Is It A Good Time To Be An Independent Designer?

I had an interesting conversation with one of my Canadian customers, in Winnipeg, who was buying a bag for her daughter. She said her daughter is thinking about going into fashion design after high school and wanted to know my thoughts on being a designer.

I can only speak of my experience, as I’ve never worked for a company doing design work. My purpose for going to fashion design school was to start my own business. I would say though that overall, it is a good time to be an independent designer. So many barriers have come down to starting your own handcrafted business. At least, you would have a chance to have a go at it with a small start-up fund. Also it’s something you can start while still working, studying or part-time to test the market.

Before the internet, the traditional way was for designers to sell their collection to brick and mortar stores at wholesale prices. This can be done through a sales agent, who will represent your collection to the owner/buyers of the store.  This is a very expensive route and not one that a small start up would likely use. A second way is to sell to boutique shops. You would have to call up local business  owners and trying to get a meeting. Many small  boutiques will only take your items on consignment, lowering their risk on items that don’t sell well.

Now the game has changed, largely due to the internet. There are now several ways an individual can sell their work:

  1. Online. This is a big one. You can now sell to your customers directly through your online shop. You can educate your customers as to why your items/collection is unique and what goes into it.
  2. Sell at local gift and craft shows. This will give you a chance to sell in person, meet potential customers and get feedback from attendees.
  3. Wholesale/Consignment. You can search for shops to sell or consign to. Most shops have a website. You can see what they offer and see if your items are a good fit for the store. Then you can contact the owner/buyer through email, so you’re not disrupting their day with a sales call.
  4. Corporate Orders. I actually never thought about this route when I started my business, but along the way I have received inquiries for corporate orders from advertising firms, hotels, and other businesses looking for special gifts to give to their employees or their customers.

The internet has changed the way people shop. I find that customers are more aware of what they are looking for. They want to know how things are made, what it’s made out of and why the materials used are more superior than mass market goods. Also, customers are looking for something different than what you can get everywhere.

Overall, this is a time when an individual can start and run their own design business. It is not easy. It takes a lot of hard work, but it is something that can be done with the avenues available now. I think that young people need to think differently (now I sound a bit old) and see what opportunities they can create. It used to be that if you study a certain field, it’s likely that you can get a job doing that. I don’t think it’s so clear cut anymore. Creativity in any field counts for a lot.





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