Collection Development in the Fashion Industry

Thomas Brownlees

Thomas Brownlees

CEO and Founder,
440 Industries

Introduction

The business competency required to manage a fashion company cannot be downplayed. Even if we may see  fashion media overexposing the creative elements of a brand rather than the managerial expertise of those who work ‘behind the curtains’, it only through the combination of management and creativity that a brand can deliver a collection successfully to the market.  

A fashion company is required to maintain an efficient synergy between its creative and business staff in order to achieve its maximum degree of innovation, while still maintaining a strong connection to its audience.

Merging the tangible and intangible, the creative and the analytic is one of the defining elements of managing a fashion business and this is why fashion companies need to attract a wide range of professionals taking care of tasks which span from the most creative to the most bureaucratic

As the creation of a fashion collection is the core activity of a fashion firm, we can find in this creative process a perfect synthesis of these two distinct souls.

In this post, we’re going to look into
collection development in more detail to find out how management and creative directors can work together to build a great fashion collection.

To help you navigate this article, we’ve broken it up in the following sections:

  1. Conflicting drivers of collection creation
  2. The stylistic identity
  3. Stages of the collection creation
  4. Trends provenience in the fashion industry
  5. Conclusions

1. Conflicting drivers of collection creation.

Despite taking a business angle on the topic, there is no doubt that at its heart the fashion industry is a creative industry. As such, the foundation of any fashion company is the design of its collections.  This is the most core operation for the company and it requires firms to rationalise a series of processes which merge the two souls of the firm, the managerial and the creative. Producing a fashion collection is about rationalising the irrational: it’s very hard if not impossible. 

More in detail, however,  there are two typologies of drivers informing the process of collection design in a company:

  • Creative drivers.  Determined by seasonal changes and new fashion trends inspiring designers.
  • Business goals.  Determined by company management, focus on achieving specific profit goals.

Because of the highly conflicting nature of these two sets of drivers, fashion firms need to structure a clear and time-bound process to collection creation,  taking into account the need to maintain production efficiency, but still connected to the ‘here and now’ of fashion trends.

In this sense, by looking at the fashion pyramid we can understand how – according to each fashion business model – firms will be choosing a different type of compromise between creative innovation and production output. As companies move towards ‘slower‘ fashion segments, they are able to focus on quality, those who instead approach fast fashion consumers are forced to frame each design decision within the boundaries of the supply chain management.

2. The stylistic identity.

A guideline to address this challenging task is provided by a firm’s stylistic identity.  A clear stylistic identity allows a fashion firm to follow the inspiration provided by fashion trends while maintaining the firm’s DNA. In this sense, a stylistic identity provides clear guidelines for the evolution of the brand. Each fashion firm is required to deliver a consistent vision, whereby new collections will provide a sense of freshness and modernity while maintaining elements and styles which will keep the brand familiar and consistent.

Defining a stylistic identity is a challenge for most fashion companies, who try to strike a balance between adapting to the new trends in fashion while maintaining a few distinctive features that can set a brand aside from its competition. 

In this sense, the pursuit of a clear stylistic identity allows firms to develop a faster collection turnover, by adapting its DNA to new and faster trends, without the need to completely redesign collections from top to bottom every 6 months.

3. Stages of collection creation.

There are mainly three stages in the process of collection creation:

  • Defining the collection guidelines. This is done by looking at the sales reports of the previous collections. By reaching out to a wide network of trade customers, and owned retail stores it is possible to identify the trends that should orient the quantitative business decisions that relate to pricing and SKU (Stock Keeping Units).

  • Executing the collection. This is the stage where management coordinates the designer’s work to make sure that production is delivered and optimised for distribution. In this phase, a firm wants to coordinate production so that product shelf life is optimised while making sure that product renewal is accurately planned.

  • Presenting the collection. In this stage, the collection is presented to buyers. Firms usually allow for a variety of collection options to facilitate the satisfaction of the demands of retailers and wholesalers. Once that orders have been collected, the fully-fledged production can be initiated.

Over the course of the year, a brand will develop 2 main collections: Spring-Summer and Fall-Winter, but may also add additional collections, depending on the company’s value chain and time to market.

4. Trends provenience in the fashion industry

A key element in managing the collection creation process relies on identifying and developing trends. Trends in the fashion industry can come from a variety of places which include:

  • Socio-cultural trends. As we’ve discussed in other posts, trickle-up is the way in which higher-end luxury brands are inspired by social movements, making fashion, as much as other types of communication, nothing less than a form of art.

  • Technology and material innovation. As in many other areas of creativity, technological advancements are a source of great inspiration for designers, by both amplifying what is possible, and by suggesting new, innovative techniques to create garments.

  • Textile pipeline. The production pipeline is a factor of strong influence over the design trends, only by looking at the raw materials available, companies are able to make a prediction regarding the availability and price of the prime materials to create a collection.

  • Designer’s personal research. As we have mentioned the artistic vision of the designer is an element of great influence. A designer’s perspective on society as much as his\her life journey is an essential component of inspiration. 

To some extent the areas of influence are countless. Fast fashion companies are an example of organisations which started their massive growth by approaching fashion trends following a trickle-down approach, whereby many of their designs were inspired by haute-couture fashion collections. Over time, however, new trends influenced fashion firms, following a trickle-up approach (like for instance the Punk movement) or trickle across phenomena, where certain fashion choices adopted by one designer, were adopted by his\her competitors within the same price segment.

5. Conclusions

As discussed in this article, fashion companies need to comply with a double standard: on the one hand, they are required to develop collections which exploit the windows of the opportunity offered by contemporary trends, creating collections which are able to serve a customer who demands a continuous renewal of product offerings. On the other hand, however, they are demanded to operate within very strict managerial and operational boundaries in order to meet the deadlines required by manufacturers and distributors.

In order to find this perfect balance, firms need to be managed with a scientific approach, balancing the needs of the creative designers with the responsibilities of results-oriented management.  Only through a truly synergic approach, it is possible to maintain a competitive edge, enabling firms to anticipate demand, and acquire market share.

Sources and Further Research

Web Sources

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Collection Development in the Fashion Industry Collection development in the fashion industry is a process which allows to create a synergy between the creative and managerial souls of the company.
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Thomas Brownlees

Thomas Brownlees

I am an Anglo-Italian business lecturer and consultant based in Florence, Italy. In 2017 I started 440 Industries, an education and training company focused on fashion, music, and technology. Our mission is to help students, entrepreneurs and managers in overcoming the challenges of starting, developing and scaling their business in the creative industries. When there's a will, there's a way!

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