Choosing a direction for your textile design business

Sometimes it is difficult to know how you want to grow your business. You know that you want to be out in the market, selling your work and earning a living, but what is the best direction for you to take? You may be asking yourself, “Should I sell through an agent, work as a consultant or represent my own artwork at prints shows?”

If you aren’t quite sure where to turn, your confidence level, the time you have to commit to your business, the amount of customer interaction that you want to have on a daily basis and the amount of money that you have to invest, may point you in the right direction.

*image via: Louis Vuitton Spring ’13 via

The ability to sell your work confidently is important to gaining customer trust and loyalty. Put yourself in the buyers’ shoes, they are buying prints one to two years in advance of the market, which can be risky! They are taking a gamble that your prints are going to sell well and need to feel confident in your ability to track and forecast trends, as well as create desirable prints. Yes, they should know what prints their customer is going to buy, but who doesn’t like a little support when making investments in the future?

This is why if you are still crafting your artistic style, or feel less than confident in your work, it may be beneficial to work “behind the scenes” for a while, through a print studio or agent. Selling your work through an agent gives you time to focus on growing as a designer, while still earning a living and getting your work out into the world.

How much time do you have to invest in your business? Representing your work takes a great deal of time and energy. Along with designing amazing products, you will be responsible for managing day-to-day operations, responding to clients, planning for the big day, marketing, financial planning and more. If you struggle finding enough time to design, how are you going to make sure that these tasks are covered as well?

If you are strapped for time, consider selling your work through an agent or working with clients as a consultant. Once you have more time to invest in your business, you can sell your work at print shows or through a password protected website in addition to these existing revenue streams.

*image via: Louis Vuitton Spring ’13 via

Think about how much client interaction you would like to have on a daily basis. A great deal of my time is spent in meetings and answering emails and I love the constant interaction! I have longstanding relationships with my clients and I consider many of them to be close friends. As much as I love this business model, I know that it is not right for every designer. You may want as little client interaction as possible and if this is the case, selling through an agent is about as close as you can get!  Other designers love to sell their prints through print shows because they have months of intense design time followed by a few fun-filled days networking, building relationships and making sales! It is up to you how much time you want to invest in your customers and how fast you want your business to grow.

Lastly, how much money do you have to invest in your business? If you are ready to jump into the market in a big way, and have the funds to do so, selling your work at print shows is a great direction! Print shows are one of the fastest ways to grow your customer list, network and establish your place in the industry. If you dream of attending a show, but your bank account is at zero, then make print shows a goal for the next year or two. In the meantime, there are still many options available, such as selling your work through an agent, online or consulting with clients.

Facts and figures aside, when choosing a business direction, passion is one of the most important components. Passion is what allows you to work late nights and inspires you to keep moving forward after a setback. Passion allows you to problem solve and find ways around budget, time and mindset obstacles.



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18 Comments on “Choosing a direction for your textile design business

  1. I always love your advice, you seem to be addressing the questions i’m having in my head! Which agents would you recommend for a newcomer?

  2. Thank you for this great excerpt from Building Your Textile Design Business! Can you say a few words about what a textile consulting business would entail (what is your product or service?) in contrast to licensing your work or working with an agent?
    Many thanks!

  3. Thanks loanna,
    There are just so many out there and it really depends on the market that you wish to target. Have you tried searching through google? Also, try looking at those agents who exhibit at the shows you would like to attend, printsource or surtex. Both shows list exhibitors on their website!

  4. You are welcome Laura. It is basically when clients commission you to design or develop a textile design collection exclusive to their company. Maybe the term consulting threw you off? Let me know if you have any more questions!

  5. Great article, at this point I feel so overwhelmed. There is so much to assimilate to do this career well. Are there solely textile design agents? Thank You!

  6. Hi Lisa, Yes, there are agents who focus on the textile design market, but I am sure they wouldn’t turn away a client from another industry. I hope the post didn’t overwhelm you! Let me know how I can help..

  7. Great excerpt. How do I find a textile design sales agent? I have been looking on-line but find only manufacturers looking for agents or training programs to become an agent. Thank you for your help.

  8. Hi does anyone know how to find textile design agents in the UK?

  9. Hi Chloe, a great place to start looking is the exhibitor lists for tradeshows like Indigo/Premiere Vision, the London Textile Show, etc. The blog Print & Pattern also has a job board which often has listings from agents. Good luck!

  10. Hi, I have been making textile designs with disperse dyes on polyester for a few years. I have been buying white neckties on line and then printing on them. I have had success selling these individual ties but have been wondering how to sell my designs instead of the ties. I have asked many people in the industry and they have told me that unless I am a known name (which I am not), I would have to get my designs “on disc” in order to sell them. Apparently, this does NOT mean simply scanning them and then uploading the images onto a disc – it means that I have to work directly on the computer?!?!? or something — I can’t get a straight answer from anyone about how to do this. I went to an Open House at FIT and spoke to some teachers there who told me I would have to take a course there in order to find out but at the moment I don’t have the money to get into NYC and/or to pay for a course. Can you help me figure this out? Should I just learn how to do PhotoShop – would that help? If you could answer me, I would be forever grateful!!!!!

  11. Hi Miriam! The reason that it has probably difficult to get a straight answer is because there is no simple answer! There are so many different buyers, agents and studios in this industry and each works in slightly different ways. There are some studios who sell high quality scans of hand-created artwork like you mentioned, so don’t feel too discouraged by what people have told you. Have you taken our free course?

  12. Hi and WOW! What a lovely community of designers and support I have stumbled across! This has most certainly become my new home, thanks x
    Apart from a generic google search, is there a place to start to find agents in Australia?
    Thanks heaps

  13. Welcome Trish and thanks for the kind words! I don’t know of a specific resource for Australia but I would recommend looking at the exhibitor lists for different print shows such as Premiere Vision, Printsource, etc. You should be able to search by country!

  14. Hi Sarah, it all depends on where you’re located, what you can afford, what your market is etc. But the major ones (at least in the US) are Printsource, Indigo, and Surtex. I would browse the websites for each of these shows and see what is a good fit for your style and market. Indigo is mainly focused on apparel (especially women’s apparel) while Printsource and Surtex lean more toward paper products, quilting, etc. But buyers from many other markets will certainly attend each show. Some designers “walk” the show prior to exhibiting which is a great idea to get a feel for what’s there. Hope this helps!

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At Pattern Observer we strive to help you grow your textile design business through our informative articles, interviews, tutorials, workshops and private design community, The Textile Design Lab.