For designers taught in an art school context, commercial production is often a much-dreaded step. Usually, it’s not until after graduation that students think about how to bring their ideas to market. Charlie, who finished his MA at Central Saint Martins in 2022, remembers being contacted by multiple buyers after presenting his graduate collection. “I sold my first season but we still had to figure out how to actually produce it. There was one quilted textile design that really challenged me. I remember contacting so many mills in the UK and hearing back that it wasn’t feasible. I ended up making it all myself in the studio.” Tech packs, line sheets, or minimum order quantities – art-educated designers usually hear these terms for the first time when they set up their labels.
The absence of practical education creates a gap between design and production that impacts the entire industry.
The absence of practical education creates a gap between design and production that impacts the entire industry, with a disconnect between designer and maker at its heart. Margarida Pizarro, creative and commercial director of the factory, first noticed the problem when she organized a competition for fashion students in Portugal. Participants were asked to send a drawing for a denim design. From the 400 applications, 10 were selected to execute their ideas inside Pizarro. And this is where the problems started. “They had the concept but couldn’t translate it into reality,” explains Margarida. “They’re excited to see their design become reality, but when the machines don’t produce the exact result they want, they become disappointed and frustrated. They struggle to think about budget too. One student had chosen a zipper that costs 200 euros and refused to look at alternatives… Unless you’re Karl Lagerfeld, how do you expect to sell those trousers?”
“The biggest challenge we have is that schools don’t teach technical skills, but unless you’re a creative director in a large luxury house, you need to know how to make tech packs.” – Dio Kurazawa
Dio Kurazawa, founder of The Bear Scouts, encounters the same issues whenever he works with independent designers. “The biggest challenge we have is that schools don’t teach technical skills, but unless you’re a creative director in a large luxury house, you need to know how to make tech packs. Those who don’t rely on other people to survive and that just means extra costs.”
“We undervalue the hand that makes the product because we don’t see it.” – Margarida Pizarro
The problem ties back to a cultural myth around creativity, one where the potential of an idea is considered more valuable than its execution, and where creative skills are innate immaterial qualities, purely imaginative and detached from the real world. “You notice it in the conversations at school and in design studios,” explains Lucile Guilmard, co-Creative Director of Paolina Russo. “Production is seen as the boring part – you’re successful if you don’t have to deal with the process. It’s cool when you have a role that doesn’t involve practicalities.”
Margarida agrees, “We undervalue the hand that makes the product because we don’t see it.” The disconnect and lack of understanding leads to more than just a little frustration. Dio observes an industry-wide undervaluing of product in general. The creative and executive arms of fashion are increasingly siloed, which leads to a whole range of miscommunications and ultimately, negatively impacts the quality of the final result. “How do you expect to create good product if everything happens over email?”
“You don’t know what the potential of a machine is until you have it in front of you.” – Lucile Guilmard
But staying on top of the production process does more than simply improve product quality. For Paolina and Lucile, for example, it guides the creative process. They arrived at Pizarro without specific design requests and instead started the process with a number of visual references – one being a rainbow jawbreaker. Inspired by the layers of colour, they tried different machines, including denim laser and spray paint, until they discovered the right technique to express their vision. Working like this, the designers developed a creative process that incorporates technical and material innovation, rather than treating it like an afterthought. “You don’t know what the potential of a machine is until you have it in front of you,” says Lucile. “I never have a lack of inspiration, because when I’m in the factories, I have this world of possibilities.”