September 19, 2022

A step-by-step guide to how fashion brands source patterns for design, 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, designs, and prints, 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 patterns for design, and prints.

Rather than waiting for questions such as; what are the trending patterns of design? Which pattern is best for this season? The vendor manufacturing segment of the industry is also playing its part in driving demand, proactively suggesting patterns for design, and prints to buyers ๐Ÿงต

But, What are the patterns of design? Which pattern is best? 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.

For our other blogs on pattern designing, check-out our other blogs below:

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

๐Ÿคจ How do fashion brands source patterns and prints?

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

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

A couple of pattern designing studios and designers we recommend checking out are:

Another option, which is becoming more common in the industry these days, is to combine both in-house and outsourced for the design and production of patterns.

This arrangement allows brandโ€™s to maintain control over all aspects of their pattern designing, as well as the production process, ensuring cost, lead-time and fabric quality is at the expected level, whilst still taking advantage of one-off artworks and pieces created by freelancers and pattern designing 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 pattern designing 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.

When pattern designing, designers may be asked to use an existing logo or piece of artwork and create a pattern for design or print from it. Alternatively, they 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 patterns for design, or by creating completely original images that reflect the needs of the client.

Print designers in the fashion industry in particular also spend a lot of time watching the latest fashion shows, research what patterns for design are trending, and try design their own version of that.

For more about the pattern designer process, as well as some insight from a pattern designer at Amanda Kelly, check-out our blog here.

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 to collaborate, and feature their work to brands from around the world ๐ŸŒ

๐ŸงWhere do fashion brands look for patterns for design 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 designing and sourcing for fashion brands ๐ŸŽ™

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

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

Online communities are another great resource, as they giving designers access to number of learning resources, as well as exposure to the community as a whole.

Some fashion brands also shop in these pattern designing communities, when trying to find patterns for design for an upcoming project.

A great resource we'd recommend checking out is Surface Design News.

We'll be doing a more in-depth blog on the best resources for pattern designing in a later blog.

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 for design 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 surface pattern 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 for a designer's patterns for design.

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 patterns for design direct to brands and consumers ๐Ÿ›

A community member of ours, who is a freelance surface pattern designer, gained 80% of her business from this channel.

Pattern designers can also build up their own personal brand, showcase their pattern designing process and influences, and build up brand recognition that a fashion company can buy into.

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

A word of caution however, not all surface pattern designers recommend prioritising this channel. Have a read what Dana, from Peacock and Fig said about it here.

Trade Shows

Last, but by no means least trade shows such as Premiere Vision, Texworld and Pure London are a huge pattern designing acquisition channel, with specific areas set-out for pattern designers and their stalls.

This summer, we visited all these show's and met loads of designers who had stalls in almost every show in the calendar, given its success in selling their patterns for design and growing their business.

With stalls at PV as low as $3k, it may be worth the investment as a trial basis at least.

To read more about our insights from those shows, read our blog on our experience of the summer 2022 shows.

๐Ÿค” What are fashion brands looking for in pattern designing?

Reimagined prints

Reimagining a print is all about taking an existing design of patterns 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, for example.

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 for design, so you can order exactly what you need (stock houses also offer wholesale pricing).

Stock houses may have an exclusive contract with one pattern 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 for design 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 and pattern designing process, and can even use multiple printers (if you're printing a lot) in order to ensure quality control ๐Ÿ‘ฉ๐Ÿ’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 for design can be the star of an item, it is important to consider fabric combinations.

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

With the fragmentation and specialization of the industry, the rise of the creator economy and the growth of new tools that enhance a pattern designer's chance of success, a clear brand message ย is one of the most important factors in determining growth 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 for design.

What are the patterns of design? What was the inspiration for the design of patterns? What is the story you're trying to tell?

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.

For our other content on pattern designing, check out our other blogs below:

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