Getting started as a freelance fashion designer
I have been working as a freelance fashion designer for about 9 years. I have also spent a similar amount of time working in full-time fashion design positions. If possible it's useful to get experience working in a full-time apparel design position to learn your trade and to gain industry knowledge. Clients will not only be paying for your design work they will also be paying for your know-how and expertise.
If you are working in the fashion industry already and thinking about turning freelance you need to be collecting names and contact details of everyone you meet so that you can tap them up for work and help once you become freelance. Word of mouth is helpful as a freelancer but not reliable for regular work.
How are your future clients going to find a freelance fashion designer?
Building your freelance fashion business up takes time and some money. You will need a multi-directional approach to cover all the angles when searching for work. You need to get yourself out there and look for work, you also need to get yourself out there so that people can find you. Here is my three-step guide to help you on your way.
Step 1 - Work out what you have to offer as a freelance fashion designer.
I would encourage freelancers to be honest and focus on their talents. By working out what skills you have to offer you can then concentrate on targeting clients in your niche area. Honesty breeds trust and helps manage expectations.
You can set yourself up as a freelance fashion designer under your own name. You will be selling yourself and your skills. If you are a formal menswear designer, be a formal menswear designer, if you are a lingerie designer, be a lingerie designer. Concentrate on offering the skills that you have and focus on cornering that market.
You can also set yourself up as a fashion consultancy business. You will be promoting your design agency and offering the services that your business has to offer. This is probably better if you have previous experience and a good network of connections, as you will be expected to help clients not only with design but also with help consultancy in other areas of their business, like manufacturing and marketing.
Step 2 - Build a website.
I'm sure you are aware that a modern business needs a digital storefront. You need to create a professional-looking website to showcase your skills, display your portfolio, explain what you can offer, and allow potential clients to contact you. I made my own website using Wix another popular option is Squarespace if you want to build your own website. You will need to pay a yearly fee to use the upgraded features and to register your website domain name. If you have some decent computer skills you can use Wordpress. Alternatively, there are many website builders out there that would be happy to help. I would recommend that you don't just use a portfolio hosting website as this doesn't look very professional.
Step 3 - Marketing.
Building a website is not enough to get you some paying clients. Your website needs to be found by people searching for a fashion designer. You need to get your name out there and drive traffic to your website. So make sure to do work on your website SEO so that your website can be found.
You also need to have a social media presence ie. Linkedin, Facebook, Instagram etc. If you can get yourself seen on Youtube or Tik Tok then go ahead. Keep up to date on all the latest social media platforms. You need to create your public/business profile and add content regularly. Also, try to engage with other people's content so that your profile becomes more visible. This can take up quite a lot of time. The more people that like and comment and visit your profile, the more likely your profile will be found when people search. Remember to add relevant hashtags to your content to help people search for you. From your profile, you want to help people contact you as easily as possible and to direct them to your website.
Another way to find work is by building yourself a profile on freelance design websites. You can join up with Upwork or Fiverr. There are also other fashion specific sites where you can showcase yourself. Going through third-party freelancer websites can get you jobs. The catch being that you will need to pay the site a percentage of your earnings or a subscription fee, you will also have a lot of competition.
So that should give you plenty to think about if you are trying to find new clients, or working out how to get new clients to find you.
When a potential client contacts you how are you going to respond?
Once you are all set up and people are contacting you by email, WhatsApp, phone calls... you need to be prepared.
When I get contacted the person will give me a quick overview of their project and ask me how I can help them, they are also usually looking for an idea about my pricing.
So I have a template response email/script set up in Word that I can copy and paste. I use this to reply to the first contact and can alter it as needed to save time and make sure I provide all the information required. In my script, I set out what I can offer, what the client can expect to receive from me, and sometimes a guide on how my pricing works.
What do you do if a client asks for you to do a free project or to become a partner?
Think carefully. I recommend that you do not do any unpaid work. I also would not recommend getting involved in percentage fees for your work based on sales. I have learned the hard way with this. It's rare if ever that this will ever work out in your favour. Concentrate on providing the best service that you can and get paid for the work that you provide. If the work makes your client successful that's amazing, you can feel a massive sense of accomplishment, and you can build on this to secure more work for the future.
If you have the time and want to work on a project that you think may secure you the contract then you still need to get paid for your time. A professional client knows they need to pay for work, you need to weed out the timewasters. Instead of doing unpaid work you can offer to do a short paid project or "discovery work". This is a low-risk way for people to see how they can work together whilst still creating something valuable.
Make sure to protect yourself as a business. Before you start any work, regardless of how many emails you have back and forth talking about the brief it is best to collate it all into one document and get it signed off so all parties are clear. You need a contract, (preferably an official contract but a clear email with everything laid out and agreed upon will give you peace of mind and something to fall back on if things don't turn out as planned) prior to starting any briefs with schedule, deadline, payment terms, payment due date based on the deadline, who owns rights to work, invoice/ job no, etc. I won't start a brief till these are signed or agreed on over by email by the customer.
I hope this helps someone. It would be great to hear if this has helped you in the comments section below. Even a like would let me know that someone is out there listening and will provide me with encouragement to write more posts.