The Corset Belt Design Process
My friend Monique recently started her own consulting company, Bubble Theory, and here is a behind the scenes approach to a project we worked on together, designing the ‘Corset Belt’.
Monique has a Masters in fashion design, and also worked as a designer for the clothing company North Face for over 10 years, before the company relocated to Colorado. Lucky for me, when North Face uprooted, she moved to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where I found her. Monique has so many brilliant ideas, she generates them faster than a bubble machine making bubbles.
First, I wanted to figure out a modern corset design women could wear as a fun accessory, so I drew a sketch. Monique developed the sketch on the computer, modeling the hand woven fabric, to know what the corset would look like before it was made. One of her suggestions was the perpendicular fabric layout, that changed from panel to panel. Then she designed the pattern, and gave another idea to line the corset belt, which added stiffness and omitted the use of traditional boning. Next Monique sewed the prototypes, and they were handed out to test on clients for feedback, to further dial in the product before going to market.
One day while we were climbing on our bikes, I had a conversation with Monique about her approach to design, and what her super powers are as a consultant. Here is what she said:
“The first step for working with me, is to fill out a questionnaire about your company. I ask, have you worked with design services in the past? And if you have, how did it go? What were your positives, what were your negatives?
Then I’m understanding from both sides, and I can further dissect on how to make the design process go even more seamless, to work together successfully.
I don’t understand why, in my experience, the design process has always been stressful, and not fun, when creating is supposed to be the most fun part.
I think a lot of it is mis-communication, and people are unclear as to what they want. Part of what I ask is, what do you want? Or how do you see your company? Who is your customer?
These are things my client needs to think about. A lot of people think "I want to make cool stuff". They don’t have an actual thought on where they want it to go, or where they see the need. You need to have that. If you don’t have that target customer, then you’re shooting in the dark. Their company is their vision, and they have to understand that.
My approach to designing prototypes, which is different from most designers, is that I am able to do the entire process, and therefore I can see all of the problems. I can make all adjustments, which results in less feedback loops.
The biggest frustrations I had working with a giant clothing company was not having enough time to develop, and to fully think through the design concepts. There was not enough time in the design process. Time was wasted on prototyping. You need to have everybody’s buy off first, to know what to go forward with, instead of, every time, throwing something at the wall, to see if it sticks.
I remember so many times, getting prototypes back, not having them be right, and I would end up re-doing them and sewing them myself. I am not against rolling up my sleeves, because half the time, you have to.
If you come up with something great, you don’t need to re-invent the wheel every season. Just change the color. You can use features that you've developed, which is your mark, and you can carry it through season after season. Then you develop a look, a special aesthetic, that people know you for, instead of looking different every season.
My goal is to help companies produce as they sell. And, I do. If you get your tools up front, you can get buyers to buy off, so then you don’t have to print, or color up, colors that aren’t going to sell. Because all of that is just waste.
You have to go straight to the actual source, which is the customer, and take out the dysfunction of predicting sales. Predicting sales has to be removed completely.
Channels have to be set up for feedback and for orders, directly from the client. You can get all that. Businesses can get all of that information online. I just look at the their websites and their user interface, because they have feedback from their websites. They can put ideas out there, and the feedback is immediate.
That’s why everyone is doing social media, you can see what works and what doesn’t work. You can put ideas out there, see how many people like it. Then get a couple samples, send it to your testing people, or whoever you think will be a good customer, and then you can get even more feedback.
After witnessing the patterns working for a large company, and for someone who is trying to build a company, I am able to see, this is what you can do when you have a lot of volume behind you. Or when you’re starting from something super small, that’s where you work with color minimums, fabric minimums, and try to make it fit within a cost, which is always the issue. So I can see on a big scale, and on a small scale, what benefits and problems you’re going to face.
What I’m finding is simple is better. It really is. It makes things more versatile.
If you want to build a company that is streamlined, that is a sustainable system, don't overproduce. It’s as if you want it to sell out, you want the exclusivity.
It's similar to what we’re doing together. We’re getting clear on one product, we're dialing in the prototype, and then we’re getting feedback. Once we have the final proto that we can hand out to one or two ideal customers, we can get feedback to make any last tweaks. Then we can do the computerized models to show what the corsets will look like with certain fabrics. If people are interested, they order. And then you make to order. That’s a completely different system then what most companies are doing.
Every big company seems like they have the same issues. It's not their objective, to be efficient and sustainable. They just want to do things fast, and faster. It doesn’t even need to be right, that’s why you get their product, and it’s not right. It’s not about longevity.
About the bigger companies doing things right, that’s not even the thought on their mind. The whole thing is F’d really”.
For more information on Bubble Theory: https://bubble-theory.com
All photography by David Brown.