Filling the void in today’s textile design marketplace

When I first started working as a textile designer, this industry was quiet….eerily quiet. There were no blogs or online training programs, only a few books and magazines and textile designers were far and few between. Over the past ten years this industry has dramatically changed and textile (or surface) design is on the tip of every designer’s tongue. Graphic designers, illustrators and even some fashion designers, like myself, have flocked to this industry and really, who can blame them? We have the coolest job in the design industry, am I right? So what does this mean for the designers out there?

It is time to step it up.

There is a significant void in the marketplace for strong textile designers who not only create high quality artwork, but who are also capable of running a professional textile design business. It is no longer enough to know illustrator, or how to create a repeat, your business has to go above and beyond in every way possible. Running a “professional business” can mean many things to different people, but in my experience a successful design businesses has: focus, authenticity, consistency, and an understanding of how to successfully communicate with clients.

Many textile designers never take their business to the professional level because they lack focus. Too many of us try to design for every market, every client, every trend, every style. This market is so vast that if you try to appeal to every client, you will appeal to none at all.

For example, I was recently looking for a textile designer who specialized in the childrenswear industry. I searched and I searched, but I never came across the expert that I needed. I found plenty of designers who dabbled in this field, but no one (that I could find) was marketing themselves in such a focused way. Experience, expertise and confidence are comforting to potential clients. We all want to know that we are working with the best that the industry has to offer.

So how can you begin to fill this void?

Try reflecting on your recent work. Was there a print collection that you couldn’t stop working on? (There is such a thing as too many print coordinates!) Was there a particular aspect of a project, such as trend research or production, that you didn’t want to move on from? Is there an area of the market that you can’t stop researching?

Can you think of an example? If so, take this newly discovered focus and run like the wind! Learn everything you can about this particular market, style or specialty. If not, keep looking. You may need more time or experience and that is just fine. When you are ready to move forward you’ll be able to do so with focus and conviction.

This industry is hungry for more leaders, more experts and those willing to take their business to the next level. I make this statement as a print buyer, client, interviewer, blogger and mentor. I see what’s going on out there and there is a place for you and your business!

– Michelle

  1. The industry HAS changed so much! I am shocked the past few years. It is all very exciting. Thank you for always having the most awesome and helpful blog posts!

  2. This is so helpful! It’s good to know that honing in on something specific and being excellent at it can get you far. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the pull to be good at everything…I just can’t do that. Now I can breathe a little!

  3. What great words! I think those qualities of focus, authenticity, consistency, and communication skills are essential to all people in small biz, no matter what the industry. And as Amber pointed out, trying to be good at everything leaves you feeling overwhelmed. Which means you NEVER get to do your best work.

    Communication should not be underestimated. If a client received equally good submissions from two designers, the one that would get the job is the one who communicates better. If your skills aren’t fabulous in that area, get someone to collaborate with (even friends & family are useful, if money is an issue). But start by just getting your work out there! With Pinterest, Facebook, etc, there’s no excuse.

    If you’re serious about your work, you’ll still get to the top if you’re consistent – it may just take a bit longer. Or just be twice as good as everyone else!

    1. You are right Julie, communication is important in any business and getting help is KEY! When I started blogging and teaching I struggled with how to effectively communicate with so many people on a daily, even hourly basis. I was misplacing information, forgetting to respond to emails: it was a mess! The pace was so intense and I finally realized that I needed help! Chelsea now helps me with so many aspects of my business and it allows me to stay afloat and do the work that I do best.

      Awesome comments everyone! I love the conversation ; )

  4. Spot on. The practice is so much more than simply banging out patterns; it is fundamentally an intellectual pursuit. Design speaks; it is not just about looks. The designers who really go far do so because they commit to the complete process of design, not just the formal components. We need a bit more why? to drive the what?

    Or something like that…

  5. Great advice thank you. I get excited to “try it all” and I wasn’t sure if I should “box” my inspirations…. You have answered that question. There are those images and color combos that I can’t do without, the ones that make my heart sing. There I will begin my niche.

  6. Thank you for the great advice! Helps remembering staying focus and being concise is a basic on this industry!
    I am starting to develope some strange addiction to your blog, just can’t stop reading all this great inspiring

  7. Really great information and advices. I enjoy designing different prints, but still struggling to really find MY style. Is it that bad? Is being versatile in designing different types of prints for different target market wrong? Sometimes I feel I have so many ideas i am all over the place, but stiff love to experiment with different mediums and techniques. Any advice on that ? 🙂

  8. I’m new to this and eager to learn more……I really need to focus and pull in my interests because they are all over the place…..but I think my main strength is my creativity and desire to design. Thank you so much for this useful information.

  9. I’d like to get into business of producing my own designs. Textiles. Bedding and cushions in particular. I spent a bit of time doing and seeing it in the market, learning along the way but lost the passion when I knew I was way under paid, wasn’t given any samples and couldn’t show off designs in my folio. Basically someone else was taking credit for my work.
    If there a course I could do to learn a) my rights as a designer, b) but importantly how to conduct ethical business activities?

  10. I am a fashion/Textile Designer looking for a job and trying to come back in the business… the picture in the link is me and i designed this bridal for the first day of the wedding which is typically a colorful night. Could you guys check it out and let me know what you guys think of it? I just wanna know what the market in US or in any other place thinks of it as and if this trend could be an influential trend setter in this market or not.

    1. Hi Asra, do you mean that you designed this embroidery? Wow! It’s beautiful! If you intend to freelance there are definitely some studios that specialize in embroideries and embellishments, one that comes to mind is but there are others. Or if you are looking for an in-house position, lots of brands have embroidery/embellishment positions, which may fall under their own job title or as part of the duties of a general textile design position.

  11. Also to some it might seem an inappropriate question but is surface designer or textile designer the same thing or they have different job description? I assume its the same thing but please clarify

    1. Hi Asra, not an inappropriate question at all, it’s a great question! 😉 These days the terms tend to be used interchangeably, but technically a textile designer designs exclusively for fabric, whereas a surface designer might design for other applications such as giftwrap, wallpaper, etc. in addition to fabric. The popular term right now seems to be “surface pattern designer.” Does this help?

  12. Hi, great article, is there a format for a super beginner to submit ideas on a design and have it vetted for “sellablility” marking potential or appeal per industry settings? I am recently retired nurse who paints and have been interested in looking into a setting that may take a person like me under their arm and home grow me along as a protégé into the industry. Dreaming and hopeful.

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