becoming a designer: should you launch your own line?

August 19th, 2011

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.

Becoming a Designer series by Megan Nielsen

20 Responses

  1. Pam Speak says:

    I love sewing, I enjoy making things, I know I would hate doing it as a career. I admire that you can.
    It annoys me to no end when people see that I sew and try to insist I should do it professionally. I’m decent at sewing but I’m lazy, I cut corners and sewing professionally would mean I couldn’t get away with it because I wouldn’t be sewing for myself anymore.
    I just prefer sewing bags and skirts and whatever I feel like when I feel like it, no pressure just fun.

    • Meg says:

      I agree with you 100% Pam! I have a lot of friends who love to sew, and have expressed the same sentiment. I’m not sure why people assume that if you love to sew, you must want to be a designer too. That logic doesn’t make sense to me!! I love to cook, but i don’t want to be a chef!
      I think sewing is such a great hobby, and I’m so glad you enjoy it!!!

  2. Christina says:

    Great article, Megan! I agree with all of your points. Having started a baby clothing line from scratch (Golly Gee Baby) with a baby in tow and one on the way, I totally understand the sewing through naps, late nights, and sheer exhaustion! A person completely has to have a passion for it to make it through, that’s for sure! For me, it’s totally worth it as a creative outlet and source of income from home and it sounds like you’re in the same boat. :) Thanks for the insights!

  3. Renata says:

    Great post!

    My goal is to start my own line, and I´m working towards that, I study fashion design, am obsessed with pattern drafting and experience a lot with my skills. The idea of success is what I enjoyed reading the most on your article, as for me success would also be people wanting to buy the things I make. That I think is a dream come true, there´s probrably no bigger reward for a designer.
    I´ve started a blog recently, which I think is the best way to show your work to the world, and get feedback on it.
    Would love if you could check it out and tell me what you think!

    Thanks a lot for the insight!

    • Meg says:

      Hi Renata! That’s awesome that you’re working towards that! And i”m so glad you enjoyed this post! I think you have an awesome attitude about success!! Looking forward to seeing what you come up with hun!! XOXO

  4. jadestar says:

    What a great set of questions. I have thought about these questions myself. Especially whether people will want what you create. Some friends of mine are trying to start a line. I’ve seen their work, but while I admire their passion and like their work, I’m not sure its something most people will want to buy. Also, following your line of reasoning, neither of them is brilliant sewing. I foresee problems :(

    • Meg says:

      Oh dear, i know what you mean. I’ve seen the same thing with friends of mine before, and it really does make me sad to see problems happening before they begin. I think sometimes it’s hard to separate your own passion from what is actually commercial. I really hope it turns out okay though!

  5. Cheryl says:

    I can’t sew, I’d love to learn….but that’ll happen when I have time…I love clothes and creativity, but mostly, I love wearing clothes and admiring the skill of others! So, while I would never want to, or have the skill to start my own line, I loved reading this. Your honesty I would imagine would be extremely helpful to someone contemplating that question. I thought about passing the post over at first since it doesn’t really apply to me, but I’m glad I didn’t!

  6. Shelly says:

    A very thought provoking post. Excellent advice for those wanting to start up a business. I have considered starting a business in the past but have realised that I don’t want to put in the ‘hard yards’ for fear of turning something I love into something I hate.

    • Meg says:

      I think you’re really wise Shelly! Sometimes I miss just enjoying sewing – as often it just feels like work :) So I can totally understand wanting to keep it as something you love!

  7. Lo Hood says:

    Great post! I don’t know that I will ever try to launch a clothing line but I would love to create my own dream closet and enhance my sewing and pattern making abilities so that when one day I do own my own boutique I can fill it with nicely hemmed and adjusted vintage and possibly a few pieces of my own! :) -Lo

    • Meg says:

      I think that’s an awesome goal!! It’s amazing how useful it is to be able to sew, especially if you want to have a boutique. It’s an exciting dream!!

  8. sandra says:

    Thank you so much for posting this! I linked it on my page, as I am writing myself about starting up your own business and how I am re doing a clothing line I started 3 years ago. Your advice is priceless…. thank you!

    • Meg says:

      You are so welcome Sandra! I’m so happy you found it useful!! I really hope your clothing line goes well, i know what a big leap that is!!

  9. Valerie Nelson says:

    WOW!! Very insightful and honest… thanks! I LOVE sewing and my husband always tells me (jokingly yet serious) that I should sell my creations. I probably could, but by the time I pour all my creative energy into creating said creation, I am so emotionally connected to it and proud of myself, I don’t want to part with it!! ha!

  10. [...] Should You Launch A Clothing Line? – This is one of those low-level thoughts in the back of my head, which raises its voice on two occasions – when someone asks me to make them something or when I begin to wonder if I’m overcrowding my closet with homemade creations. One argument against such an idea: Sometimes it’s nice just to be good at something and enjoy it. [...]

  11. Miriam says:

    So I have promised myself (kind of like a reward) that I was going to treat myself to reading this whole series sometime, and not worry about what else I have to do. Up to this point I’ve only read a bit here and there, just enough to know that I loved it, and needed to take it all in slowly. I have a lot of thoughts about all of what you’ve said, and especially this last little bit. I absolutely love sewing. Love it so much that I spend every spare moment I have sewing or planning sewing. It’s definitely just inside of me, and I have really enjoyed defining my own style and spreading my designing wings. Someday I am gonna dive head first into the business/designing aspect of sewing (and I’m so excited for that time) but I can’t go there until I’m at a place in my life where I am free to give it my all. Not there yet, and I still have a lot to learn! I have several of the pattern drafting books you talked about, and am eager to get my hands on more! I admire your thorough approach to learning this art though, to me there is something so satisfying about doing something and doing it well. You really are a design star, Megan! Thanks for this amazing series, you are so inspiring!

    • Meg says:

      Mim! I’m SO glad you enjoy reading the series – and it makes my heart so warm to hear stories like yours!! I totally agree that there is just so much joy to be found in doing something well, and i think you are incredibly talented my friend. Really darling :) XOXO

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