The Beginner’s Guide to Becoming a Freelance Fashion Designer

Whether you didn’t go to fashion school, are a recent grad without any experience, or you’re still a student…you’re a beginner in the world of fashion. Which means if you want to become a freelance fashion designer, you need a step-by-step guide. 

Like, yesterday. I gotchu. 

We’re going to cover the actual steps you need to launch your freelance career, not just generic fluffy advice (like a lot of industry resources out there).

This is the Beginner’s Guide to Becoming a Freelance Fashion Designer.

I’m going to share the high level steps for success and link you to additional free resources.

But first, I want to set a few things straight.

I didn’t write this guide using made up advice that I *hope* works. Nope.

This guide is based on my knowledge and experience from:

This advice works. 

No matter where you live, no matter your experience, without a network.

It’s the same advice FAST grad Brittany, an aspiring fashion designer who graduated 15 years ago but never got her break, used to land her first freelance client in just a couple weeks.

“I feel like I’m finally doing this fashion thing and I’m going to do what I’ve always wanted to but on my terms as a freelancer.”

Brittany Posey, fashion flats + tech packs, Ohio

It’s the same advice FAST grad Arya, a 20 year old total beginner from India with no experience and who didn’t go to fashion school, used to land 6 clients in as many weeks.

“As I have not gone any school and I don’t have any real industry experience I have to work hard for more and I will.”

Arya Mishra, fashion flats, India

And it’s the same advice FAST grad Eleni, a tech designer from Greece with no “real” industry experience, used to consistently earn $3-$4k/month doing tech packs part-time.

“I can now call myself a freelancer and I started without “real experience.” I cannot believe that I am actually living what I was once dreaming about.”

Eleni Apostolopoulou, tech packs, Greece
Fashion Freelancer Invoices for Tech Packs how much can you earn

Like I said, this advice works.

So, How Do You Become a Freelance Fashion Designer…if You’re a Total Beginner?

Freelancing in fashion (as a total beginner) comes down to just 6 steps:

  1. Learn an industry skill (fashion flats + tech packs are the best)
  2. Pick a niche (easier than you think)
  3. Create a simple PDF portfolio (with self-directed projects)
  4. Figure out your freelance rates (using simple tricks)
  5. Find freelance clients (there are some secret places)
  6. BOOM, you’re a freelance fashion designer (congrats!)
Step by Step: How to become a successful fashion freelancer if you're a total beginner

Let’s dig into each step to help you go from beginner to Successful Fashion Freelancer.

1. Learn an industry skill (fashion flats + tech packs are the best)

If you didn’t go to fashion school, you’ll need to learn these skills DIY style.

And even with a degree, you may not have these skills. I’ve heard too many horror stories from recent FIT grads who left not even knowing what a tech pack was, let alone how to create one. 

Sorry that fashion school gave you the major shaft on that. #eyeroll

The good news is that you can teach yourself these skills, for free. No fashion degree and no expensive student loans required.

As a total beginner, the 2 skills that are going to be the easiest for you to learn and the easiest for you to kickstart your freelance career with are fashion flats and / or tech packs.

Fashion flats are 2 dimensional digital drawings of designs. They’re most commonly created in Adobe Illustrator.

what are fashion flats?

Tech packs are to a garment what blueprints are to a house. They’re a set of instructions that tells the factory how to make the design.

Fashion Design Tech Pack Example for Freelancing

Pretty much every brand needs tech packs and fashion flats, and it’s a great way to get your foot in the door as a freelance fashion designer with indie brands.

Best of all? I have a ton of free resources for you to learn tech packs and fashion flats.

2. Pick a Niche (easier than you think)

One of the best ways to become a Successful Fashion Freelancer is by picking a niche. That’s fancy marketing lingo that means do a specific thing for a specific customer.

AKA don’t try and do everything for everyone. Unfortunately, this is what most beginners coming out of fashion school do, like Alison, one of our (now) very successful FAST grads.

So, how do you pick a niche? Assuming you’re going to be offering flats and/or tech packs, your best bet is to pick a specific category to offer those services to.

This means you’ll want to focus on denim, or lingerie, or kidswear (or whatever category you’re most passionate about).

This works brilliantly because when a lingerie brand sees your portfolio with lingerie flats, it instantly convinces them you’re the right freelancer to hire (despite your beginner status).

If you showcase work (or services) that’s all over the place – denim & lingerie & kidswear – it’s scattered and an instant turn off.

There are a million reasons picking a niche service makes your life easier and will help you become a Successful Fashion Freelancer much faster. 

It starts with creating a portfolio. So let’s talk about that hot topic.

3. Create a simple PDF portfolio (with self-directed projects)

Once you’ve got a skill or two under your belt, it’s time to put together a simple portfolio. Don’t overthink this – you can literally get it done in one weekend.

I’ll spare you too many details because there’s an entire chapter on portfolios in my book, Freelancing in Fashion with examples. But I’ll give you some high level tips to start thinking about.

  • 2-4 projects is enough (a handful of flats or tech packs is sufficient)
  • Make it niche (because of the reasons listed in step 2!)
  • Don’t worry about what platform to use. A simple PDF works great.
  • Set yourself a deadline and get it done!

It doesn’t matter that you’re a total beginner, that you’re using school (or self-directed) projects. Anyone can create a standout fashion portfolio that will land freelance work, and it doesn’t have to be complicated or fancy. 

4. Figure out your freelance rates (using simple tricks)

When you’re a beginner in the fashion industry and want to become a freelancer, don’t worry about earning. Worry about learning

Which translates to this: don’t overthink (or obsess about) your rates.  But you also don’t want to pick a random number out of thin air.

I cover more detailed tips on figuring out your rates in my book, Freelancing in Fashion, but the quick trick that I swiped from Ramit Sethi is to drop three zeros.

Figure out what a yearly salary would (or could) be for an entry level role for someone who doesn’t have a fashion degree in your location. Then just drop three zeros to set your hourly rate, like this:

$20,000/year = $20/hour

$45,000/year = $45/hour

That’s it. Start with that rate and it will grow as you grow.

5. Find freelance clients (there are some secret places)

You’ve got the skills. You’ve got the portfolio. You’ve got a rate.

You’re not much of a beginner any more…but you do still need to find some freelance clients!

Since true remote freelance jobs in fashion aren’t listed and you don’t find them on industry sites like StyleCareers, I’m going to tell you some secret places to look. There are a ton of places you can find freelance clients, but I’ll share the 2 easiest ones:

  1. Instagram
  2. Trade Show Listings

Instagram is a great place to find brands using a few simple hashtag tricks. I’m not talking about creating an influencer worthy grid and posting daily. I’m talking about digging through other accounts to find brands you can freelance for.

Beyond that, trade show listings are a literal goldmine to find freelance clients. Using your niche, just do some google sleuthing to find trade show exhibitor listings.

6. BOOM, you’re in the fashion industry (congrats!)

You diiiiid it! HUZZAH! Do a massive happy dance and celebrate yo’ bad self!

Your Freelance Fashion Design Career (as a total beginner)

How to start a freelance fashion design career as a total beginner (without any experience).

So, there’s your freelance career, right?

Nah, I’m not going to totally leave you hanging. Because I realize there are a big bunch of steps between finding clients and landing clients and handling clients. 

Like I said, this guide is your high-level overview for some of the “beginner” parts like learning the fundamental skills. But I realize you may need waaay more help.



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