A UX case study on a white t-shirt design based on user research and how this project led me to starting my own clothing company.

8 min read

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Role:

Concept Development, User Research, UX Design, Prototyping, Production, Quality Control

Tools:

Illustrator, Figma, Photoshop, Lightroom, Pen & Paper

Project Summary

The idea of launching corduroi club started in 2015 when I was eagerly looking for well made quality t-shirts for myself. At the time, there was very limited selection available in the market, the options were either poor quality department store t-shirts ranging from $7 - $15 versus expensive designer blank t-shirts ranging from $100 - $200. I noticed a market void in North America that demands for mid-range quality blank t-shirts for both men and women.

 

In this project, I designed a white pocket t-shirt based on understanding customer needs through qualitative interviews along with exploratory research on garment manufacturing. In the span of 4 years, corduroi club has successfully supplied the market with a mid range quality t-shirt priced at $60 USD and emerged into an e-commerce store garnering an audience of 11K people on Instagram, as well as global retail stockists located in 5 different cities in the world.

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corduroi club's first pop-up shop at SORT Store in Kitsilano, Vancouver.

Project Goals

  • Research and understand current pain points customers have with t-shirts in the market 

  • Define and prioritize customer needs through empathy

  • Standard sizing / unisex fit for North American consumers

  • Create prototype to validate design before production 

Qualitative Interviews

"Customers feel valued and important when brands express customer care through quality and longevity of their product."

By conducting in-person interviews, I gathered qualitative feedback from customers to learn about their needs and details they look for that defines a good, proper-fitting t-shirt.

 

Discoveries:

  • Customers appreciate the garment's quality and how it washes over time after their purchase.

  • When customers find value and worth in their purchases, retention rate usually increases as they most likely would support again or tell their friends about the product. 

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Photo from corduroi club's 2018 Lookbook.

Core User Needs

  • Durability - consumers are frustrated when their shirt loses its shape and has a stretched collar over time

  • Minimal shrinkage of the fabric 

  • A unisex style shirt that fits different body shapes

  • A staple garment that works for different styles, practical and elegant

Exploratory Research

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Researching on different manufacturers and ideating on details such as stitching, fabric, and sizing specifications.

"There's a high demand for Japan made t-shirts but North American customers usually have difficulty finding the right fit due to a different sizing standard Japanese companies follow."

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Immersing myself in learning the techniques and methods of shirt making, I discovered that factories in Japan are pioneers in the industry because of their attention to detail, quality control, and their exclusive access to traditional machineries that are usually unavailable in North America and Europe.

 

Key Insights:

 

  • Explore the idea of designing a shirt with the qualities of a Japanese garment in standard North American sizing. I found a Japanese-owned factory in USA that specializes in knitting premium t-shirt fabric with high quality control.

  • Source domestic cotton in the United States since they are known for their quality and to also lower import/export cost.

  • Design a style that fits both male and female for the market I am targeting.

Traditional tubular knit machines for t-shirt making.

E-Commerce User Journey Map

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Identifying pain points: Customers tend to experience doubts when they are choosing their size before checkout. To reassure customers' confidence during their checkout, I included a size chart on the product page to show exact measurements of each size to avoid ambiguity.

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E-Commerce / Social Media

"Growing the brand organically through releasing products online via social media and eventually expand to selling at stockists in different cities."

After market researching on other brands in the industry, it is evident that social media is a powerful tool to help kickstart emerging brands to introduce their products and ideas.

Phase One - Online Approach:

  • Setup an e-commerce shop as the main sales channel and begin building the visual identity of corduroi club on Instagram

  • Use social media to promote and expand online presence.

  • Increase checkout rate by displaying product information and measurements clearly on product page to alleviate customer doubts on sizing/fit.

Phase Two - Offline Appraoch:

  • Strategically outreach to stockists in major cities that would help the brand grow and stock physical products in-store.

 

  • Release products in-stores so customers can try products in person and create foot traffic for local stores to gain momentum for the brand through word of mouth.

Design Process

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View of the factory that oversees the processes from cutting, sewing, to quality control.

1. Pattern Making

First, I built a lofi prototype using pen and paper to design a template (pattern) to determine the overall shape and fit of the shirt to fit both male and female customers.

 

Since customers have problems with t-shirts losing its shape after washes, I decided to use tubular-knit machines to construct the body of the shirt without any side seams. The absence of side seams allows for more comfort as well as keeping the shirt from twisting and losing its original shape.  

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Details of the sleeve stitching combine with tubular body structure.

2. Collar Design

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A closeup photo of the reinforced crewneck ribbed collar I designed to prevent stretching and losing shape.

One of the main touch points of a garment is the collar, this is areas where lots of stretching occurs causing the collar to loses its shape overtime (also known as "bacon neck").

I designed a ribbed crewneck collar with added taping to strengthen the overall structure for increased durability and prevent from stretching. This subtle feature also helps create a unique look that sets the brand apart from other t-shirt brands in the market.

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First sketching of the reinforced collar design.

3. Preshrink Fabric Before Production

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Rolls of pre-shrunk cotton jersey fabric ready to be cut and sewn for production.

Since the fabric is made of 100% cotton, the amount of shrinkage can be hard to expect for customers. To resolve this problem, I decided to pre-shrink the fabric using a controlled washing process so that most of the shrinkage is removed before production.

 

Customers can wash and dry their garment at home after each wear and the shirt is able to form back to its original shape and size. Having a garment that doesn't loose its shape easily is one of core user needs regarding durability and good value.

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Details of the cotton fabric and washing instruction label.

4. Prototype & Sampling

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Prototyping: corduroi club t-shirt samples fitting with paper envelop packaging before production.

During the sampling phase, I conducted user testings with the prototype shirt on male and female users to gain feedback on the fit and sizing. Afterwards, I conducted a few wash tests to observe how the garment upholds after several cycles of washes. Over a few rounds of testing and prototyping, the specs of the shirt design is finalized and is ready for production.

Design Outcome

I am truly thankful for the opportunities and people that were introduced to me through working on this project. Having received numerous positive feedbacks from customers and shop owners, this t-shirt has successfully supplied the demand for mid-range quality shirts in the market. The white pocket tee is now sold globally at stockists located in Tokyo, Vancouver, Seoul, London, and Hong Kong. Through this project, I have the opportunity to practice my UX design skills on multiple mediums as well as working on collaborative projects with various artists, brands and photographers that I personally admire.