August 10, 2022

How fashion brands source patterns and prints, and what designers can do to stand out

Theren Moodley
Theren Moodley

Over the past few seasons, fashion has witnessed a steady but sizeable shift back towards big patterns, prints and statement pieces, driven by consumer fashion trends and pop-culture harking back to the 90s and 00s, led largely by Gen-Z ย ๐Ÿ–ผ

Itโ€™s well known that fashion is cyclical, and non more so than in this case.

At the heart of this gradual fashion trend, which is slowly translating minimalism into eclectic exaggeration, are clean, crisp silhouettes that are taken from drab to glam using a plethora of vibrant prints.

The vendor manufacturing segment of the industry is also playing its part in driving demand, with an in-depth knowledge of on-going trends and methods to achieve those trends, they are proactively suggesting prints to buyers, rather than awaiting directions ๐Ÿงต

But where do these prints and patterns come from? And how do clothing brands source them? Many different aspects go into creating the prints found on our favourite styles, which Iโ€™ll shed some light on below.

Animal prints on our fashion mooboard
A section of animal prints on our fashion moodboard

๐Ÿคจ How do fashion brands source prints?

Many brands choose to work with a studio to develop new prints or patterns for a collection

For the most part, fashion brands tend to work with print studios and freelance surface pattern makers to design and procure new prints for a collection. These print studios and designers can either be in-house or outsourced, with the larger brands container whole in-house pattern making teams to create prints for their collections and assortments ๐Ÿ‘š

A third option, which is becoming more common in the industry these days, is to combine both in-house and outsourced parts.

This arrangement allows brandโ€™s to maintain control over all aspects of their production process, ensuring cost, lead-time and end fabric quality is at a maximum, while still taking advantage of one off artworks and pieces created by freelancers and studios.

With the rise of the creator economy, internet virality and the chance for artists to get their work in-front of the biggest brands, this third option is a trend that is set to increase into the future and give individual designers their greatest chance of visibility and success ๐Ÿ‘ฉ๐ŸŽจ

Navy blue patterns and prints on this moodboard
Navy blue patterns and prints

Designers create patterns and prints from scratch or from existing artwork.

Print designers may be asked to use an existing logo or piece of artwork and create a pattern or print from it, or alternatively, may be given the task of creating new artwork for a client's brand or product line. This can be done by combining elements of existing logos and designs or by creating completely original images that reflect the needs of the client.

Then there is also the chance to work with other designers who specialize in different kinds of imagery, for example, graphic designers who specialize in fonts or illustrators who specialize in caricatures and cartoons etc.

With the industry trending towards specialization and collaboration, there has never been a greater opportunity for freelancers and individual designers collaborate, and feature their work to brands from around the world ๐ŸŒ

๐ŸงWhere do fashion brands look for patterns and prints?

Word of mouth

The fashion industry is a community that is still very much driven by word of mouth and referrals, and itโ€™s this method that still holds sway for the majority of pattern sourcing for fashion brands ๐ŸŽ™

In-house teams tend to have friends and contacts that specialize is certain prints or patterns, and reach out to them for particular projects that suit their talents and expertise.

Whatโ€™s therefore important for freelance and outsource designers, is building up a professional network that can lead to increased work and a growing reputation within the community.

Sourcing marketplaces

A relatively recent but welcome addition, there are now a number of pattern sourcing marketplaces brands and consumers browse to buy and licence prints and patterns, direct from freelancers. Some of these include, Surface pattern marketplace and Patternbank, among others ๐Ÿ›’

These marketplaces are a great new addition to the industry as they allow designers a simple and easy method to get their designs in front of the largest number of potential buyers as possible, without the need of spending years building up professional networks.

A word of caution however. Being essentially a middle man, with a cost-plus business model, marketplaces tend to buy finished patterns and prints at below end market value, compare to if a designer sold direct to a consumer. That being said, the visibility and chance of product purchase marketplaces give, means they should be still worth considering as a viable distribution method.

Online presence

The final, and some would say most important method, is through building an online presence via social media, websites and e-commerce sites.

Although time consuming at first, these methods give designers the opportunity to cut out the middle men and sell their work direct to brands and consumers ๐Ÿ›

Designers can also build up their own personal brand, story and influences for their prints and patterns through this method, building up brand recognition that fashion companies want and can relate to, while moving away the pattern or print simply being a commodity for consumption.

Feanne telling a story on IG with her moodboard
A great way to tell a story

๐Ÿค” What are fashion brands looking for?

Reimagined prints

Reimagining a print is all about taking an existing pattern and using it in a new way. This can mean using the same printed fabric, but in a different size or shape, in a different color, on another type of garment etc.

Stock house prints

Stock house prints are available as pre-designed patterns. For example, fabric might be sold in a variety of sizes and quantities for a specific pattern, so you can order exactly what you need (stock houses also offer wholesale pricing).

Stock houses may have an exclusive contract with one designer's work, so you'll find many different prints that look very similar. This makes it easier to match fabrics from multiple sources if necessary.

The selection of stock house prints is huge! You'll find everything from whimsical fantasy illustrations to realistic botanical scenes on fabrics and patterns alikeโ€”and there are usually plenty of color options per style too.

A collection of garden prints on the fashion moodboard
A collection of garden prints on the fashion moodboard

Direct-to-sales printing

Printing direct-to-sales is a great solution for brands that want to print small batches of products, or require more flexible quantities. When you print directly, you have complete control over the entire production process and can even use multiple printers (if you're printing a lot) in order to ensure quality control ๐Ÿ‘ฉโ€๐Ÿ’ผ

Direct-to-sales printing is also significantly faster than other methods, since there's no need for samples and revisions like there might be with some other methods. This means less time waiting around for the product.

Perhaps most importantly, direct-to-sales printing allows you to skip over wasteful practices like excess inventory or leftover materials, which makes it much easier on both people and the environment.

While prints and patterns can be the star of an item, it is important to consider fabric combinations.

While prints and patterns can be the star of an item, it is important to consider fabric combinations. A print needs to work with its surrounding fabrics in order to make a cohesive look. The best way to ensure this is by considering the fabrics' weight, drape, and hand. Each of these characteristics determine how your fabric will hang on your body and look when worn.

By knowing how different materials behave with each other, you can create easily wearable outfits that are also visually interesting. For example, think about mixing heavy-weight cottons with lightweight silks or wovens for fall into winter looks that will keep you warm but still allow for movement, because they don't stick to each other as much as pure wool fabrics do when layered together.

๐Ÿ˜Ž Stand out from the crowd

While the fragmentation and specialization of the industry, the rise of the creator economy and the growth of new tools all enhance a designers chance of success, a clear brand message and inspiration story is one of the most important factors in determining wether a designer will be successful today or not ๐Ÿšจ

Brands as well as consumers want to purchase products with a clear story that resonates with their core values, and this is also the case in prints and patterns.

What was the inspiration for the design? What story is it trying to tell? What journey is it taking us on?

The more successful pattern designers today have all mastered this art, and conveying these messages through their social media channels, artwork and inspiration moodboards.

Urban boho aesthetic moodboard
Urban boho aesthetic moodboard

Fashion is more emotive than it is functional, so those designers with a story to tell and the tools to help tell it, are going to be the ones brands and consumers continue to gravitate towards.

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