How to Start a Fabric Design Business

by Virgil Dudley; Updated September 26, 2017

Fabric is a part of our everyday lives, from the pants to the shirts we wear and the chairs we sit on. It not only surrounds us, it covers us. The designs on fabric are often overlooked elements of the garments we choose to wear. There are many designers who have businesses specifically to create the fabric designs on the clothes we wear. Starting a fabric design business requires technical abilities, understanding of the process, and good networking and business skills.

Items you will need

  • Design software
  • Business cards
  • Business license and permits

Starting Your Business

Step 1

Contact your local city to understand what sort of permits and licenses you will need for opening your own business. If you are starting small and independently, you might be able to work without a business license by using your Social Security number as an independent contractor; look at the options and decide what is best for you and your business. A tax identification number is easily obtainable online through the federal government's website and is a number that will help to identify your business without giving away personal information.

Design and produce business cards and a website with your business name, contact information and the types of services you provide.

Step 2

Determine how you would like to get work for your business. Fabric designers generally get work through freelancing or by creating a portfolio of designs and selling them directly. Freelancing is guaranteed money; however, the design requirements are determined by the client as opposed to designing anything you desire.

Step 3

Create a portfolio. Whether you plan to freelance or create independent designs, it is important to have a portfolio to show clients. Create a variety of designs for presentation. Oftentimes, fabric designs are created and sold in repetition, this a design created to repeat when tiled together. When printing fabric, this is necessary and companies prefer to receive the designs ready for print. Designs are easier to sell if they are done in repetition with color separation.

Step 4

Begin to establish a client base. Contact companies that produce fabric and discuss their needs. If you have a portfolio of designs for sale, try to present the portfolio to them to sell patterns. Create a database of clients whose design aesthetic is in line with your design sensibilities. You are more marketable if the client can see you producing designs that fit within their needs.

Step 5

Attend trade shows. There are several trade shows meant specifically for surface designs for applications in fabric and other surface materials. Search the shows to find one that has designers and applications fitting to the fabric designs you create. A trade show is a large investment of time and money, so it is advisable to visit the trade show and talk to vendors at the show about their experience and preparation for the show before having your own booth at the show.

Step 6

Sell designs. Whether through freelancing or selling individual design, selling is the most important aspect of maintaining your business. Sell designs with a flat fee or create a contract with a usage fee and royalties for your design. Each client will require different methods of payment and rights of usage. It is important to create a contract for each sale stating the rights of usage and fees for that usage.


  • Create multiple color variations of each design for variety.

    Create coordinating designs that can be sold together.


  • Always have a contract stating terms of payment and usage.

About the Author

Virgil Dudley is an artist, designer, and urban theorist who has written, researched and designed projects in the fields of art, architecture, fashion, and design since 2001. She has written for websites such as eHow. She holds a B.F.A. in ceramics and art history and a M.Sc. in architectural history and theory and is co-owner of an environmentally responsible clothing line.