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 is often downplayed, as the fashion media tends to overexpose the creative elements of a brand rather than the managerial expertise of those who work ‘behind the curtains’.  

A fashion company is required to maintain an efficient synergy between its creative and business staff in order to express the maximum degree of innovation a brand can pursue, while still maintaining a strong connection to its market. One of the most unique elements of a fashion company relates to how in each fashion firm we are able to find 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 see how in the carrying out of this process, all of the different mindsets which are part of a fashion firm need to come together seamlessly. 

In this article we are going to address the following topics:

  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 or planning an inspiration: 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. 

As we will see in the next section, production decisions are based on the analysis of the quantitative report on the sales from the previous seasons. In this sense, the pursuit of a stylistic identity allows firms not to be a traditional ‘data-driven company‘ as the sales of a brand will also have to take into account the intangible component of the firm’s brand.

collection design

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.

collection design

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 previous instalments, 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, 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 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, where certain fashion choices adopted by a 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 typology of 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 deliver 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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