Jay Calderin is an instructor at the School of Fashion Design in Boston, Founder and Executive Director of Boston Fashion Week, and the author of several books including The Fashion Design Reference & Specification Book, Fashion Design Essentials, and co-author of Fashion Design, Referenced, from Rockport Publishers.
“Having worked closely with students, professionals, and enthusiasts I’ve realized that being able to see the big picture and your place in it is one of the most valuable skills a fashion designer can master.” He adds, “There are important touchstones related to thinking, making, and communicating fashion, that are at the heart of building sustainable careers with a competitive edge.”
Jay’s list is meant to challenge and empower Fashion Designers. Each item also serves as a reminder and an invitation to revisit, reinterpret, and reapply the concept to any design challenge, at every stage of your career.
1. KNOW YOUR INDUSTRY AND ITS HISTORY
If you haven’t explored the history of fashion and aren’t aware of the current state of the industry you’ll never truly understand your place in it.
2. BUILD A TEAM OF BETTERS
Once you’ve been honest about what your strengths and weaknesses are you can start to build a team. Surround yourself with people who are smarter and more skilled in the areas where you might not be as strong. This strategy also lends itself to establishing collaborations with industry peers or leaders in other fields.
3. BE BRAVE. EDIT.
It’s easy to become so enamored of our work that we can’t possibly imagine changing any part of it. If you can’t see when, where, and how something should be edited — or reimagined — bring in someone who can, and learn from them.
4. KNOW HOW TO MAKE STUFF
Please don’t call yourself a designer if you can’t back it up with some basic skills. Be able to render a basic drawing, whether it be in pencil, paint, or pixel. Be able to draft a pattern that breaks an idea down into parts, and engineer how these components will be fashioned into a three-dimensional object. Be able to sew (by hand and by machine) well enough to put together and finish a garment.
5. BE CURIOUS. EXPERIMENT.
Test the limits of your work by pushing the boundaries of what you and others might take for granted. This is especially true when it comes to what some may label as “your voice.” You don’t decide what your voice is. You discover your voice by being curious about anything and everything associated with all design challenges you take on. The questions you ask and every choice you make become a part of your voice. In the best of cases that voice will become complex, interesting, and evolve over time.
6. MAKE MISTAKES
Getting it right on the first try is not a sustainable model. It’s luck at best and lazy at worst when we avoid further attempts. Instead of the focus on getting it right, we should devote ourselves to figuring it out, and that might translate into many, many iterations. More often than not, this shift in our approach will remove the blinders, allowing us to see possibilities that might not have otherwise presented themselves.
7. IDENTIFY AND UNDERSTAND YOUR AUDIENCE
Once you know who they are, what they’re about, where they live, and where they work you’ll know how to better serve them. There is a wealth of information and inspiration to be found!
8. OPEN THE DOOR
Every point of engagement for your brand is a way in to your world. Provide your audience with the keys — the image, the message, the product, and the experience. They should all be designed to reflect your vision and resonate with someone’s lifestyle. Remember that your brand does not belong to you, it belongs to your customer.
Learn how to communicate your ideas through words and images to different audiences. Nobody cares until they have a reason to. The stories you tell about yourself and your work are essential to connecting with your peers, the press, and the public.
10. STOP FOLLOWING YOUR DREAMS!
It’s so passive. Don’t get me wrong, dreams are great. Dreams are sparks that ignite your passion, but once that fire has been lit, it’s time to get to work preparing, for where they will take you. Your muse, your customer, and success will find you (and keep coming back) if you’re doing the work because the work is worth doing.
For more on Fashion Design with Jay Calderin, be sure to check out his class Fashion Design: Start to Finish!