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Meet The Apparel Agency – Making it – Episode 2: Exploring & Planning Concepts For A Fashion Label Launch

image of sourced materials

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to work in the fashion industry. To make it as an artist, the hustle behind launching your own label, pursuing a career in music or any other creative industry? Halfstack has been pursuing these stories in print form for the last four years. This fall, we’re bringing the insight story to YouTube. We connected with some of Chicago’s most iconic creatives to hear their stories and share their journeys with you. We take you behind the scenes and offer candid, personal conversations with people pursuing their dreams. It’s not as glamorous as the media would like you to think. We are sharing the raw reality behind making it.

In this episode of making it, we’re introducing you to The Apparel Agency. The Apparel Agency is a full service development and production management agency. They worked to bring success to apparel brands for worldwide through their comprehensive plans in private labeling, located in the heart of America’s Midwest. The Apparel Agency is based in Chicago and has a fully equipped team of industry professionals, creative and technical designers. Pattern makers, sample makers and access to production facilities to aid in the development and the manufacturing of apparel accessories, and so much more. We visited The Apparel Agency over the span of a few months to learn more about the process behind launching a clothing label. They let us get a behind the scenes glimpse of what they worked through with clients.

In this week’s episode, we learned all about the explore and planned phases behind launching a label with The Apparel Agency. We talked to their design team about what it takes to bring an idea to life, as well as what people should keep in mind when designing. We look at the process of creativity and the elements that help a concept transform into a tangible product. The team also gives us insight on the evolution of the fashion industry, the growing fashion scene right here in Chicago, and what designers can do to stand out from the crowd. Make sure you subscribe to keep up with future episodes. Next week we’ll be learning more about the final phase in the process. Build.

What Does The Explore Process Entail For Clients?

Explore is all about sourcing materials and figuring out what materials are needed for each of the designs. So it works very hand in hand with our creative designer and our sourcing manager, and they take all the blend concepts and start to implement real life fabrics, costing everything that needs to go into a BOM for clients with their designs.

What Are The Steps Involved In Developing A Concept For A Collection?

Sometimes they come in with a loose idea too and it’s not very defined, and then it’s sort of like pulling images, doing some rough sketches, and trying to fine tune it. Like, what do you really want to make? Who’s your market? Where are you selling this to? How old are they? And trying to kind of pull that information out of them, because maybe they’re thinking about it in their heads, but it hasn’t necessarily come out yet. Then I’m always designing with fabrics of mine. I’m always sort of like, they’re very readily available here. So by the time it gets to explore, I’ve already spent and narrow down like this design uses this sort of fabric, and talking to them about what kind of fabric and feel. We’re very good at going through costings and have a realistic manufacturing type of mentality while designing so that we’re not over designing. So that’s something so impossible to make either domestic even, or overseas as well, but just having that in the back of your mind so that the concepts are going to relate easily to production.

Why Is Costing Important When Launching A Label?

It’s going to be based on everything that they’re doing. So if your cost of goods are far too high before you even get labor pricing, how are you willing to produce it? And especially if new designers want to keep lower minimums and try to keep it at low inventories that they don’t have to have a lot on hand, then they definitely need to keep that cost of goods and all of their materials during that explore phase or that sourcing phase. They need to keep that in mind so that they’re not adding too many zippers into a garment so that the labor price is going to get skyrocketed, and then you have to order seven different size zippers for one style, keeping it very as simple as it can be, but still having the stylized concepts. Present, but just in a good way. Using that fabrication more than one place. I think a lot of new designers, and I remember when you get out of school, you’re like, everything needs to be really special, and so you have each design with different fabrics, but in the real world, You want to use the same fabric in a couple of places, if not the majority in a small collection so that you’re saving money because the goal at the end of the day is to make money and have a business, and to have a full consumption of your goods as possible. Any of your cost of goods, depending on what level of market you want to be in, you gotta back out what should your labor pricing and your goods be, so that you can meet your margins for however you’re marking it up. Whether it’s wholesale retail, just keeping all of that in mind. I think of those discovering, exploring are a little bit like puzzle pieces. You’re trying to get it all together. Like where can we use this fabric? Are we going to use it? Okay. Wait. That’s too many zippers. If we do that we’re going to run into a problem there. So you’re kind of working out all those issues. You don’t want to work it out while you’re making it. So it is a little bit of looking at the big picture on everything while you’re designing.

What Is The Creative Process That Goes Into Your Design & Sourcing Work For Clients?

Well as far as when you’re designing a fabric, a garment, that kind of leads you to what fabrics you need and you’re like, okay, well, it has to be on made out of this kind of stuff. So I’ll just tell a sourcing manager, I’m thinking this vendor and this kind of fabric, then they’ll pull that, and then anything else. So I kind of lead her in the right direction, so that we’re not just running around in circles and fine tuning it. A lot of times they have inspiration, but maybe I’ll give them some inspirations of particular governments that I think would really work for them. Tell them why more than just overall inspiration. I think for us, it’s a lot more fine tuned. It’s not like this big mood board. I mean that’s nice, but I think its little bit more fine tuned as far as like garments, the detail, and really communicating it out like that, because sometimes when I draw, some people can envision it and some people can’t. Sometimes I need pictures to understand. Maybe I draw something that has a cut out and then I’m like here, see it, this kind of has something similar, and that kind of brings it together for the client. It’s basically just you’re supporting your designs with reference images, like see, it can be made. That kind of thing, just so that it just doesn’t seem like just a drawing. How can I make it fit their market? We have that production focus always. So trying to make it realistic for them and for whatever their needs are for their type of business, more than just “here’s a pretty shirt… We love your idea too… We’ll design, whatever you give us”, we’d like to have that background so that we can put factual things behind a garment, so they understand what’s needed to get to that production level. With source and explore, there’s all these materials here you can have, but then when you really get into the nitty gritty of it, like how many pieces are you doing? What’s their minimum? Are you going to buy 8,000 yards? You have to select the right vendors for each client. They’re only gonna make this much, then we have to find a vendor that’s also gonna sell them small amounts so that they’re not spending all their money on fabric. You’re only using that fabric for the next three years. It’s a little tricky. Again, you’re like, okay, well I want that, but here’s the realistic view. Sometimes those are the best designs. You’re like, here’s the box that I’m in. We have this design, we can have a piece of fabric with these vendors, but I don’t think people should look at it as limiting. I think you should just find a way to be more creative with that to make it work.

What Does The Plan Process Entail For Clients?

Sourcing, planing, and design would start at the same time. They’re really hand-in-hand with each other. They play off of each other. So it’s really happening all at the same time. At the very end of plan, you’re going to have both design specs with all the construction details called out. Anything that’s going into it for trims, components, and then that’s when our lead designer would then meet with our technical designer and pattern maker. They would kind of go through what the design is and then it moves into technical, then start pattern making.

What Is The Key Difference Between Your Explore & The Plan Phase?

Plan it’s all about design. Sourcing & explore is all about finding the right materials to embellish those designs and what works with those designs. Usually during my designing, I talk with our pattern makers, and I ask them all the time like, “Hey, I think this is going to work as far as technically, what do you have problems with this?” If you’re trying to make something that’s too complicated, it’s not going to look good. So I always talk to them if I feel I’m thinking about doing this… is there a better way that I could do this, so it would be a great production? Because it’s about consistency. I definitely can solve it through the whole process, and then again we’d meet again to pass it off before they pattern it. And a lot of times clients even come in at the end, if they can, and we talk about the final in a meeting with our patternmakers, before it goes to the pattern making.

Is The Chicago Fashion Scene Growing & Developing?

I think Midwest in general, I think we have a lot of inquiries that come from Midwest and they love that we have the Chicago hub, especially for manufacturing and they realized that we do all the services as well. So that’s great for them because they can’t always get into one of the coasts and they might be a smaller brand that a New York developer or manufacturer may not want to work with because they’re not up to par with what their normal plans are. Something with the west coast, I feel like if they don’t think you’re as serious, then they may not be somebody who is willing to work with you as much. And I think Chicago, we work with any type of small company and we have a wide range of skillset here that we can definitely utilize for a lot of brands that are emerging and starting.

I look at it like you can kind of do anything anywhere now. It’s really changing. I think it used to just be two places, but it’s very oversaturated and with how prevalent online sales are, and you really can run your business from where you want to. It’s just a matter of shipping goods sometimes to you that you can really do it anywhere. For us, we still have clients that live in the west coast for various reasons, so I think things are changing. I’m starting to see a lot more companies being all over the United States. I don’t think it’s going to be as localized or just certain areas anymore. It’s gotta spread out. I don’t think it’ll just stay in those two areas.

What Can New Brands Do To Stand Out From All Of The Competition?

Really knowing who you want to be and not trying to be, and not trying to be super trend based. I think right now you have to have a story about who you are and its a little be more personal. Really tell that story with your flow in the market. That is the best thing to do. Find that small niche where there isn’t something and try to fill it.