Before the patternmaking process begins, I source a variety of material options to experiment with. There are several vendors that we order our mainstay fabrics from, but I’m always researching and looking for new and innovative materials. I often develop custom materials or colors to meet our exact specifications.
I use all natural fibers with no synthetic coatings, and I aim to source organic, low-impact, Climate Beneficial, and/or recycled materials when I can. I look for certifications like Oeko-Tex, GOTS, or BlueSign.
I order sample yardage of all the materials I’m considering for a new style, and sometimes it’s immediately clear if a fabric is the right fit or not. Final contenders get wash tested and wear tested so I can see what works best with the pattern in question. Once a material is selected, I order production yardage which often takes several months to arrive, longer if it’s a custom developed fabric or color.
With several fabric options selected, I begin the pattern making process. My design process usually starts with one specific element—I will have a certain sleeve in mind, or neckline, or I may see a garment in a particular color. I sketch out a ton of different interpretations of the idea, then I narrow it down to a few strong options, making sure I have a clear concept of what the 3-D structure of the garment will look like.
I always draft my patterns flat, as I’m not as skilled at draping. Often I’ll start with an existing style to use as a block, and I always draft the first pattern for a new style in my own size so I can fit on myself as I’m working. I draft patterns both digitally and by hand—if it’s a more complex style, I‘ll draft by hand because it’s easier for me spatially. If I am still trying to decide on a final fabric, I’ll try the pattern in each of them and do some fit and wear testing. The pattern and material both speak to each other to inform the finalized style. Finishing techniques and construction methods are finalized at this stage, but they do sometimes change later in the process.
Rough costing estimates are part of the design process as well—I need to determine if a style is practical to produce based on the amount of fabric it takes, the material cost, and the labor it requires. I get an idea of what the retail price will be, and decide if feels appropriate and if the style can move forward, needs to be re-worked, or scrapped altogether. It can take anywhere from a few days to a month or so to get my base pattern polished enough to move onto grading and fitting.
GRADING & FITTING
Grading is the process of taking a base pattern (a pattern in a single size, often the first pattern that’s created for a given style, usually in the middle size) and creating other size options of that same pattern.
All of our styles are graded into our full size range, meaning everything we sell is available in all sizes. I decided early on that I would not segment the product line—if I’m going to sell a product, it needs to be available in all sizes. This is a challenge because getting a garment to have the same intended fit across all sizes requires that the patterns themselves actually change quite a bit. It’s not as intuitive as it might seem; simply scaling a pattern up or down does not result in the same “look” across sizes. To achieve a consistent fit, all garments have two separate digital pattern files, with XXS-L in one file and XL-4XL in another. Each of those files have their own “base sizes” (Small and 2XL respectively) and grade rules in order to achieve a visually consistent fit on bodies across various sizes. Each style is fit tested extensively, a single garment may go through 4-7 fittings before finalizing a pattern. I fit a style on both base sizes (our Small and 2XL) and continue making adjustments until they’re both right. Then I grade those base patterns up and down into the full size range. After grading, it’s time to fit test the end of range sizes—XXS, L, XL and 4XL—to ensure that the grading was successful and that I maintained fit integrity across the board. I typically do *another* round of fit testing at the very end with new fit models so I get to see everything again on different bodies and can identify if I need to change anything.
I do all of our grading digitally. If the initial base pattern for a style was made by hand, I have it digitized before beginning grading and fitting. Sometimes, a style doesn’t make it past this stage. If I’m unable to create a garment that works for all the sizes we offer, I don’t release it.
Once grading and fitting is complete, I create production patterns for all of the fabrics and colors the style will be offered in. Production patterns have to account for the fabric’s shrinkage, since I cut each garment from unwashed fabric and then wash the garment after sewing to pre-shrink it before it ships to you. I find this incredibly important—I design with the look of washed material in mind and want the garment to arrive in its final state. It also prevents unexpected shrinkage from occurring that could alter the fit, and makes the garment machine washable.
I determine exactly how much each fabric and colorway will shrink in length and width when washed. The fabric is tested several times (each color individually, since different colors of the same fabric can shrink different amounts), and once I’ve determined a consistent shrinkage rate, I apply that to the digital pattern. This set of shrinkage patterns is what I use to cut from until a new shipment of fabric arrives, which will be tested and have its own corresponding shrinkage patterns made.
PHOTOGRAPHY & PRODUCT RELEASE
When I am confident a style is ready to be released, it’s time to photograph it. Zachary Gray shoots all of our product and editorial imagery, and I am so grateful for our creative collaboration over the years. Zachary has been photographing my work since 2014, and his eye brings it to life. Together we approach product imagery as so much more than simply showing you the front, back, and side of a garment. The images on our website are the only way to engage with our product before purchasing, so I try to communicate as much as I can through them. I want to capture the weight and movement of the fabric, how a garment might make you feel, the lyric and poetry of the silhouette.
Over the years we have perfected our lighting strategy so that colors and textures are accurate, we've honed our shot list planning to ensure that we show a balanced mix of style and color pairings, and we've dialed in our shoot preparation and coordination so that the day is smooth and fun for everyone on set (which absolutely shows up in the energy of the photos). It has also taken years to connect and develop relationships with all of the models we’ve photographed, and we treasure those relationships and treat them as long-term. While I am always open to new faces, having a consistent and diverse group of models to work with regularly allows customers to get to know their style and body type, and it allows our models to get to know me better and connect more deeply with my work, which ultimately results in more authentic, dynamic imagery.
After a new style or collection is photographed, I create product listings on the website. This includes writing detailed product descriptions, care instructions, and compiling garment measurements. I take care of any backend work like generating SKUs, finalizing costing and pricing details, creating tech packs and documenting the garments' construction process, and updating our spreadsheets and logs.
Marketing around product releases is very simple, and I just communicate through our mailing list. A simple announcement is typically all I do.
SUPPORT & FEEDBACK
In between it all, we provide support and assistance for folks who need help making a purchase or existing customers that need to make a return or resolve an issue. I’m constantly looking for ways to incorporate feedback so I can improve my products. The first-hand experience customers have with my work directly informs my future design decisions, so it's a real circle of life process.