Building a DTC Brand through COVID: Wk 2

Week 2: Sketching Fashion Designs through COVID

“Building a DTC Brand During COVID” is a series written by Farah Azmi to serve as a discussion for starting a company amid a pandemic. The stories are meant to share personal experiences and is not in any way meant to promote a “correct” methodology. We hope readers find this informative and amusing and we welcome informed advice and active discussion.

As I’m sure many entrepreneurs can relate, taking the plunge to start bringing your dream to life is like standing on the edge of a cliff. You look over the edge and start thinking about stable paychecks and job security behind us. In front of us, it’s just a dark lonely abyss. Will we fall and hit a solid slab of concrete like a Loony Tunes cartoon? Or will we fly and have a spot in history like a Mark Zuckerberg or Jeff Bezos? As I scheduled my first official call with my designer, Nora Iknadossian, I took that step and felt the floor slip away from me and just hoped for the best.

For the past two years, I’ve had a pretty clear view in my head of what my product should look like and what type of consumers I would have. As someone who was constantly searching for blazers and jackets that didn’t look like my mother’s, I knew I wanted to appeal to other young fashion-forward working women. A product that was worthy to wear for dates, on the weekends and to work. A product that fit so perfectly you’ll feel like a million bucks without spending that much. When I did my interviews with my designers, I always shared my pitch. What impressed me most about my designer Nora was that she tested me to get a deeper understanding of my vision. She immediately asked about other brands and how I would be different from them. She named off competitors and complements, some of which I haven’t even heard of; I knew then that maybe this could work.

In a normal world, when you create product with a designer, you spend hours in an office discussing and researching trends. Your feedback loops are naturally quicker when you’re sitting side-by-side with endless points of communication. At my past experience at a bigger apparel company, designers even traveled the world searching for the latest trends. They then worked with merchants, planners and senior leaders telling you what product to do and how to do it over the course of several alignment meetings.

In the COVID world, this happened over a one-hour zoom and one shared document with just me and my designer. On Zoom, we talked about what our consumer would act like and dress like, and what brands and styles I generally liked. Over email, I shared my PowerPoint presentation with attempts at inspiration and mood boards filled with images of street-style bloggers, sleek luxury fashion campaigns, and graphic images for the ~vibes~.  I shared brands that our women would be shopping at for various aspects of her life such as her date-night looks, weekend style and her off-duty looks. One hour and a PowerPoint deck didn’t seem to be enough. Would Nora be able to make my dreams come true?

A couple of days later, Nora shared her color and trend board for our first capsule. The color and trend board is usually the first step in the design process. It determines what colors our collection will be and what trends would serve as our inspiration. It sets the tone to what we can expect for our sketches. She provided me with two options of color palettes: one filled with neutrals and a pop of a rich poppy red; the other filled with rich emerald and millennial pink tones. I asked her so many questions about details on the product. She knew what fabrics would work best for the styles and what kind of buttons and zips we should be using. We went page by page; when I asked for changes, it was always well received. Overall everything hit the target so perfectly that I wondered how we did it over one Zoom and one Powerpoint deck. My brand was slowly coming to life and here she planted the seeds.

Sketch-review is the next step in the design process, where designers present out their designs to senior leaders or in this case just me. This is one of the few times where the COVID world seemed similar to the non-COVID world. While most sketch reviews have designers roll in massive foam boards pinned with designs and fabrics, ours was just over zoom referring to a digital PDF. The element that both versions of sketch reviews have in common is that we’re making product for the future. For a moment I forgot that the world has stopped and that the apparel industry is suffering due to COVID. It gave me hope to look forward to a brighter tomorrow and not think about today.

While I consider myself lucky working with my designer, we far-too-often hear the opposite: stories where engineers/designers and founders clash. Engineers want to do it one way and founders another, or worse, stories in which engineers don’t translate the vision correctly. For my non-technical entrepreneurs, I know many of us search for a perfect technical partner like an engineer or in my case a designer to build out our vision. It’s daunting to put our dreams in the hands of another and bring it to fruition. A couple of tips that I can share about creating your vision:

  • Work with Someone Smarter than You: You may be tempted to pick someone who you can boss around so you won’t receive any push-back. However, spend the time to find someone to challenge you, to push you, and to teach you. These components will only make your product better.

  • Be Transparent with your Partner: As a sole-founder, I struggled with telling people my idea for a year – and I still do. It’s something I hold close to my chest in fear of rejection. However, for you to trust your technical partner, they need to trust you. Share everything and anything you can. They need to understand your dream as much as you do.

  • Ask Questions: Feedback is essential, so ask questions to know every aspect of your product as early as possible in the process. Think about even the most minor details that you think no one will notice and make sure you ask to understand what’s happening. You don’t want to figure out that things were poorly designed/made when it’s too late.

What other advice would you give to working with a technical partner to bring out your vision?

While designing product seemed easy this week, next week I’ll talk more about building our minimal viable product, trade-offs, and the endless roadblocks we seem to have.

IXORA Apparel is an early stage start-up fashion brand founded by a Harvard Business School student. Our mission is to support women in their lives through the way she dresses while providing resources to support her in the workplace.  We aim to provide made-to-measure trend-driven apparel for women, where everything is made-for-her and not made-to-st

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