Updated: Oct 21, 2020
Whether you're a student or a job applicant everyone who hopes to be a professional designer must have a killer portfolio that can outshine the competition. But, there is a secret that not many people understand...Having beautiful designs, colors and fabrics are NOT the most important parts to making a great portfolio. Sorry to burst your bubble but in the real world you will only spend about 10% of your time (per year) creating new designs.
The majority of your time will be spent on tweaking your designs in order to get them production ready or making technical sketches and technical files. Therefore, your portfolio should reflect that you understand what it REALLY means to be a professional designer. You will need to highlight that you know how to create designs within a specific brand identity, that you can communicate your ideas clearly and professionally, and that you understand how a garment is put together down to the last technical detail.
Just like you need to start your day on the right foot with a healthy and hearty breakfast, you also NEED to start your portfolio on the right foot with RESEARCH. It's the foundation for your entire portfolio, so you need to give it serious thought. Your research will dictate the mood, general color combinations and theme of your entire collection within your portfolio. It's also a great way to focus all of your design ideas.
For fashion designers our gift of creation can also be our curse... Too much of it without a direction would lead to chaotic nonsense, and chaotic nonsense does not a professional portfolio make. Whenever you seem stuck or losing control of your collection try to refer back to your original research, and design within these parameters.
In the professional world we look at several different areas of the industry to gather our inspiration for our collections. Then we sometimes compile a booklet of our favorite finds and create a theme around it. For example, I added an image above which is from a trend booklet I created for an outerwear client I worked with in the past. It shows one of the main trends I had noticed from many different brands, and we had a very many military inspired pieces throughout our collection due to this research. Here are a few of the finalized designs:
There are so many other areas where you can search for trend and research inspirations. Here are some examples:
I think that Vogue.com has an amazing registry of all the latest and greatest runway collections, with professional insight on each season. They have a wealth of knowledge on their website and its is all free. Gotta love it!
Two words "Great Gatsby"...This movie really made waves throughout our culture. we saw dark lips, beautiful updo's, long flapper-esque dresses and even art deco interiors. So keep a look out for the next big trend that might be a hit.
Premiere Vision, Tex World, Salon de la lingerie are just to name a few.
Street bloggers are on the ground looking at how real people are wearing what designers have created. By seeing what people buy and how they wear it, you can create better outfits that are geared to sell quickly.
There is so much to gain when looking at what is trending in the art world. The colors, the movement, and the messages all contribute to our culture. What will you find to inspire your collections
Can the interior prints, fabrics and colors be translated into fashion? The answer is yes, if it is done well...so keep a sharp eye of any strong trends you might see, or simply look to interior design for general inspiration.
When the cat eye eyeliner look started, we saw an upswing of 50's inspired fashions. What can the makeup trends tell us about where the fashion might go? Maybe if make up becomes more natural then perhaps the fashion will become more minimalistic as well.
There are also trend forecasting companies that do all the leg work of determining fashion trends for upcoming collections. They are extremely helpful if you don't want to spend too much time doing all the trend research yourself. However to buy their trend books can cost a pretty penny. If you still have access to your university library then they should have some trend books to look at for free.
One of the main reasons I love looking through trend forecasting books is because they are
such great inspiration for how to create a portfolio. Everything is perfection from their technical flats, to their fashion figures and even their overall layout (See example above).
When your professors told you to think of a customer and create a mood board for that customer, it feels pretty unimportant. And to be honest for class it kind of is, because you aren't designing for a customer...YET! However it becomes exceedingly important once you're in the industry, because if you don't know your customer then you won't have a customer. If you can figure out who your customer is (what music they listen to, what their hobbies are, where they live, what their age is, what other stores they shop at etc.) then, and only then can you attempt to sell to them. Knowing your customer inside and out will help you to ultimately make a sale, which let's face it, is the whole point of this screwy but fabulous thing we do.
It isn't necessary to create a customer research page in your portfolio, but if you would like to add it then feel free. It could help to demonstrate that you know what it takes to cater to a specific clientelle. If you don't add a customer research page to your portfolio, you should at least be able to answer any questions about your customer when asked in an interview. So, you better know your customer like the back of your Prada sunglasses!
This is where you assemble a collection of colors and images that best illustrates the narrative of your portfolio. Search on Google, Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook to find the best quality images for what you are looking for. Search for images that will go well with your overall design aesthetic, colors and customer.
You can arrange your mood board in any way you see fit, however I feel that a clean and professional presentation is best.
DON'T: have too many images overlap each other with no clear "story" behind them. This looks messy and appears as if you are not that experienced in the industry.
DO: have your images easy to see using a clean format, so people know where your creative point of view is going (like the mood board above).
AND ALSO: if you want to have a more "flowy" and creative mood board then see step 4 where I give a different mood board example. This has fewer images and has a more free flowing look while still being clean, clear and professional.
Ok so this is the step that most of you are familiar with: designing, fabric choices, and color selections. Keeping your research in mind while designing will be your most helpful guide when creating your collection. Really consider what the customer wears (ie. color schemes, fabric qualities, silhouettes), and find a twist that will set your collection apart from the competition.
The most intimidating thing is staring at a blank page, well fear no more! I am here to tell you that the best way to get started is to just put something down, anything. Draw some random seam lines on your fashion figure and build a silhouette around the lines you drew.
My first few sketches always look a little strange and they don't all make it to the final collection, but it can help to get the creative juices flowing. You also want to consider the season you will be designing for (Fall/Winter, Spring/Summer, Holiday or Resort) each of these seasons have certain design restrictions. You probably shouldn't design a heavy turtleneck sweater for summer, nor should you design a short shorts for Winter (unless you plan on layering it with some thick stockings, which actually might be cute).
Another way to help get your collection going is to see what other brands (who you would consider your competitors) are doing, and use their best pieces as your inspiration. Obviously you don't want to copy but you can borrow a design detail here or a silhouette there, and it will be a great kick start to help you find your design rhythm. You may have to draw many sample designs before you settle on your final collection. If my final collection had 10-20 looks I usually drew about 40-80 sample looks to begin with.
When you feel that you've created enough sample sketches to complete your final collection, then you can create your beautiful fashion figures which will be the highlight of your portfolio. The eye tends to be drawn to strong images such as powerful photos and colorful illustrations, so spend a fair amount of time on these drawings.
There are many different mediums you can use when creating your final figures, but you should stick with the medium which you are most comfortable with.
Colored pencils & markers
Hand drawn sketches with digital rendering (as shown above)
Fully digital drawing and rendering
Don't feel intimidated by other fashion illustrators out there and think that your drawings don't meet their standards. Everyone has there own drawing style and all of them are perfectly acceptable.
Ok, so now we are going to finally get into the most important, and least sexy, part of your portfolio. Your technical knowlege in the fashion industry is paramount, so you better make sure you know your stuff.
As I mentioned in the introduction you will be spending most of your time tweaking designs and creating technical sketches/files. Therefore you should create professional looking flats and factory ready technical files.
Your flats should be the detailed representations of your figure drawn outfits. In a hand drawn illustration it's difficult to draw in every stitch and button, especially if you have drawn a garment with movement. Your technical flats are your opportunity to really show off that you understand how a garment is constructed. You should really pay attention to the details when drawing, because It will show if you don't know how a collar should be constructed at the neck or what side the buttons should go on for a men's shirt vs a woman's shirt.
This is going to be the document that you send to factories for them to create garment prototypes. These days our factories are scattered all over the world and few companies work with factories where English is the native language. Therefore all of your explanations need to be short, to the point while using simple words.
If you find yourself need to communicate a complicated construction detail, I find the best course of action is to send a photo or "construction breakdown" sketch .
The file above is only 1 out of 5 total pages of my technical file "package" that gets sent to the factory. The 4 other pages I create have all of the items mentioned in the list below.
Here is a quick list of all the things that could be included in your technical file:
Even though employers won't look at every single technical flat or technical file you have created in your portfolio, it gives an overall sense of your capabilities. You will prove that you can handle any design job, because you know how to take your hand drawn sketch is broken down into a technical flat AND THEN broken down AGAIN into it's construction elements.
At this point I think it's best to do some brainstorming about the layout and overall presentation of your portfolio. You should really think about how you will place flats, figures, mood pages, swatch pages, and technical files in a way that is clean, professional and creative. Here is a basic example of how you could present your portfolio, just to help get you started:
Mood boards: Inspiration images, Color range, Phrases about your designs
Swatch page: Glue swatches onto page Figures page: with swatch references
Technical sketches / files: In the back of your portfolio you can have all of your technical files. You can sort them look by look or by garment. You could also have a folder attached to your portfolio with your resume.
It usually takes me a while of contemplation and many failed attempts to land on a clear idea of what I want my presentation to look like. The presentation of everything from your portfolio, to your website to your resume matters just as much as the contents in the presentation.
You have to realize that the person who interviews you for a job won't always be a designer, and therefore won't have the artistic mindset that a designer does...so you can't always present a collage of magazine clippings and shredded fabric pieces to your interviewer. Your overall presentation should be clear and concise for all the sales people who might be hiring you, but it should also be aesthetically and artistically pleasing in order to satisfy all of the designers that might be hiring you as well.
What makes your portfolio interesting to look at when compared to your competition? You should know your strengths and use them to create a standout presentation. For example if you're an extremely talented hand illustrator, then you could incorporate your illustrations throughout the entire portfolio (backgrounds, hand drawn fabric patterns , custom logo to go with your collection). Here are some other ideas for you to create a unique portfolio:
CAD- create fabric prints, backgrounds, and a custom logo
Collage- create one of a kind mood boards with photos, illustrations, and little accessories (buttons, rhinestones, etc...) However make sure your collage isn't messy or falling apart, this looks terribly unprofessional.
Pop Up-Create interactive moments throughout your portfolio like have a jacket open up so you can see what the inside looks like (Like I show below #POPUPPORTFOLIO), or have a pinwheel for your color inspirations, or a mini look book within your larger portfolio.
I'm not entirely sure why my college requested that we present our portfolio by literally cutting and pasting each figure and technical sketch to thick foam core boards, but this is not how the industry works. It is EXTREMELY time consuming, messy, and not a great way to preserve your work for years to come (due to the fact that it is very delicate and fragile). Creating your projects digitally and then printing it out in book form is a more effective way of presenting your portfolio to clients.
Also, by having a digital copy of your entire presentation you then have a well preserved version of your work that can be used on several different digital platform for years to come. Not to mention the fact that I have seen many designers have some horrible accident happen to their portfolio and they never had enough time to completely redo their presentation boards. But if everything was digital, all you would have to do is get your file and hit print.
I always went to my local print shop to get an A3 size formatted book, but if you prefer to buy a fancy book to put your printed pages in then that works too. Since I have been in the field for a while I have done quite a bit of work, so if I want to show a client all the work I have done in outerwear then I have 3 portfolios I show them. I take my 3 portfolios and I put them in a sort of folder/briefcase so everything looks uniform.
If you've ever sewn together at least 1 complete design outfit, then it would be a great idea to take professional looking photos of them and incorporate it into your portfolio. Look on craigslist for a photography student who is willing to work for 10 bucks an hour and find a nice outdoor setting, because the great outdoors are wonderfully FREE compared to a studio space. Find a way to incorporate your outfit into you design collection, without it looking like an afterthought. Blend it seamlessly into the overall presentation, and create technical sketches/files for the outfit.
Here is an example of an outfit that I sewed for my senior collection and how I would blend it in with my portfolio. Oh yeah and I totally modeled my look, because I was the cheapest model I could find (meaning FREE).
This is the question that every employer secretly thinks when seeking a new employee. And, this is a question that can be answered promptly and powerfully if you have the right forms of self promotion.
The main and most important tool every designer should have is a primary website. The best places to create your own website are:
The Moda Moxie website was created using Wix, and I feel that it is a great option especially for designers because it gives you so much design freedom without needing to know how to code. Also you can use your knowledge of Adobe Illustrator to create unique buttons and backgrounds, as we have done!
However I have to say that I am a bit disappointed with the smartphone site design editor. If you compare our desktop and our smart phone designs, you can tell that there is a bit of an aesthetic gap. Also I'm not able to design as freely as I would like in my blog, I can't even change the color of my text...CRAZY! Normally you should be able to do this and I think some people can, but I find that the program bugs out a bit and restricts certain features. Sooo, anytime you see color I had to create it in illustrator and then import the image onto the blog.
I also recommend that if you plan on selling a fair amount of items on your website, then I would create a separate Shopify store. I won't get into the details but if you check online you will get a better understanding of why I say this. To give you a simple take away... Shopify is a website builder specialized in creating e-commerce stores, which means they have a very thoughtful building process for your store. Wix was created more for presentation than a hardworking digital store, and most users tend to be disappointed with their stores.
We have a store on Wix because we are only selling a few digital products and we don't require a larger scale e-commerce shop yet. Feel free to peruse OUR SHOP while you are on our site and if there is something specific that you are looking for then please CONTACT US and let us know. We try to be very accommodating to our followers so ask what you need to ask and we will do our best to help.
These days there are countless ways to promote yourself and the following are only to name a few:
I feel that each platform should have it's own unique identity, when you copy and paste the same content of all of your platforms all you are doing is training your audience to stop following you. For example:
Facebook-news feed "hub", where you update everyone what's happening on all of your platforms
Instagram-Your personal designs and creations
Behance- Top of the line client and portfolio work
Linked in- Your digital resume
Some businesses tend to duplicate their content because they are trying to reach a bigger audience on all different platforms. However if you are trying to get work then being as diverse as you can is better, so don't over do the duplication.
There you have it a quick and easy summary of the best tips to creating the ultimate portfolio. Ultimately your portfolio will only be as good as the work you put into it, and trust me an industry professional can spot a shoddy job a mile away...So, give it your all.
I once got a job designing feminine trench coats (and other outerwear), from a very masculine looking ski wear collection, solely because my portfolio was an amazing piece of work. I had created pop up elements (as I mention in Step 4 #POPUPPORTFOLIO), Dynamic colors, Crazy amounts of detail and yet everything was still organized and clear. I told them "I know this is nothing like what you do at your company, but I just wanted to show you the level of work I am capable of." They looked at me and said "Yeah, there is no question that you know what you are doing"...I got hired on the spot.
There are so many talented designers out there and I know you're probably one of them, so please do yourself a favor and reach the potential that I know you're capable of! Now go fourth into the fashion industry and DOMINATE!
Written by: Kelly Lopez