A Day In The Life: The Design And Development Process Of A Slow Fashion Brand

Having spent the last two months developing the new collection, I thought it would be a great time to bring you a day in the life of….

(Ok, confession, this is more like a month in the life of...)

Being a small business owner, sometimes you have to knuckle down and focus on just one thing. So when developing the collection this is exactly what I do. Other areas of the business can fall by the wayside a little. But I’m getting there with it. I have a bit of freelance support on marketing now, and Zara, the Marketing Assistant on the Kickstarter program is such a huge help and support! 

But now the collection is all in work at the factory, I can focus on everything that comes after that.

So when developing the collection, what is the process?!

Wide leg culotte trouser pattern being worked on in paper. Pattern cutting tools are visible, including set square, tape measure and pencil. Blue and green cotton reels lie on the table in the corner
All the pattern cutting at Saywood is done at the studio by founder Harriet

I start by sourcing the fabric. Fabric is such a big inspiration for me; it is so tactile, so colourful and I love to see what patterns I can find. I work with just a handful of mills, and as a small brand, I do not produce any new cloth, so I am searching for available stock and deadstock cloth. This is all part of the fun, the challenge to see what you can source that will make beautiful garments and work as a collection.

Alongside this, I will start researching. For me, research happens in different forms. I love to spend a day at the library, going through collections of vintage magazines and artists books. I’m also a big collector of books and magazines, so sometimes I sift through the shelves at home. Being out and about can play a big part too; people I see, people I meet, conversations I have, snippets of details that catch my eye. Sometimes the research can happen without me even realising, an on going back catalogue of memories that occasionally surface subconsciously.

And with the collections being small to start with, I’m inspired by what I create, and am constantly building on these ideas. (I already have a whole bundle of styles that are mid progress to be developed and further worked on for future collections!)

As I start to collect the fabrics and any research, I work on the sketches and design ideas. Sometimes I know exactly what I want to design, other times, I sketch a few ideas and develop through them.

Then the fabrics and sketches come together. When I’m sketching, I usually have a plan for the cloth, so I’m effectively sketching for that fabric. But occasionally, a cloth will work in multiple styles, so strict editing takes place. Then it all gets coloured up, on Photoshop, to check the plan works, see the balance, and get a visual understanding of the range. 

Saywood founder, Harriet, reviewing the fabrics and collection on a board in the London studio. Various fabric can be seen, with vintage magazines on a shelf in the background.

Saywood founder and designer, Harriet, working on the collection

After this (or sometimes during the first few steps), the patterns get underway. I cut all the patterns myself, so there’s a lot to develop. Fit is really important to me, and it’s key to Saywood as a brand, so I take my time until I get it right. I have blocks (shapes I have prepared) to work from for some pieces, but other times I am starting completely from scratch, drafting out on paper - from blank, to one line, then perpendicular lines, to the whole base shape.

Throughout the pattern process, there’s lots of sewing too. I make the toiles out of calico or plain cotton, to fit, and check the pattern and shaping. Sometimes styles may develop from the original sketch here, if it needs a tweak, a different sleeve shape, or I test out a new detail that springs to mind. 

Industrial sewing machine in the Saywood studio, for sewing toiles during the design and development process.

As I’m working through the range, I’ll get in touch with the factories; check if they have availability, book in and give them details about the collection. I work on the design packs; here is where I give the flat technical sketches of each style, and all the technical and finishing details so they know exactly what they’re making and how they’ll finish it.

Keeping in contact with the factories throughout the process is also a great way to make sure the patterns are finished correctly - whether they may need extra seam allowance for a special finish, or whether a detail can be finished in a simpler way.

As I confirm bookings with the factory, or even sometimes before this, I will place orders on the fabrics and trims I have selected. Sometimes I have to get in there quickly, if there’s very limited cloth available as it’s deadstock, or if I’ve found some vintage buttons - a few special editions to come in this collection!

Once the patterns are complete, the factories will start sampling; making the styles in the final fabrics (or a similar quality if there’s not much cloth from production available). This is always an exciting stage, getting to see the samples and how they will actually be finished. It can also be a nervy wait!

The finished patterns will also go off to the graders, which is where they are made into all the sizes for each style and printed onto card for the factory. Each pattern is measured, and in turn the measurements for the subsequent sizes are set out following special grade rules. At the factory, big lay plans, like a jigsaw puzzle of pattern pieces, are planned out to minimise waste. The production will be cut on big tables, with bandsaw-like cutting machines - the professional cutters will also wear metal gloves for safety. Any check patterns in the cloth, which will be matched up, are cut by hand. Matching the check is all part of the detail.

Once the samples have been checked over, any comments given, and approval made, the production gets underway.

As I’m writing, the production stage is not quite underway yet. I’ve just received half of the samples from one factory, and am awaiting further samples from the other. It’s exciting. I can’t wait to show you the new collection and new styles!

New shapes, trousers, and menswear is coming. So watch this space!

If you’d like to hear when the new collection lands, join our movement here.
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