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Oct 17, 2022

How to deal with fashion research, creatively

Why is it important to do research when creating clothing and accessories collections, whether personal or for a specific brand? Is the fact of having ideas and just drawing not enough? A designer shouldn’t have just one idea; they should have 1,000 and constantly look for new inspirations because fashion continually changes and reinterprets itself.

To make a narrative of your creativity involves a deep and systematic work of exploration, analysis and even criticism of your initial idea. That is when research becomes the essential tool for designers to achieve their goals. I would venture to say that 80 per cent of a collection’s success comes from well-done research.

As a tutor, I always advise students to start investigating from their personal experience, from something that represents them: talking about themselves and telling their stories. After all, designing a collection is about telling a part of us; that is what we love and what we want to communicate. The narrative behind this initial idea must find a place in our world’s social, cultural, ethical, and aesthetic context

Imagination, curiosity, versatility, culture, and discipline must be part of a fashion designer’s DNA; observing changes and grasping the spirit of the times are essential qualities for a positive and ideal approach to research. The initial idea becomes a concept: this concept (to be later translated into a product/collection) should also be investigated outside the fashion world.

To grasp the flavour of contemporaneity, a designer should explore other fields to prove that their narration aligns with the surroundings and the world as we live it.

From art to furnishings, from design objects to great architecture, from the history of past events to the history of costume, technology to the metaverse, food to lifestyle, nature and poetry or cinema, from a memory and a journey to a special feeling, the author can retrieve information to reinforce the initial idea.

All the visual material collected from different sources (publications, social media, trendy websites, magazines) must be supported by explanatory text, quotes, notes, and keywords. It should include references by citing the source of origin. 

And what about the images supporting the whole project? They should be interconnected, speak the same language, and tell the story related to the primary idea.

After understanding the fundamentals of creative research, we can now delve deeper into the topic by trying to understand the difference between primary and secondary research. The students should be aware of the differences in the process of studying their project.

Specifically, how should a fashion student approach these two methods? 

Primary Research

It involves the student’s active participation, including direct observation and experimentation of the elements they collected firsthand; this work is done with dedication and requires a lot of time.

Interviews, surveys, observations, choice of colours, materials, experimentation, manipulations, creative ideas, sketches, colour tests, and creation of prints or hardware: all these elements can inspire new ideas for potential products of collections.

The researcher must then rely on their personal ability to analyse, experiment, process, and make individual critical evaluations of what they are creating using the available materials: it is a very detailed and thorough process.


Secondary Research

It is the assimilation from research conducted by others. The student relies on secondary sources, which have already been studied, analysed and accomplished by others on the same topic: a collection and synthesis of data.

We reckon on different sources by gathering information and existing materials: visual material collected using different sources (publications, social media, trend websites, magazines, quotes, photographs, and other brands’ collections) from various fields.

This method involves the researcher’s passive participation and usually takes less time. The student will use all the collected materials to find confirmation of their initial idea and later develop their own independent and original thinking on the topic through primary research.

So what comes next? The following step will lead the student to observe something new while experimenting with material manipulations, choosing colours and fabrics, and designing ideas, silhouettes, and details. This practice represents a process of growth and development whose best creative content will be the premise for creating a solid contemporary and personal collection.

Planning in-depth research, full of ideas and inspirations from different contexts and interpreted on a personal level, allows the student to expand their initial vision and enrich it with new elements to achieve unexpected results.



Simona Schiappucci,
Design methods, Collection Development and Accessories Design Tutor, Milan