Creating clothing: How does fashion go from concept to closet?

Donna Ricco ‘ 81 and local boutique owner Faye Wetzel of Faye’s shared their insights into the process of designing, merchandising and retailing fashion during a luncheon at the Woman’s Club of Wisconsin on Tuesday, April 9.

Ricco, a longtime dress designer who is now the Executive Fellow in Mount Mary’s fashion department, explained that for her, the foundation of design begins with the consumer in mind. Ricco is widely regarded for designing dresses with a focus on comfort, quality fabric and thoughtful details.

“In my experience, the best design starts with a plan to solve a problem for a particular customer,” Ricco said “In my career, I Donna Ricco and Faye Wetzelrecognized the need for women to have dresses to fit and flatter their busy lifestyles. That need influences the inspiration boards, color, fabric and trend research and assortment planning that follows.”

Draping, patternmaking, cutting and sewing the first sample is only the beginning, Ricco said. Fittings, approvals, mass production and quality control complete the process.

Wetzel, also a familiar name on Milwaukee’s fashion scene, has operated Faye’s Boutique a retailer for 30 years. She explained how the fashion industry process extends into store planning, market research, wholesale buying and merchandising.

She explained how years ago, she and her staff would base their purchasing decisions on buying trips to New York City. But now, to ensure that the merchandise best suits the needs of her customers, she has a dedicated team that attends markets in New York, Chicago, Dallas, LA, and Las Vegas.

In an age where traditional retailing is in flux and online shopping is on the rise, Wetzel explained that her competitive edge comes from building relationships and creating experiences.

 “Knowledge of the Milwaukee lifestyle and building relationships with our clients are what set us apart,” Wetzel said. “We understand that being comfortable and confident in what we wear has a lot to do with our level of self-confidence as women.”

The future of fashion, Ricco said, lies at the heart of Mount Mary’s mission to inform and challenge fashion students, by providing them with the hands-on skills, creative design, trend forecasting and merchandise planning tools and technology they need to succeed in the design and business of fashion.

Wetzel and Ricco agreed that Milwaukee is a community that supports and sustains a healthy fashion marketplace. Women are particularly discerning, Wetzel said, due to the city’s proximity to Chicago, while Ricco explained that the city’s specialty boutiques and presence of retailers such as Von Maur and Nordstrom’s mean that shoppers have world-class options.

Ricco and Wetzel told the group of 175 attendees that as consumers, their purchasing power make them important participants in the fashion chain and encouraged them to make thoughtful decisions on what they wear and where to shop.

“For many women, the business and art of fashion is something of a mystery, yet this process informs our personal style and appearance,” Ricco said.

The event was co-sponsored by Mount Mary University and the Woman’s Club of Wisconsin.