Welcome to the next installment of our Becoming a Designer series! If you’re interested in designing clothing, then at some point I’m pretty sure you’re gonna ask yourself this question
People have asked me to answer this for them a lot – and the truth of the matter is that you can’t really allow someone else to answer this for you.
But don’t worry, i’m not going to completely leave you on your own!! Here are a few questions that I asked myself before launching mine, that you should probably ask yourself before you start along that road. There are obviously a lot of things to consider, but i’d say these are a good starting point. I encourage you to be completely honest with yourself, because thinking about all of this at the beginning could save a lot of stress later.
In my opinion, this is the most important question to ask yourself. No matter how much we tell ourselves that design is a creative field, and we just want to make art blah blah – the truth of the matter is that when it all comes down to it, it’s a business. If you are making things, and no-one else appreciates them, there’s really no point in starting a line – because it won’t sell. I know that sounds harsh, but sometimes reality is. My advice? Make a lot of things. Ask for opinions. Show people your work, and see what happens (maybe even start a blog.) Though I had no idea how successful my first line would be, I knew there would be at least some interest, as people had been asking for me to make things for them for years before. I’d made a lot of things for friends, for family, and even did a little bit of custom work on Etsy to test out interest. The clothing i wore that got the most compliments, was made by me. And when people started commenting to me that I should start my own line, and I started getting a lot of requests for me to make things for people – I knew it was time.
Are you making things that are different from what everyone else is doing? The harsh truth of the matter is that this is a very very very competitive industry. There are not only a ridiculous number of large established brands, but there are also now a large number of indie designers. Look around. Is someone else already doing what you do? Chances are if they are (and if there are a lot of them), you’re gonna find it hard to take a slice of that market. Originality is key.
It’s not enough to draw pretty pictures, you need to sew, and sew well. Can you draft patterns? I’ve mentioned this before – but if you don’t know how to sew, you are really hampering your ability to do well. Unless you have unlimited start up funds, you will probably have to sew your own pieces for a while. Possibly, quite a while. If you can’t sew at all, well that’s it, game over. If you can’t sew well – you’re going to be slow, and you won’t develop a good reputation for quality. The thing i’ve noticed with indie design is that people look for quality. They can get cheap clothing anywhere these days – so the reasons they go to indie designers are for unique designs, and quality. If you don’t have those, then you’re trying to compete with every giant well funded cheap brand out there, and well, good luck with that.
If you want to make a tonne of money or be the next Coco Chanel, think again. I’m not trying to be mean, it’s just important to be realistic. Before i started my line I sat down and seriously figured out how I would define success for myself. As a logical person I knew that having the goal of being the next great house of couture was ridiculous. This is a competitive area. Everyone wants to make it big. I decided for me that I had always enjoyed knowing people loved my designs – so if there was any demand at all, I was successful. If I sold nothing, it was time to pack it in. Luckily I made my first sale within a few hours of launching, and finally had to cut off orders when i got too busy – but to this day I still keep the same yard stick for success. As long as people are enjoying my work, I am over the moon. Yes, the demand for my work has been increasing exponentially, but I try to keep my attitude humble and grateful. Your goals may be different. You may want to do this more full time than me. That’s great! You’ll just need to figure out exactly what you want out of it, and make a plan to get there. Just remember to be realistic.
You all know I have two toddlers – as a result, I am not willing to work too hard. When I get too busy, I close my store for a bit. For me, family comes first, and I will always sacrifice in other areas for it. Having said that, even running my line “part time”, I work like a dog. I work through their naps, I work late into the night (often in the middle of the night) and I work weekends. I am quite literally, exhausted all the time. I don’t mind, because it’s my passion – but I’m not going to lie, sometimes I can’t handle how much work it is. Everyone knows that if you work in the fashion industry you will work yourself to the bone – and independent design really isn’t too different in that respect. At the end of the day, it’s a small business, and small business owners work longer hours than anyone. So make sure you’re happy to do the hard yards, because they will be hard. No matter what you tell yourself, and no matter whether you think it’s “part time” you’re really signing yourself up for a job. You are turning a hobby into a career – and that is a big move, so think about it carefully!
The last thing I want to say is that you shouldn’t feel pressure to do something like start a line. A love of sewing, and creating your own wardrobe doesn’t mean you have to or should start a clothing line. I’m sure I’ve said it a million times, but I love sewing! It’s a wonderful hobby, and I honestly wish more people took it up these days. To be perfectly honest, there are times in the last year and a half that I have hated sewing. Being my own sweatshop wore on me, and I felt like I didn’t want to see my sewing machine ever again. That broke my heart, but I had to work through it, because at the end of the day, I was the one who chose to make this a business.
When I was a teenager, I was quite good at golf – a lot of people asked me if I was going to try and become a professional golfer. Though I was complimented, I always said no – because it was my fun, my hobby, my relaxation – I didn’t want it to be my job. I didn’t want to force myself to practice every day- I didn’t want it to feel like a chore. So I guess what I’m trying to say is, it’s okay to love sewing, and leave it at that. Sometimes it’s nice just to be good at something and enjoy it.