Welcome to my design room, where creativity flows (most of the time 😉) and dreams become reality. As the sole fashion designer for West Indies Wear, I always start to think about new designs in January, that is our mid-summer school vacation, so there are many hours by the pool, watching the kids swim with a sketch pad on hand. A new collection is a year long process, so its better to start as early as possible.
By the middle of July it's mid-winter in Australia, so that can be tricky trying to dream up exotic resortwear, when I am commuting up to my design studio in my Island Girl Sweatshirt & Ugg Boots. By this stage my weeks are generally filled with pre-production preparations. The 2024 collection is already designed, I am waiting for some last minute samples to arrive, and approving the ones that have already been received. I am working on the size specifications and making sure the factory knows how to size all the garments correctly. The samples are made in a size M, but as we offer all the way up to 3XL, its important to make sure that the garment is still going to fit great.
My sales reps in USA are planning their Fall trade shows and eagerly waiting for the new collection samples to arrive, so that they can see what I have created for them. With samples being sent all over the world, between the factory in India, my studio in Australia and the reps in USA, I find the butterflies always start fluttering. Any package arriving with “Clothing Samples” written on the customs form, makes me nervous! "Did I get it right?"
The inspiration behind the collection.
When it comes to designing a new collection, finding inspiration is key. Since I no longer live in the Caribbean, I often draw inspiration from past experiences and memories of the captivating islands that I explored so deeply for 10 years of sailing. The vibrant colors of the Caribbean Sea, the lush greenery, the beating sun, and the laid-back “island time” atmosphere will forever serve as my muse. I always want to create pieces that will transport the wearer (you and me!) to a tropical paradise, evoking a sense of relaxation and pure bliss. And most importantly, I am inspired by our community of VIP island girls. I am always so grateful to have a “design team” of over 1800 women in our Island Family Facebook group, who are so generous with their feedback and allow me to both improve and regenerate past designs, as well as create stunning new garments that I know you are going to fall in love with.
Designing with comfort in mind.
Comfort is paramount when it comes to designing West Indies Wear. I believe that when you feel comfortable in what you're wearing, it radiates confidence and joy. That's why I always choose cotton as the primary fabric. Cotton is not only soft and breathable, but it also has excellent moisture-wicking properties, making it perfect not just for warm island climates but also for those of us peri-menopausal women who are suddenly being struck with hot flashes. By using cotton, I ensure that my designs are not only island-stylish but also comfortable enough to be worn in whichever climate you are visiting.
The Design Process.
The design process is a labor of love that involves countless hours of brainstorming, sketching, and refining. It all starts with a mood board, a collage of images, colors, and textures that serve as the foundation for the collection. I then sketch out my print and style ideas and scan my hand-drawn sketches into Photoshop so I can start experimenting with different layouts, and colorways etc. Once the prints and colors are finalised I need to figure out what this design will look good in - a dress? a tunic? a sarong?
Bringing the collection to life.
Once the designing stage is complete, it is now time for the manufacturers in India to work their magic. The first step is to create small squares of sample fabric (“strike-offs”) for each different print and send those physical swatches to my home in Australia for approval. I check the colors and quality matches what I had envisioned for the garments and then either send approval to continue or feedback to make changes. Although I have been working with this factory for 12 years, it is very important to ensure that the fabrics are exactly what I am dreaming of before they continue with production. Once the strike-offs are approved, the manufacturers will make a sample garment for each new item in the collection. This is where the real fun begins!! This week, I received several samples for the 2024 range and I eagerly tore into the package to see what was inside! Although incredibly fun to hold my new designs in my hands, I also do feel quite nervous during the approval process. All the self-doubt feelings flood in as I ask the question “is this as good as last year's collection?” “Am I on the right track?”, “Will my customers love this?”! I keep all the approved samples on a rack to prepare for a photo shoot, which usually happens sometime in August. My boutique reps also receive a set of samples to their homes in the USA, so they are able to show the line at trade shows and in-boutique visits.
Barcoding the collection.
During the last week, I have been creating unique Universal Product Codes (UPCs) for each new garment in the collection. The first 6 numbers in the West Indies Wear barcodes are uniquely mine so no other product in the whole world will begin with that set of numbers. Crazy right? From there, I use online software to create and archive UPCs for each new garment, including in each different style, color way, and size. Once created, those UPC’s are never retired or used again so even old styles that are no longer available, still have their codes in the database.
Pricing the Collection.
Last week I also started working on pricing for the 2024 collection. Pricing is a delicate balance between running a successful business and making the collection accessible to customers. While high-quality fabrics and skilled craftsmanship come at a cost, I believe that fashion should be inclusive and affordable. That's why I strive to find a happy medium, where the price reflects the value of the garments without breaking the bank. By carefully considering factors such as production costs, freight, duty, storage and the expenses involved with our amazing 3rd party warehouse in Tennessee (they take care of shipping all of our orders) I aim to offer all my island girls a fair and reasonable price point. Over the last 3 years of covid, pricing has become even more tricky, since world cotton prices soared and even the increase in gas prices affected the transportation costs. It's been a tricky time for everyone. Once I have priced in USD, my job is still not done! I then research exchange rate projections, so that I can re-price the entire range in AUD for West Indies Wear Australia.
The feedback loop.
Feedback is absolutely invaluable when it comes to improving the collection and meeting the needs of all island girls. I always encourage island girls to share their thoughts and suggestions, as they are the ones who will be wearing the garments. Having the Facebook group and our weekly live chats have been so helpful to gather constructive criticism so that I can continue to grow and improve. This feedback loop ensures that each collection is better than the last, that I am continuously evolving as a designer, and that you will continue to love West Indies Wear for many years to come.
As last week already feels like it’s well and truly in the past, and I have moved onto new tasks and projects, writing this article has been a fun way for me to remind myself of where I am at in the evolution of a West Indies Wear annual collection design process. From the initial spark of inspiration to the final touches on each garment, it is always an incredible journey. I am grateful for the opportunity to do what I love and to share my creations with you, my friends! I hope you have enjoyed this sneak peek into my week in the design room.