Becoming a Designer: my story

April 19th, 2011

Becoming a Designer: my story
Well friends, I hope you are ready for the rambling explanation of how I became a designer. Please forgive the length, I’ve re-written it so many times to try and shorten it and I’m having difficulty reducing the rambling. I guess I’m a chatter box on the internet and real life :)

For me the love of clothing and designing started early on, though I didn’t know I wanted to be a designer as such until much later. I started cutting up my own clothing and remaking them into clothes for my barbies when I was about 10. It was all hand sewing – but when my mom saw that I was interested she gave me a sewing machine. It was the machine she had learnt on. An Elna Lotus. It’s a very very simple machine – it doesn’t have any fancy features, just a straight stitch and a zig zag stitch. But I adored that machine, and still adore it now even though I don’t use it anymore (I deemed it too precious and too fragile to ship it to the states with me). My mom being the good example that she is, made me make something from a pattern before letting me just go crazy ripping things up. Together we made a perriwinkle blue cotton wrap around skirt. I wanted to quit so many times throughout that project (I was only 10/11 after all), but we finished, and I learnt an important lesson – you have to do things the right way if you’re going to do them at all. After that, my sewing skills were mainly self taught. I learnt a lot from ripping up my own clothing (and my mom’s clothing – sorry mom) and remaking them into new things. I also learnt a lot from reading the manuals that came with the sewing machines in our house, and from library books.

I made myself a lot of things when I was in highschool. And a lot of them were bad. I don’t just mean badly sewn, I mean badly designed. Thankfully my mom stopped me from wearing a lot of them out of the house (like a pair of farm print bell bottom pants -thanks mom, i owe you big). I even entered a fashion design contest, and didn’t place, because honestly, I didn’t deserve to. I continued to sew a lot during college, and since fashions were so varied amongst the student population I was able experiment with what I wore a lot, and as a result I made a lot of silly things. But I learnt from all the mistakes I made – in sewing, and in my personal style. I didn’t study fashion design at college, because honestly, I never saw it as a viable career. I’m a pretty logical person, and I just couldn’t see how it would pay the bills. So I focused on something else I was good at, Math – and pursued a career that would make me a lot of money – Actuarial science.

Things started to get more serious for me sewing wise when I met Chris and I started working full time. He’s always a huge encouragement to me, but so were his family. My mother in law gave me her mother’s vintage dress form to use, and her sewing machine and serger/overlocker. She bought me books on couture sewing, and her and my sister in law Annelise were always dying to see what I’d made that week. That’s when things really took off. I bought so many sewing books. I wanted to learn it all. I bought university level pattern drafting texts, I bought sewing technique books and I bought vintage sewing books. I went crazy. I devoured them. I studied like someone was gonna test me. I wanted to know every technique out there. Office attire was so boring that I started to make my suits and work clothing, I started making clothing for my sister in law and for my friends. I started making things I would never wear, just to challenge myself.

Then we moved to the US, and we had Bunny. When she was almost a year old, I had just started blogging as a way to keep sharing my designs. And I was loving it. I got a lot of requests to make my designs for other people, and so I opened a little Etsy store. For putting very little effort into it, I’d say it went pretty well. I would often say things to Chris like, I wish I could do this more seriously, I wish I could have my own clothing line, I wish I could be a designer. etc etc. Until one day he said, well why don’t you?? What’s to lose? I started to get excited, and we talked about how we could do it. I asked my friend Jessica for advice, and she gave me the last push of encouragement I needed to go for.

So towards the end of 2009 I began working on my debut collection. I didn’t tell anyone, because I was so nervous that no-one would like what I designed. That people wouldn’t support what I was attempting. In hindsight, that was silly. I was pregnant with Buddy, which added extra difficulties. I worked late into the night, I worked all weekend, I worked in the middle of the night. I won’t go into detail about the process now, as I’ll be telling you all about that later. But basically, I exhausted myself – thankfully Chris was so supportive, otherwise I never could have done it. I launched my line in February 2010, and praise God, it was a huge success. I broke even in the first week, and things continued to sell throughout the summer. That collection did so well, that I was able to immediately put back into our savings the money I had taken out to start my line, plus fund my next collection. The support I’ve received has been astounding, and I’ve been blown away by what a positive response there has been to my designs. In a few weeks I’ll be releasing my third collection, and I’m so excited for where it’s going. But right now, I’m so satisfied. Because I am where I have wanted, but never thought I would be.

And that my dear friends, is my story.

Becoming a Designer: my story

So as you can see, it’s not a typical story at all. I did not study formally for this, my degrees are in Accounting & Finance and Mathematics. I am self taught. It came naturally, out of passion, out of hard work, out of circumstance. Which is why I wouldn’t recommend my particular method of getting here to everyone. I want to be clear about this, as much as designing clothing is my passion, and my clothing line is profitable, it is not a full time job for me. It is not a money melon. If I was in this for the money I would quit, because it simply would not pay the bills. I am in it for the art. I do it because I fall asleep at night designing clothing. I do it because it’s in me.

I have a lot of advice I’d like to share, as well as detailing the specific process I go through, but it’s too much for this post. So I’ll split out the topics into a few different posts :) I hope you enjoyed hearing my little story!

Becoming a Designer series by Megan Nielsen

32 Responses

  1. kellyann says:

    what an amazing story! I’m so inspired by you, I can’t believe how much you’ve done with two little kids in tow. (and i love this outfit!)

  2. trish says:

    THanks so much for posting this meg!! I love hearing about how you got where you are. I just can’t believe how quickly it’s all happened

    • Meg says:

      me neither!! my sister in law is convinced it can’t have been only a year since i launched, since so much has happened!! hehe

  3. su says:

    Congrats, Meg. It’s lovely reading your story. Even better, it’s great that you are so happy with where you are!
    Su

  4. Trudy Callan says:

    Loved reading your story. Very inspiring. Can’t wait to hear more.

  5. laura says:

    This is so lovely to read. It so so encouraging to hear how you havegone for what felt right to you. I have said before, I admire you hugely for having had the guts to go and do it and to make it a success. It is down to your hard work and talents and you should feel very proud. That you post something like this series to help others find their way is even more commendable.
    xxx

    • Meg says:

      Thank you so much!! I found it hard to find any advice, or learn about how others started – so i really hope someone finds this series even a little helpful!

  6. Justine says:

    Yes, I would LOVE to hear your story!!

  7. BiblioMOMia says:

    So inspiring! One day…I’m going to have the guts…to do what you did…and write novels (instead of designing clothes).

  8. thank you for posting this (and the upcoming installments!!) i love reading how someone arrived where they are today. how the choices we make shape where we eventually go :) i’m especially interested since i’m a few steps before where you were (design-wise) when you opened your etsy shop. i’m in grad school and sewing on the side….congratulations on all your successes thus-far and cheers to continued achievements!!

    • Meg says:

      That’s so exciting!! I really want to wish you all the best with it in the future!! I know it’s hard work, but it’s so worth it – even for arts sake! XOXO

  9. Stephanie says:

    that’s a great story, I enjoyed reading it :D Love your dress & the belt, really beautiful :)

    http://www.style1509.blogspot.com
    Live.Laugh.Love. – everyday.

  10. Meg says:

    You know it’s your passion when you study it like crazy and love every minute of it! Thanks for sharing your story. :)

  11. Congrats on everything. Really shows that you can do what you want if you really love it. Thank you for sharing your story… gives me encouragement to go do what I want :)

    You look beautiful in your dress too.

  12. roberta says:

    Thanks for sharing. I love to hear about your journey to where you are now as it gives me encouragement to play out my own goals. I’m looking forward to hearing more details.

  13. Elle Croft says:

    So great to hear your story – thanks for sharing!! It’s amazing and so simple to hear time and time again how people who follow their passions become successful – and you certainly deserve it! Congrats!! :-)

  14. Rea says:

    Touchingly honest post. So giving of you to share your journey and offer support to aspiring designers. I’m not an aspiring designer, but your story is still inspiring to anyone questioning whether or not to pursue their passion. I wish you continued success and happiness. Thanks for sharing!

  15. This is SUCH an inspirational story, thank you for sharing (and a big congrats on your success!) :) x

  16. Pepi says:

    dear Megan, i wonder how much bill u need to pay? lol
    sorry, i mean fashion design is a very big industry, there’s a lot of money u can get, imagine about how ppl who’s work in fashion company pay their bill :P

  17. Priscylla says:

    Dear Megan Nielsen, thank you for your story. It really gave me lots of inspiration because I currently have a sewing machine, but I have no money to invest in learning. I am currently enrolled in a free online beginners sewing course and can totally relate to self teaching! Thanks again for the inspiration you gave me!

  18. Sanja says:

    Dear Megan, thank you for this inspirational story. I’ve also studied something I don’t love because I thought art couldn’t pay the bills, but after 2 boring jobs I realized I just can’t live like that anymore. I paint for a hobby and after I had my little princess Alaiah I fell in love with kids’ clothes. I’m not being encouraged by anyone, my family puts a lot of pressure on me to get serious and get a stable safe job, but all I hear them say is: “You’re not good at what you do, you’ll never make it, no one is gonna spend money on your silly dream…”It’s hard listening only to negative comments but I believe I have a talent and am fearless (now) about it, I don’t feel I’ve got anything to lose, I can just break the boundaries I’ve put on myself. My friends love my drawings and creative things I make, clothes, jewellery,… So, reading your story I almost started crying, I just wanna stuff it in every persons’ face who tried to hold me back with their negative comments! Lol! So, I’ll be starting my dream job in a month, hopefully it goes as good as I imagined :-))
    Greetings from Croatia :-))

  19. chelle says:

    Hi!
    well i just encounter your blog while i’m searching on how to make my own detachable collar, and then i thought of reading everything here. your story was such a great inspiration for me (i think not only me as i see a lot of comments here who have been inspired by you). i was like you when i was small and when i started noticing designs on my own clothes, i am also not a graduate of any design course, a business degree actually. but before my graduation i thought of having my own fashion line someday, by now, i haven’t started anything much aside from designing clothes on papers and filling it and making little items that i do wear sometimes (hehe ?___?). for the past years, i feel like i was rushing myself too much, and not having those dreams now would mean not having them anymore, but in your story i feel like if i will just goal for them and do my best i will be there soon…thank you so much! (oh my!sorry this comment is a bit long..)thanks again and more success to you!

  20. chelle says:

    Hi!
    well i just encounter your blog while i’m searching on how to make my own detachable collar, and then i thought of reading everything here. your story was such a great inspiration for me (i think not only me as i see a lot of comments here who have been inspired by you). i was like you when i was small and when i started noticing designs on my own clothes, i am also not a graduate of any design course, a business degree actually. but before my graduation i thought of having my own fashion line someday, by now, i haven’t started anything much aside from designing clothes on papers and filling it and making little items that i do wear sometimes (hehe ?___?). for the past years, i feel like i was rushing myself too much, and not having those dreams now would mean not having them anymore, but in your story i feel like if i will just goal for them and do my best i will be there soon…thank you so much! (oh my!sorry this comment is a bit long..)thanks again and more success to you!

  21. lauren says:

    wow Megan that’s such an inspirational story!

  22. Reyna Lay says:

    Amazing! I would love to hear more of your story. Especially how you did your first collection. Did you do all the pieces and then show them/sale them? Then did you make all the orders yourself or did you get someone else to make them? I would love to know the process. Thank you for this post!!

    P.S. NEW FOLLOWER! :)
    Reyna

  23. Nazliya says:

    Hi,
    Megan happy to hear ur story cos ur also like me. I am in to IT but I love sewing. I too want to be a designer one day like u. I do my sewing for me. want to try out and take orders. i live in asia so would like to sew more asia style cloths ur story is very inspiring

  24. Sam B says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. I’m really encouraged by it. Can I ask you a logistical question about how you got started? Did you make multiple pieces of each garment, in each size, in your range yourself before you launched, or did you decide to produce items to order? Or were you just selling patterns rather than garments? Much to consider before I launch my own store.

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