Want to know the ups and downs of building a fashion agency, navigating freelance work in fashion, and the incredible journey of transforming an inexperienced designer into a Clo 3D whiz? Then this episode is just for you!
In this episode, you’ll hear how Kristen Anderson, a freelance fashion designer turned agency founder, took on a mammoth project that left her feeling overwhelmed and in need of a break. With pressure to go at lightning speed and a desire for control, Kristen shares her experience of building her team, switching up her pricing model, and even jetting off to Sri Lanka to bring her lingerie brand to life. And if that’s not intriguing enough, she spills the details on a remarkable success story of a newbie designer who left and came back transformed. Plus, Kristen dishes out invaluable tips on optimizing LinkedIn, managing client expectations, and the power of putting yourself out there. Trust us, this episode is a fashion-forward journey you don’t want to miss!
Kristen Anderson has been designing lingerie + intimate apparel for over 9 years. Her most recent full-time design position was at SwimUSA, where she was a senior designer for Kona Sol, a contemporary women’s swimwear line sold at Target. In late 2019, Kristen left SwimUSA to pursue full-time work with KRSTN NDRSN, her startup fashion design agency started in 2018.
In this episode, I’m chatting with Kristen Anderson, a freelance fashion designer specializing in lingerie and swim for startup brands. Over the last three years, Kristen’s freelance career has grown so much, it’s transitioned in a big way. She actually wound up turning her freelance career into a full fledged fashion design agency. Our conversation took many interesting turns, but some of the key things we talked about include how she built out her agency and started hiring other freelancers to work for her. How she’s optimized her LinkedIn profile and website so clients can find her easily. How she switched to a retainer only pricing model after hourly and project based pricing were not working for her. And last, how she’s building her own intimates brand on the side, which includes spending five weeks in Sri Lanka earlier this year. It is a super fun and inspiring conversation.
You’re going to love it. Let’s get to it. Kristen, welcome to the podcast again. You and I were just chatting before I record. It’s been about three years since you were on the show and there are a lot of exciting updates that I cannot wait to hear with you and your freelance career, your freelance business. Let us know. First, we’ll point everybody back to the original episode where you came on so people can get the full backstory. But first, please introduce yourself in a few sentences and let us know who you are and what you do in the fashion industry.
Sure. My name is Kristen Anderson and I’ve been in the industry for about 14 years now. I work with emerging and startup brands to help them build and develop their collections from beginning concept through production. And that’s a little bit about me.
Yeah, and you’re pretty niche because before, as soon as we got on the call, I was nerding out on your zoom handle, literally says lingerie and swim expert. Yeah. You specialize in that space.
Yes, absolutely. I have been pretty much dedicated to the swim and intimate space for my entire career. So I decided to cancel any other projects in ready to wear and or baby kids, anything like that, because it doesn’t light me up and I am not very experienced in those realms. So anytime I feel like I have that kind of job come up, it gives me a lot of stress. And also it’s not my zone of genius. So I feel like, why would I want to spend my time doing the things that are really challenging and don’t light me up versus the things that I know I’m really talented at and what I love doing?
Yeah, totally. Okay, so as you and I chatted about in your first interview, which I’m going to double check here with episode 117, so we’ll link to that in the show. Notes, everybody, but just double checking that now. I had it in my head, of course, yeah, 117, you had a career in the industry. You worked in house, you dabbled in freelancing. It was a little bit of a mess. You didn’t totally know what you were doing. Then you kind of figured things out.
You started getting a lot of traction. You quit your full time job. You leaned into freelancing. That was when we chatted three years ago. So three years ago, you had left your job. You were freelancing exclusively. Now you have a team. You work with other freelancers, get us up to date on sort of what’s happened over the past three years, and then I’m going to dig into each of those things.
I’m going to ask you how you actually got that success.
Yeah, absolutely. So last time we met yeah, I was pretty much I had one intern at the time that we had last spoke, so her name is Jasmine. She’s actually still part of my team. Yeah, she went from being an intern and she was with me for her student co op at Drexel, and then she stayed on as a part time assistant. And when she graduated, she ended up becoming my first full time employee. So that was really amazing. But so I only had Jasmine that was helping me as an intern when we last spoke. So over that course of time, I had hired a virtual assistant.
I think actually, no, I had a virtual assistant at the time, but I think I went through some transition periods with different virtual assistants and trying to figure out what did I actually need when it comes to virtual assisting, it’s.
A serious learning curve.
Yeah, you just don’t know until you start dabbling into had. I had my virtual assistant and I had Jasmine last time we spoke, but since then we’ve grown. We have a few more people on our team. I traded off the virtual assistant for somebody with more of a marketing background. Instead, I found that I didn’t really need the virtual assistant as it was mostly doing things around my personal life schedule that I just didn’t have a whole lot of time for, like setting up doctors appointments and making things that I would not make the time for. Doing things that I would not make the time for. But yeah, at the end of 2020, I feel like it wasn’t much different. But by 2021, I had met Monica, who is a technical designer that is also part of my team now.
And Monica and I have been working together since early 2021.
How’d you guys meet?
So it was kind of interesting. She replied to a job feeler I kind of had put out on LinkedIn for a CLO 3D designer.
It was interesting because at the time, she didn’t have any experience in Clo 3D, but she was really keen on technical design and wanted to learn it. So she kind of just reached out and told me that she was interested, wanted to learn, wanted to see what I thought about that, and honestly, we kind of just started trying each other out almost immediately. It was like two months later, maybe. And she was like, okay, I’m thinking about leaving my full time job. Can I have some project based work for you at the moment? And we can see how that feels. We clicked so immediately, so I just kind of gave her the shot, and eventually she actually took some time off and went on her own little sabbatical journey because I had done that previously. And when Monica came back at the end of 2021, she had really known figured out all of Clo and how to use it. And so she left and came back as a transformed designer.
So it was really cool.
That’s cool. Okay. And I love that this is all happening, like peak Pandemic. Okay, so you get Monica and keep going.
Yeah. So, I mean, Monica came on in March of 2021. I had also been working with Riley, who is now the marketing side of my business. She had reached out in October or November of 2020. People just reach out to me, and if I vibe with them, I try to meet them. If I feel like Synergy, then I’ll tell them like, hey, I don’t have anything for you right now, but stay close by. Remind me. Don’t forget that.
Tell me you exist every now and then so that I could come back to you. And if I could give you a project, and if I could throw you a project right away, I mean, I will, but if I can’t, just don’t let me forget you. So Riley had reached out in 2020, and then she lost her job. At some point through the Pandemic, there was like another period, and then it came back. So Riley was trying to figure out what she was going to do. She actually had taken one of your courses, I believe, which had made her reach out to me, which is kind of like a funny full.
Oh, is she in Fast, my freelance program?
I think it was fast.
Yeah. That’s the only program we have that would actually initiate someone to do Reach Out. Yeah. Otherwise the programs are more technical, like Illustrator and tech packs and stuff.
I’m pretty sure that is what she did. You launched that in the Pandemic at the beginning of it? Kind of.
I mean, it existed before the Pandemic, so yeah, it would have been ongoing then. It would have been available then. Yeah, she could have been in it.
Okay, yeah. Then definitely that was the one she had because she told me about you and how she had heard about reaching out to people and all of your thoughts on just try just put something out there and see what they say. And so she did that, and then her full time gig was not lighting her up, so she was working a full time job and side hustling with me as much as she could. And she was working at a uniform company, and she’s a designer and she lived in Ohio, so there wasn’t a whole lot of opportunities for Riley to go out and find new fashion jobs. So once we started working together for a little while, a new opportunity kind of arose where my virtual assistant at the time was leaving. And I was like, I don’t know if I actually need another virtual assistant or if I need somebody else that actually knows more about fashion and knows how to talk the lingo and speak about it on social media, because that was kind of what I was struggling with at the time. And social media was really important for the business, it seemed. Anyways.
Lots of different tangents there.
Okay, yeah, I want to talk about that. Let’s just pause and talk about that. Social media was really important for the business. I mean, it seemed yeah.
Honestly, I think social media is already, like, going through this really weird renaissance of things. I don’t know what to do with it. I feel like we put time and energy into it and it kind of goes into the void. And I also recognize that you have to have a presence because there’s this thought of, like, if I can’t find you on social media, you’re not real. Right?
So you have to put yourself out there. You have to be a content creator if you have a business in this kind of space. And it still feels very much like you have to do these things even if they are sort of devoid of.
Payoff, even if you’re directly not getting the clients through that, it’s like you feel this higher level obligation to just keep doing it.
Absolutely. Because if you die on social media, are you dead in real life?
You die in real life. That’s literally what I was thinking. Yeah. Are you specifically talking instagram?
I am semi specifically talking Instagram because I think Instagram is like the pits right now, for sure. I mean, I was looking at yours right before this call, and I noticed you took some kind of breaks off of it too.
It seems like six months has been the best decision of my life. And guess what? It’s not me posting on there now. Yeah, I have someone on my team doing it. It’s a very toxic place for me. I do not want to be there. It’s not healthy.
Yeah, I totally agree. And if it was up to me, social media with I don’t think it’s doing benefits for us at this point in a lot of ways, and I think it’s also not beneficial to brands at the moment that much either. I don’t feel like they’re flourishing because of social media.
So are you guys still kind of trying to actively, regularly post?
Yeah. I mean, we have a presence, and I think we post like it’s our portfolio and we show off our clients and we talk about the things we’re working on and relevant blog posts we have, but we’re not. Necessarily. There was a point in time where I was making a whole bunch of reels and it was like I don’t think I ever once got business from one of my instagram reels either.
I think almost nothing came back from it.
Yeah, not in a real fully tangible yes, that came from Instagram. Yes, that was 100% from there. It’s always hard to tell where, but most of my inquiries and most people find me on either LinkedIn or Google.
Okay, so yeah, let’s talk about that because I think it’s easy to get sucked down this like, oh, I have to have this Instagram presence. And I teach that you don’t I very adamantly say, forget it if you really want to be on there, because you are going to be reaching out to brands there, or something like set up a nine by nine grid or three by three nine square grid that just feels like a portfolio. Like you don’t need to be posting regularly. Just get that presence up there that feels really cohesive and niche and then be done. So let’s talk about clients then. So clients are finding you on LinkedIn and Google. What talk about this because I hear the LinkedIn thing sometimes. I don’t hear a lot of people on Google unless they’re super niche, which you mean.
I think that definitely helps. I think being hyper niche is somewhat helpful. I think it’s also tricky. I mean, Google in general, it’s hard when you have a service based business and it’s also tangentially connected to the e commerce space because when it is, it actually becomes hard to find people like us. Because when you search for a lingerie designer, you find designer lingerie, not a lingerie designer.
Oh, right, okay. I guess unless they’re putting the qualifier like freelancer in there.
Yes, you have to have either that word or something else. I did have the word freelance in my web page for a long time, but I also took it off more recently because it didn’t feel connected quite to what I am now.
Because I’m your business. Like an agency. Yeah, I don’t know what you call.
Yourself, but yeah, I call it an agency at this point. But it’s just so weird because it’s like people do find me on Google. I think part of why they are able to find me on Google is because I’ve been building a lot of educational content and blog posts over the I think, you know, if you look for what are lab dip? That is something that almost nobody ever covered on the internet. And that’s something that people find on my website and they go to it and there’s just weird little things kind of like those that are just like, this is so freaking random. And nobody ever talked about it.
Totally. So that’s so interesting. Okay, so you’ve built out your blog, which sounds like is mostly an educational platform. You work with smaller startup brands, so you’re specifically thinking, like, what types of things might they be? Googling? And then you create that resource and then they Google it. You come up because like you said, a lot of these topics are stuff that a lot of people aren’t really blogging. There’s not a ton of content out there. It’s not super saturated. It’s not like how to lose weight or how to get a six pack that’s super saturated.
But in our niche, I think there’s a lot of interesting opportunity. So, okay, you’ve got these blog posts and people are finding you that way, and then they’ve got some type of contact form or something. And is that the funnel?
That’s part of it, yes. We have a contact form for clients. We have a contact form for newsletter, like people who just want to sign up and subscribe for a newsletter. Sure. We also have a couple of different courses available on our website, lead Generation things as well, to help people find us and get us. We have a checklist for fashion founders who are just starting off the fundamentals that you kind of need to have for building a brand. Another one we have is like an entrepreneur quiz to tell you what kind of fashion entrepreneur you are. And it gives you guidelines for if this is you, then you might struggle here.
And if you’re struggling here, then get help with somebody that has this experience or yeah, okay.
I have to throw out a disclaimer to everyone listening because I know it could turn into very shiny object syndrome or overwhelm of like, oh, well, then I need to start doing all this blogging, and I need to start like I need a lead magnet and a quit. It can get really overwhelming really quickly. So I want to be mindful that this is not how you started your freelance career. This is how you’ve now strategically built it out once you were established. Now you have a team, you have help. It takes time to build out this type of a presence and platform.
Absolutely. This is not an overnight thing. I was literally just on a call with my team earlier and we’re building SOPs for our whole business, basically, and just trying to streamline things. And I’m telling them I’m like, guys, this is not something that I expect you to finish in a day. It’s going to be like a long process and that’s what it is like, creating content, creating anything. It’s like a long time before you see the churn of success that actually comes from it.
And you do not need all of this to get started. Yeah, no, like, you got started as we talked about, doing just basic outreach. Like some, I think cold some through your network. But you didn’t have this massive presence or anything?
No, I barely had a portfolio website when I started.
Barely. And you were able to build up enough to quit your job and have this amazing so, all right, so you’re getting people through Google, and then you said LinkedIn to talk to me about that. How’s LinkedIn working for you?
Well, I’ve realized recently that I’ve become kind of more influential on LinkedIn versus Instagram especially. I cap myself getting a lot more followers on LinkedIn versus Instagram. I’m more interested in the content on LinkedIn personally because it’s like business related and I’m always interested in new books and finding out what’s going on in the industry and whatnot. So I just find myself on there more. And when you’re on a platform and I have a very filled out portfolio or not portfolio profile on LinkedIn, I tried to get reviews and recommendations and as much as I could, I tried to fill out the fullest profile on LinkedIn I could so that I can be found. And I think at the end of the day, it’s just posting content and putting it out there and repeatedly asking people, do you need help? If you’re looking for somebody, here’s what our team does, and you just have to put yourself out there again and again. And I know it feels painful sometimes.
Okay, what exactly does that look like, though? Because you’re like, okay, I am posting content regularly and then saying, hey, if you need help, walk us through exactly that process. What are you posting?
Well, most often I would say we are posting our blog posts. That would be like, educational content we share. But it also might be like, I read a news article and I thought it was interesting, and I might not necessarily put a clear call to action, and it might just be like me commenting on it, but people still see me commenting on stuff about sustainable fashion and how she in is disgusting. It’s all of the things. So I think that’s part of it. But another example is a few weeks ago, it was a picture of my face and it was just me, like, saying, hello. It’s been a while since I put my face out here. I usually am behind the scenes doing the stuff that you don’t ever see.
And if you’re interested in learning more, we have an opening in July or something. Like, I put a little thing at the end of it. We have space available if you’re interested. It works sometimes, and sometimes it’s like a flop on LinkedIn. Your posts don’t always magically take off, but sometimes they’re successful. And usually I find that pictures of your face, people like seeing faces. So I would definitely suggest, if you’re trying to get your face out there, trying to network, put your face out there and say who you are and introduce yourself and tell people what you like. To work on and what you’re good at and sell yourself right there.
Yeah. And you’re doing this on your personal profile? This is not a business page.
Yeah, I do it on my personal profile because that’s where I have the following engagement.
I honestly don’t think that a lot of people interact very much with business pages on LinkedIn either. They like them and they’ll like a post, but they don’t comment on things as often. And I feel like those things end up in the dead zone. I would comment do it as yourself, try to build connections, get your face out there.
It’s really nice when you do it enough because if you are in a niche and you niche down enough, people actually start to know you. And they do.
Totally. And yeah, I think it’s nice to think about doing a well rounded having a well rounded type of presence there. Right. Like you said, sometimes you’re maybe commenting on an article or maybe you’re sharing it to begin with and you’re sharing some of your opinion like an op ed type of piece.
And then sometimes you’re sharing content of your own that you’ve created, which is like educational. And arguably you could do that without having created that whole blog post in the first place. So for people that to not get overwhelmed with creating a whole blog is like, hey, here’s a tip on, think about what is your ideal customer, where they’re stuck, right. Or what’s something, a question they ask a lot and then just post that as like a little educational tip, right, directly in LinkedIn.
Yeah, absolutely. That’s a great idea. I’ve also seen other people and I just need to take up myself on this, but little image carousels or galleries of instructions and tips and ideas that they made in canva stuff that’s simple, easy, not super crazy wordy. Just like big step instructions. Like do this if you want that.
Totally. And then the third type is being a little bit more personable and then sharing about who you are, what you do with some type of soft call to action. So it’s a variety of all the different things. Are you active on there regularly? Are you posting or doing something every day?
I would say I don’t always post things on my own posts every day, but I would just generally say I’m poking around there just about every day making comments. Not always like commenting though. Sometimes it’s just liking things throughout the day. It just depends on my mood too and how much time I have to do that because I tend to do it in the morning and I also tend to just post in the morning in general on LinkedIn because I feel like that’s when I actually think I learned something a long time ago. And it’s like something about CEOs are on LinkedIn early because that’s when they wake up and they’re like and then the people who are on LinkedIn at noon and lunchtime, and they’re like the slackers who don’t care about oh, my gosh. Wow.
Okay, so you’re that CEO that’s up there every morning.
Well, I’m an early waker, and I just find that I’m looking at it for news more than fashion news and headlines in our space more than anything. But yeah, I don’t know. I think that commentary got warped in my brain at some.
So then you’re getting clients through that various engagement on LinkedIn as well as Google. Are you doing any more outreach, or is everything pretty much inbound these days?
A lot of it is inbound these days. Although I would have to say that I probably should be doing more outbound because I feel like I have totally slacked on that. And we’re kind of in a little bit of a lull where we’re not super duper busy. But I also kind of designed that by nature because I’ve been crazy stressed lately, because on top of this, I also have another business of my own brand that I’ve been working on for two and a half years. And it’s crazy, and it’s been so hard.
Is it lingerie or swim?
Yes, it’s lingerie. Well, not lingerie necessarily, but, like, bras and underwear.
Okay. Got you underwear, dressy.
Okay. And so what are you doing with that?
Well, it’s become this crazy beast, but I have been trying to make a more comfortable underwire alternative along with me and my team, not just me, but I have a co founder, and we’ve been working on this for quite some time. We’ve been using 3D printing to reengineer what an underwire bra essentially could be and give you the shape of an underwire without the feeling of an underwire, because underwires are like they’re garbage. They’re garbage. Also, at the same time, there’s a large degree of women who a can’t not wear underwires because they need just like, they want the look that an underwire gives, you know, because it’s a squishy bralette. Yeah. Shape and round. Barbie boobs is what we like to call them. Barbie boobs.
Yeah. Okay. I’m like, I don’t care how they look. I just need to be comfortable.
I feel you. I mean, some women are less care.
But I get what you mean.
We all have different feelings about our bodies and shapes and whatnot.
Okay, cool. So where are you guys at with.
Actually, it’s funny because Bridget and I, my co founder, we went to Sri Lanka in March for five. Yeah, it was crazy pants. We worked directly with a manufacturer there. We basically found out that the manufacturer that we were working with was not going to work, which was very disappointing. We also didn’t get quite as far as we had expected, which was also not the best. But we have recently engaged with somebody locally that is helping us, and so we’re trying to wrap up what we have in our roster right now in the next six weeks. By the end of August, I am hoping that we have something that we can take as a file and give it to an injection molder so that we can actually make a physical mold of the thing. We’ve been 3D printing for two years because basically we’ve never seen it in the real material.
We’ve only seen it in 3D printed materials. And we need to get to this next step so that we can get there.
Oh my gosh. Wow. Five weeks in Sri Lanka. That’s amazing. Were you doing other stuff for their clients there or was that exclusively for your brand?
I was pretty much exclusively there for the brand iteration, our brand. But at the same time, I mean, I met with other factories and I didn’t make a waste of the trip.
It’s never a waste. Yeah. Okay. Wow.
That is wild. I’m sure the date is fluctuating, but when do you hope to try to launch this? Are you going to do like a Kickstarter? How are you going to launch this?
Originally, a long time ago, we thought about doing a Kickstarter, but we learned that Kickstarter is actually really fundamentally difficult these days just because you need to have like $2 million basically in the bank for your advertising of a Kickstarter to be monumentally successful.
It does. It takes a really big backing to actually have it be successful on paper. And you’re like, oh, but I spent all this money.
Yeah, it’s very challenging. But no. As of right now, I believe that we are probably on the path for if our summer plans work out, we should be able to jump into wear tests before the end of the year with our community of users. We have around 1200 users right now in the community that we created to help us build this product.
That’s amazing to do. Bring them behind the scenes with you and actually develop it collectively to get real input from a bunch of different people. Wow.
How did you get 1200 people?
I mean, it’s been working on the community since last summer. I would say we launched it about a year ago, maybe eleven months ago. Okay. A lot of it’s just been grit and heads down. My co founder has done a lot of outreach and trying to get people interested in this from other communities and different groups and whatnot. We were also part of Everlane’s next collective last year. So that was part know, something that helped get us some traction last year, I would say. And that helped get us a few people in our community too.
But yeah, a lot of it’s like.
It’S hard work, it’s a mean and look at you’re running an agency and doing this really big undertaking. You’re not like, oh, let me not just but go cut and sew another bra. It’s like a really massive technological. Undertaking. But that’s really exciting. It is.
It’s massive. It’s exciting. It’s also so crazy. And I think that’s part of why I’ve been like, I need to take some chill, time, a break, and not feel. So I don’t know. I think the interesting thing about it, having felt it as myself as a founder, and also having seen it from other founders, is that there is this pressure and this desire to go as fast as you can no matter what. And why can’t I just keep going fast? You want to control the situation so much and you want to be the one who says this is when it’s going to happen and this is when it’s going to be done. And honestly, the reality of things is when there’s projects like this and you’re trying to do something really different and not just like the standard fabric cut make into something.
You never know when the end is. I keep telling I use the analogy of climbing the mountain all the time and I’m like, I feel like I’m at the top. I’m near the top of the mountain. It’s starting to get like cloudy and not sure.
False summit again.
No, it’s not the one. But I feel like when I do get to the top, eventually it will be okay and the sky will clear and I’ll know my way down. But there’s no other explanation other than you have this idea that you want to bring into the world and you know that you are the person that is meant to do it. And the fact that you have it just sitting on the back of your brain, just like, get it out there, get it out there. Do it, do it, do it. It’s just mind boggling.
Okay, so I have two questions leading off of that, and I know this conversation is taking a whole different turn. I don’t like to really prepare stuff in advance, and I know you had sent me a few talking points in advance, but how are you funding all this? I got to ask self. Okay.
So I don’t want to plant any seeds, but one of the benefits of freelancing or running your own business agency, however you have it structured, is you have this foundation where you’re able to still make money, right? But then you have the freedom and flexibility to then also do this project on the side. Like, could you do this if you were working full time in house? I mean, how would you go to Sri Lanka for five weeks?
I don’t think I would. Yeah, I don’t think I would be able to do what I had done if I had been working full time.
Yeah, I’m a big proponent of freelancing. And so what I’m trying to say here is and I think for some people who want to do their own brand, freelancing is a great companion to that. Right. Because you have that income, but you also have all the flexibility to do what you want.
Oh, absolutely. I definitely hear you on that. And I think that is exactly how I went into this with that mindset. Because when I started my very first business brand, I did everything by myself. It sucked, it was hard. I tried so much and I failed miserably. And then I realized that I do really good design stuff. Why don’t I just do that for people who need it? And it was so clear that that’s what I should be doing.
But also when I had the idea for iteration, when I decided I wanted to work on this company and I was like, well, I had already tried my own brand at one point a few years back and I was like, but I’ve now been doing this for other people. I have more confidence now because I’ve been doing it again for more people again. And I’m like, I don’t actually have to do it quickly. I could do it at the pace that it takes and I could do it on the side and I can go whatever time it takes, it just takes and I don’t really need to make it go fast. That was my original inclination when I had started it. So take it for what it is. I also now have a co founder. I didn’t have a co founder when I started it and when I had told myself I could go slow.
And when you have another person that’s also depending on you, things change. But sure, at the end of the day, it creates an amazing basis for you to do your freelance and also build your brand because you’ve got some sort of income coming in that helps you stabilize. And you also have the idea that I can still work on something that lights me up and is totally, fully mine at the end of the day. Because I think we all want ownership of something at the end of the day because it’s how you become wealthy and how you develop money or compensation for yourself is like ownership. Everybody knows that if you can own that and make something that you can own, that’s magical and even if it takes ten years, at least it’s yours and you’ve done it. And that’s kind of how I have always been thinking about both of my businesses in the sense just like, it’s never going to be somebody else’s, so it’s going to be mine and I’m going to sit through the consequences of it and any of the challenges and also enjoy the benefits and the rewards.
Totally. Okay. So that whole conversation kind of leads me to something else that you had brought up that you thought could be insightful for listeners was like working with startup brands and people that are kind of sew to the industry because that’s a lot of the brands that you work with. You said interestingly enough, and this is something I talk about is like I don’t want you to mislead your clients in any way, but oftentimes working with a bunch of clients, you can use that as a learning curve to then do your own brand a little bit with a little bit more intelligence, right? You can kind of see the mistakes that they’re making firsthand and you can learn while getting paid. You can’t go into it completely blind, right? Obviously you have to have some skills and some knowledge and a base. And again, don’t mislead your clients about what you are capable of, but it’s always going to be a learning opportunity. And so, like you said, you’ve worked with so many startups and small brands over the past few years that it’s helped you in developing your own brand. So can you talk a little bit about some of the lessons that you’ve learned and maybe even challenges too of working with these small brands that haven’t launched yet that maybe don’t know much about the fashion industry? What does that look like from a freelancer or like an agency perspective? That whole process.
I think you have to realize that most people who are coming into it, at least for me, most people who are coming into it and are really interested in being successful as a brand owner, they’re going to be somewhat curious about the whole process. And we have to honor that curiosity in some way and teach them about what they’re doing because I don’t want to help build the brand and put something into the universe. And then at the end of the day, still not have fully educated the person who’s owning the brand on what they’re selling. At the end of the day, I’m not expecting to give her or him my full set of experience because I can’t do that in the time we work together. But the idea that we have to be people who can help others to learn the lingo and to understand what they’re doing so that they don’t look silly if they had an interview with a magazine or something so that they can talk right about it. You don’t want them to be like, I don’t know, we made that. Yeah, it could just be so bad for them if they don’t know what they’re saying. And so I think understanding that, most of it comes from a curious place and if you don’t think it comes from a curious place, try to remember it comes from a curious place.
Because sometimes I think that clients will like, I’ve done it so many times, I’ve done this so many times and they’ll be like, well, why are we doing this and why are we doing that? And I’ll be like, well, that’s a good question and I should absolutely be able to tell you why. But initially, years ago, I would get sort of frustrated by those and I’m like, why am I getting frustrated. It’s like things they don’t know, they can’t learn from thin air. So part of it is just letting people be educated, giving them the education when they need it, being open and honest and transparent with your feedback so that you’re not like if you’re having issues with a client or if a brand is not clear on what you’re doing and how you’re helping them conversation. It’s like talk to them. Empathy. And just looking at people and saying, this is what I’m thinking you’re meaning by this? Is this what you mean? That can go a long way.
Just communication. Yeah. How do you manage? Because I know this is where people get stuck here, is like when you’re working with these smaller, independent brands and they do have a lot of questions, right. And it’s coming from a place of curiosity. And again, they just don’t have the knowledge, but building time into the project to make sure that you’re getting compensated for. Because and I don’t know if you’re doing any projects that are quite this small, but let’s say someone hires you to do one tech pack, right? And so it’s like hourly, maybe, or like a set price, right? But then they have like 800 questions, and they want to spend an hour on the phone. And that could arguably scale up with a twelve tech pack project or I don’t know, whatever it might look like, right. But managing that balance between here’s kind of what I had originally quoted and then Scope Creep, where we are now, getting sort of I get that you’re curious and stuff, but at the end of the day, it’s taking a lot of time.
How do you manage all that?
It’s a good question. I don’t know that it’s ever been in so much excess that I felt like I couldn’t answer the questions. I’m also like, a super people pleaser, so I don’t know if that’s part of that, too. I would say that as far as requests go, this will probably be a different tangent that we go down. But I don’t do project based pricing, and I don’t do hourly based pricing anymore.
Oh, good. Packages.
I basically have a retainer based pricing.
It’s really based on the number of styles that you’re developing and how many you’re doing at once. Are you working on different categories? Are you working on one category? Is it like one delivery?
It just depends on the client. But at the end of the day, Scope Creep is so hard. Pricing by project is hard. Pricing by hour is hard because it’s a race to the bottom for pricing by hour because they want you to be as fast as you possibly can be. And you’re like, I need to put time and energy and effort into this to make it good. And project based pricing, you’re hoping that you can get it done in the completed amount of time. So that you make a decent bottom line on it. But it’s also just like a fairy wish right now.
I don’t know how much is and it always ends up being bigger than it is. So for me, I found that retainer based monthly project sort of linked to projects is the best way for us to limit that. And so we have our smallest package. It still comes with unlimited questions, basically.
Okay. And that’s never turned into a problem.
It’s never turned into a problem. And honestly, I think part of it is just how I manage my own systems, is I am very upfront with everybody. When we start working together, we have rules of engagement. We explain that what our communication is like in our rules of engagement, and you can expect a reply from me within 24 to 48 business hours if you send me an email. And I’m not going to race to send you a reply to your question. So that’s part of it. I will get to it as soon as I can, but that might not be my top priority.
The other you’re setting those expectations up front.
Yes. And one of my last one for my rules of engagement is that I don’t work with assholes. So if you are an asshole, I won’t work with you. So honestly, I think it’s fun. I think it’s cheeky.
People don’t need to I don’t need to pretend like I’m somebody who’s just going to be stomped around. I’m not going to work with you if you’re a jerk. No jerks, please.
So this is really interesting. When do you present the rules of engagement?
It’s as part of a contract. So once they want the contract and they’re ready to sign, I send it along with like a schedule of here’s what you can expect in month one, month two, month three. If we’re doing the development of something, it usually takes about a year. So we just kind of map out all the things.
And I’ve never had somebody not sign it because they thought I’m an asshole.
I’m really curious about that. And I want to talk about the retainer model, too, because I love retainer models, but they can be a little bit more advanced. I don’t think it’s great when you’re first starting, necessarily. There’s a lot of nuances to it. Yeah. But for sure, the rules of engagement, so it’s setting expectations for your response time.
Don’t be an asshole. What else you got in there?
I’m going to pull it up right now.
Pull it up.
I don’t know what I have in there right now.
This is so interesting to me. I’ve never heard this before. You’re the first person.
It’s like one of my favorite things. I also shared it with my team because I was like, I want you guys to know what I request of our clients so that you know what I am. The standards are of you too.
I love it so much because one of the things I talk a lot about is communication and setting expectations. Because here’s the thing. If you are that freelancer that replies in like five minutes to everything and then the next week or the next month, you’re really busy and you’re not replying so quickly. Your client, you’ve trained them to expect that you respond really quickly, and as soon as you don’t, they’re feeling like abandoned. Oh my gosh, she’s letting the ball drop on the project. Like she’s not performing and stuff. So setting these expectations, and I hate to say this way, but you’re kind of our training people that this is how it works.
You say much more nightly rules of engagement. Not like training, but okay. Did you get it pulled up? I want to hear.
Yes, I’ve got them. So number one is trust and mutual respect. Pretty straightforward there. I outline these a little detailed too. I’m not going to give you the whole thing.
These are just the headers. Okay.
Yeah. Trust and mutual respect, shared values, timeliness, communication, forward thinking and playing nice.
Okay. I like this. I also like the timeliness one because it’s not just about how quickly you respond, but we all know how annoying it is to be nagging a client for the thing and you can’t get the thing.
Yeah, I’ll read you these two because I do think they’re good.
For timeliness, I wrote, the design and development process are incredibly deadline driven. We commit to responding to questions and emails promptly within 24 to 48 business hours to continue moving things forward. That’s basically them agreeing to it and.
Us agreeing we commit too. Yeah. I love how you totally position this as like a very team effort.
And then the communication is communication. We believe in communicating well is essential. If something isn’t working, let’s talk. Having partnerships where we can speak our minds without worry is part of what makes us great at working together. We prefer using email whenever possible to allow for easy searchability.
I don’t want people to text me and stuff and that’s why I put that one.
No. Yeah. Okay. Oh, this is beautiful. I love this. I’m really nerding out on this right here. Okay. So the rules of engagement set a really get tone and expectation for the project.
So everybody’s on the same page. That’s fabulous. Talk to us a little bit more about the retainer because you said it’s typically a year. So are you getting most brands to sign on to working with you for a full year?
I would say that no, it’s not necessarily that they sign up for a full year. I think it’s something right now where I think it’s like a three month period of sign on. Okay.
But that’s still great. Yeah.
Because we don’t want to start a project and then stop or keep that press stop. Generally speaking. I’ve never had somebody come on and sign off halfway through, so I’ve always retained a client when we start the process. Unless I was the one to fire them. I’ve only done it once. But you did do it just once. Do you know who you are?
I hope you’re not listening. Awkward.
I’m just kidding. They probably have no idea. They probably have no idea. It was a project very early into it.
They got no clue.
Okay, but three months? And how do you structure these packages? You said it’s kind of based on a number of styles or something.
Yeah. So we have our baby package is like a bootstrapping package, and it’s just like, one to three styles. So it’s like if you’re working on a Hero product and this is the thing you want, and that’s it. But basically, we kind of have a baby package, and then we have all the way up four package levels, all the way up to Enterprise, which is, like, if you’re doing a lot of stuff, making stuff. But basically we just kind of they’re slightly different based on roughly. I mean, I have a calculation of something like around $1200 to $1,000 per style per month, basically, if I’m being fully transparent, which I clearly am.
Okay, so roughly $1,000 per style per month to work with them?
Roughly, yeah. I mean, it changes based on how much volume you have. If you have more volume, it’s more or less.
So then how do you manage that workload wise? Because arguably, you could certain parts of the process go faster, and then others, like design and tech packs, is totally in your control, and you can perhaps bust those out pretty quickly. Then you send it off to the factory, and you’re just sitting there waiting for samples to come back. Right. And then you send the proto and the comments back, and then you’re waiting, and there’s a lot more downtime. But how do you really think about how to manage that from a workload perspective from your team? How much time are we actually putting into this for that? Let’s just say $1,000 per style per month.
It’s probably not a good answer because I don’t really have a great way to fully manage it other than I’ve been doing it for a while, and I kind of know what it’s like to have the push and pull of, like, okay, we’ve sent out samples. Okay. Now we’re waiting for them. And my team is constantly developing their skill set as well. So I would say that in the times that we’re low or down or we’re not as busy, they’re working on teaching themselves. Clo and becoming more useful and working on making block patterns. And we try to use the space in between to make it more helpful for the times that we’re busy. So even right now, one of the things that we’re sprinting on in the next month is that we’re mapping out all those, SOPs we’re going to have a database of all the SOPs we had somebody come on a new designer came on in February of this year.
Her name is Trudy Gardner and she’s a 3D designer.
She’s a fast student.
Oh, my gosh. Wait, I think you put this in the email and I totally forgot. Yeah. Okay, hold on. Shut the front door because I’m interviewing her on the podcast, like, tomorrow.
Oh, my God. Amazing.
No, Thursday amazing. Thursday.
Oh, my God.
Wild. So someone told me you guys were working together. Either you told me or she told me, but she’s one of my yeah.
Yeah, it was probably her that told you because you and I haven’t talked too much lately.
I thought maybe you put it in one of the emails or something and I read the email chain. Yeah. Anyways, that’s fine.
Okay. I don’t know.
Yeah. Trudy, how’d you guys connect?
Same story as basically everyone else. Like, Trudy somehow found me on the Internet okay. Emailed me, and she basically well, she wanted to understand she emailed me like a year and a half, almost two years ago now, and she was just learning intimates design, and she was like, I know you’re in the intimates world. And she wanted to know what she should work on because she’s like an.
Air pilot, like an Air Force pilot or something. Like she comes from a whole different yeah. Yeah.
Canadian Air Force.
Crazy. I know. And then got into fashion, like totally DIY.
Okay. So she wanted to learn about intimates. Okay.
Yeah. And so she reached out. We had like a zoom call. She explained what she know? Trying to kind of I’m pretty sure at the time I told her, you should work on Clo if you’re not working on it already, because I had already been working in Clo since 2021. And so I was like, it’s the thing or no, 2020. I started working in it, not myself, but having things done in Clo for me. And I’m just like, this is crazy. You need to be working in it if you’re not already.
And she did end up start she got into really into Clo after our conversation. She’s been basically Cloing up a storm. And she’s also part of the Intimate Apparel Collective, and so she is part of that, and I’m part of that as well. And so I’ve been seeing her participating in that for the past year and a half.
And then recently at the beginning of this year, I was we one of my clients was expanding their size range, and we were kind of going deeper into grading and stuff. And I was like, Trudy might be somebody I should think about having. Come on and see if she could help us with this. And so she joined in February of this year right before I went to Sri Lanka for five weeks. And so it was a hot mess expressed. And that’s part of why we’re making the SOPs now because when she get.
On okay to come.
It was a hot mess.
This conversation makes me so happy. I love hearing too, like the whole story and evolution of like, she reached out, you told her Clo, then you saw her active. What is this? Intimate collective?
It’s like a slack channel and community that meets via zoom calls like once a month. It’s run by Nicola now I’m like blanking on her last name and I don’t know where her name is on.
My have to I’m going to find out about this from you. I’ll email you to follow up. Okay, so okay. It’s a slack community. Wow, that’s the first time I’ve ever heard someone say slack in the fashion industry. I love slack.
Oh, I love slack.
I love so you get so then you kind of saw her in there being engaged. You’re like, oh, look, she took this seriously. She’s actually doing it. She’s building her skills out and now she’s working with you guys.
Honestly, I really do. I love people who are motivated and want to really want something. I love that. That is so inspiring to me and as somebody who has done that in my life, when I see people who just go for what they want, I’m going to try and help them get it. Because if we’re vibing and I can help you and I can get you to the next level, I want to do that.
I love that.
If you are curious about anything in the industry, I’m a good person to connect with because I’m very friendly and I’m very happy to mentor and teach younger designers. And it’s not ever like a guarantee or anything, but things lead from one thing to another. Basically everyone was hired the same way. So if you need something, if you want to learn about it, let’s talk and we can figure it out.
Fabulous. I was just thinking another of my students, Ashika, she does custom lace design for lingerie.
Is her last name Chakrabarti?
She’s in this community, actually. I sew.
She’s amazing. She’s like super. She she lives in India, but she travels to the States periodically. I don’t know the exact logistics, but yeah. And she has designed custom lace for lingerie for a really long I don’t I just thought of her because I was like, if any of your clients ever like if you have any high end clients that want to do something really special, that’s her specialty.
That’s pretty cool.
Yeah. Oh, what a small world she’s in there. Of course she is. That’s amazing.
Yeah. It’s called the Intimate Apparel Technical Collective. As a full name. I kind of janked that up earlier. Just.
Collective. Okay, I’m going to figure this out. I love that. Amazing. Kristen, it’s been so fun catching up with you and hearing all the things so much going on, it’s really exciting. What’s the name of your brand? I want to follow that.
It’s called iteration. Our domain is iterationera.com.
Building a new era of intimate.
Yeah. Amazing. Okay, we’ll link to all this in the show notes. Where can people find you and your design services?
At my website, Kndrsn.com. That’s the best way, because social media.
Is it is the pitch. And don’t text her, guys. Don’t text her. Not giving out your phone number, but don’t text her.
This has been so wonderful. Thank you so much.
Yeah. I have one final question. The question I always ask at the end. What is one thing people never ask you about freelancing and fashion that you wish they would? Or running an agency.
When do you sleep?
Yeah. You’re also, like, launching this whole brand, but okay.
No, I wish people would ask me probably what makes you motivated to keep going and doing this? Because I think the answer is why I keep doing it. And that’s because I love making women and everyone feel good in their skin. Everyone deserves to feel beautiful. For so long of my life, I struggled with feeling good in my own body, and I don’t think people deserve that. So if I can influence people and make a positive impact on how they feel about themselves, then I’m doing my job. And so I would like people to know what motivates us, actually, to make beautiful clothes.
Yeah. I love that. That’s a fabulous answer. Thank you so much, Kristen, for sharing and coming on the show. Again, thank you so much.
It was so wonderful. Heidi, have a great one.