Episode 82: What is bad design really costing your business?




  • Secondhand September
  • How poor design affects businesses in new economies
  • Design Consultation Services
  • The Power of Good Design
  • Importance of Design Details
  • Role of Pattern Makers
  • The advantages of consistent brand aesthetics and business value
  • Strategies to reduce leftover stock and customer returns
  • Businesses extending product longevity and aftercare
  • The financial gains of having experienced designers



Welcome to episode 82 of the Fashion Unearthed Podcast. This month is secondhand September, which was started by Oxfam urging shoppers to say no to new clothes for 30 days. My second topic this month relates to this, but more from the perspective of design, and not only what bad design is costing you, but building on this a little bit to show you how it will hinder your business in the new economies. But before I get to that, I wanted to let you know that I'll have the capacity for new design clients at the end of October with a couple of ways you can work with me. One is being on a project basis where there is a specific project you need help with, and this could be a new category or help with a new range. The other way is on a retainer whereby you can have me on a day rate for a minimum of three months.


This means that I'm more of an extension of your team, able to work on a number of longer-term projects, as well as more variety. If you are feeling the crunch leading up to the end of the year and need some help, send me an email at info@belindahumphrey.com and we can have a chat. I went into a little bit about what good design looks like in Episode 66, which I can link to in the show notes. Today I wanted to talk more about what bad design costs you and I guess the power of good design and using an experienced designer. It's come up a little bit in some coaching calls too, people talking to manufacturers and them saying, just send photos and they'll figure it out because it's easier in commas. I always ask "easily for whom" negating the need for a designer. They just want to copy something. 


Today I wanted to talk a bit about the design process of the benefits down the line you get from the initial costs, why you should be controlling it, and just expand on a few points that you might not be aware of that could cost you money down the line. Broadly speaking, design is the execution of an idea. And with that comes making choices. Some of the choices you have to make include fabric choice, perhaps fullness of gathers, colour, print choice, button size, fussings, and things like that. I have to say that often this is done with a pattern maker. I want to also include pattern makers and tech designers in this conversation too, because they're the ones that work hand in hand with a designer. I was talking to someone earlier in the week who put it well, and they said a designer could potentially do the pattern, but it's rare that someone is excellent at both, which is why I don't do patterns either.


I prefer to leverage someone experienced in this area, their head's in it all the time, and they've got the, I guess, learned eye and trained eye to look at a pattern and to be able to do that. In the same way that my eye has been trained in design, I will sometimes look at pockets or button sizes or panel lines on things when I'm walking past the shops and I can instantly just think, “If only they'd made that like a centimetre wider. It looks so much better.” I wanted to talk about three points to illustrate the benefits of an experienced designer, and as I said, these can also apply to the technical designers and pattern makers that will outweigh the initial costs. Firstly, it can add to a certain handwriting or aesthetic. Zimmermann is an excellent example of this.


Their designs are distinctive, and even if someone is influenced by them, they never quite get it the same. Obviously, the design process and their concepts have been refined and analyzed in their own unique way, which adds to their brand value. It's the reason why an investment company paid 1.75 billion, with Australian dollars to secure a majority stake in the brand recently. A lot of smart business decisions were made as well, but in my opinion, being a designer design played an equal part. If you think about it, if the product wasn't there or the designs weren't there, it just wouldn't have worked as well. An investment company investing this amount of money shows that there is a Business Value to Design that is often dismissed as being frivolous or unnecessary. I know this as a designer working in many businesses, the investment in the design team is often not there.


It's seen as a nice to have and a bit of a pointless exercise that numbers people can't quantify on a return on investment or on a spreadsheet. However, there was one company that comes to mind that I worked for that did invest in the design team when I was there, and they followed through on a number of my ideas, unsure of what the financial benefit would be, but they also invested in training and the tools and resources that we needed as creatives to deliver a great product. I've seen a whole range of different teams and ways of working, and when you invest in that design process, you get consistent handwriting and your aesthetic. The second point I wanted to talk about is investing in good design can also plug the holes where money leaks into your business. The main areas are leftover stock and returns.


If you think about it, bad design or execution of a design will cost you money in those two key areas. It makes sense. Experienced designers, understand and incorporate the customer their lifestyle, the way they wear and care for the product. They do this to reduce risk as well as reduce the amount of unsold stock. The other area returns are a key metric that many businesses measure and report on weekly or fortnightly, and they look to it for feedback on products. You'll often see on return slips that you can check a box for the reason for return. commonly this will include things like the fit or the item didn't look like the image online. This is a big money hole in business, and it's the reason why they measure it. If you think about it, you are selling the stock, and even if you're not shouldering the cost of returns, you're paying a customer service person to deal with the return authorizations, then you're unpacking the stock when it gets back, updating the inventory again, and trying to sell that item again.

You want to keep that number down as low as possible. Finally, the last point I wanted to make and talk about, and this is more directly linked to secondhand September, is that more and more businesses are looking to own more of their product lifecycle. This means that once that initial customer is finished using it or needs to have it repaired, businesses are thinking about how to get their hands back on that product and do that service for them and move it through other avenues of their business so that circular economies are growing globally. Businesses need to think about how they are going to generate revenue that isn't reliant on new products all the time. Basically, everyone's thinking about how to diversify their business by either offering a resale option or repair. If something isn't designed well with good product construction or fit choices upfront, an item isn't going to hold up very long.


It's not going to be held up long enough to be able to be resold, and the cost of repair could come up too early in the product's lifecycle, or it may need to be done repeatedly. It's a fine line or a delicate balance between being able to provide those services to your customers without them thinking it's a quality issue, and them then thinking when they do need something new that you are not the brand they want to buy it from. Definitely something to think about if you're weighing up whether to invest in a designer upfront. But I'll leave you with one final question to get you thinking, “What are you leaving on the table or what revenue are you losing down the line by either not working with an experienced designer or not investing in your design team?” 


Which brings us to the end of today's episode. I hope you found today's topic interesting, and if you need help with how to incorporate better designs into your product range or more support within your design team, as I said, I'll be available again in October. Get in touch at info@belindahumphrey.com to either get a quote on your product or your project or just have a chat about what you're struggling with. As always, you'll find the show notes and any links for today's episode on the website, belindahumphrey.com in the podcast section. Thanks so much for reading. See you next time.


Disclaimer: Whilst every effort is made to ensure that information is accurate at the time of recording, much like the fashion industry itself, this information may change. 



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