How to Create Your Final Collection NOTES Chapter 1: Fashion Markets

CHAPTER 1. Intro into the Fashion Design World

  • Whenever industry specialists are part of a jury they bring expertise to evaluate the viability of the collections in the real world; their main concern is always the suitability of your collection for its chosen market both commercially and technically
  • Overall you should demonstrate very clearly your ownership of the garments and designs presented, and explain the journey you have traveled. Historical and recent trends can be rich and effective sources of inspiration, but simply copying such designs is not acceptable.
  • The originality of your design should be demonstrated by research and development work, presenting a clear evolution from inspiration to finished garment.
It seems that the book is very geared towards how to produce the final collection for a fashion school curriculum. However, the key takeaways and interesting points to extract for me would be learning about the finer academic process of designing a collection (the research, creation and presentation). This book, thus seems to be like a very thorough primer into a final year course at a fashion design school, much like how the CFA I coursebook prepared non-finance students on their career in finance / banking.

2. The Different Markets for Womenswear
a) Target Client

  • Your design should target a particular woman, one who represents a section of the market. In order to do this successfully you need to develop an in-depth understanding of this woman.
  • The information you collect could include socioeconomic factors such as cultural heritage, lifestyle, demographics, attitude to fashion, and affluence.
  • It is common to build a visual representation of this woman, with images gathered to form a CLIENT BOARD and written narration –> could be a source of inspiration
  • Often designers, like retailers, carry out a COMP-SHOP—a market study in which information is gathered about the style, quality, and price of successful ranges designed by their competitors
    • Sounds very similar to what we do for companies in the finance and business world

b) 5 Fashion Markets in Womenswear

  • Each has a different style, standard of quality, and price range.
  • Fashion labels must achieve two apparently opposing goals. They must offer wearable and affordable garments yet project a strong and recognizable style.
    • Flamboyant and creative garments favored by the fashion press are worn by cutting-edge individuals and represent only a small proportion of sales. Designed to attract public attention, they are sometimes referred to as window dressing and help to establish and maintain a house style.
    • Perception of quality is often associated with high prices. However, most customers require competitively priced practical clothing.
  • A commercial solution to this dilemma is to complement the original collection with a bridge line.
    • Main collection => a strong visual identity (ex. 1985 Donna Karan)
    • The bridge line => garments in a similar but softened style and at a lower price, making the label accessible to a larger portion of the market ( ex. DKNY)

#1. Haute couture

  • Evokes luxury and glamour
  • Haute couture’s extraordinary garments are made to measure, often by hand, in the Parisian workshops of grands couturiers
  • In order to be awarded this label fashion houses must have a workshop in Paris of at least 15 people (“correspondent” and “guest” status are available to designers not based in France), present two collections a year to the press, and make garments to order with at least one client fitting
  • Market size is VERY SMALL: The regular clientele for haute couture is estimated to be in the region of 200 to 300 women worldwide
  • Economics of haute couture have proved difficult to sustain and many famous labels no longer produce such collections
  • How the pureplay Haute Coutures survive (those with no prêt-à-porter): run leaner businesses with strict cost control, and less dramatic designs

#2. Prêt-à-porter and International luxury brands

  • Prêt-à-porter is the next level down in quality and design from haute couture and is at the very top end of the ready-to-wear market.
  • Like haute couture, it offers a typically French style of fashion and benefits from a powerful heritage with a style and an interpretation of fashion inherited from the founding figure of a particular house. House archives are often used as a rich source of inspiration for new collections
    • Not surprising that many of these collections look similar to ones from earlier periods (i.e. Chanel and the tweed blazer/suit mix, Balenciaga and the bar suit)
  • HISTORY: first launched by Pierre Cardin in 1959, then became more popular in the 1960s as other houses began capitalizing on their brand image / recognition
    • Interestingly enough that it’s more of a business decision, kind of the balance of the two opposing goals, making prices more affordable but still getting a positive ROI. Economic principles about the supply and demand curve may have proven this business decision correct.
  • The outsiders, competition: international luxury brands such as Gucci and Burberry, which started as manufacturers of leather goods and specialized garments respectively. Despite an absence of connection to Paris fashion these brands have achieved international recognition, often thanks to the prestige of these specialist origins.

#3. Designer wear

  • Designer wear is ready-to-wear produced to a high standard in good-quality materials. Such garments are usually innovative and reflect the unique style of their creator. Designer wear sells at a premium because of the attention to design detail and the relatively small production volumes.
  • Emergence contributed to the establishment of modern national styles of fashion in Italy, the USA, the UK, and Japan
    • Sounds like Location / nationalism image advantage to me (business theory)
    • Where you associate your line or collection to is important (i.e. the image of Kate Spade New York vs. Celine Paris carries a different feel and appeal to different buyers, although an end-user could easily own both in their wardrobe)


  • The life expectancy of designer wear labels varies greatly.
  • They usually have humble beginnings and are initiated by small groups of friends, often with little financial backing.
  •  Mostly MARKETING: Reliance on upmarket, multilabel boutiques and highfashion department stores for exposure and sales.
  • Internet & E-commerce has helped
  • Rules of game: strong identity and offer a recognizable and successful style over a number of seasons to establish themselves. In order to grow, they must then develop their style to address a larger market without losing their identity.

#4. Mid-market (bridge and better)

  • The book seems to position it as incorporating bridge (more expensive) and better (less expensive).
  • Mid-market fashion is not merely the area defined by two price points; it also implies a conscious attitude to garment purchase—one that favors style and quality over short-term fashion trends.
  • They tend to be targeted at the more affluent woman in her 30s and 40s, and purchased as career apparel, for special occasions, or as staple garments within a more varied wardrobe.
  • Mid-market labels usually focus on national markets (Ex. Emporio Armani, IKKS, Ann Taylor)
    • I agree that it is a quality pick and the clothing of these brands are certainly more timeless. However, with the advent of e-commerce and general appreciation for quality, I find these peices to be slightly more regional (i.e. North America vs. Asia vs. Europe) if not international
    • I also feel that these styles seem to straddle mainly QUALITY on the positioning map. I don’t expect an Ann Taylor dress or suit sold in store to change much over the span of 5 years. On the price point side, I feel that they would also compete with smaller local boutiques in terms of pricing (boutiques being more a selection of choice for the younger crowd that still isn’t afraid to stand out)

#5. High street (mass market)

  • Became common practices among chain store labels in the 1990s. In the same way that grand couturiers produced prêt-à-porter collections, today’s designers develop exclusive collections sold under chain store labels, lending them their style and prestige
  • Ex. GAP in ’90s, Forever 21 and Zara (as well as designers such as Alexander Wang and Balmain designing one collection for H&M)
  • Very much Technology enabled (electronic point of sale) and quick turnaround time from design to delivery in 12 days
  • PROBLEMS created: environmental problem of clothing disposal (TOPIC I WILL BE EXPLORING)
    • In 2006, the Cambridge Institute for Manufacturing estimated that an average of 65 lbs of clothes per capita per year was disposed of in the UK. ” Yet
    • Recycling is increasingly considered as an option by individual designers as well as the major chains, and many labels favor organic cotton while new synthetic materials gain market share.
  • This is probably the market I am most familiar with both from a personal product experience and the business analysis side (given Zara and H&M are hallmark cases in business school)
  • Pros: These retailers made possible a generation of high school and college students look cool. While some stay true to a particular style (American Eagle, Abercrombie) others have different style segments within the store that resonates with and essentially allows the young person to evolve their entire fashion style within one store (i.e. H&M even has work collections and Forever 21 has both kid’s clothes as well as maternity clothing).
  • INFLUENCE: As a distribution channel they have been effective but to what degree have we allowed these channels to become a fashion trend setter on their own? Have their ads pushed society to adopt certain styles? Have what they have on racks from across the world also internationalized fashion and style?
  • I was able to find the same dresses in at least 5 countries across North America, Europe and Asia while travelling one summer. There’s something more to be said about this segment in terms of “setting trends and moving fashion as well.” Are there examples of them influencing upwards (perhaps at least prohibitively as designer brands caution away from same choice of fabrics?)
  • COMPETITIVE THREAT: how has their presence along with the ability to integrate probably hundreds of individual designers under one brand in a copy and edit runway looks fashion challenged the other markets?
  • The question I face as an individual while shopping is why buy a simple black dress for $200 when I can find an almost identical one from a fast fashion retailer for $20, if my plan is to maybe only wear it for a couple of month (maybe ~20x max)

Nice Markets:

  1. Maternity / Plus size (*although I would argue these are 2 different segments due to highly different brand image / customer targeting mechanisms and their only similarity is that they both involve larger fabric and creative design
  2.  Mature market
  3. Club wear
  4. Activewear
  5. Accessories
  6. Bridal
  7. Intimates
  8.  Knit wear (*I’m also not sure to what extent this can survive as its own segment, but perhaps like Tshirt stores and accessories shops, they can on a very niche scale)

My Takeaways:

The 5 fashion markets (from Haute Couture to fast fashion) are broken down by their key characteristics, primarily decomposed into elements of price, quality and prestige. Each market has its own rich history and has lend itself to influence the others / be influence by the others. The development and rise of each market has also had surprising impacts not only on the fashion world but society at large from injecting beauty standards with the rise of Haute Couture to environmental problems created by the prevalence of fast fashion. Business principles are not only embedded in the fashion world but also drive many changes, decisions and movements in it.



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