Ultimate Guide to Creating Your Fashion Portfolio (in one weekend)

If you’re anything like most fashion designers, you’re guilty of “making a career” out of creating a fashion portfolio. It’s a daunting task that takes over your life, and you wind up taking a ridiculous amount of time just to plan how to best show your talent, skills and creativity.

But what if I told you, that in ONE weekend, you could get your fashion portfolio done?

What if, in just two short days, you could…

  • Create a book that includes just what brands expect to see?
  • Increase your confidence when presenting yourself?
  • Make sure you’re prepared for any opportunity that falls in your lap?

You can.

And this book, Your Fashion Portfolio in a Weekend, will walk you through step by step how to do it.

But first, I want to talk about WHY fashion designers like you say things like this all the time:

  • “I’m still updating my book.”
  • “It’s a constant work in progress.”
  • “It feels like a full time job.”
  • “I’ve been working on it for 6 months – or maybe it’s even been a year, and I’m still not ready to put it out there.”

There are some interesting reasons behind “WHY” you say statements like these.

And at first, you’re probably not going to like hearing them. They may make you defensive.

They may even make you feel bad.

Please know, I don’t tell you them it to be mean.

Because honestly? I didn’t even have these realizations until I was almost done writing this book.

It was 3:07am (my usual “can’t stop thinking about life and business and work and stuff” time) and I jolted awake with the answer to all this portfolio stuff.

The (surprisingly simple) epiphany goes something like this:

“If fashion designers just looked at their portfolio the way they look at designing product (clothes, bags, shoes, whatever your category is), it would be SOOOO much easier to get it done!”

It’s so obvious in hindsight, yet I’ve never heard anyone talk about this idea before. And like I said, I’d never thought about it like this until I was almost done writing this book.

So, what exactly do I mean by “look at your portfolio the way you look at designing product“?

To start, it means viewing your book through a different lense than you ever have before.

One of the main reasons we get stuck in the black hole of putting our portfolio together is because we have a personal attachment to it.

It’s our work. It’s our baby.

Not only is it a reflection of us as a fashion designer, it’s easy to feel like it defines us as a person.

But what if you switched that mindset.

What if you looked at your book like designing a collection or product for an employer or client?

Because here’s the thing. You know:

  • How to design great product.
  • What details need to be added or removed.
  • When that one extra seam line or trim or pop of color is too much or just enough.
  • What styles don’t belong and should be dropped from an assortment.

As fashion designers, we have an eye for this. This is our J-O-B.

And the same is true when it comes to your portfolio.

You’ve just never looked at it this way.

But if you step back and approach it with a critical “work” eye instead of a “this defines me as a person” eye, you’re going to see things much differently. And it’s going to be much easier to put it together.

Just like you know how to design great product, you also know:

  • How to design a great portfolio.
  • What designs should be included or not.
  • When that one extra collection or style or tech sketch is too much or just enough.
  • What projects don’t belong and are irrelevant to show.

I promise, whether you feel like it or not, you do know how to do this.

It’s just that you’re so emotionally invested, it feels really freaking hard. It feels impossible.

And so you get stuck. You drag it out for over a year. You turn your fashion portfolio into a career.

But if you change your lens and approach it like you approach designing, it will become easier. It will become more clear to see. You will know how to edit it down or when you need to add more.

And I know, I know. Easier said than done!

Which is one of the many reasons I wrote this book.

I know you still have a lot of unanswered questions and uncertainties when it comes to putting your portfolio together. And I’ve done my best to answer each and every one of them in this book.

But as you read and as you work on your portfolio, I want you to look at it through this new lens. I want you to have the same confidence with your book that you have when you’re designing for your employer or brand.

Because in reality, what you’re doing is not much different.

It’s that you as a fashion designer – you as a person – get judged, get categorized, and get hired (or not) based on your book.

That is A LOT of pressure.

That pressure is crippling.

I’m not saying the pressure is going to to *POOF* disappear like magic after you read this book.

But if you can at least reframe your approach, I think it’ll make things a lot easier for you.

HOW LONG SHOULD YOU SPEND ON YOUR FASHION PORTFOLIO?

From the title of this book, you know you can get it done in a weekend. You know it’s not rocket science [1], and you know you just need to take action.


[1] I don’t say this to demean the challenges you face when putting together your portfolio. I know this is a hard task and most industry professionals have a lot of hangups. But when doing research for this book, many of you told me this verbatim. You know this task shouldn’t be that hard, but it is. I sympathize with your challenges, it’s why I wrote this book. But I also have to call you on the obvious: this isn’t rocket science!


And I bet that most of you have been in panic mode to get it done for a big opportunity and have gotten it done in a weekend before.

So why does it take so long right now? Why can’t you ever find the time to get it done?

My first guess? It may not be a priority for you. It’s funny how when we are forced to do things or have a reason to make them a priority, we somehow find the time. Outside of that? It seems like we don’t have the time, or that it needs to take way longer than it should.
Which is what happens with your portfolio. I know MOST of you spend WAY to long on your book. Many of you are really good at letting your fashion portfolio take over your life and turning it into a full time job.

You’re really good at letting the OCD win and trying to make it perfect. Before you know it, it’s been months, or maybe even a year, and you’ve still not made much headway.

It’s not that you’re a bad person. It’s not that you suck at doing this. It’s human nature, and there are two reasons this happens to most of us.

REASON ONE

You have the luxury of time. I know that sounds like a ridiculous thing to have, but it happens to a lot of us. If there’s no pending pressure to get it done, we take as long as possible. When given endless time, we over tweak, we over edit, and we over analyze.

REASON TWO

You’re scared to put it out there. Whether you want to admit it or not, it’s true for many of us. So, as a result, you keep adjusting and perfecting it just a little more, and a little more, and a little more. And it never gets done.

Now, I don’t want you to feel bad. These two things cripple me too.

Let me tell you a quick story about a time when this exact thing happened to me…

Back in December of 2017, I published my first book, Ultimate Guide to Being a Freelance Fashion Designer.

You know how long I worked on it? EIGHTEEN months.

Now, I realize on some level that may sound like a reasonable amount of time to publish a book.

But you know what? It was way too long.

I researched and researched.

I wrote and wrote.

I edited and edited.

Then I edited some more.

Why? The exact two reasons I just told you about:

  1. No one gave me a deadline, so I just kept working and working and working.
  2. I was afraid of actually publishing it. I was terrified to put it out there.

And it wasn’t until my coach Primoz slapped some sense into me and told me I had taken WAAAAYYY too long. He told me that I should have been able to do it in a few weeks.

A few weeks! OMFG.

What had I done with the last EIGHTEEN months? Had I really wasted all that time?

First, I was in disbelief (AKA denial).

No way,” I thought.

But after I thought about for a few days, I realized he was RIGHT.

And it made me feel bad about myself.

It made me feel embarrassed that I’d spent A YEAR AND A HALF perfecting something that should have taken me a few weeks.

But instead of wallowing in my own self pity, I decided to change things.

When I decided to write this book, I put myself up to the challenge. I gave myself a short timeline, and was determined to stick to it.

And you know what happened? In FOUR short weeks I researched, outlined, wrote, edited and published this bad boy. That’s 1/18th the time it took me to write the first book.

Here’s exactly how it went down:

WEEK 1, May 2-8, Research:

I emailed all 10k+ subscribers on my email list and asked you what your number one question / challenge was in putting your fashion design portfolio together. 103 of you replied, and boom, I knew exactly what this book needed to cover.

I spent over 10 hours on the phone with 21 of you to get even more info about what you wanted from a book like this. (BTW, thank you so much for your time. You’re the reason this whole thing exists.)

WEEK 2, May 16-22 [2], Outline + Feedback:

I spent a lot of time sketching out the overall structure. I knew once I had the skeleton and order figured out, filling in the content would be easy. I also reached out to 6 of you to get feedback and make sure I wasn’t missing anything. (Thank you Dani, Connie, Elisse, Erin, Jasmine and Kathy!!!)


[2] If you’re wondering where May 9-15 went, my parents were in town and I took the week off to landscape our backyard :).


WEEK 2-3, May 21-30, Writing:

These 10 days felt tough. I wrote and wrote and wrote, and it was hard. Some days, the words didn’t flow and I was convinced I would never finish. So I stepped away from the screen. Other days, I was on fire and could write 5-8K words in one sitting. (As we’ll discuss later in the book, sometimes you can’t force the creativity.)

There were moments when I wanted to extend the deadline. When I wanted just a little more time.

But I didn’t want to cave. I didn’t want to miss my goal.

So, I did the only thing I knew and I found someone to hold me accountable. In fact, I found 10k+ people to hold me accountable. On May 29th, I emailed all my subscribers and told you that the book was coming out the following week:

Fashion Portfolio book by Sew Heidi of Successful Fashion Freelancer

I hesitated on this sentence for a while.

Maybe I should say “comes out soon“. That seemed safer. More manageable.

But I knew if I got vague on this, I would wind up taking all the time I could get. So I committed to “next week” and I hit send.

Pressure was on. Which was a good thing. Because most of us need a little pressure to finish things.

Week 4, May 30-6, Editing / Graphics / Publishing:

A week was all I gave myself to put the finishing touches on. As I write these words right here, it is May 5th at 3:48pm.

It’s the day before my deadline, and since I know I have to be done, and I am only letting myself over tweak each word, what should be bold or italic, when I need another graphic, or write that one last piece of advice I forgot to add the 14th time I edited it.

I am not letting myself over analyze until it’s perfect. I will put it out there as is. I will put it out there good enough.

The whole time? I pushed myself hard. I woke up earlier than usual and wrote. I skipped yoga in favor of hunkering behind my computer screen. I stayed in on Friday nights and wrote. Ok, who am I kidding, I always stay in on Friday nights.

I even ignored phone calls from my mom when I was in the zone. (Sorry mom, I’ll call you this weekend!)

But the point is, I found time. I made time. And I got it done.

And MOTHER OF GOD it felt GOOD! I felt PROUD! I felt CONFIDENT!

It actually was POSSIBLE! With the right encouragement from my coach (thank you again Primoz!) and accountability from you (that you weren’t even aware of), it got DONE!

Is it perfect? No. Are there errors? Probably. As I find them (or as you point them out to me), I’ll fix them.
What matters is that I got it done and out there. Because the value it’s providing to you in a not perfect but “good enough” state is better than me sitting on it for EIGHTEEN months.

And the same is true with you.

There are brands out there DESPERATE to find the right talent. And you may be that person. But if you’re squirreling away on your fashion portfolio for an entire freaking year, afraid to put it out there, the connection can never be made.

It’s a missed opportunity for everyone.

So, if I can write A BOOK in less than a month? You can get your portfolio done in a weekend.

Because as I told you before, I’ve realized that we’re really good at letting things go on as long as we can. But when someone gives us a deadline or challenges us to work faster, it’s much easier to accomplish our goals.

So…

To make sure you’re ready for the next opportunity that falls in your lap.

To make sure you don’t get into panic mode when you needed your book done, like, yesterday.

To make sure you’re confident and can rest assured knowing your portfolio is done and ready for any opportunity that may present itself…

I offer you this book as a deadline, framework and structure.

Even if you have a full time job. And a family. And a crazy hectic life…just like every other person in this world.

I am here to be your coach and your accountability buddy. I am here to not let you drag it out for a month or even a year.

I am writing these words right here to tell you to block a weekend and get your fashion portfolio done.

If that means declining BBQ and happy hour invites? Do it. If that means bribing your husband or hiring a babysitter to watch the kids while you lock yourself in a room for 2 days? Do it. If it means putting your phone on airplane mode and getting off Facebook for a weekend? Do it.

Find the time now so you’re not scrambling later, and you’re ready to jump on any opportunity that comes your way.

Your book doesn’t have to be perfect. You can always make edits later. Just get it “done”. Get it “good enough”. And refine as needed later.

Your future self will thank you. Promise.

YOUR FASHION PORTFOLIO IN A WEEKEND: HOW DOES THAT ACTUALLY WORK?

This book will walk you through step by step what to include, how to cull down your work, what brands expect to see, and how to layout your book. But before we get to that, here’s the framework I’ve created for you to get your portfolio done in a weekend.

Now listen, depending on your experience, you may need more (or less!) time than this. If you need to design a new collection to try and break into a new category, you may need more time. If you’re a student, or new to the industry, you may need more time to get things together. (This book covers tips and strategies for fashion designers of all levels, so don’t worry, I’ll answer your questions soon.)

But no matter your skill or experience, your book should never take more than a month. That is plenty of time, start to finish.

Now, if you’re a fashion designer with a few years of experience (or more) and a body of work, you can get your portfolio done in just ONE WEEKEND.

Here’s roughly what your schedule will look like.

DAY 1: Organize Your Work

  • 3-4 hours: Gather Your Content
    • collect / scan / organize assets for 3-5 projects / collections (we’ll cover step by step how to choose and what you should include)
  • 3-4 hours: Outline Your Book
    • conceptualize / sketch your layouts for each project (we’ll walk through what order to present your work and example layouts you can use for inspiration)

DAY 2: Put Your Book Together

  • 1-2 hours: Edit Your Content
    • make sure every item in your book passes the Portfolio Golden Rule (we’ll go through exactly what this is and how to apply it to your work)
  • 1-2 hours: Lay Out Your Content
    • this should be easy once you’ve done all the other work
  • 3-4 hours: Convert Your Content
    • turn your physical book into a digital one (PDF) or vice versa [3]

[3] Do the format you’re more comfortable with first, and then convert to the other.


WHAT EXACTLY WILL YOU LEARN IN THIS BOOK ON FASHION PORTFOLIOS?

I know you have a lot of questions when it comes to putting your fashion design portfolio together. And I am going to answer every single one of them in this book.

We have a lot to cover.

But before we get started, I want to give you an overview of everything you’ll learn, as well as heads up about a three things.

1. Your fashion portfolio is not a science, it’s an art.

Now, don’t panic when I say this. Afterall, you’re a fashion designer, AKA an artist. YOU GOT THIS.

But a lot of you wanted specific answers to “science-y” questions like:

“How many pages should it be?”

“How many projects is enough?”

“How much inspiration is too much?”

And here’s the thing. Those are really hard questions to answer. It’s not a 2+2=4 kind of answer. It’s often an “it depends” kind of answer.

I’ve done my best to give you rough guidelines and frameworks for how to figure these things out based on your unique situation, but there are a lot of things to consider.

Your experience, your skills, whether you’re looking for freelance [4] or full-time work, and other variables made it hard to give concrete answers.


[4] True, remote freelance gigs, not temp-jobs. More on that in the Ultimate Guide to Being a Freelance Fashion Designer.


To help you as much as possible, I do give some “numerical” suggestions for how many pages, how many collections, and so on. But know that the numbers I reference are not set in stone, and you’ll have to use your best judgment to decide what works for your portfolio.

2. You may notice some repetition in my advice.

As I wrote almost all of this book and slowly got through answering each and every question you guys threw at me about your fashion design portfolios, I started noticing a pattern.

I realized that my answers started looking awfully similar, even to different questions.

I reread them over and over. I slept on it just in case I missed something. I asked a few people for feedback.

But the reality was, the answers followed a theme.

So, as you read through the book, you may notice some repetition. I edited it down as much as I felt was appropriate while still making sure to address all your concerns. Because I know that it’s easy to feel like your unique situation is different, and I wanted to give your questions the attention they deserved.

But the truth is, your fashion portfolio shouldn’t be that complicated. Deep down, you know that. And you probably know the answers to a lot of the questions you’ve asked.

It’s ok.

Because sometimes we all just need someone else to tell us the answer and reassure us.

Which is my goal with this book.

3. If you get only ONE thing out of this book, let it be this:

As I just mentioned, I noticed a theme while answering all your questions. So, while writing this book, I created something I call the Portfolio Golden Rule.

Any question you have about your portfolio? The Portfolio Golden Rule will help you answer it.

Now, we’ll go through plenty of examples in the book and I’ll show you why it’s so relevant in the coming chapters. But if there’s just one thing you learn and remember from this book, it’s this:

The Portfolio Golden Rule:

“This [project / collection / design] speaks to the brand, tells them that I understand their market, customer and aesthetic, and visually shows them that I am the right designer for the job.”

Think of it like a litmus test. If the answer is yes? Include it. If it’s no? Leave it out. And if you’re not sure? You’ll need to figure it out.

Afterall, you’re a fashion designer. It is your job to figure out what designs and trends are right for a brand. And it is also your job to figure out what styles and projects are right for your fashion portfolio.

So, now that you know the Portfolio Golden Rule, can you stop reading now and call it a day? You could. You’re a little bit ahead of everyone else who doesn’t even know about this book.

But coming up we have a lot of exciting things to cover. I answer all of your questions in detail, share loads of portfolio examples, and give you the scoop on all the industry do’s and don’ts.

Ready? Let’s do this.

Enjoy 🙂

sew heidi signature

P.S. (Because if you’ve been on my email list for any amount of time, you know there’s always a P.S.) Fair warning: there are a lot fewer photos in this book than you may expect. It’s not a gallery of portfolio examples. There’s a lot more to your portfolio than just at looking beautiful layouts of other people’s designs. If you want that, go have a hayday on Pinterest.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

HERE’S EXACTLY WHAT WE’LL COVER:


CHAPTER 1: Fashion Design Portfolio Layouts: Online and Physical Books

  • What is the industry preferred format for a fashion design portfolio? Digital or physical book? Both?
  • What books / sizes / specs etc are best for physical fashion portfolios?
  • What’s the best platform to digitally create your fashion design portfolio?
  • What’s the best way to share your fashion design portfolio as a PDF?
  • Can you bring an iPad to a fashion interview (instead of a physical portfolio)?

CHAPTER 2: Fashion Design Portfolio PDFs: Digital Tech Tips

  • How do you make sure your files aren’t huge (for emailing)?
  • What specs should you use to maximize on screen presentation?
  • Should you use Illustrator, InDesign or Photoshop to put your fashion portfolio together digitally?
  • How do you know the color on your screen isn’t going to be compromised when printing pages for your fashion portfolio?
  • The last (and arguably most important) tech tip: BACKUP YOUR WORK!

CHAPTER 3: Fashion Portfolio Overload: How to Stay Organized

  • What if you haven’t solidified your category in the fashion industry and want to keep your options open?
  • What if you’ve done work in many fashion design categories and feel like you have 10 different portfolios?
  • How much should your fashion portfolio differ from one application to the next?

CHAPTER 4: What to Do When You’re Stuck on Your Fashion Portfolio


CHAPTER 5: What (and How Much) to Include in Your Fashion Design Portfolio

  • How much work should you include in your fashion portfolio?
  • What kind of work should you include in your fashion portfolio? Research, ideation, sketchbook, technical, etc?
  • Here are specific details about what The Process Portfolio may include
  • How do you choose what projects / pieces to include in your fashion portfolio?
  • What is the best order to layout your fashion portfolio?
  • The Biggest Mistake Fashion Designers Make when Laying Out Their Portfolio

CHAPTER 6: Can You Include Client / Company Work in Your Fashion Portfolio?

  • How do you navigate including client work in your fashion portfolio?
  • What are the ethics around sharing tech packs / graded specs / other technical details in your fashion portfolio?
  • What if the original work wasn’t 100% self generated (ie licensed / private label)?
  • How do you include work that was done collaboratively as a team in your fashion design portfolio?

CHAPTER 7: Portfolios for Fashion Design Students and Entry Level Jobs

  • What expectations do employers have for recent fashion grads or entry level fashion designers?
  • How do you make sure your fashion portfolio looks professional and not like a student’s?
  • What should you include in your fashion portfolio if you don’t have much experience / only school work?

CHAPTER 8: Fashion Portfolios for a New Category or Job

  • How do you put together your portfolio for a “new to you” category / role in the fashion industry?
  • How do you show you’re capable even though the fashion role is “new to you”?

CHAPTER 9: Fashion Portfolios for Technical Design or Merchandising Jobs

  • How do you put your fashion portfolio together if you’re not a “designer”?
  • What should a fashion patternmaker / technical design / product development / visual merchandiser portfolio look like?

CHAPTER 10: Job Interviews and Your Fashion Portfolio: Meeting Brand Expectations

  • What do employers expect to see / look for in your fashion portfolio?
  • When looking for fashion design roles, how can you anticipate individual brand’s expectations and meeting them?
  • What is the scope of work fashion brands want to see in your portfolio? (Full seasons? One project?)
  • How much do employers want to see conceptual vs commercial work in your fashion portfolio? Does it matter if the designs went into production / stores?

CHAPTER 11: Finding Fashion Portfolio Inspiration

  • How do you go about finding the best fashion design portfolio examples?
  • How do you not get discouraged when you start finding fashion portfolio examples that are better than yours?

CHAPTER 12: Fashion Portfolio Checklist and Layout Examples

  • Your Fashion Design Portfolio Outline + Checklist
  • Fashion Portfolio Layout Examples (with critiques + comments)

CHAPTER 13: Getting Fashion Portfolio Feedback

  • How do you stop feeling protective about your work and gain courage to get feedback on your fashion portfolio?
  • Where’s the best place to get constructive feedback on your fashion portfolio?
  • Where are forums where you can get feedback on your fashion portfolio?
  • How do you know if the people you’re sharing your fashion portfolio with are trusted and vetted?
  • What’s the best way to get constructive feedback on your fashion portfolio?
  • What do you do with negative feedback on your fashion portfolio?

CHAPTER 14: Updating Your Fashion Portfolio and Being Prepared for Opportunities

  • How do you make sure you’re prepared for fashion design opportunities that fall in your lap?
  • How do you casually pitch your fashion portfolio at a random opportunity / when a stranger in the industry shows up? (The fashion designer’s ‘elevator pitch’.)
  • What are the best practices to keep your fashion portfolio up to date?

CHAPTER 15: Protect Your Fashion Design Portfolio

  • How do you protect the fashion designs you create for test projects?
  • How do you avoid plagiarism / protect your fashion design work online?

CHAPTER 16: Fashion Portfolio Motivation: Competition and Staying Relevant

  • How do you stay motivated when you aren’t making any progress on your fashion portfolio?
  • How do you compete with people willing to work for free or cheap to “gain a fashion portfolio”?
  • How do you stay ahead of the competition with your fashion portfolio?
  • How do you show you’re still relevant if you’ve been out of the fashion industry for a while?
  • Why your fashion portfolio will never be perfect (or completely done)

BONUS CHAPTER: 73 Free (and Cheap) Fashion Trend Forecasting Websites + Resources