Do Designers Need “Look Books”?

Often my designer and artist clients ask me if they need to invest in developing a “Look Book” as they prepare to communicate with retailers. There is not a flat answer I can give to them in regards to this since the advice I share with them is specific to their individual product assortment, retail target market, and budget.  That said, I have outlined details about Look Books and their value to wholesalers so that if you are considering to create a one, you can also consider the points below.

What Is a Look Book

To begin, a Look Book is a book that is similar to a portfolio, however it represents a product line rather than providing visual samples of one’s work history. Look Books are used as visual aides in replace of the product, however they are often presented to buyers with the product, as well. The purpose of a Look Book is to provide a “story”, “feeling”, or “inspiration overview” of the product assortment through photographs of the product you want to sell.  Some have lifestyle photos and can be very graphic while others use fashion models to showcase their product and yet others are sleek and simple with no models at all. The creative flexibility of how to show your product in photos can be very appealing to designers.

Look Books are often professionally bound with glossy photos and little or no words included in them while others are presented in three ring binders with plastic portfolio cover sheets. The presentation will vary in design, however the content will always be primarily photos.The details of the product are sometimes included, but more often than not these details are outlined in the Buyer’s Packet instead.

Who Needs a Look Book

While there is no clear answer to this question, it is common for higher priced products, luxury goods, and one of a kind items to be showcased in a Look Book. Not meant for largely mass produced goods and inexpensive items, a Look Book is meant to showcase products that need a bit of a push to sell. If you are a jewelry designer who offers one of a kind pieces, a Look Book offers a great outlet to showcase some of the best work you have done. Meanwhile, if you offer customized art or designer handbags, a Look Book can provide you with a creative way to tell your product story. There is more flexibility in the creation of your Look Book versus a line sheet or other contents of a Buyer’s Packet, therefore as a designer you may have more fun with this presentation.

Many new wholesalers in the marketplace include Look Books to help push their product. Since competition is tough, it can often be more tough for new designers/artists/wholesalers to position themselves in their respective marketplace. Using a Look Book will certainly add to your pitch, offering a great outlet to tell your story since you will not always have the opportunity to do this face to face.

Presentation of a Look Book

The presentation of a Look Book is ultimately the decision on the designer, however it should be clearly understood that this presentation is also a reflection of the designer/artist/wholesaler themselves. That said, I always suggest presenting Look Books in a polished and professional presentation if you are going to take the time to create one.  I realize as small business owners it can tempting to cut corners everywhere you can, but I suggest leaving the three ring binders at home, as this reflects a college student’s project versus a professional presentation. Instead, considering simple and inexpensive binding techniques such as book stapling, coils, and book binding will offer you a professional presentation on a budget.

Final Thought

A Look Book can offer a sneak peak to your collection, as well as it can tell a story about your product assortment. Whatever the purpose is that you feel a Look Book can contribute to your line, remember that a complete Buyer’s Packet is more beneficial to you as a wholesaler. A Buyer’s Packet should include a line sheet with photos, pricing, designer/artist overview, introductory letter, and order form. These essential pieces, if done correctly and presented well, can sell your product or at least get you a conversation with potential buyers. Be realistic with yourself as to whether or not you really need a Look Book or if the fancy image of it is selling you on the idea of producing one yourself.

A final thought – Budgets are tight in all aspects of retail these days, so linking potentail buyers to your website with an “Online Look Book” may be something for you to consider instead, therefore saving you costs yet also offering retailers a larger view of what you have to offer outside of what your Buyer’s Packet represents.  Another option is to include a disk in the Buyer’s Packet that offers a digital Look Book. Both of these options can save you expenses while also providing an extra something to your retail accounts and potentail retail accounts.


  • Eric Busboom
    February 6, 2009

    The most impressive lookbook I’ve seen was a Snapfish photo book. The photobooks are expensive, about ~$23, but the presentation was very professional. The designer didn’t mail them out as part of a buyer’s kit, but used them for PR and as gifts for special buyers.

    Because of the very high quality photography, the overall effect was to present her work as art. And, the overall project was not expensive because the photographer, who as prominently credited on the photographs, also used the book for promotion. I think the whole project cost her only a few hundred dollars, but only because she didn’t print a lot of copies and distribute them widely. It didn’t add anything to the buyers packet because the look book was too expensive.

  • Lori's Shoes
    February 10, 2009

    Over here at Lori’s Shoes, it depends who’s looking.

    The buyers usually don’t care about the lookbooks — they’ve seen the product at shows, have linesheets and usually photos they’ve taken with a point-and-shoot camera for reference. In fact, sometimes it can be negative: if a vendor sends us a stack of glossy, heavyweight lookbooks with an order — that we pay shipping on — then we’ve just lost some money on it.

    Our creatives department likes them. They give us a sense of how designers view their own lines: what their aesthetic is, what thematic foundations they are setting, what inspires them. This helps the creative dept. make decisions about how to represent the product for selling on our site. When you multiply that across all our vendors, we start cooking up ideas about larger trends.

    Hope this helps,

    Lori’s Shoes

  • Eric Busboom
    February 10, 2009 has an interesting online look book at:!PNRyeSRou6yjYzONf35ACg!/Style

    A few points:
    * This is a retailer, not a vendor, and the look book is aimed at consumers.
    * The images in the look book are linked to the product detail pages, where the consumer can buy the product.

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