How to Start a Fabric Design Business

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Do you enjoy working with different fabrics and creating unique designs? Then you should consider starting a business in this area. This will give you a chance to work with fashion brands, bra designers and manufacturers, clothing designers and more. Over time, you could become the go-to person for original fabric designs.

Textile Industry Overview

The first thing you need to do before starting your business is to research the textile market. This will allow you to identify potential opportunities, define your audience and learn about your competitors. Furthermore, you'll get the information needed to estimate your startup costs and make financial projections.

This industry was worth approximately $925.3 billion in 2018. It is estimated to have a 4.24% compound annual growth rate between 2019 and 2025, so its future looks bright. The demand for high-quality fabrics as well as the increase in consumers’ disposable income is fueling the textile market. Another factor that contributes to its growth is the rising demand for apparel in developing countries like China, Mexico and India.

Fashion and home decoration companies are investing heavily in wool, cotton, nylon and other popular fabrics. Currently, there are about 24,254 fabric, craft and sewing supplies stores in the U.S. alone, with over $4 billion in annual revenue. Big names like Jo-Ann Stores and Michaels hold the largest market share, but you can still build a successful brand.

What Is a Fabric Designer?

Fabric designers are responsible for creating prints and patterns that can be used in the production of weave, knit or textile products. Some create unique designs for surface ornamented fabrics, such as those used for upholstery and home decorations. Others specialize in fabrics for clothing. Their daily duties may include:

  • Using computer-aided design, or CAD, and other software programs to create original designs

  • Producing sketches and presenting them to customers

  • Interpreting customers' ideas and bringing their vision to life

  • Purchasing fabrics from suppliers, antique shops and trade fairs

  • Developing new design concepts

  • Experimenting with different fabrics, colors and textures

  • Assessing and approving production standards

  • Keeping up with the latest trends in fashion and fabric design

  • Supervising the production process

  • Applying a variety of dying and printing methods, such as screen printing, block printing, overprinting and blotch printing

  • Creating samples based on customer’s requirements

Today, most textile designers use CAD software and digital printing technologies. Therefore, having strong computer skills in addition to creativity is a must. These professionals master the technical aspects of production as well as the characteristics of certain yarns, fibers and dyes. They have an artistic flair and a passion for fabrics as well as the willingness to continuously improve their design skills.

Fabric designers are either self-employed or work as part of a design team. In general, they get their fabrics from wholesalers or manufacturers. However, they may also purchase them from small fabric stores and antique shops, especially when they need a particular fabric or one that's hard to find. These skilled professionals may work with bra designers and manufacturers, clothing or furniture companies, artists and popular fashion brands.

Becoming a Fabric Designer

Formal training isn't a requirement for aspiring fabric designers, but it can give you a competitive advantage. Whether you want to start a textile design business or work on a contract basis, it's essential to learn about the different types of fabrics and their characteristics, such as their flexibility, strength and abrasion resistance. Plus, you need in-depth knowledge of CAD software and other specialized computer programs. While it's true that you can learn these things on your own, attending school can help you build trust and credibility with your customers.

Another advantage of taking courses in fabric design is that you'll have access to advanced computer programs and printing machines. Furthermore, you will gain hands-on experience and connect with other like-minded students who share your passion. This could lead to a partnership or open up new opportunities for collaboration.

Depending on your preferences, you may attend college and get a bachelor's degree in textile design, enroll in a vocational school or take courses in digital fabric printing, textile technology, drawing techniques and other related fields. If money is an issue, consider applying for a grant or scholarship. Once you've completed training, sign up for an internship to gain experience before starting your own fabric design business.

Make a Business Plan

Starting and running this kind of business comes with challenges. Although your creativity matters, you also need business acumen and strong marketing skills. On top of that, it's important to build a solid professional network and maintain lasting relationships with your clients. If you're ready to take the plunge, make a business plan that covers the following:

  • Executive summary (describe your vision, mission statement and competitive advantage)

  • Company summary (briefly cover the company's ownership, startup costs and objectives)

  • Product description (write about your designs and what makes them stand out)

  • Sourcing and fulfillment

  • Market analysis (focus on market research, industry trends, customer needs and competition)

  • SWOT analysis (list your company's strengths and weaknesses and identify potential opportunities and threats)

  • Marketing and sales strategy (including product pricing, online advertising, distribution, shipping and sales forecasts)

  • Management team

  • Financial indicators (projected cash flow, funding requirements, ongoing costs, etc.)

This document should also cover the legal requirements of starting a fabric design business. Decide on a business structure, such as a sole proprietorship or a limited liability company, register your company's name with the state and apply for a tax ID number on the IRS website. If you're working with a friend or former colleague, consider setting up a partnership.

Make sure you include a list of suppliers, vendors, potential clients and other contacts. Consider your goals for the next few years and plan for growth. This way, you'll allocate your resources more efficiently and focus on the areas that matter most.

Handle the Legal Requirements

As an independent fabric designer, you can either work from home or open a small studio. Each option has different legal implications. For example, if you rent or buy a studio, you may need a signage permit, a zoning permit and a sales tax permit. In addition to general liability insurance (which is required for most businesses), consider getting property insurance, equipment insurance and professional liability insurance. If you have employees, you will also need a workers’ compensation plan.

Another aspect to consider is art licensing, a contractual agreement between artists and their clients. By signing this document, you grant other companies the right to use your artwork for a limited period. This way, you will maintain the copyright to your designs and receive a flat fee or royalty payments based on the number of sales made by your clients, or licensees.

Promote Your Fabric Design Business

Networking is paramount when it comes to building a successful fabric design business. Word spreads fast in the fashion industry, which is why it's important to build connections and make a name for yourself. Start by reaching out to local businesses that may need your services. Depending on your target audience, contact fashion stores, boutiques, local designers or furniture manufacturers.

Focus on building a strong portfolio. As your business grows, connect with bigger clients, such as national clothing brands. Meet them in person or send them samples by mail to showcase your work. Attend fashion shows and other events where you could meet potential customers.

A cost-effective way to promote your business is to set up advertising campaigns on social media. This will allow you to laser target your audience and connect with companies that are interested in what you have to offer. Share your best work on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest to gain exposure and increase brand awareness. Remember to ask your clients to leave reviews on your website, social networks and local business directories.

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About the Author

Andra Picincu is a digital marketing consultant with over 10 years of experience. She works closely with small businesses and large organizations alike to help them grow and increase brand awareness. She holds a BA in Marketing and International Business and a BA in Psychology. Over the past decade, she has turned her passion for marketing and writing into a successful business with an international audience. Current and former clients include The HOTH, Bisnode Sverige, Nutracelle, CLICK - The Coffee Lover's Protein Drink, InstaCuppa, Marketgoo, GoHarvey, Internet Brands, and more. In her daily life, Ms. Picincu provides digital marketing consulting and copywriting services. Her goal is to help businesses understand and reach their target audience in new, creative ways.