GETTING FASHION PORTFOLIO FEEDBACK

You’re currently reading Chapter 13 of The Ultimate Guide to Creating Your Fashion Portfolio (in a weekend)

How do you stop feeling protective about your work and gain courage to get feedback on your fashion portfolio?

As fashion designers, we get really attached to our work. Sometimes, we feel like it’s our baby. And no one wants to hear that their baby is ugly.

Nobody wants someone else to kill their darlings.

I know that many of you are protective of your work.

And if I had to guess why?

It may be because you know what’s wrong with it, and you’re afraid to hear it.

(I’m not a mind reader. I know because many of you told me this.)
But as designers, we also know (or will start to find out if you’re new to the industry) that we have to take constructive feedback.

And while it may not be easy (especially at first), the design process usually includes a lot of feedback from a lot of people.

When we’re designing product (clothes, shoes, bags, whatever it is you design), we go through design reviews and meetings where there are many people happy to give their opinions on your designs (your babies!).

Your fashion portfolio is no different.

Take the same courage you have when doing fashion design reviews for your work and apply that to getting feedback on your portfolio.

It may not feel easy, but it’s something you have to be able to do.

Where’s the best place to get constructive feedback on your fashion portfolio?

I’ve mentioned it before, but if you’re working with a recruiter, that’s always a great place to ask for feedback.

Beyond that, your network is the best place to start. If you’ve worked in the industry for any amount of time, you should know some people and have a few contacts from current or past jobs.

And if you don’t have these people to ask?

I’d encourage you to take a step back and really evaluate why and how you can fix this. Again, the book I suggest on networking and creating relationships is called Never Eat Alone.

Because like in any industry, creating and keeping relationships is vital to success. If you haven’t been doing this, it’s got to change now. (More on this in episode 29 of the Successful Fashion Designer podcast with Malie Bingham.)

But what if you’re just starting out and haven’t had the opportunity to build a network?

The best time to start is now.

If you had / have an internship, surely someone there would be happy to help you out. If you don’t know anyone yet, then start finding people.

See what’s going on in your community (even small cities have people interested in fashion).

See who you can connect with on LinkedIn.

Start engaging, having conversations, and getting to know people.

And last?

This takes courage.

This takes GUTS.

But the ABSOLUTE best place to get feedback on your fashion portfolio?

From jobs or opportunities you didn’t get.

And I know the thought of that probably makes you want to curl up in a ball under a blanket and die.

But this is the most valuable feedback you can get.

I listened to an interview about how to be a fashion designer with Susan Lazar on the Don’t Keep Your Day Job podcast, and every time she showed her collection and the buyer didn’t buy, she asked for feedback on what they would like to see.

She implemented the feedback, and kept going back.

Finally, she got a yes.

Because here’s the thing.

When someone tells you “no”, the most valuable lesson you can learn is finding out what you could have done to get a “yes”.

How exactly do you do this? If you can get them on the phone, that’s ideal. That’s not always possible, so email is your next best option.

Here’s a script you can use:

*****************

Dear [NAME],

Thank you so much for the opportunity to [interview / apply] for the [job role] at [brand name]. No hard feelings that it wasn’t the right match.

Would you be able to do me a small favor? I am working really hard to find a new opportunity in [category / market] and it would be really helpful to get some feedback on why it wasn’t a good match.

Can you let me know what was missing from my [resume / portfolio / interview] that would have made me the perfect candidate? No matter what it is, I won’t be offended, but the feedback would help me know what skills I can work on improving.

Thank you so much!
[NAME]

*****************

You might not hear back.

You might get a generic reply like “you just needed more experience”.

But you might get something really constructive back that lets you know exactly where you have gaps.

It may be hard to hear, but at least you’ll know what you need to work on.

And the worst place you can go for feedback on your fashion portfolio?

Your friends and family…unless any of them work in other creative design industries. I’m not saying you can’t share your hard work with them, but they’ll just say, “oh, it looks so good, don’t change a thing!”

Meanwhile, you’re screaming, “no, help me!”

It’s like asking if those jeans make your butt look fat. You really want to know (in the nicest way possible), but they’re just going to tell you you look great.

Where are forums where you can get feedback on your fashion portfolio?

It’s not the answer you want to hear, but I don’t have any specific links for you for these groups. At the moment, I don’t know of any good, quality FB groups or places you can go to get this.

And you want to know why?

It’s really hard to build a quality group like this. I know because I tried. I created an FB group just for this reason.

But slowly, spammers crept in.

It got dirty with people “subtly” self promoting.

It became too much work to manage.

I work hard to create a lot of valuable and free resources for the fashion industry (like this book!), and I also make sure I provide an exceptional experience to people who pay for my premium products.

The FB group was one I just couldn’t keep up with and I had to kill it. I am sure you’ve been in groups like this, and I now understand why there are so few really good ones out there.

If you’ve been lucky enough to find a great one that’s full of vetted, trusted industry people, please email and let me know [heidi at sewheidi dot com] and I’ll edit this book to include it.

If you start a good quality one that you manage and make sure is full of the right people? Email and let me know. I’d be happy to share it.

But in the meantime, sorry to say that I don’t have a perfect “one-stop-shop” online forum to point you to.

How do you know if the people you’re sharing your fashion portfolio with are trusted and vetted?

First, if you’re using your network, you should have a pretty good feeling about this.

Second, and this may come off wrong, but I would encourage you to stop worrying so much about the trust issue so many of you seem to obsess over.

Most of the time, people who you share your portfolio with aren’t in the business of taking your ideas and stealing them.

I know there is a lot of “copying” in the industry, but at some point we need to let go of our paranoia.

Maybe you’ve been burned before.

If you have, I’m sorry.

Were there signs? Did you have a gut feeling?

If so, trust your gut. If not? Maybe it was just bad luck.

I don’t know what else to say here other than do your best to make and maintain relationships with good people out there.

What’s the best way to get constructive feedback on your fashion portfolio?

The answer is surprisingly simple.

And it’s not just about WHO you ask.

It’s about WHAT you ask.

Do you know what happens when you ask a generic question? You get a generic reply!

Shocking, I know.

Here are a few terrible, generic questions you can ask about your fashion portfolio and the replies you can expect. Chances are, you’ve had these exact conversations about your portfolio before.

(It’s ok, I used to ask for feedback the same way.)

QUESTION: What do you think?

REPLY: It looks great! Don’t change a thing, you did an awesome job.

QUESTION: Can you give me your feedback?

REPLY: I think it’s really good!

QUESTION: Do you like it?

REPLY: It’s perfect! Nice job 🙂

The problem with these questions is that they solicit positive replies that really don’t do you any good. Instead, here are the three questions you should be asking to get quality, constructive feedback.

  1. What’s confusing?
  2. What’s missing?
  3. What do you want more of?

This will make someone think more critically about what they’re looking at, and it will get you specific feedback about what you need to change.

Now, before you ask these questions, preface with a disclaimer like this:

“I really want your honest opinion, I promise you won’t hurt my feelings. I value your input and really want you to be constructive so I can make my portfolio the best possible.”

The answers may not be what you want to hear.

Some of it may hurt.

Some of it may sting.

Some of it may feel like they are calling your baby ugly.

But you will get quality feedback that you can use to improve your work instead of fluffy feel good one-liners.

What do you do with negative feedback on your fashion portfolio?

Now you’ve put yourself out there.

Now you’ve made yourself as vulnerable as a naked dream (we’ve all had them, right?!).

Now it’s time to take this feedback and digest it.

Chances are, some of it will be negative.

But here’s the thing with negative feedback: most people don’t give it to be mean, they give it to be constructive and helpful.

A lot of times, it hurts more right when you get it. After some time (hours or days), you can often step back and look at it through a different lens. If you need this time, let yourself have it. It’s ok, no one is judging.

Take your time (but not too much, a day or two should be enough), and then decide what to do with it. You don’t have to implement every piece of feedback, but I really encourage you to examine all of it critically and with an objective eye.

My guess is that most of the time, you’ll know deep in your gut the feedback is right, especially the negative stuff.

Because sometimes, the feedback we know is true is the hardest to get.

You’ve put in a lot of work, and you just can’t stomach hearing a few things could be better. In this moment, you need to do the right thing (for yourself) and implement that feedback.

Now, all that said, if you really don’t agree and can justify (read: justify, not get defensive) why you shouldn’t take it? Then move on.

Whatever you do, graciously thank whoever gave you the feedback, and send them an updated version of your work to show what changes you made.

Do this as a kind gesture to say “thanks, I do really value your input and I implemented it“. It goes a really long way and will make that person much more likely to help you in the future.

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve given feedback to who I never hear from again. When the come asking again? I just have to ignore the requests.

The handful of people who do follow up with me? I’m thrilled to help them, over and over again.

Because here’s the bottom line about feedback: if you aren’t going to do anything with it, stop wasting people’s time by asking for it.

Go to Chapter 14: Updating Your Fashion Portfolio and Being Prepared for Opportunities