Build Your Designer Tool-Kit

Having a designer “tool kit”–a collection of documents created to streamline your work–is a well-kept secret to successful submissions, a streamlined design process and teaching schedule. I’ve been working with, for, and hiring some great designers during my career, so now it’s time to pass along some of these secrets to you. 

Define your standards

Fashion brands have what are called “fit standards”. Unlike sizing standards, fit standards are outlines for what type of customer fits best into your garments. Not all garments will fit all bodies the same, so it’s important to be honest with yourself and your customer about how your pieces are designed to fit them. If you have no idea what your current customer looks like, start by looking in the mirror. Most knitwear and sewing designers use themselves as their primary fit model. There’s nothing wrong with this, but if you have strong shoulders and always prefer a tailored look, your customer is likely to be the same. Make notes about what kind of fit and style you prefer and share this with your customer so they know what to expect from you. 

Stick to a measurement method or chart

Whether you’re using pre-existing sizing charts or you’re cobbling together your own from several sources to suit your style and preferences, you should always reference the same charts for all of your designs. This creates consistency across your “brand” and makes you reliable, and that’s something your customer will return for! 

Build a basic schematic or “block”

In professionally made garments, the sizing block is your most basic shape, without seam allowances (in sewing) from which all other garments are built. If you know that for you, a sleeve is 16”, define that in your block. If you have a preference for hip-length or tunic-length styles, note it here. Defining this will make the pattern creation process easier, too.

Template your patterns

Work with a graphic designer or on your own to create a template you can use to lay out each of your patterns. Even after having done it for years, creating a new template from scratch takes me several hours–having it pre-created makes laying out a new pattern in this format take around 20-40 minutes. Save yourself the time of cross-referencing your older patterns and trying to mimic things for a consistent look. Save a template, then re-open it each time and save it as the new pattern name before you make changes. Some programs (like Adobe InDesign) even have special template files with rules you can learn to streamline font and text styles and structures. 

You can take this a step further by creating spreadsheets for common styles and materials you use. Build your basic forms out and then change them easily by linking them to gauge math boxes at the top of the sheet. When you change the gauge math, the whole spreadsheet will update all of your numbers, and you’ve already pre-graded your pattern and it just needs tweaks for style! 

Create an email alias dedicated to work

If you’re managing more than your design work in a single inbox, start sending and receiving anything design-related to an email alias. You can create this pretty easily in the settings section of your email account. An alias can help you look more professional, as it can be branded to your company name, and it allows you to tag and filter these messages into specific inboxes where you’ll be able to find them later. Use this email for pattern support, design submission call newsletters, the contact us form on your website and your LinkedIn profile if it’s applicable! You might not have a 0 inbox, but you’ll be able to more easily hunt down information than ever before. 

Write up your class offerings list

Many designers double up as teachers to increase their income and connect with new audiences. It’s great to apply to teach–and even better when someone reaches out to you–but don’t reinvent the wheel every time. Write up 5-10 class descriptions of things you are comfortable and confident teaching, and save them as a PDF with information about the length of the class, materials, and how may students can comfortably take the class at once. When you get that inquiry email or need to send a class offerings list, keep it handy. Revise and make notes frequently to update this list based on how your past classes have gone. 

Build an annual calendar

I always know what I’m doing at least a year in advance, and this is because I keep a calendar specifically for my work! Mark out important submissions deadlines and new issue releases, your favorite events’ application dates, and get everything in on time. Once you’ve taken the time to lay it out, you’ll be amazed at what you’re able to achieve. 

Keep a spreadsheet to analyze your work

Create a running spreadsheet that helps you track your progress, hours, and cost for everything you create. This helps you track internal business things, like materials costs, but also judge if you’re being paid fairly. As you evaluate, look for pain points you can resolve with some help from someone specialized in that category: sample making, technical editing, layout and photography can all be handed off, if your budget allows for it. This type of tracking can also help you see where you’ve had major personal and professional growth. You’ll be able to see how much faster you design with more practice! 

It’s not easy to be an independent freelance designer, but with these tips and tricks you can really streamline the amount of hours you’re dedicating to a project, and know if you’re actually covering your business needs with the amount you’re accepting in payment. Being organized is key to productivity, and these two elements are often the differentiator between a professional and amateur designer.

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