Episode 95: This red flag can reveal your circular design efforts are in trouble




Hello and welcome to episode 95 of the Fashion Unearthed podcast. 

If you've been listening for a while, welcome back, and if you're new, thank you for joining me. I'm Belinda Humphrey and the idea came for this episode from a chat with a client about the development process, and spotting this red flag early can save you time and money down the line, as well as not to miss the mark when you're trying to design for circularity. And if upskilling your design team to be able to do that design for circularity is on your radar, get in touch, as this year I'm running circular design workshops to do exactly that. Send me an email, info@belindahumphrey.com and we can chat about some options. 

I also want to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which I work and record this podcast on the Boon Wurrong people of the Kulin Nation, and pay my respects to elders, past and present, and acknowledge that sovereignty has never been ceded. 

So what is the red flag. Well, there can be many, to be honest, but often one of the first questions I will ask when troubleshooting problems in an apparel business is how many samples are you needing before going to production? And it's this little junction of product development that can reveal a lot, because if it's consistently more than two, you've got a problem for a number of reasons. And you know this builds on an earlier episode of the podcast, Episode 45, it was called your Garment Sample Comes In Looking Terrible. Now what? And that was where I talked about opening up the box of your first samples and you're not only underwhelmed, you are stressed. And it can be saved from there. But that's often the first instance of an amber warning light coming on, so to speak. If you then go on to get a second sample, fit that sample, send comments. Then a third sample fit those samples, comment and send those comments. Fourth, fifth, even. 


It's a disconnect, and what the disconnect is can be a range of things, but generally they boil down to communication, timeline or suitable product fit with the manufacturer. 

Now, if you have been through a proper process of validating a manufacturer, which is something I go into in my sustainable and ethical sourcing guide, then you can generally put that to the side and focus on communication or timeline. Now the part that is important in your communication is having made 95% of the product design decisions before communicating and sending it to a supplier. And there's a number of ways to do that doing a little test, looking at a similar garment, being clear on what construction you want, being confident on fabric choice, etc. Even investing in a pattern maker to iron out those design details before you send it on to the manufacturer. If it's a timeline issue, it's still related to communication, because it means that you don't have enough time because it's being wasted out ironing out decisions rather than confirming your choices, and that's what the sampling phase should be. It should be a confirmation of your choices that you've made. 

If the sampling phase is going on and on, it means you're not clear on your design or the design choices aren't working. So bringing this back to designing for circularity much like other design decisions, you have to think this through before sampling and test it. 3d design software is being used more and more in this testing phase to further reduce samples. But even if you are using that, you need to have decided on what design decisions you're going to implement in this product so that it fulfills those various phases of a circular economy down the line. And if you are going to second sample because of fit issues, quality issues, wrong fabric choices these are the basic things that will also be a problem down the line when it enters the second hand market and the circular economy, and it will likely enter that circular economy sooner. So if you're not nailing your product by the second sample, you're not only risking your money as well as time down the line to mark down stock etc. But you are missing an opportunity to have your products fit for the circular economy. 

Finally, I want to end with some advice I always give to clients. If you're nervous about a style and it's not working, for whatever reason and when I say working I mean in a sense it's not what you initially pictured it would be cancel it, cut your losses and try something else. 

Wasting resources in bad product doesn't help anyone. As I said earlier, if you are interested to learn more about how to upskill your design team with a circular design workshop, send me an email info@belindahumphrey.com and we can have a chat about some options. And, 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 listening. See you next time. 

Thanks for listening to the Fashion Unearthed podcast. If you want to get in touch, head over to or you can find me on Instagram @BelindaHumphrey_ 


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