Advice from Fabric Designers

May 13, 2015 in News

Have you ever dreamed about being a fabric designer? How does a person break into the business… and is it worth it?

Over the last few years, I’ve had the great privilege to talk about the sewing industry from creatives in the business. Today, I’d like to share some advice and highlights from these interviews on my blog Craft Buds.

Here are some sage pieces of advice from 5 innovators in the fabric industry for aspiring designers!

 

Fabric designer and author Alison Glass shares her best advice for an aspiring fabric designer:

“I have two thoughts, which is a combination of diligently pursuing one’s interest in fabric design and also knowing that it’s not for the faint of heart. No one will ever know if it’s going to work or not if they don’t try, and though that sounds so obvious, it’s true. I spent longer than I should have wondering if a company would pick up my work. If anyone is serious about fabric design and wants to do it for the right kind of reasons, then it is worth trying.”

That being said, it is a ton of work and time, and even more once fabric is in production. The commitment is huge, and knowing why you want to design fabric and where you want to go with it is key. If it is just kind of a fun goal for someone, that is one thing. If a person sees it as a career they are professionally pursuing, it is an entirely different commitment. I feel that overall fabric design needs to start with great artwork, repeat, and colors, and putting one’s best work forward it always key.”

 

Author and fabric designer Jessica Levitt says balance is key with any creative career.

“I struggle with [balance] constantly, but when I get it right, it can be so rewarding. I guess my advice it that you don’t have to rush into anything. Figure out what your goals are, and then give yourself some time to get there… I want to make sure I get enough time with my kids as they’re growing up, so that means sometimes passing up on a work opportunity.”

 

Thomas Knauer, designer and author, shares some little known facts about the textile industry.

“There are probably so many things that would surprise people, to be honest. The most likely is how much fabric designers make: generally 1-2% of the retail cost of the finished fabric. Certainly fabric design opens up some doors—it certainly has for me—but it also involves a remarkable amount of work to do really well. Like any business there are always trade-offs, and in the end I am glad to be doing it. Certainly, there are a lot of personal rewards; I truly love figuring out how to tell a story or approach a conceptual problem through fabric design. At the same time there are only so many hours in the day. If you want to make a living doing this, you are going to need to do a whole lot of different things, and expect to devote and insane amount of time to doing it. Heck, I wouldn’t be able to do this if my wife weren’t a professor. Actually, my advice to anyone trying to break into this world would be to do it part time for years while still working a straight job, or have a partner who can supply that steady income; it is a long, long road.”

 

April Cobb, founder of the textile company Modern Yardage, shares a little bit about the vision behind selling designs from new and untapped talents in textiles, who are professional designers.

“Through being a part of the industry and learning a lot from our friends and experiences in the industry, my husband and I became aware of the shortcomings of the fabric world. We recognized that there is an enormous lag time of 6 months to 1 year before fabric gets from the designer’s completed product to the arrival of the actual printed bolts of fabric into fabric stores in the US. This makes for a lot of speculation on trends. We recognized how from a fabric line, there are winner prints and there are loser prints. No one knows for certain which will sell and which won’t. So there are often too many bolts that get discounted and the designers, design companies, and the retailers lose money. Then the designs that do very well are in short supply and sewists and crafters can’t get them when they need them. Retailers miss out on the opportunity to sell those designs when they can’t get enough of them in time. Additionally, there are so many talented designers who don’t get the opportunity to get their designs on fabric. Traditional design companies cannot afford to give as many talented designers as they would like, the opportunity to work with them because their financial risk is too high and they often don’t even have warehouse space to house anymore lines of fabric. My husband, Jay, and I were aware of the capabilities of digital textile printing and had learned a few things about it. I am not exactly sure how all of this came together into one brilliant thought. I only know that one morning, less than a year ago, Jay walked down the stairs and said, “I know what we need to do.” This is when he told me about his inspiration and his plan. I knew immediately that his idea of printing modern designs onto fabric, on-demand, had to be the way of the future.”

 

Finally, Jennifer Paganelli shares her best advice for an aspiring designer:

“Never give up! Don’t quit before the miracle and always count your blessings! There is room for everyone and you are right where you are supposed to be.”

Are you interested in designing your own fabric, or do you know someone who is?

Check out the Up & Coming Designer Program, a new blog series I’m co-hosting with Amy of 13 Spools. Each month, we feature talented creative designers who are screen-printing their own fabrics and innovating on a small scale within the industry.

You can also read more about our featured April and May designers, Colette Moscrop and Kelsey of Lovely and Enough (her Pistachios print is pictured above).

 

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