How I Created A Multi-functional Jacket That Can Be Worn More Than 4 Ways

For the last year, I've had an entrepreneurial itch to create a multi-functional apparel product that can be worn several ways in both professional and casual settings. During this time, I sketched designs. I daydreamed about patterns. I researched fabric options. I asked family and friends for feedback. 

But I didn't actually sew anything. 

I'm a completely self-taught sewer. Up until this spring, the only sewing machine that I had ever used was my great grandmother's bulky yet reliable Singer machine. And while the machine aided me in many upcycling adventures – including the incredibly time-consuming and complex upcycling of my mother-in-law's 40-year-old wedding dress into a modern gown for my sister-in-law's wedding – I had never actually sewed anything from scratch.

The truth is that I was initially intimidated by how much I would have to learn. I would need to learn how to use a new sewing machine. How to select the correct stitching (the trusted Singer only had one option!). How to properly sketch a design. How to take measurements for blueprints (aka sewing patterns). How to sew a zipper without a zipper foot. How to add seam allowance for French seams. How to...

Initial sketches for a front-back and inside-out reversible garment

Initial sketches for a front-back and inside-out reversible garment

Finally, I made a resolution to develop a prototype before departing for a 2-week-long international business trip.

As a minimalist packer, the idea of only having to pack one blazer-like jacket rather than several was key to sparking my action. With about a month to prepare, I hit the ground running on learning everything that I could to create this product. 

I learned how to sketch a design. I learned how to develop a pattern based on existing garments and many, many YouTube tutorial videos. I learned how to research and select a high-quality, versatile fabric; in this case, a lightweight, double-faced black and gray neoprene (i.e. scuba suit fabric) that is stain- and water-resistant. I learned how to sew more complex seams for a reversible garment. I learned how to design sleeves and sew them to the shell of a jacket. 

The parts reference sheet for my sewing machine

The parts reference sheet for my sewing machine

Learning how to design and develop a product from scratch reinforced a growth mindset. 

Acclaimed psychologist and professor Carol Dweck is the mastermind behind research on growht versus fixed mindsets. In a fixed mindset, "People believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They also believe that talent alone creates—without effort." But people with a growth mindset "believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment." [via MindsetOnline.com]

Testing sleeve measurements and fit before sewing together

Testing sleeve measurements and fit before sewing together

Creating a multi-functional garment also taught me the value of the engineering design process. 

The engineering design process is the series of steps that engineers use to design, develop, test, and reflect on a potential solution to a problem. For this creative project, I used the process at every phase of the project – from selecting the materials (fabric, tools, thread) to constructing the garment. I guess that makes me a "textile engineer" in a way! 

Handmade sleeve pattern using everyday materials: ruler, Sharpie and wax paper

Handmade sleeve pattern using everyday materials: ruler, Sharpie and wax paper

Now that I created the first prototype for the product, I have a much clearer sense of what worked well and what can be continuously improved upon — again, all part of the engineering design process. But without further adieu, here are some photos of the actual garment.

The multi-functional garment is intended for multi-functional women. It's innovative design is both reversible front-back and reversible inside-out, meaning that it can be worn at least 4 different ways!

The fabric is a lightweight, double-faced neoprene that is stain-, wrinkle-, and water-resistant, which is perfect for business travel and being on-the-go. The "right side" of the fabric is black, and the "wrong side" of the fabric is a charcoal gray. On the gray side, the raw seams are creatively folded under and sewn to look like piping or racing stripes. This ensures that the garment is truly reversible. 

The "front" of the garment is a full-length zipper. The "back" of the garment is a classic V-neck that is work appropriate. I added a peplum to the jacket for added flair so that it can be dressed up and down. It looks great with both a pencil skirt and heels or skinny jeans and flats. 

Black "Front" with Full-length, Reversible Zipper

Black "Front" with Full-length, Reversible Zipper

Charcoal Gray "Back" with V-Neck

Charcoal Gray "Back" with V-Neck

Thanks for your encouragement and feedback throughout this journey! I'll continue to share updates on new prototypes and ideas on multi-functional fashion in the future.