Little Change, Big Difference & How Fashion Design Is A Lot Like Creative Writing

The more I looked at the original design for the Tycooness doctor style satchel, the more the handles bothered me. I changed it slightly and I believe that change saves the bag. In fact, I can’t even look at the original design now without shuddering a bit. Ew. What was I thinking?

The new handles give the bag a cleaner feel. Stitched on and with metal reinforcement studs, these handles are going to be super sturdy. I’ve also updated blurbs for each piece in the debut collection on the regular website, here (click link).

Funny thing is the revision in the Tycooness bag happened contemporaneously with a revision I made in a short story I’ve been working on. (For those who don’t know, prior to starting Taryn Zhang, I was an aspiring fiction writer. Lawyer by day, fiction writer by night. Now I’m a lawyer by day, handbags designer by night, and fiction writer when I can get it in.) Like the handle attachments, a minor edit in that short story changed it entirely. I had been feeling bleh about the piece,  and that minor edit was what made me go from liking it to loving it.

The contemporaneous revisions got me thinking again about how gosh darn similar creative writing and fashion design are. First and most frustrating are the tropes. Almost any narrative arc you can think of has been done before and will be done many a more times after yours. What sets one story about girl coming-of-age from another story about girl coming-of-age are the details. Likewise, an established fashion designer once told me to rest assured that whatever I come up with will be old news. Somebody else will have come up with it already, and that silhouette or arrangement of zippers or what-not will show up again after mine. It’s something every designer has to learn to get over.

I’ve also learned that after completion of the first draft (of a short story or chapter of a novel) or preliminary sketch (of a handbag), I have to set it aside for a while. When I look at it again with a fresh pair of eyes, awkward sentences, grave omissions of plot, or unsettling proportions and incompatible styling immediately leap out at me. This is because right after the first draft is done, I think, “hey, that’s pretty good, that’s all right stuff.” But then when I review it again in a few, I realize, “wow, this is junk, I’ll be lucky if I can salvage half of it!”

Without any intent of making the design of my bags autobiographical or reflective of my personal aesthetic preferences, Taryn Zhang handbags nonetheless represent my view of the world, specifically women. Same with creative writing. Even when we write a novel that we’d argue tooth and nail “is not autobiographical at all,” it still ends up one way or another an extension of who we are and what we’ve gone through in life.

Then of course, the main theme of this post, revisions. Revision, revision, revision. Edit, edit, edit. These are mantras repeated in both arts. Creative writing students will be instructed by their professors to revise and edit, and then revise and edit again. There’s no such thing as a final draft. How many times do MFA candidates hear that! Similarly, on Project Runway Tim Gunn is constantly telling the contestants to edit their pieces, edit their collections, that the most important aspect to design is editing. It’s kind of uncanny how Tim Gunn could probably teach a writing workshop and Lan Samantha Chang could teach fashion design. They’d be dishing the same set of advice to their students.

Finally, perhaps the most difficult, is finding your voice, and maintaining a consistency in style. Young writers tend to sound like the big-name authors they revere. It takes them a while to find their own voice, and then once they do, it takes them a while longer to learn how to maintain it and be consistent. Turns out fashion design isn’t all that different. To start, whether we’re conscious of it or not, our designs are frighteningly similar to the designers we love. We need to, well first, become conscious of it, and then second, develop our own distinct aesthetic point of view. If that isn’t difficult enough to handle, we then need to learn how to be consistent, just like in writing. Each collection needs to be cohesive. Easier said than done, for sure.

At present, I’m scrutinizing the pieces for cohesiveness, and trying to reconcile that with what I foresee to be saleable bags. For example, I don’t think the Jetsetter is consistent in design with the Catalyst and Workaholic. But Hubby is insistent that I keep the Jetsetter as part of the collection because he believes it will sell better than the Catalyst and Workaholic. He’s got a knack for marketability and all things money or sales related, so I’m inclined to listen to him, even though the artist part of me thinks it’s an aesthetic thorn in the collection. Hence, putting together a solid line feels like one of the hardest tests on my decision-making capabilities I’ve ever encountered. Sigh. We’ll see what happens.

The question I’m left to ponder is this: which am I worse at, novel writing or designing handbags? Oh dear. Hmm….

All illustrations above were rendered in MS Paint and/or Jasc Paint Shop Pro.

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