The Leon Decimal System

I thought this title sounded a bit more interesting than “How to assign style numbers.” I’ve noticed over the past several years that designers are using the term “numbers” lightly when assigning style numbers to their samples. Instead of assigning a number like 7657743 to a red silk dress, they might name the dress “Scarlet” or something of the sort. To a certain extent this makes sense, as fashion industry is mostly driven by emotions. It would be better to call a product by a name that’s brand appropriate, rather than one that sounds like you are at an auto parts store.  However, in my experience this seemingly small point could be very costly in your overhead and operations. It’s something most small designers wouldn’t normally think about (I mean its just a style number right!).  Well, in this post I would like to discuss the pros and cons of both assigning a name to a garment and assigning an actual number (or alpha numerical code).


Disadvantages to Assigning a Name:

Let’s start with the disadvantages, since most of us like to hear the bad news first! The biggest drawback I see to assigning names is that it can turn into a logistical nightmare.  Cataloging, locating and managing your styles and patterns can become very complex, especially as you grow your business and the style numbers start to really pile up.  Most start-up fashion labels don’t see past their first season, and focus on just being noticed rather than on how much money is going to be wasted simply finding things ten seasons down the road.  (Those are all part of the fun conversations you will be having with your accountant one day:-)  Let’s say you have a style called “Sandrine”.  Where or how would you file something like that?  Most people think, “oh that’s easy…its spring 2011”, and pull out a yellow envelope.  However, after 1000 styles you won’t remember where it is…. or maybe you will but your staff sure won’t. And you’ll be answering low level questions like “where is this style?” or “what season is this?” or  “where do I find that?” As a business owner that is a colossal waste of your time.  You will either be answering these types of questions all day long or have a huge staff that is lost in the weeds rather than designing or expanding your business.

You could file your styles alphabetically, but then you would have to mix old seasons with new seasons. For example, if two seasons after Sandrine you created an “Abigail”, where would you file that? If you did keep them filed alphabetically by season then you’d have to remember the season or you would have to create another administrative step to track styles by season.  Sort of like a master list or spreadsheet where you can look up the style and see where it is, what season it’s in, or any other information you would need.  However,  if you are in the fashion industry or any industry that presents collections and samples at trade shows then you know that in the 11th hour everyone is scrambling around just to complete products.  During that time many steps get bypassed or forgotten, which can result in huge filing and inventory problems down the road.


Advantages to Assigning a Name:

The biggest benefit to assigning styles a name rather than a number is that names elicit an emotional response. A sexy red dress called “Roxanne” would not create the same effect as if it were called “Mother Teresa”.  Fashion is about an image a person wants to project to the world. By naming your style you further communicate your design to your consumer or buyer if you are selling to stores.

Another benefit, quite simply, is that it is easy to remember.  If you made a hundred Roxannes and told your factory to cut another Roxanne they would most probably know exactly what you’re talking about.   Names are easier to remember since our brains are wired to think with images.


Style Numbers or Alpha Numeric Codes

Disadvantage of Using Numbers in Style Numbers

The most obvious disadvantage would be that numbers are more difficult to remember.  Also, referring to a sexy red silk dress as 127364532 might make you feel like you are in the auto industry instead of in a creative field like fashion or home goods.

Another disadvantage is that numbers can get easily mixed up without triggering the same reaction as calling someone by the wrong name. The following problems can a

  • When assigning style numbers – If this error is missed this can lead to costly disasters.
  • Reading a wrong style number – Again this can be a costly error and can occur both by your internal staff, your subcontractors or from your buyers.  When the source of costly errors are from external sources like the buyer of the biggest department store…the situation can be uncomfortable to say the least.
  • Duplicates from rollover – This problem is similar to that of an automobile odometer.  If your style count exceeds the capacity of your numbering system and you are forced to rollover and start cycling through the same numbers, you will create duplicate style numbers.  The way to handle the rate of cycling through is to add more digits to your style number.  However, the longer the string the more likely it is to be misread.

For Example, its easier to read style #867 than it is to read style # 8675309.

Advantages of Using Numbers in Style Numbers

In my opinion the two biggest advantage for using numbers or a combination of numbers and letter are:

  1. You can created a codified system within  the style number to help identify what the product is.
  2. The fact that you are working with numbers lends itself easily to documenting and retrieval system.  

The system that I always used was a system created by my Father Leon, hence the joke I make in the title of this blog post 🙂  His stye numbering system was as follows:

  • All style numbers where 5 digits.  Not too long and not too short and when you saw a digit string of numbers you immediately knew it was a style number.  
  • The first digit in the string of numbers always reflected the year the style number was issued.
  • The second digit was a code that identified the type of garment it was, this way if you had no idea what the style number was you could look at the second digit and know weather you are looking for a gown or a skirt. Trust me that can be very handy when you are sifting through inventory lists.  
  • The last three digits were numbers assigned in sequential order.  

The image below info-graphic below illustrates  the codification of our style number system

image showing how to assign style numbers for new samples, leon decimal system


The category codes we used in the second digit in our style numbers where as follows:

0= Suit or 2pc Set

1 = Jacket

2 = Skirt

3 = Blouse

4 = Culotte

5 = Pants

6 = Camisole

7 = Gown

8 = Accessory

9 = Short Dress

Another advantage to this system was because the first two fields were coded it reduced the possibility of errors caused by some of the dyslexics in the world! For example, if the second digit was incorrect you could use that information to question orders that did not make sense.  If someone ordered 2 jackets and 6 pairs of pants you might inquire into the situation.  Or if  some of the latter numbers where switched the error would still be detectable if you noticed one of the first two number was wrong (a much easier task than remembering endless 5 digit numbers!).

The way to file your styles was by the continuous number of the last three digits.  We would print out a tech sheet with all the data needed for the style like pattern number, buttons, trim etc.  Make a sketch of the style, assign the number and file it in a 3 ring binder.  Instead of printing a hard copy you could just keep it digital but for me that did not make sense.  The styles where always referenced and it was easier for people to grab a binder from a shelf than log on to a computer.  Especially for some of the people we had working in production who were not tech savvy. If you do decide to keep it digital I would recommend rearranging your numbers so the 3 digit continuous numbers are in the front of the style number and the code in the back since a computer arranges file names in numerical order.  Let me show you what I mean.  Assuming we are assigning styles this year and we are in the 100 series of continuous numbers.

39100 – Short Dress

37101 – Long Dress

36102 – Camisole

35103 – Pants

31104 – Jacket

If I was filing this manually I would disregard the first 2 digits and file in order of the last 3 digits.  If these numbers were stored as file names in a computer they would be in the following order:






As you can see the files would be filed by the total numerical value.  You can still find the style that you are looking for, but if you wanted to see your styles listed in the order they were assigned it would be difficult.  Again, this post is just to expand our viewpoint regarding the logistics of one small aspect of running your business.  Some of these points may be important to you and some not.  Its up to you to decide what works for your business.  You may have a Mac and say I don’t care as long as I can search in spotlight I’m fine, I’m the only one that needs to look up this information and if I need to show this information to someone else I can just print it out.


In Conclusion

I’m not suggesting that this is the only way to manage your styles…there are many ways to skin a cat.  This is just to get your wheels spinning and think about how you run your business.  Every business is unique so it must be tailored to your requirements  .  If your business only has 10 to 50 products then a naming system would be fine for you.  If you create hundreds of styles then the management of your style numbers could become a problem for you, and when I say problem ultimately I am referring to lost money or loss of customers.

One Response to The Leon Decimal System

  1. LisaB March 3, 2013 at 6:19 pm #

    What fun (really!) to read a post on style numbers! You make good points about which types of styles are easier to file. I disagree, though, about which is easier to remember. I think a name is easier for the designer to remember but harder for everyone else. I think numbers are also easier to deal with when you’re basing child styles on older, well-selling parent styles.

    Pattern maker Kathleen Fasanella at Fashion-Incubator has written about style numbers on her blog and in her book. For anyone interested in reading even more details about the hows and whys of assigning style numbers, start with this post: Additional posts on the topic are linked at the end. (I don’t profit in any way by mentioning Kathleen or her writing.)

    Thanks for another great post.

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