer, although I spent hundreds of hours doing what most people would classify as designing. For me, it is all about paying attention to trends, figuring out where the market is headed and creating a product that matches that prediction. Colours, fabrics, style, lifestyle, music, home decor, and social trends all need to come into play when you are creating a line of apparel.

Here are some common questions I am asked by aspiring fashion designers, that may also answer questions you have about starting your own clothing line.

Q: Do I need to be able to use software such as Illustrator?

A: It is important to be able to draw your designs in Illustrator. Not only will factories take you more seriously, but it is much easier and faster to make changes to the garment sketch digitally.

Q: Do I need to be able to hand draw?

A: I can hand draw fashion flats for any garment, from an actual garment or a photo. While I personally enjoy this part of the creative process and find it useful to convey my ideas, some may not be natural born sketchers.  Anyone can draw using Illustrator, so start there.

Q: What is a “tech pack” and how do I create one?

A: A tech pack is a blueprint for each style so the factory, or anyone who is working on the product has a clear understanding of how to make your product. It puts all the pieces about the product in one place. It includes flat sketches of the garment and details, information about measurements, construction techniques, what fabrics to use and their location, and what trims and labels to use. It also serves as a tracking system to record all modifications (including dates and notes) and so you can see that all changes are correctly done on future samples and production. You can outsource this, but it will come with a cost. You should DIY your tech packs as it isn’t that hard to learn. Doing it yourself will teach you so much about construction, and in the end understand the process better.

Shopology Project has a template you can use here, or use as a reference to create your own.