Advice for Aspiring Fashion Designers
By Heather, age 21, Florida
Everything I'm going to write is strictly my opinion, and I can only speak for myself and my own experience. Just know that in school I was always accused of going off the subject when I write, so I just might do that. Bear with me ...
Before I begin, I want to tell you that I have been sewing almost every day for four years, and I have been working since I was 14 years old. I've had about seven different jobs. I've also run two businesses all by myself - one was DollarMart USA (lol) and the other was at Meeka Trading (a small business started by a woman named Meeka. She sold handmade beaded sandals and had a small factory in Indonesia. (www.meeka.com - I'm the foot model on the sandals page, haha!) I think everyone should have many experiences in different fields. It helps if you ever want to start your own business.
This business is not all about fashion design and making pretty things. When you first start, don't expect anyone to understand what you're doing. People will look at you funny and think you must be really full of yourself for putting your pictures all over the internet. It's okay ... You can't let what people say bring you down. You have to do what you want. Don't be intimidated by people's opinions and advice. It usually won't help unless they're in the same field as you, but at a higher level. People will judge everything you do. Don't take it personally. Just let it roll off and be done with it. If you dwell on criticism you won't get anywhere.
EquipmentYou will need a sewing machine and a serger. Most people don't understand what a serger is. It's like a sewing machine, except it has 2 needles and 3, 4, or 5 threads. Mine has 4 threads. Five might be too much if you're just starting out. (Serging thread isn't cheap!) I would recommend at least a 4 thread.
When buying a sewing machine you need to get one that fits your needs. I personally look for very fast sewing machines with a lot of different stitches as well as twin needle capability. Don't buy your sewing machine from Wal-Mart. I did that a long time ago, and it was such a piece of junk that I returned it the next day. Good machines usually cost $250+. Sergers are much more expensive. Expect to pay $350+. I personally like Kenmore better, but Singer has more options. Kenmore is better quality. Singer jams a lot and is difficult to use at times. I use a Kenmore sewing machine, a Singer CG-590 sewing machine, and a Kenmore serger. There are other kinds of machines you can buy too, like embroidery machines, but you don't need them.
Sewing TechniquesEveryone sews differently. Everyone has his or her own techniques. I personally prefer to serge first, then sew. Some people sew, then serge. I would recommend using my way, of course. (lol) When serging you need to either tie off your ends and sew back over them, or else glue them to keep them in place. If you don't your stuff will fall apart. There are plenty of people who don't do this, then sell their clothes. I've heard horror stories. I've been told that my stuff is extremely well-made. So you can choose whose advice to take. :D
Places to Sell Your StuffYou need to sell your stuff somewhere. I recommend www.ebay.com or www.etsy.com. It's very hard to compete on eBay if you're just starting out. You have a better chance of getting recognized on eBay though. I prefer eBay to Etsy any day, even though you sometimes make less since eBay means auctions.
FabricsMy favorite fabrics are cotton knit, lycra (which is another word for spandex), and cotton blends. I could tell you a billion places to shop, but that would be like cheating. I look at it like school. When you take a test, and you cheat off someone else's paper, you lose. You don't learn. You need to look for yourself and do your own research. You will learn a lot more that way. Google is the best search engine. That's what I use to find stores.
Swatches are a great way to test a fabric. A swatch is a small piece of fabric that you can buy for a few cents. You can't make anything out of it, but if you're buying online, and you can order swatches before spending hundreds of dollars on fabric you can't touch, you should do it.
CustomersYes, you will have to deal with customers. If you are not a "people person" you can still do it. I personally enjoy talking to people, so it's no problem to me. I know some people are shy though.
A few things you should know: Answer every question, no matter how insignificant you think it is. It's not insignificant if someone is asking about it. Also, people can be rude. You'll get some crazy people. Don't let it bother you. Be as nice as you possibly can. Don't let it get personal. In the past, I've let it get personal and I've gotten emotional over issues I should of just ignored. Sometimes you just have to take it. It's not anything to cry over. Just make sure you're the bigger person. You'll feel better about it. Anyway, it's possible to even make some friends. I have met a lot of amazing people by their just asking me a simple question. Most people are very pleasant. Ignore negativity.
NetworkingThe biggest part of being a fashion designer is networking. Networking is meeting new people everywhere you go as often as you can. Bring your business cards everywhere. Talk to people. Talk to photographers, other fashion designers, magazines, blogs ... anyone!!! Get your name out there. Make people aware of you. Shove it in their faces if you have to. Be confident. Promote yourself. Nobody will do it for you. Sitting around waiting for someone to notice you may work, I think, but it has never worked for me. It seems like the harder you work, the more you get in return.
Ok, I think that pretty much covers everything I can think of. Don't be afraid to be yourself because there's always going to be someone like you out there. Don't be jealous of people who are better than you. Be happy that you can learn from them. I'm really happy to write all this for you, and I hope it can help you in some way, no matter what you do. If you have any more questions or comments, please feel free to go to my website or MySpace and post them there.