June 13, 2022

Step-by-step guide - how brands source patterns for design from 500+ interviews

Theren Moodley
Theren Moodley
A decade's worth of fashion experience across; product design, development, sourcing & logistics

Over the past few seasons, fashion has witnessed a steady but sizeable shift back towards patterns for design containing big prints, designs, and prints.

Largley driven by consumer fashion trends and pop-culture harking back to the 90s and 00s, led largely by Gen-Z  🖼

It’s well known that fashion is cyclical, and non more so than in this case.

In this blog look into these trends and how brands are sourcing these kinds of prints for their day to day designs.

First, a quick summary:

  • The process - Brands tend to work with studios and freelancers to licence high quality individual pieces
  • The role of vendors - latest vendors are driving a large share of the trends by having in house textile design teams creating and suggesting patterns to brands
  • The trending patterns - Word of mouth, an online presence and sourcing marketplaces all present an opportunity for designers to grow their presence
  • What brands look for in surface patterns - Individual styles, re-imagined prints and fabric considerations are all key elements brands look for while sourcing

Read on for more in-depth content on the topic

A print pattern template created by a Make the Dot community member
A print pattern template created by a Make the Dot community member

🤨 How do fashion brands source patterns for design?

Working with a pattern design studio to develop new prints patterns

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 👚

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

Full disclosure, they're our textile design community members. Which makes them even more amazing!

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 brand’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 👩

In our 500+ interviews with surface pattern designers, this method was becoming more and more common in the print pattern design industry.

Creating patterns for design from scratch or from existing artwork

When pattern designing, artists 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.

For more about the pattern designer process, as well as some insight from a pattern designer at Amanda Kelly we spoke to last year, check-out our blog on the feedback and insights from that interview 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.

With the industry trending towards specialization and collaboration, there has never been a greater opportunity for freelancers to collaborate, and feature their work to bigger brands.

🧐Where do brands look for patterns for design?

Word of mouth

The fashion industry is a community that is still very much driven by word of mouth and referrals, and  this still holds sway for the majority of pattern designing sourcing for brands 🎙

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.

What’s therefore important for freelance pattern designers, is building up a network that can lead to increased work and a 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.

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

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

For a list of our recommended surface pattern resources, checkout the resource hub.

Sourcing marketplaces

A relatively recent but welcome addition, there are now a number of pattern sourcing marketplaces brands use to browse to buy and licence prints for design and patterns, directly from freelancers.

Some of these include; Surface Pattern Marketplace and Patternbank, among others 🛒

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.

A word of caution however.

Being essentially a middle man marketplace, they tend to buy finished patterns and prints at below market value.

That being said, the visibility and chance of product purchase, 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 patterns for design direct 🛍

A community member of ours Feanne, who is a freelance surface pattern designer, gets 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.

Design is a story, and social media gives a designer the opportunity to tell it.

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 our community member Dana, from Peacock and Fig said about it in this blog .

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.

Last 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.

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.

🤔 What are brands looking for in pattern for design?

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 alike—and there are usually plenty of color options per style too.

Dead of the dead print pattern moodboard template
Dead of the dead print pattern moodboard template

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 in order to ensure quality control 👩💼

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. Making it much easier on both people and the environment.

While patterns for design are the star, consider fabric combinations

A print pattern 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.

😎 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 is one of the most important factors 🚨

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?

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.

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 patterns for design, check out our other blogs below:

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