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.

Not sure how to get started in the textile design industry? Access our free training to turn your artwork into textile designs that sell.



    1. 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!

  1. 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!

    1. 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!

  2. 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!

    1. 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..

  3. 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.

    1. 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!

  4. 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!!!!!

    1. 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?

  5. 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

    1. 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!

    1. 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!

    1. Hi Olaiya, a great place to start looking is the exhibitor lists for trade shows like Surtex, Printsource or Indigo. When you find a good match that is in line with your artistic style, I suggest reaching out to them by sharing a link to your portfolio website or following the submission process listed on their site. Best of luck!

  6. I am a self-taught deaf artist. I am just starting out trying to market my art. I don’t own a website, I have a great textile art work that strongly believe in. I am trying hard to get it to the market. I started a month ago. I am super proud of my work and exited to see them on product in the future. Could you please guide me on any direction i should take



    1. Hi Peter, sorry we missed this! A portfolio site is very important these days to marketing your work, whether you plan to sell your own designs, or find a studio or agent to represent your work. I encourage you to check out our Portfolio Guide here:

      Our How to Sell Your Artwork course is also a great first step in learning some of the options available as a textile designer:

      I also encourage you to check out our Textile Design Lab e-learning community at which contains courses such as The Sellable Sketch, The Ultimate Guide to Repeats, Five Days to a Better Business and others that are very helpful to learning the ins and outs of textile design and building a design business. In the Lab we also offer a forum for personalized feedback on your artwork, design tutorials, guest expert trainings on a wide range of topics, an extensive resource guide and lots more helpful content. We hope to see you there!

  7. Hi, first of all I need to say that coming to know Pattern Observer and its free trainings in Textile Design is the best thing that happen in my professional field lately. I am a Brazilian woman who works as an assistent for a representing firm for 11 years, always working with the customers patterns, rapports, collections and lately I’ve been planning to take a solo route and start to be a freelance surface designer, I can’t leave my job right now but I am really thinking and planning about it, this site is really really helping me a lot. It seems that my artistic side is struggling to appear and I need to put it out. I am constructing an online potfolio with my humble artworks and studing everything related with this world and off course taking advantage of my practical experience of all this years working with textile design. This interection with professionals of the market and colegues designers are given me a huge incentive to keep going. As a Brazilian from the biggest and busier city of São Paulo, I would like to know form you if there is any problem for me to work with agents or selling my designs to customers from around the world, as we have nowadays a lot of tools to work remotely? I appreciate very much your sharing your knowledge with us.

    1. Hi Vasare, a great place to start looking is the exhibitor lists for trade shows like Surtex, Printsource or Indigo. When you find a good match that is in line with your artistic style, I suggest reaching out to them by sharing a link to your portfolio website or following the submission process listed on their site. Best of luck!

  8. Hi, i have so many pattern & i want to sell my patterns but i have no licences. Please tell me what is the procedures.

  9. hi, i love to design prints and i design anything and everything. i feel that some of my designs would look good on fabrics whereas others on wallpapers or stationery. as u said know your artistic style first ,so how should i figure out what is my style before searching for an agent or studio?

    also i want to know which sites do u recommend to sell prints online?


    1. Hi Riya! It sounds like you would benefit from our Sellable Sketch e-course in the Textile Design Lab. One of the major goals of the course is discovering your style and by the end of the course you will have created a pattern collection by taking into account your style, trends, and focusing on a customer and market of your choosing. You can read more about the course here: and more about what’s included in Lab membership here:

      As far as selling prints online, everyone has different experiences, and they tend not to be the best way to make money but can be a way to get your name out there. Some of the more popular online platforms include Spoonflower, Patternbank and Society6, but there are lots of others. Hope this helps!

  10. Hello,
    I stumbled across your article online and found it quite informative. Seems like a very active design community here 🙂 Can you give me some insight on how much do fabric agents usually cost ? For eg if the role of the fabric agent is to source correct quality and pricing fabric from textile mills / manufacturers for apparel production units for their own clients. So basically the fabric agent works in the middle of the apparel production unit and the textile manufacturer. Does this usually work ? What could be the loopholes to check ? Would be great to have your feedback.

  11. I have been a graphic and web designer for over 10 years and I’d like to start a new career in surface design how do I start?

  12. Hi, I am looking for textile pattern designers or patterns available on sale for exclusive use. where should i look?

  13. I have a product idea that has fashion elements, but it is not clothing. I need help designing and picking the best materials. It will have different materials ranging from very elastic to some what rigid (I.e. Knitted sock type of material, leather, and/or canvas). I want to mass produce the product, so I need some one that can help source a high volume manufacturer, so the need to be aware of manufacturing capabilities. How would I go about finding a resource like this?

  14. Hello, I have a degree in Fashion and Textile Merchandising that I have only been able to use as a retail manager because the industry where I live is limited. I later went back to school to become a home economics and vocational teacher for high school. My passion of design has never left my heart and I have felt lost because I haven’t found my niche in the field that comes naturally to me. I constantly am given great Ideas and design concepts from God, I just need help in finding my way. I feel I could earn a living almost effortlessly because designing is what I believe I was meant to do. Any suggestions? I have a 64 box of Crayons from 1982, still intact with the sharpener, and yes, they have been used. That’s just how connected I am to colors. I doodle a lot, and I know the designs would sell in some form of print. I don’t think I need to go back to school for graphic design, because I already have a master’s degree in the education field I mentioned earlier, it just doesn’t fit what I feel is my God Given Calling. Besides, I taught high school for 13 years and really don’t want to retire from doing that! It’s a world you wouldn’t believe if you haven’t done it before. I could use directional suggestions. I am also interested in home goods, furniture, interior design, commercial upholstery (auto, boats, RVs, coach buses), graphics, stationary, fabric, and, clothing design. I know my interests probably need to be narrowed down, but creativity is sooooo versatile. I just need advice from those of you who may have already tread these waters. Thanks, and I hope I haven’t given you a headache.

  15. Hi Kim.
    I hope you receive this and not too late. I just came across this site now as I feel the same way you do. I have some different areas of degree but still searching.
    I was hoping to read an answer to your comment so I can take advise on my direction.
    The most encouragement I got was as a child receiving a 100 color paint set from my grandma.

    I have a graphic design degree and in commercial art. I’ve been in the interior design area for 20 years but would really love to get my surface/fabric designs out there. I’ve made scarfs and dresses with my fabrics and have 70 designs on spoonflower, but stuck as to my next direction.
    I went to surtex in New York a few years ago and not sure it even helped. I need representation because I can’t even get to the proper source to be seen. At surtex there isn’t a line up of reps or much to go by as they are interested in the booth holders.
    My interior design (retail) job is killing my spirit and energy. I’d love to quit but can’t get to that next step of finding representation. All the past comments on how to find agents really are not listing any! Exhibitors are not listing agents!!
    I really need a true source of agents to get rolling. If you come across agents please email me back.
    I too feel God has put passion and desire and talent in me and I’m searching to put it in the best direction.

    Thanks and good luck

  16. Hi everyone. As many others have said, what a fantastic site and community of like minded people. What i especially love about this site/blog is that questions are answered by obviously passionate people who are willing to share knowledge. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading every post and look forward to exploring Pattern Observer further. A big Thank you.

  17. I would love to know if you have a list of the different print shows in England and America and rated as to which are the best. I am in the process of designing a range of historically inspired digital designs ( for both wall paper and textiles) of about 25 patterns, each of which will be in about three different colour ways mostly for the interior design industry. Currently I am selling them through my IG account but I need to reach a much wider audience and should either sell the designs at a print show or get agents to sell my fabric. My designs are printed on a natural Belgian and the digital printing process is waterless and only uses organic dyes and thus have a very limited environmental foot print.

    1. Hi Debby, we don’t have a rating system but here are some shows you might want to look into: The London Textile Fair, Printsource, Surtex, Premiere Vision, Blueprint, and the LA Textile show. Heimtextil takes place in Germany but is focused on the home textiles market and might be well suited to what you are designing. Best of luck!

  18. Hi,
    So I did my bachelor’s from Pakistan in Textile Design 15 years back and I have worked as a textile designer in fashion/home textile companies and right now heading the design department of a mill that deals with exporting printed bedding. I would like to start making money by freelance designing. I wanted to know how much I could be earning as a freelance designer, enough to leave my day job?
    Also, how do I start? I have basic knowledge of Photoshop that i’ve used so far to do my designing. Have never done CAD work as in my country all companies have separate CAD designers whose job is to only make separation files of the designs done by the textile designers. How do I know if my knowledge of Photoshop is enough or if I need to learn more.
    You mention agents and websites like Spoonflower, which one is right for me? I want to be sitting in my home, making art work and selling internationally, and making a good income. Is that even possible?

    1. Hi Myra! I would begin researching agents and studios that you can connect with. It’s a great way to get your work out there in the marketplace while still learning about the market. Do you have an online portfolio website? That is really key to marketing your work from afar. Wishing you the best–

  19. Hi,
    I just have to say that I’m blown away by this community! I magically stumbled upon this site at the perfect time in my life…I say magically because I never saw it before most likely because the timing was not quite right.
    I graduated a million years ago with a degree in textile design and got a job the day after graduating as a free lance stylist working in various printing mills along the coast of south eastern MA and RI . I also did a bit of weaving for a silk scarf designer but ended up putting all my textile career goals aside to raise a couple of kids and help my husband run a bakery.
    Fast forward seventeen years the kids are heading off to college etc and we are preparing to sell the bakery in the next couple of years. My life seems like it’s zooming into focus as I meet people who are sharing similar interests and lifestyle changes. The other day I met a woman who bought a yarn shop on cape cod ( where I live) who extracted herself away from her city job with Converse to live down here, raise her child and create-a community for textile junkies and wannabees.
    I also dug out an old table loom and have plans bring it over to a local weaver who just retired from her job as an art teacher at a nearby school. She opened up a weaving studio a few years ago and is turning into a nice little hub for weavers, novice, veterans and in between.
    Lastly, I dug out and dusted off my million year old portfolio(s) and lovingly paged through all my old croquis and designs remembering how much I loved to paint with gouache and endlessly sketch and brainstorm ideas.. I literally sat down on the couch to take a little coffee break from all the rummaging and cozied up with my I pad to look up something to do with working in prints.. (drawing a blank on my exact wording) and there you were,
    Magic, I tell ya!
    I’m starting to think the universe is trying to me something…
    I just wanted to share this with you and thank you for putting your knowledge and support out there for people like me. It sounds like your helping a lot of dreams come true. What an amazing job you have ! Deepest gratitude 🙏

  20. Hi, I’m impressed about the article and all those nice answers which are keep going from month to month, year to year.
    Right now I don’t want to ask anything because I need to do my homework first – need to read all those answers and maybe find mine between them.
    Actually I came to that side desperately searching around for textile pattern agent. I’m coming from Slovenia-very small country in Europe. We don’t have print shows so I need to work with somebody from Italy or Austria (which are the closest countries). There comes the language barriers.
    Anyhow I’ll try to find something.
    But thank you for your great support.

  21. Hi Michelle,

    Apologies if this has been covered before in an earlier thread I haven’t seen or
    if the details are too specific for advice! here goes…

    Hello dear creative friends – advice sought please…
    I have a new client who wants to buy my designs outright, normally I keep all IP so this is new territory.

    They are offering me a retainer paid monthly for a certain number of days at a fixed per day rate which is good in terms of financial income being steady.
    The day rate is ok, but I’ve reduced it by half due to the fact they will employ me continuously.
    However, as they are a small company and can’t pay much after a bit of discussion they’ve offered the following suggestion:

    “Having looked into this further, I’d be happy to offer a 6% royalty on all net sales receipts of qualifying designs once the design has generated over £30k of gross sales. This 6% will be paid quarterly for payments received for any qualifying sales above this amount.”

    I have no idea if this is a decent offering or not, all I’ve asked for is any terms to be in line with industry standards, so any thoughts and/or places to ask the Q i.e. a UK textile agent etc are welcome.

    Thanks in advance

    1. Hey Sarah!

      I would check out this book. The royalty that they mention sounds reasonable, but I feel that you should have some sort of compensation before they reach £30k of gross sales or in case they don’t ever reach £30k of gross sales.

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