Fashion Portfolio Mistakes by Sew Heidi

Fashion portfolio mistakes that most freelance designers make

How can two fashion designers with similar portfolios have drastically different success with freelancing? After 6-months, one is desperate for any work, while the other has 3 steady clients and is on track to quit her full time job. What fashion portfolio mistakes is one of them making that’s leading to failure?

I’ve been talking a lot about fashion portfolios the last few weeks with the release of my latest book… so I wanted to share this story.

(And if you haven’t grabbed it yet, snag my FREE book on portfolios right here!)

It’s a story about two aspiring fashion freelancers. Let’s call them Jenny and Jessica.

Jenny and Jessica both decide they want to get more freelance opportunities.

And their stories start out the same:

Their portfolios are full of great designs.

They have the same amount of industry experience.

They’re hard workers.

But after 6-months, their stories are drastically different:

Jessica has 3 clients who keep giving her more work.

She’s making a comfortable hourly rate of $60.

Her income is growing, and she’s confident that in a year, it will replace her full time salary.

Jenny is not as fortunate.

She’s desperate for any kind of work.

She landed one project for $100, but it’s taken her 10 hours to complete it…so she’s effectively earning $10/hour. Not enough to live on…

She can’t seem to find brands who are willing to pay.

Why is this happening? Why is Jessica doing so much better than Jenny…even though they started out with the same great portfolios?

Why do some freelancers get stuck in the “underpaid and overworked” rat race…while others manage to replace their full time salary (while working fewer hours)?

So, I asked 10k+ of you, and you guys had some interesting ideas as to why their stories ended so differently.

Here are your replies.

Why Jenny was struggling:

  • Jenny is not fast enough on illustrator and doesn’t know the short cuts.
  • Jenny is not clear about the type of work she wants
  • Jenny is focused on what she can do (instead of focusing on what problems she can solve for clients)
  • Jenny doesn’t use her time wisely
  • Jenny hasn’t built a great relationship with her clients
  • Jenny is afraid to charge the premium for her work
  • Jenny started out working fixed rate
  • Jenny lacks the management skills or she doesn’t shortcuts to make designs.
  • Jenny was so desperate she settled for the first thing that came along

Why Jessica was succeeding:

  • Jessica more comfortable to judge how long it takes her to complete certain projects.
  • Jessica decides on what she is good at and goes for that 1 brand she is good at
  • Jessica uses her time wisely
  • Jessica builds relationship
  • Jessica is motivated
  • Jessica began working $$hourly$$
  • Jessica isn’t accepting any unpaid work. If we want others to value us, we need to value ourselves!
  • Jessica is niched
  • Jessica’s website is clean and well explained
  • Jessica takes on jobs that are well explained on both sides
  • Jessica is asking for more per hr and therefore showing to be more valuable
  • Jessica is reaching out to more potential clients

Some of them are totally valid. And some of them don’t matter that much.

  • Motivation? Important, but equally motivated designers can see very different results.
  • Fast in AI? For many freelance projects, you need to be proficient in AI. But this isn’t what will make or break your success.
  • Doing more outreach? Yes, you do have to look and ask for the work, but there’s something that matters much more than the quantity.

Freelance success has a lot more to do with these 3 things:

  • How you spend your time
  • How you pitch yourself
  • How you price your services

So here’s what we’re going to do.

We’re going to look at the first 2: spending too much time on your portfolio + pitching yourself.

We’ll save pricing for tomorrow because it’s a BIG topic, and this post already got too long…

Fashion Portfolio Mistake #1: Spending too much time on the wrong stuff: portfolio + website + business cards… and obsessing over getting them just right.

Jenny was convinced she needed “all the things” to succeed. A website and a logo and a business name and a color palette and the list went on.

She spent months obsessing over creating and updating her online portfolio. Weekends were lost adding just one more project. Hours were wasted making just a few more edits.

She thought that once it was finally ready to put out there, she’d hit “publish!” and the phone would start ringing off the hook.

So, 3 months later and…

  • 100+ hours spent updating and adding just the right projects to the website
  • $250 spent on business cards with rounded corners and metallic foil
  • 17 revisions to the logo she created from her initials in beautiful shades of green and blue

She felt like everything was ready. She felt GOOD. She felt CONFIDENT!

Things would start happening for her. She just KNEW it.

And you know what happened?


Not one phone call. Not one email. Not one inquiry.

She had a big FAT ZERO inquiries for freelance work.


Short answer: She spent too much time on things that really don’t matter.

Now I know what you’re thinking: “But Heidi, as a designer, your portfolio is the most important part of your work.”

And that’s where you’re wrong.

Yes, I know your portfolio matters. I mean come on, I just wrote a 205 page book on the topic.

And you know what I called it?

Ultimate Guide to Creating Your Fashion Portfolio (in a weekend).

Not in 3 months. Not in a year. IN ONE WEEKEND.

Because spending “just a little more time adding and editing just a few more projects in your portfolio” will get you nowhere.

In 6-months, you’ll end up right where Jenny was:

  • No freelance clients
  • Deflated from the wasted effort
  • Convinced freelancing won’t work
  • And ready to give up

Because when it comes to freelancing…there are a lot of things that matter WAY MORE than your portfolio.

I’ll be sharing exactly what those things are in the coming days…

But for now, what should Jenny have been doing instead? Trying to FIND work…

Well guess what? She was!

And I know many of you are out there doing the same thing…

Which leads us to mistake #2…

Fashion Portfolio Mistake #2: Sending “portfolio + resume” pitches (and claiming you can do EVERYTHING!)

There’s a big difference between “applying” to jobs and “finding” freelance work. But most designers treat them the same.

When applying to jobs, you’re used to sending a portfolio + resume, and you talk a lot about your experience and skills.

So when it comes to “putting yourself out there” for freelance work, you do the same thing.

So did Jenny.

She wanted to make sure brand knew everything she could do, so she wrote up HUGE lists of skills that ranged from handbags to activewear design and graphics to photography.

(The same long list of skills she showcased on her website!)

And then Jenny started emailing her LONG lists of skills and accomplishments out to 100s of brands to see if they had any freelance work.

Her email looked something like this. It’s what I call the “portfolio + resume” pitch:

Freelance Fashion Design Email Pitch Template Bad Example by Sew Heidi

Don’t write emails like this.

  1. Subject line is vague – it’s not terrible, but could be better.
  2. Go to the effort of figuring out who I am and what my name is.
  3. There is no introduction or talk about my company, instead she goes right into talking about her credentials and experience.
  4. Look at all those things she can do! Web layout? Data input? It’s way too much and all over the place. The list is so broad, I feel like she can’t do any of those things well.
  5. Too many details in the first email, and there is no CTA. She has not asked or told me to do anything, so as a result I do nothing.

Now, if your emails look similar, it’s not your fault and don’t feel bad. This is what they teach you in school, and it’s what most people send.

So naturally, you think, “this is how I should do it, right?


Because you know what you get from emails like this?

Just like Jenny did, you get NOTHING. No responses, no work, nothing.

And you start to wonder, “is anyone even getting these emails?”

It’s like they’re going straight into a black hole…

Fashion portfolio mistakes like this – the ones Jenny made – can lead you to burnout. To give up. To just say, “freelancing can’t work for me…

The other BIG mistake? Pricing. We’ll dive DEEP into that tomorrow. It’s a HOT topic, and most freelancers mess up on it.

There’s also a big secret about Jenny that I have to come clean about…I’ll tell you that in tomorrow’s post as well.


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