Skip to Content

How to Design Clothes

Do you dream of watching a model stroll down a catwalk wearing a brand you launched? Or maybe you just want to create clothes for yourself that match your taste perfectly. Either way, you need to learn how to design clothes before bringing your dream to life.

Popular methods for designing clothes include sketching designs by hand, pinning fabric on a model, or designing digitally. Modern fashion designers use apps, online tools, and software to create digital designs. All design tools depend on a basic understanding of a garment’s line, silhouette, color, and texture.

In this article, you will learn the basic elements of clothing design. You will discover five popular methods for designing clothes. Finally, you will find tips on how to start your own clothing line.

How to Design Clothes

What Skills Do You Need to Design Clothes

You need many skills to successfully design clothes or become a fashion designer, including creativity and solid communication abilities. Nowadays, becoming a famous designer is not about having an eccentric personality or living an artistic life in a cold garret in France. Instead, it’s more about developing a strong business model.

Designing clothes involves generating new ideas, creating the components of a garment on paper, a model, or design software, making a 2D pattern out of that concept drawing, and then sewing samples (called “the toile” or “the muslin”) to see what works.

After this, you still have to finalize details like the types of fabric and accessories that will compose the garment and get buy-in from the producer to pay for these materials. Finally, you make a real sample garment using the selected fabrics to display and use for marketing purposes.

The top skills you need as a clothes designer include:

  • Business sense and communication skills. Coming up with shiny new ideas is not enough if you don’t know how to market the idea and make it popular! Plus, no designer works in a bubble, so you need strong communication skills and the ability to work well with your team as you produce designs.
  • Of course, you also need artistic ability and lots of creativity! You don’t want to just copy designs already on sale–you want to set trends and come up with exciting new designs. As part of this, you need training in fashion drawing.
  • You also need a strong understanding of garment construction and all the different features of clothing. As just one small example, you could make a skirt that features pleats, flares, darts, gathers, or an asymmetrical hemline. You need to know what those terms mean and what they look like on a garment!
  • You need to know how to sew. Even top designers have to understand how to physically put a garment together. Plus, most designers make their own model garments even after years of work!
  • Finally, you need to get plugged into the current styles and understand all the latest trends.

Key Elements of Clothing Design

The most important elements of clothing design include the shape, color, texture, and line of the garment.

  • The shape or silhouette of a garment depends on the lines and geometric or natural shapes worked into the physical structure of a garment. The line can flow when fabric drapes loosely or has a more geometric shape, like an angle when padding, ribbing, or other elements stiffen the garment.
  • The color of the garment plays a key role in determining its design! Designers choose from a huge color palette and consider seasonal tones, trending colors, and patterns.
  • The texture of the fabric and accessories used in a garment also impacts the overall design. Knubbly, thick wool makes sense in the design for a coat but would look itchy and uncomfortable if cut like a tank top.
  • The overall balance of the garment has a less concrete definition but refers to the general harmony of the garment elements, such as the color, texture, shape, and purpose of the item.

How to Design Clothes: 5 Methods

When you design a garment from scratch, you start with a blank slate and use tools like paper, a model, or a computer screen to help you compose the elements of the piece of clothing.

1. On Paper

Clothing Design

The most traditional way to begin a clothing design is to use paper and pencil.

  1. Most designers start with a sketch of the human form, called a croquis. This just provides a framework to build the garment around. The human model usually has a stylized appearance and does not have to look 3D or anatomically correct, but it should use accurate proportions.
  2. Once you have a sketched figure on the page, add the fundamental shapes of the garment. For example, you might start with a triangle for a skirt.
  3. Begin to sketch the details. For the skirt example, you might add wavy lines and shading to indicate a full skirt that ruffles around the model’s body. Knowing how to indicate wrinkles, pleats, darts, folds, drapes, and ruffles will help you accurately convey your design concept.
  4. Add realistic details to make it look like the garment is on a body, like wrinkles at the elbows or curves at the waist.
  5. Next, you will need to incorporate color. Drawing markers work well though you will want to add your lighter colors and then the darker ones as you build in texture and shading to indicate shapes.
  6. Pay attention to places where the shape of a garment will interrupt a pattern and darken the texture to indicate shaping and shadows.

2. With a Dummy

how to design dresses

Another old-school way to design clothes is to use a model and pinning or sewing to form a mock-up of the design. This method is the only 3D way to create a garment concept, which is quite interesting!

Technically, fashion designers call this method “draping,” which means the technique of arranging fabric on a form to create a garment.

  1. Cut out the basic shapes of the garment from muslin and pin them to a sewing model. Use sewing pins to mock-up the seams, pleats, and shaping elements of the garment so you can see what it will look like.
  2. Sometimes, you may fold a garment into place, pinning it to the model as you go. For example, you can finger-fold the pleats in a dress and pin them in place to try out different sizes and widths of pleats for your design.
  3. Once you like the appearance of the draped garment, you will need to translate that 3D design into flat, two-dimensional paper pattern pieces so you can cut out the pieces from the real fabric for the garment and sew it together.

3. Digitally

designing clothing

The most popular way to design clothes today is to design them digitally. You can find hundreds of different design software programs, including some that offer basic training in the fundamentals of design and others that cost thousands of dollars and come with marketing and business tools.

But pretty much all clothing design programs offer a variation on the same basic design steps:

  1. Gather inspiration in terms of colors, patterns, lines, and textures. Many designers make a mood board (though beginners may use Pinterest!). This serves as a general pool of ideas you can draw from as you begin to craft the garment concept.
  2. Most software will come with various premade templates you can start with, such as an A-line dress template or a puffer coat template.
  3. Whether you start with a template or use graphic design tools to outline the garment yourself in the software, the next step is to rough out the silhouette or shape of the piece.
  4. Then use the tools provided to benign to add color, texture, shading, and shaping elements to your digital sketch.
  5. Most design software will allow you to translate your digital image into CAD. This stands for computer-aided design or a technical sketch.
  6. Some fashion software will even translate your CAD into a two-dimensional sewing pattern for you!

4. App

Best Clothing Design Software

One of the easiest ways to design clothes today is to use an app. This has already started changing, but apps usually don’t provide the same richness of features as a classic design software package.

However, apps do give you options like drag-and-drop design elements. Plus, fashion design apps today provide lots of services besides just sketching tools.

  • Apps like RepSketch give you a leg up by allowing you to start with a big pool of templates rather than making your design concept from scratch. You can find many similar apps that work well for people who don’t have a strong background in drawing and may not know how to create stylized elements of a design sketch on their own.
  • Apps like WGSN inspire and track historic and current fashion trends.
  • The Adobe Illustrator app gives you comprehensive design tools, including the ability to create technical sketches.
  • The Techpacker app does the nitty gritty work of translating the specs of your garment into data that manufacturers and businesses can use to reproduce the clothing for sale.

You can also play around with fun apps that allow you to make moving, realistic-looking avatars to illustrate how a garment will fit and flow or apps that let you design digital clothes for game characters. With so many different types of clothing design apps out there, you can find the perfect app for any budding designer!

5. Online

You can find many clothing design tools in the cloud and online. Like design apps, fashion websites come with many different abilities and purposes.

  • Big-name clothing design websites like TailorNova let you create an account to make 3D fit models, sketches, and even whole fashion collections. This online tool offers many features you would find in a pricey design software package.
  • Another popular way to design clothes online is to use custom-order websites. Suppose you want a particular style of wedding dress, but you don’t know how to sew. You can go to these websites and select each feature of the dress, like the style of sleeves, the shape of the neckline, and the line of the skirt, and then order the customized gown made just for you.
  • You can also use websites that allow you to create custom designs to make clothes to sell. One popular variation of this idea is the graphic t-shirt industry. Many designers make their own graphics and then have a custom clothing website produce the shirts for them.

How to Design Clothes for Beginners

The best way to design clothes for beginners is to master all the basic skills you need, like drawing or digitally drawing, creating patterns, and sewing garments together.

The easiest way to accomplish this is to enroll in a fashion design program and learn from the experts. The other huge advantage to getting a degree in fashion is that your program will allow you to build connections that prove essential later in your career.

But if going to school full-time is not an option, you can also sign up for online courses, read textbooks you find at used bookstores, and practice as much as possible.

Another way to learn from the experts is to get an internship or low-level job working for an existing design company. This will give you the inside scoop on what it is like to design clothes, from the origins of the design concept to the production of the garments to sell.

One of the great things about learning o the job is that nothing is theoretical because you get to see how all the moving parts of the industry fit together! You may also learn things you didn’t expect. For example, do you know how much math you have to do to design clothes? Believe it or not, garment design is just as much science as art.

Good fashion design software often comes with comprehensive tutorials that will help you learn all the basic skills you need to create digital clothing designs.

What Software Do You Use to Design Clothes?

You can use many different types of software to design clothes, such as a solid general-appeal program like Adobe Illustrator or a fashion-specific program like CLO 3D. But plenty of other excellent software exists, too. Some of it provides specific clothing-design elements like the ability to turn your concept into sewing patterns,

  • The best software for a beginning fashion designer is probably a simpler tool like Sketchbook, which essentially serves as a digital sketch pad for you to learn how to put the elements of a garment together.
  • The classic program for design students is the powerful Adobe Illustrator suite, which gives you all the vector design tools you need to learn how to use them in this digital world. That said, you will need to learn how to use the program intensively if you have no background in graphic design. It does not have a simple drag-and-drop model like some fashion design apps.
  • CLO 3D gives you really neat virtual 3D modes to display our dresses. It can also create CAD sketches for you.
  • Corel Draw is another powerhouse design program with all the graphic capabilities you could need.
  • Then again, packages like the Digital Fashion Pro suite essentially give you a crash course in fashion design and teach you step-by-step how to put a garment design together.
  • Other software programs have a more specific fashion purpose, like Pattern Smith, which designs sewing patterns to turn your concepts into real-world clothes.

How Do Designers Design Their Clothes?

designing clothes

Fashion designers use a multi-step process to design clothes, including using sketches or digital graphic design programs to illustrate the details of a garment.

The professional design process follows these general steps:

  1. First, the designer and her team brainstorm a mood board or a storyboard. This presents the design’s theme, vibe, or general feeling before any specifics get put down on paper. It might feature scraps of fabric to give hints at color and texture and even some sketches to start roughing in the silhouette.
  2. Alternatively, many designers working for big-name brands start the design process with a brief or a request for a specific type of garment. They can brainstorm around that concept as a starting point.
  3. Second, the designer creates a working drawing or a flat. This provides a solid rendering of the garment concept. It turns the ideas from the mood board into something visual and real.
  4. At this point, the designer will also narrow down the right fabrics, colors, and patterns for the garment.
  5. Next, the designer or her team will mock up a toile or a rough model of the garment made out of muslin. This gives the team a chance to tweak shaping elements, hemlines, or other features that may have looked better on paper than they do in real life.
  6. In most large design companies, a separate team of technical artists will handle drafting the CAD and creating a sewing pattern out of the toile. In small companies, the designer will likely handle all of these tasks herself.
  7. A lot of math happens here! Things like seam allowance, pattern piece measurements, and even the space between buttons of the length of a zipper all require lots of numbers and expert knowledge.
  8. Finally, the team will craft a real version of the garment using the right material, accents, and closures.
  9. The team then hires models to test the garments and check things like the wearing ease of the clothing and how it drapes during movement.

Can I Be a Fashion Designer If I Can’t Sew?

You can be a fashion designer even if you can’t sew due to the popularity of digital design tools, but you will likely become a better designer if you master garment construction. Sewing clothes give you a hands-on understanding of all the tiny building blocks or elements of garments that you need to understand to create a new design.

Think of it this way: you wouldn’t want a person to design a car if they had never learned how an engine worked or for a cook to write recipes without ever actually putting the ingredients together in a pot to see how they taste!

You can learn how to make pictures of clothes in fashion design apps without ever physically putting a garment together. But you could also find a cheap beginner-level sewing machine at a craft store near you and spend a few hours on evenings and weekends to master your craft.

The added benefit here is that you can quickly get good enough to make your own clothes out of designs that you create!

Can I Be a Self-Taught Fashion Designer?

You can be a self-taught fashion designer if you put in a lot of work, but it will prove a pretty challenging career path in most cases.

Plenty of hugely famous fashion designers never went to design school. Coco Chanel, for instance, left school at the age of 18, but she remains one of the most iconic figures in the history of fashion of all time. Of course, she grew up in a convent learning to sew and was able to translate those skills into garment design later in life.

Manolo Blahnik also never earned a fashion degree. However, he spent more than ten years working in shoe factories and learning everything he could before he began designing his world-famous footwear.

The bottom line is that you can become a self-taught fashion designer with a lot of work and a good dose of luck. You will need to learn drawing skills, master graphic design basics, learn how to sew, and develop a method for tracking fashion trends. You can start with free YouTube clips or invest in a more comprehensive online course to help you check off basic skill sets.

Even after all that, you will have to either develop a business plan to launch your own clothing line or build connections to get a job with a design company. One great way to do this is to attend any fashion events you can get to and begin meeting people who work in the industry.

How Much Does it Cost to Design Your Own Clothes?

How much it costs to design your own clothes for personal wear depends on many factors, like where you source the fabric and whether you use a free or paid design program.

If you use free design software or draw your own sketches, you can design a garment for nothing more than the cost of your own time and patience. Of course, you have to buy fabric to create the clothing, but you can find low-cost ways to source fabric, like visiting thrift stores, buying from discount websites, or even repurposing older clothing.

If you subscribe to an online program that will turn your CAD sketch into a sewing pattern for you, it may cost upwards of a thousand dollars just to access the design tools.

Likewise, buying high-end fabric could easily pay $25 to $50 per yard of cloth.

Of course, the huge advantage of designing your own clothes is that you will create clothes in a personal, unique style that expresses who you are as an individual. Plus, you can tailor the garments to fit your body type perfectly.

How Much Money Do You Need to Start Your Own Clothing Line?

It can cost anywhere from $500 to $50,000 to start your own clothing line, depending on many factors like your experience and connections and the size of your business model.

If you have connections with other designers, you have a leg up on many beginning designers. But still, you may want to start small. Starting with just one or two garments, for instance, will have a lower up-front cost than launching a whole line of clothing.

The cost of starting a clothing line depends on where you source your fabric, whether you use environmentally friendly production methods, and how you market the garments to your customers.

  • Fabric can cost a lot, especially if you want environmentally friendly items like organic cotton. Synthetic fabric like polyester costs less but is generally seen as lower quality.
  • One of the highest costs you have to figure out is paying for the manufacturing of the clothes. In some cases, you can rent or share space in a factory for certain types of garment production, but pretty much all clothing production requires hands-on work from real people, which costs a lot!
  • Logistics like where to store finished items can also cost a lot, as you will need to have storage and shipping paid for to get clothes to your customers.
  • If you want to establish an online store for your clothing brand, you will need an initial investment of between $2,000 to $9,000 to pay someone to build you a custom site. Because this costs so much, some people start a clothing line somewhere much cheaper, like Etsy.
  • Finally, if you want your clothing line to succeed, you will also need to find ways to market it, which does not usually come cheap.

All that aside, keep in mind that starting any business usually requires an upfront investment and that your goal is to pay off that investment with your profits over time. Many first-time business owners get small business loans or find investors to support their creative ideas. Without this, no small businesses would ever get off the ground!


Designing clothes is a multi-step process beginning with creative brainstorming, like making mood boards or storyboards. The designer then translates these ideas into a flat sketch, which allows the team to sew a toile of the design for further alteration. Sewing patterns and technical sketches come next, and then the designer will finally create a real model for the garment using the selected fabrics.

Clothing design requires skills like fashion drawing, sewing, and graphic design. Fashion design is a team effort that needs strong communication skills and teamwork. It also takes a deep understanding of clothing trends.