How to Be a Freelance Fashion Designer: A Step-by-Step Guide

Midjourney prompt: a freelance fashion designer sitting at a desk, reading a book, studying and really focused, colors hot pink, teal, coral with accents of leopard print –ar 7:4

Introduction: How to Get the Most Out Of This Guide

DISCLAIMER: this guide is long and in-depth. If you want a quick fix, it doesn’t exist. Because learning how to become a freelance fashion designer takes time and hard work, just like anything in fashion – building a brand or landing a job.

If you’re really serious about freelancing in fashion, this guide is for you. You will need to put in work. You will need to get our of your comfort zone. It will take time and effort.

There is no overnight magic pill. It is not a get rich quick scheme. But it is POSSIBLE.

If you’re really serious about getting your career out of the hands of toxic corporate bosses, getting more freedom in your day, and finding well-paying clients (that you love), you’re in the right place.

Disclaimer out of the way…  

How to Be a Freelance Fashion Designer is broken into 2 main parts.

The “mindset” part.
The “strategy” part.

Most aspiring freelance fashion designers want to jump straight to the strategy. 

But the truth is, all the strategy in the world won’t do you any good if your mental game isn’t strong.

So you do you… 

But I’d suggest at least giving all of it a scan.

The “mindset” part is filed under Five Reasons Most Freelance Fashion Designers Don’t Make It (and what to do instead)

I’ve named it this because after interacting with thousands of freelancers, and teaching over 749+ inside my program, Freelance Accelerator: from Surviving to Thriving (FAST), I have seen firsthand what trips people up.

I have seen why many freelancers don’t make it.

And most of the time it’s the sh!t going on inside your brain.

Rarely is it strategy.

But of course, the strategy is here to.

Because sometimes, yes, it is strategy.

The “strategy” part is filed under Your Five Step Roadmap to Getting Freelance Fashion Design Work.

Oh, and there’s also a quick blurb at the beginning on what freelancing in fashion is, and what it isn’t. Because there’s a lot of misconception in our industry about what it means to be a “freelance” fashion designer.

So click around, scan, or read every last word.

No matter what you do, thanks for being here, now let’s get to it!

Xx Heidi

Oh, and if we haven’t met yet, Hi, I’m Heidi! I was always passionate about fashion, but I didn’t go to fashion school. I jumped into this industry to escape the soul-sucking receptionist job I took post college. 

After launching a successful fashion brand (which I grew to hate) and working as a designer for a golf and lifestyle brand (when I almost left the industry for good), I finally found my place in the industry as a freelance fashion designer. 

During my decade+ freelance career, I grew my income to over $100k per year. And I did it working a flexible schedule I chose, from wherever I wanted (even the beach!), on projects I was excited about. 

My goal with this guide it to help you do that too.

Me and my team are rooting for you.

Now go get it!!!

Table of Contents

Introduction: How to Get the Most Out Of This Guide
What is freelancing in fashion?
How do I become a freelance fashion designer if I’m a beginner?
Five Reasons Most Freelance Fashion Designers Don’t “Make It” (and What to Do Instead)
What Are the Steps to Become a Freelance Fashion Designer?
Step 1: Figuring Out Your Fashion Freelancer Services
Step 2: Putting Together a Professional Freelance Fashion Designer Portfolio (+ examples)
Step 3: Finding Freelance Fashion Design Work + Jobs
Step 4: Figuring Out Your Freelance Fashion Design Rates
Step 5: Making Consistent Income as a Freelance Fashion Designer
Conclusion: Fashion Freelancer Puberty

Midjourney prompt: a freelance fashion designer, sitting at a desk with a computer, curiously looking out a window, colors hot pink, teal, coral with accents of leopard print –ar 7:4

What is freelancing in fashion?

Before we jump into the mindset and strategy stuff to become a freelance fashion designer, I first want to be clear about what freelancing is, and what it isn’t.

When most people think of “freelancing” in fashion, they think of “permalance” gigs that are just temp jobs in disguise (many of which are illegal).

You know, the sort of full-time 40-hour a week on-site jobs where you look and act like an employee…but you’re a “freelancer.”

That’s not the kind of freelancing I talk about in this guide, or anywhere in my content.

I’m talking about true “remote” freelancing where you get the freedom to set your own schedule and work on a variety of projects with brands you love. 

You get to work when you want and when creativity strikes, instead of between 9 and 5 when you’re tied to a desk. 

You get to pick and choose projects you’re passionate about, instead of churning out uninspiring designs that are dumped on your plate.

And you’re in control of how much you earn, instead of making pennies on the dollar because you’re working 60 hours but only compensated for 40.

Here’s a quick graphic to show you the difference.

What is freelancing in fashion?

True remote freelancing is empowering. Liberating. Flexible.

And it’s the only way I didn’t burnout in this industry (after launching my own brand and working half to death in a toxic office).

It’s also how my Freelance Accelerator: from Surviving to Thriving (FAST) grads are finding happiness, success and a work-life balance in this tough industry. 

So, what exactly can you do as a “true remote” freelancer? 

Anything you want.

Freelance fashion designers can do anything in the entire design through development process. You don’t have to do it all, and you don’t have to be an expert at everything.

That’s the beauty of freelancing in fashion. You get to pick and choose exactly what you do (or don’t) want to do.

Like one of my FAST grads, Amy Barnhart, a menswear fashion designer, who, hour for hour, makes 1.5x more freelancing than in her previous job (even though she never wanted to be a freelancer). She specializes in golf and lifestyle apparel, and she does everything from design through production, but not sourcing. She just doesn’t want to, so she doesn’t offer it!

Alison Hoenes is another FAST grad, and her service offering is much more specific. She does patternmaking – and patternmaking only – for small, slow, women’s fashion brands. That’s it! Being this niche is one of the reasons she makes 75% more freelancing than she did in her previous industry job.

There’s Arya Mishra, a freelance fashion designer and FAST grad in India. She started without any industry experience (and didn’t go to fashion school), and she offers technical fashion flats. Just that one service! She landed her first 5 clients in just 6 weeks, and she’s been wildly successfully since. She recently told me that she’s working on multiple $1,000+ projects with clients she loves. 

So don’t worry about having all the answers. 

Or being an expert and knowing every part of the process.

Or feeling like you need a million years of experience before you can start.

Because as a freelance fashion designer (or technical designer, product developer, pattern maker, etc), you can pick and choose what you do and don’t do. And you don’t have to know it all.

Oh, and yes, you can do tech packs and technical design (this article explains exactly how technical designers can work remotely). Any part of the process can be done from home.

Now that you know what you can do as a freelancer in fashion, let’s do some foundational work on mindset before we jump into strategy. Because without your head in the right place, the best strategy in the world won’t do you any good.

Midjourney prompt: an aspiring fashion designer, sitting a desk with a computer, looking lost, colors hot pink, teal, coral with accents of leopard print –ar 7:4

How do I become a freelance fashion designer if I’m a beginner?

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. How do you do all this if you’re starting from scratch?

The steps are the same that I’m going to share in the second part of this guide, Your Five Step Roadmap to Getting Freelance Fashion Design Work:

  1. Figure out your services (don’t try to do it all)
  2. Create a professional portfolio (simple and concise is best)
  3. Find freelance clients (no matter where you live)
  4. Set your pricing (and earn a fair rate)
  5. Grow with ongoing projects and referrals (for consistent income)

You just have to add a Step Zero: 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.

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.

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.

So, if you’re a total beginner but want to freelance in fashion, learn some skills first, and then keep following the steps in this guide. 

Midjourney prompt: a freelance fashion designer, sitting at a desk with a computer, head down in hands, covering face with hands, disappointed and sad, colors hot pink, teal, coral with accents of leopard print –ar 7:4

Five Reasons Most Freelance Fashion Designers Don’t “Make It” (and What to Do Instead)

You can make it as a freelance fashion designer. It’s possible for anyone, anywhere in the world.

You don’t need ALL the experience.

You don’t need EVERY skill.

You don’t need a MASSIVE network.

And you sure AF don’t need an expensive fashion school degree from FIT, Parson’s or London College of Fashion.

What you DO need to make it as a freelance fashion designer is the right mindset and attitude.

I know, I know. It sounds all woowoo. But hear me out. 

Because if you don’t have your mental sh!t together first, you’re going to sabotage your own success.

In the second part of this guide, Your Five Step Roadmap to Getting Freelance Fashion Design Work, I’m going to tell you the step-by-step actions you need to take to make it as a freelance fashion designer (or technical designer, product developer, pattern maker, etc).

But first, your mental game must be strong. Without the right Successful Fashion Freelancer Mindset, my strategies won’t work. Don’t worry, this will be short, sweet and powerful.

These are the five reasons most freelance fashion designers don’t “make it.” Click through to jump to each one, or keep scrolling to read them all.

  1. “I don’t have enough time…”
  2. “I’m overwhelmed…”
  3. “I need stable income…”
  4. “My situation is unique…”
  5. “I just don’t have what it takes…”

Let’s dive into each one!

Freelance Frustration #1: I don’t have enough time

Freelancing is the only way to get the flexibility and freedom you deserve in fashion.

But between your toxic job, your loving but oh-so-demanding toddler, and “life” stuff like laundry and dishes… you’re already stretched thinner than a line sheet.

It feels like there’s no way you can start a whole freelance business with everything else you’ve got going on. 

You’re not afraid of a little hard work… 

But it’s tough to prioritize bigger goals like finishing your portfolio, figuring out all the biz stuff, and finding clients when your kitchen table is covered in a 3 week mountain of laundry.

So you tell yourself you’ll start your freelance career “once you have the time”… 

And your goals end up dusty in the back of the closet with the “workwear” you haven’t seen since March 2020.

Roadblock Reroute: “I’ll never magically “find” time to start freelancing. But making time is a lot easier with a clear roadmap.”

With a proven roadmap for freelancing, you won’t waste your rare free moments between Zoom calls and after bedtime just trying to figure out what to do next.

With a Successful Fashion Freelancer Mindset, you say buh-bye to the bottomless YouTube rabbit hole of “how to find freelance clients” and instead use the little cracks of time you do have to make REAL progress.

Because becoming an SFF won’t take nearly as long as you think when you follow a proven 5-step roadmap.

“I landed a gig for $1890 in just a few weeks.”

Freelance textile designer invoice example

“The little tweaks I made in my pitching worked wonders. I updated my portfolio and I landed a gig for $1890 in just a few weeks.

I could really see the effects because everyone I was pitching was mailing back. They were setting interviews. They were saying, ‘Yes, let’s do this.’ And I was like, well, this is really working.“

FAST grad Lucia Sanguinetti-Jonescheit, textile design, Germany 

Freelance Frustration #2: I’m overwhelmed. I know fashion… not business

Being a Successful Fashion Freelancer IS about loving fashion and design. 

But it’s also about running a business…

Which leaves you with enough questions to fill the third floor of Bloomingdale’s. 


How do I “pitch” myself and convince clients to hire me? Don’t I need to be good at marketing?

What about invoices and contracts? Do I have to spend my last three paychecks hiring a lawyer?

Don’t I need a website? A registered business? A YouTube channel? A blog? A perfectly curated Instagram feed? 

How do I price my services? Where do I even start?

Generic resources give the same useless tips like “Set up an Upwork profile,” “Get your portfolio in order,” and “Start connecting on LinkedIn.”

Like… WTAF are you supposed to do with that advice?

So it’s no wonder that the very thought of diving into a freelance business leaves you sweatier than an Under Armour ad. 

Roadblock Reroute: “With a proven system, launching a freelance business is a LOT simpler than I thought.” 

Put down that endless to-do list. You don’t need to do ALL the things.

In fact, you hardly need to do any of them. 


With tried-and-true strategies just for fashion, you can swipe from someone who’s been there. 

Pricing? I got you covered.
Portfolios? Here’s what to do.
Finding clients? Not as hard as you think.

That’s the Successful Fashion Freelancer Mindset to avoid getting stuck, skip the time-wasters, and get straight to the good parts…

…like finding well-paying clients, sending invoices, and growing the fulfilling fashion career you deserve. 

“I learnt the exact process and it was such a liberation.”

“I did not know how to deal with clients, how to get paid, how to be successful… After my first project, the client didn’t pay. And it felt like I was in constant search for a job, as after one project gets over, I need to think about finding the next.

After attending Heidi’s course, I learnt the exact process and it was such a liberation. I started getting more projects and even took in other designers and expanded my team.

“I can realise my vision, from the comfort of my home, which is great. I love this life.” 

FAST grad PKP,  textile design, flats, & tech packs, India

Freelance Frustration #3: I need stable income…freelancing feels like feast or famine

Belieeeeeve me:
I remember all of the concerned glances, side eyes, and “bless your hearts” when I told people I was a freelancer. (Don’t even get me started on my grandparents at Thanksgiving.)

Because, more often than not, the word “freelancer” brings up images of unfurnished apartments, cup o’ noodle pantries, and overdue utility bills…

But we’re not living in the Wolf of Wallstreet 80’s anymore. There are more successful freelancing creatives making a comfortable and sustainable living than ever before.

So rather than applying for low-paying job after low-paying job, spending all of your free time “networking,” and DMing brands that don’t respond… 

You can simply follow the proven path to becoming a Successful Fashion Freelancer and defy the starving artist stereotype.

Roadblock Reroute: “With a proven roadmap to land ongoing projects and referrals falling into my lap, I can consistently get paid what I’m worth.”

Forget the vicious feast or famine cycle that most freelancers suffer through. 

It is NOT a mandatory stage to freelancing in fashion.

You just need two simple strategies to create a stable freelancing career so you never have to worry about where your next paycheck is coming from.

I beat my previous full-time salary by 75%.”

Freelance patternmaker invoice example

“One contact can snowball into so much more work! It was faster than I ever would have thought. And I’m working a reasonable 40 hours a week!” 

FAST grad Alison Hoenes, patternmaking, Missouri

Freelance Frustration #4: “My situation is unique, and I don’t think freelancing will work for me.”

Yes, your circumstances ARE unique. 

But here are the most common reasons people think freelancing isn’t an option…are they sounding just a *bit* familiar?

I don’t live in a fashion hub! I live in a small town where I can’t find any clients.

I hardly know anyone. I don’t have a big enough network to freelance.  

I don’t live in the US, so this stuff won’t work for me. 

I don’t have any experience! No one is going to hire me.

I didn’t go to fashion school, and you can’t freelance as a self-taught designer. 

I have years of experience, so my rate would be way too high. No brand is going to pay me that much!

The industry has taught you that location, connections and experience are everything, but they aren’t! 

And I talk to freelancers every day who prove it. 

Roadblock Reroute: “My unique situation might present challenges, but I’m inspired by the stories of Successful Fashion Freelancers like me!” 

I’ve never heard of a freelancing roadblock that was truly impossible to overcome. 

If you don’t live in a fashion hub (or the US)…

If you don’t have a fashion school degree (or any experience)…

If you’re burnt out from our toxic industry (and thinking about a career change)…

YOU can still be a Successful Fashion Freelancer. 

“I already have 3 paying clients, and 3 more lined up!”

“Once I was just a normal reader [of your emails] thinking—can I be like them someday? Thanks to all these things, I am closer to my dream career. [Within my first two months freelancing,] I already have 3 paying clients, and 3 more lined up! As I have not gone to [fashion] school and I don’t have any real industry experience, I have to work hard for more, and I will.” 

FAST grad Arya Mishra, flats, India

Freelance Frustration #5: “I just don’t think I have what it takes.”

My portfolio still needs too much work, and I’m still working on my website.

I’m not an expert; I need more experience before I can start. 

I’m not confident enough to reach out to people I don’t know. 

I’ve worked hard on my AI + tech pack skills, but I’m still not good enough.

I’m not cutthroat enough to make it in fashion. 

It’s our brutal industry that makes you feel this way. 

It’s also what I’m most passionate about changing. 

Because if you don’t believe in yourself, you’ll stay stuck as an underpaid, overworked Exhausted Employee until you retire… 

…or worse, burn out and leave your dream career altogether. 

Roadblock Reroute: “I can be an SFF with just ONE skill, as long as I follow a roadmap to build my career.”

Yep. Once you get into the Successful Fashion Freelancer Mindset, you can build a rock-steady freelance career with just ONE skill

And while it’s possible to figure out the business side of freelancing through trial and a whole lot of error…

You’ll save yourself money, frustration, and a buttload of TIME if you follow a proven roadmap for finding clients, pitching, invoicing, contracts, and all the other stuff they don’t teach in fashion school. 

“I went from having zero confidence to feeling so excited about my future!

“I felt very insecure. It felt like I have to convince them they need me, when I did not believe in myself and my skills either.  In my first year of freelancing I have already surpassed my earnings from when I was working full time for a brand!

I finally learned how to present myself professionally, finally heard back from my applications and I finally made my clients happy. I could not believe it. I went from having zero confidence to feeling so excited about my future!

For the first time I feel like I’m on the right path, and it is a priceless feeling.”

Katerina Dimovska, textile design, Macedonia
Midjourney prompt: a freelance fashion designer, jumping in excitement, celebrating, party, colors hot pink, teal, coral with accents of leopard print –ar 7:4

YOU Can Be a Successful Fashion Freelancer

That’s right, YOU can do this. And in the second part, Your Five Step Roadmap to Getting Freelance Fashion Design Work, I’ll walk you through how to become a Successful Fashion Freelancer. From figuring out your services, portfolio, and pricing, to finding clients and growing your business, we’re going to cover the whole freelancing journey.

First, let’s review the Successful Fashion Freelancer Mindset you need to succeed.

True, remote freelancing is possible in the fashion industry. In fact, since the pandemic forced the industry to work remotely, more and more brands are open to working with remote fashion designers, product developers, print designers, and more. 

Freelancers can help brands with any part of the process, from concept flats to tech sketches, tech packs, patternmaking and more. But you don’t need to know EVERYTHING to get started. In fact, having a specific niche leads to MORE freelance success. (We’ll cover this in Part 2, and I’ll show you the simple process of finding yours.)

Freelancing is the key to getting the freedom and flexibility you deserve in your fashion career–you can’t get it any other way. Whether you’re a new graduate wanting to get your big break, a parent wanting work-life balance to spend more time with your kids, or a seasoned designer fearful of aging out of the fashion industry, freelancing can make your fashion career work for you (not the other way around!). 

Getting started as a freelancer in fashion doesn’t take as much time as you think. You only need a few hours per week to lay the groundwork, find your first client, and start landing projects. And you can do a lot of it in easy-to-find bits of time, like on your commute, waiting in line, or while watching your fave TV show.

The business side of freelancing doesn’t need to be overwhelming. To get started, you don’t need a complicated business, a website, or the other million things the internet says you need. Just follow the steps laid out in this guide, focus on things that really matter, and keep it simple! The rest is just noise. 

Freelancing can actually be more stable than full-time employment. It may sound crazy, but when you build your freelance career the right way, it’s true. It’s summed up in one cheesy business word: diversification. As a freelancer, you work for multiple brands. Want to make more money? Take on more clients or raise your rates. When you do a kicka$$ job, you’ll grow through word of mouth, ongoing projects, and referrals–which means soon you’ll have a steady stream of income year-round. (Many of my FAST grads have more work than they know what to do with!) And if you lose one client, instead of losing your entire income, you can fall back on the rest of your work. (Also, it’s much easier to find another project than it is to find another full-time job.)

Your situation is unique, but you can make freelancing work for you. Everybody has their own challenges, and I know you may be dealing with something I haven’t covered in this guide. But I’m a firm believer that, if building a thriving freelance career is important to you, you can find a way to make it work. Determination and a willingness to figure it out are the most important traits of any SFF. 

You know more than you think, and you’re worth more than you give yourself credit for. So many aspiring freelancers have everything they need to succeed, but a lack of confidence keeps them stuck. So own your Successful Fashion Freelancer Mindset, and don’t let self-doubt keep you from taking the next step toward your goals. You’ll make mistakes, you may even outright fail sometimes–it happens to all of us! But that’s the only way to succeed. Because the truth is that real confidence only comes from not feeling quite ready, and doing the damn thing anyway. 

Now let’s jump into the second part of this guide, Your Five Step Roadmap to Getting Freelance Fashion Design Work. So grab a coffee or glass of wine, leave your doubts at the door, and let’s doooo this!

Midjourney prompt: a freelance fashion designer, standing in front of a map on a wall, pointing at the map, colors hot pink, teal, coral with accents of leopard print –ar 7:4

Your Five-Step Roadmap to Getting Freelance Fashion Design Work

Welcome to your step-by-step guide to getting freelance fashion design work! 

This is where I’m going to share my tried and true strategies to becoming a freelance fashion designer (or technical designer, product developer, pattern maker, etc – because yes, you can do all those things remotely, as a freelancer!).

You’re going to learn how to figure out your rates, put together your portfolio, find clients, and earn consistent income.

Now, I didn’t just make these strategies up or hope they’d work in our wacky fashion industry.

They’re based on my 10+ year career as a fashion freelancer where I earned $100k+ / year (working 20-30hrs a week on my own terms).

But I’m just one person, and I realize I could have just gotten lucky.

Which is why I researched and tested these strategies for 2.5 years with fashion freelancers around the world back in 2017.

Since then, more than 35,758 aspiring freelancers have read my free Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Freelance Fashion Designer (the first version of this guide). 

And 749+ freelancers have gone through my premium program, Freelance Accelerator: from Surviving to Thriving (FAST).

These strategies work.

They worked for Alison in Missouri, who now earns 75% more than her previous full-time salary

They worked for PKP in India, who went from hustling for every project to hiring other designers to help handle all the work she has

They worked for Lucia in Germany, who designs prints for childrenswear and makes $60 an hour on Upwork

And they’ll work for you, too.  

You won’t find any fluff. (Like lots of fashion blogs + podcasts.)

Just real, actionable advice to get you where you want to go.

This is where we’ll cover the step-by-step process to becoming a freelance fashion designer, full of proven strategies that work (no matter where you live, your experience or who you know).

Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter your situation. Whether you:

Are starting as a beginner or have 10 years experience… 

Live in NYC, a tiny village in India, or on the shores of Australia…

Have a huge network or don’t know anyone…

…you can be a Successful Fashion Freelancer.

Here is your 5 step roadmap to getting freelance fashion design work. Click through to jump around, or keep scrolling to read them all.

STEP 1: Figure Out Your Services
STEP 2: Put Together a Professional Portfolio (+ examples)
STEP 3: Find Clients + Work
STEP 4: Figure Out Your Rates
STEP 5: Make Consistent Income

5 Steps to become a freelance fashion designer

We’re going to go into a lot of detail for each step, so let me give you a high level overview first.

  1. Figure out your services (don’t try to do it all)

    You DON’T have to do all the things. In fact, the more services you offer, the less successful you’ll be. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but trust me for now (I’ll prove it to you later).

    Offering just ONE service (like flats or tech packs or product development) or working in just ONE category (like sustainable sweater knits or men’s active) is the easiest way to become a Successful Fashion Freelancer.
  2. Create a professional portfolio (simple and concise is best)

    You have about 8 seconds to catch a brand’s attention with your portfolio. It doesn’t matter if you have zero or 20 yrs experience, you don’t have long to stand out. Which means your portfolio needs to be simple and concise.

    It may seem hard to believe, but less is actually more. Because brands don’t care if you can do everything—they only want to know you can do their thing. And in that 8-second glance, you need to convince them you’re the right person.
  3. Find freelance clients (no matter where you live)

    You don’t have to live in a fashion hub like New York, Los Angeles, or London. And you don’t have to live in the US! You can be a freelance fashion designer from anywhere in the world—India, Australia, Germany, Colombia—ANYWHERE!

    Because remember, it’s REMOTE freelancing. There are simple tricks to find freelance clients (hint: it’s not on job boards like StyleCareers or Indeed) and how to reach out to them (like literally, where to find their email).
  4. Set your pricing (and earn a fair rate)

    Figuring out your pricing as a fashion freelancer can feel hard AF. You want to earn a fair wage, but you also don’t want to scare brands away with a high rate.

    There are no-brainer strategies to set your freelance pricing to make sure you’re not undercutting yourself. I’ll share those soon, and I’ll even hook you up with my freelance pricing calculator if numbers aren’t your thing.
  5. Grow with ongoing projects and referrals (for consistent income)

    Building the foundation of your freelance career takes work (just like starting a brand or finding a job). But with the right strategies (that are super easy), you can get consistent work with ongoing projects and referrals.

So, ready to start freelancing in fashion? Let’s gooooo!

Midjourney prompt: a large fashion design office, with desks, computers, cutting tables, dress forms, colors hot pink, teal, coral with accents of leopard print –ar 7:4

Step 1: Figuring Out Your Fashion Freelancer Services

I’m going to tell you what kind of services you can offer as a fashion freelancer (and how to figure yours out) in a second…

But first, let me tell you the biggest mistake freelance fashion designers make. 

It’s trying to do everything for everyone. 

Your list of services should not be as long as your Target receipt (when you only went in to buy one thing… haha yeah right!).

Do not present yourself as a denim, knits, swimwear and textile designer.

Do not offer everything from design to tech packs and social media graphics to photo editing.

When your services are scattered, YOU look scattered. It’s a MASSIVE turn off. And it’s the quickest way to sabotage your own success.

Being niche is the easiest way to attract brands and convince them you’re the right freelancer to hire.

Let’s play a quick game of “would you rather” so you can see why.

Would you rather…

Work with a career coach who helps graphic designers, web programmers, and other creatives get more work?


Work with a career coach who helps fashion designers with 5-10 years experience get more work?

Would you rather…

Buy a bra from a company that offers sizes for everybody from 32AA – 40GG?


If you’re [large or small] busted, buy a bra from a company that sells bras made just for [large or small] busted women with the exact support they need.

Would you rather…

Read a general guide on freelancing for “creatives” like graphic, web, and fashion designers?


Read a guide just for freelance fashion designers (like this one)?

My guess is you chose the second option for all of the “would you rather” questions.

Because just like you want:

A career coach just for fashion…

A bra just for your bust size…

A guide just for freelancing in fashion…

Your client wants a freelancer who does just the thing they need in their category.

In nerdy marketing lingo, the word for this is NICHE. Niche means you do ONE specific thing or work in ONE specific category. And if you’re worried that being niche will limit you, don’t be.

Because here’s the thing…

You could reach out to 1000 brands with a broad offer and land 3-4 new clients. 


You could reach out to just 100 brands with a niche offer and land the same 3-4 new clients. 

One of those sounds a lot easier, doesn’t it? Getting your foot in the door is much easier when you’re niche. From there, you can offer more services if you want.

Beyond landing your first clients, there are many reasons being niche makes your freelance career easier.

Here are the top 5 reasons (along with success stories from some of our Freelance Accelerator: from Surviving to Thriving (FAST) grads so you can see what’s possible for you!).

  1. It’s easier to FIND BRANDS

    It’s a lot easier to find brands when you know what you’re looking for. Instead of getting overwhelmed trying to dig through millions of brands, a niche lets you quickly find your perfect client with easy internet hacks.

    FAST grad Alison from St. Louis niched from “general TD” to “patternmaker for small women’s brands” and her business GREW. She now earns 75% more than her previous full-time salary and all clients come to her.
  2. It’s easier to create your PORTFOLIO

    You don’t need a huge portfolio. When you’re niche, your portfolio only needs 2-4 projects that speak directly to your ideal client. Put it together once as a simple PDF, and forget about it. Seriously—you don’t need to update it.

    FAST grad Amy is a FT mom and part-time freelancer in Seattle who designs men’s golf / lifestyle. She hasn’t updated her portfolio since 2018. Yet, hour for hour, she still makes 1.5x more than her previous salary.
  3. It makes your LIFE easier

    You don’t have to do (or know) it ALL. Focus on one service (flats, tech packs, etc) or one category (men’s denim, women’s swim, kid’s textiles, etc) or a combo. No more overwhelm trying to be good at everything.

    FAST grad Ellie lives in Alaska and does remote 3D patternmaking for small/med brands. Focusing on this specialized skill, she has more work than she can say yes to and recently raised her rate to $60/hr.
  4. It’s easier to LOOK QUALIFIED

    Spot the pro: The freelancer who does kids, mens, womens, denim, lingerie, and prints and graphics and web design… OR… the designer who does sustainable women’s activewear. Niche = qualified. Simple as that.

    FAST grad Arya lives in India. At 20 years old with no fashion school and no experience, she taught herself to draw flats in Ai. In just a few weeks, that ONE service landed her first 3 clients, and she has 3 more lined up.
  5. It’s easier to GET RESPONSES

    Brands want freelancers who do JUST what they need.  So when you reach out as a patternmaker for small women’s brands, small women’s brands will feel like you’re PERFECT for them! And they’ll respond.

    FAST grad Lucia is a kid’s textile designer in Germany. After not getting any Upwork gigs for 6 months, she niched and applied FAST pitching strategies. She now gets about 1-2 new clients a week!

Being niche is the best thing you can do for your freelance career. 

Yet most people don’t do it because they’re afraid of turning work away. Don’t be that freelancer. Be niche and get ready for work to start falling into your lap.

Use this venn diagram to pick your niche:

How to pick your niche and services as a freelance fashion designer

What kind of services can you offer as a freelance fashion designer?

The list is long. (Much longer than just “design.”)

Here are some services you can offer as a freelance fashion designer:

(For even more, check out this article: 24 Services You Can Offer Your Clients (for freelance fashion designers).)

As you’re figuring out your services as a freelance fashion designer, keep a few things in mind:

  • Don’t worry about being too narrow with your offer.
  • Don’t panic that you’re only offering patternmaking when you can also do tech packs, or that you’re focusing on lingerie when you also have experience in wovens.
  • Once you get your foot in the door with a brand and they love you, you can expand your services if you want.
  • Sell them initially on one thing, and show them that you are the absolute best at that one thing, then grow from there.
Midjourney prompt: a freelance fashion designer, working at computer, computer screen has fashion sketches and fashion flats, colors hot pink, teal, coral with accents of leopard print –ar 7:4

Step 2: Putting Together a Professional Freelance Fashion Designer Portfolio (+ examples)

I wrote an entire guide on fashion portfolios, so I’ll address the top questions specifically related to freelancing. If you still have q’s, check out the full portfolio guide for free here.

Did you know that brands only look at your fashion portfolio for about 8 seconds to decide if you’re the right candidate?

You don’t have long to grab their attention!

So how do you convince brands you’re a qualified fashion freelancer?

The answer is pretty simple. There are 3 things your fashion portfolio should be:

  • Clear (about what you do)
  • Concise (aka short and to the point)
  • Niche (only show relevant work)

Which means you only need to include 3-4 projects in your freelance fashion portfolio that speak to your ideal client. Keep it simple, relevant and focused.

Here’s why:

Denim brands don’t want to look at lingerie designs.

Kids brands don’t care about your experience in womenswear.

And brands that need tech packs will be distracted by seeing other work.

A brand will glance at your portfolio for 2 seconds and make a decision.  

If they see a few projects that match what they’re looking for, they’ll reply.

They won’t spend 10 or 5 or even 2 minutes browsing. They don’t care if the work was from last month or last year or self-directed or a real project. They’re too busy.

If they see work that doesn’t apply to them, you’ve lost them before you even had a chance.

So keep your freelance fashion design portfolio simple and include just a few examples of your best work for the niche you’ve chosen.

If you follow this strategy, you can get your portfolio done in ONE weekend (and never have to update it again). #srsly

Most Successful Fashion Freelancers I know have a pretty minimal portfolio that they hardly ever update. #truestory

When I interviewed FAST grad Amy, she told me she always has plenty of work–and she hadn’t updated her portfolio in almost 2 years.

And Marissa, a freelancer who charges $300 an hour, told me she hardly gets asked for her portfolio. 

“No one’s asking for a resume. No one’s asking for a portfolio.”

Soon, we’ll cover what projects you should (and shouldn’t) include, how to format them, and look at professional examples.

But for now, I hope this provides a little relief.

Because if you’re like most fashion designers… you’ve been spinning your wheels on your portfolio for MONTHS, practically turning it into a full-time job. 

These are the freelance fashion portfolio questions I’m going to answer. Click to jump around, or keep scrolling to read them all.

What format & platform should I use to present my portfolio professionally?
Professional Freelance Fashion Design Portfolio Examples
Can I include client work in my fashion portfolio?
How long should I spend on my portfolio?
How many projects should I include in my freelance portfolio? (And are self-directed projects ok?)

And it goes on. 

Don’t worry. I’m going to answer all those questions and you’ll see that your fashion portfolio doesn’t need to be nearly as complicated as you’ve been making it.

I’m also going to share real life fashion portfolio examples from designers who are getting freelance clients and making money.

What format & platform should I use to present my freelance fashion design portfolio professionally? 

There are a lot of different choices when it comes to choosing a platform for your fashion portfolio. You’ve got:

  • Wix
  • Behance
  • Coroflot
  • Carbonmade
  • LinkedIn
  • StylePortfolios (part of StyleCareers)
  • Adobe Portfolio
  • Squarespace
  • WordPress
  • And more that I probably haven’t even heard of…

It’s overwhelming. But honestly, it’s less about what platform you use and more about what you include.

For now, I’m going to make it easy on you and tell you to just do your freelance portfolio as a PDF. 

Here’s why…

The hard truth is that no one is going to randomly discover your portfolio online and reach out to hire you as a freelancer. 

As of 2023, there are 1.13 billion websites out there and growing. And the chances that someone trips over yours are about the same as winning the lottery.

You’ll build your freelance fashion career by finding a few clients and growing with repeat and referral work. 

Not by optimizing your site for SEO or paying for google ads hoping the right brands discover you.

So forget fighting with a website (which is really hard to do well)… 

Skip past all the industry portfolio options (they’re crowded AF)…

Don’t even consider paying for ads (unless you like burning money)…

And just create a PDF.

It’s easier to update, and easier to customize if you’re sending it to a few different types of clients. You have much tighter control over what they do (and don’t) see, and you’ll be able to catch their attention fast.

Many of the Successful Fashion Freelancers inside FAST use PDF portfolios and have built strong careers. Like Alexandra, who earns more in one day as a freelancer than she did in two weeks at her last industry job.

Literally every time I link a few of those PDF bad boys from my dropbox into an email I get such amazing feedback, clients are always so impressed!”  

Professional Freelance Fashion Design Portfolio Examples

The professional freelance fashion design portfolios I’m going to share may surprise you. They are jaw-droppingly simple and minimal. 

These are fashion portfolios from real life freelance designers and FAST grads who are GETTING CLIENTS and MAKING MONEY. You’ll see examples from design to textiles and 3d patternmaking to fashion flats with freelancers who started with no experience to 10+ years in the industry.

While the fashion portfolio examples below include a website, LinkedIn, Instagram and PDFs, they could work on any platform. Don’t worry about the format, instead pay attention to how niche and simple they are.

Freelance Fashion Flats / Tech Flats Portfolio Example: Arya Mishra (who started without experience)

Arya is a FAST grad from India. At 20 years old, she started her freelance career without experience and didn’t go to fashion school. With simple PDF layouts and a focused Instagram feed, she landed her first 6 clients in just a few weeks of starting her freelance career.

Her niche is fashion flats and technical design for small swimwear / activewear brands. As a self taught designer, she used self-directed projects in her portfolio

Instagram Feed: Fashion Flats

Freelance fashion designer portfolio example

Project 1: Swimwear Flats

Freelance fashion designer portfolio example

Project 2: Activewear Flats

Freelance fashion designer portfolio example

There are a few reasons Arya’s freelance fashion flat portfolio works so well. She includes:

  • Inspiration: This shows the process of how she interprets a brand’s ideas into finished fashion flats.
  • Focused flats: There are just two categories—active and swim. While they are similar, she only sends the appropriate one when pitching.
  • Different views: Showing the front / back views for flats lets brands know that she understands how to draw different angles and represent 3d shapes in a 2d format.

You don’t need a ton of projects, and you don’t need any experience to put together a portfolio like this. Arya’s portfolio is short and to the point, and at a glance shows brands she knows how to draw flats. 

Also, note her Instagram feed has just 15 posts and 318 followers! Instead of posting daily with the right hashtags (a waste of time), she focuses on putting herself out there and getting the work. This is why she landed 6 clients in just a few weeks.

Freelance Fashion Design Portfolio Example: Amy Barnhart

Amy is a FAST grad who juggles her part-time freelance career while being a “mostly” full-time mom (spotty childcare #canyourelate!?). Hour for hour, she earns 1.5x her previous salary as an employee. Best of all, she’s able to fit her work into the cracks of the day during naps and post-bedtime so she’s still able to be present for her toddler.

Her niche is design to production for small men’s active / golf brands. Here are a few projects from Amy’s portfolio website (which easily could be done as PDFs). She hasn’t updated her portfolio in a couple years, yet still has a steady stream of freelance clients and consistent income.

Project 1: Men’s golf

Freelance fashion designer portfolio example

Project 2: Men’s Lifestyle

Freelance fashion designer portfolio example

There are a few reasons Amy’s freelance fashion design portfolio works so well. She included:

  • Inspiration: Brands want to see your process! Notice the layouts aren’t overly complicated or busy. It’s a simple one page collage of photos and colors.
  • Digital fashion flats: If you’re doing design, this is a must (as opposed to hand sketches).
  • Photos of the finished product: If you don’t have these, that’s ok. But if you can get your hands on something, that’s great.
  • 5 star customer reviews (bonus points on this!): I’ve never seen this in a portfolio before, but it definitely adds validation to her as a designer.

While Amy has worked in the industry and these are designs she’s done for actual brands, don’t feel intimidated if you’re not there yet. If you don’t have as much experience or are trying to break into a new category, you can put together self directed projects using her format as inspiration.

Freelance 3D Patternmaking Portfolio Example: Alexandra Agreda (a fashion school dropout)

Alexandra is a FAST grad who lives in Pennsylvania. A fashion school dropout, she earns more in one day of freelancing than she did in 2 weeks at her last full-time industry job. #forreals 

Her niche is 3d patternmaking, and her super simple portfolio on LinkedIn consists of just 3 projects (at the time of writing this). It works great because she shows her process and the finished products.

Project 1: Fit to Finished Garment

Freelance pattern maker portfolio example

Project 2: Pattern Development Process

Freelance pattern maker portfolio example

Project 3: Pattern Making Workflow Timelapse

Freelance pattern maker portfolio example

There are a few reasons Alexandra’s freelance patternmaker portfolio works so well. She included:

  • Fittings: Brands want to see your process, and as a patternmaker, fitting is a big part of that. These real life photos aren’t sexy, but convey so much.
  • 3d mockups: Another great part of the process, this shows how the 3d rendering translates to the final design.
  • Finished product photos: This shows that the finished product fits well, an essential part of good patternmaking.
  • Pattern pieces / tech sketches: At a glance, a simple screenshot shows you know what you’re doing. It doesn’t need to be much or include any proprietary information.
  • Workflow time-lapse: This 1 min video is a fun behind the scenes sneak peek at the process. It gives brands a feel for your workflow and validates your skills.

While these 3 projects are on Alexandra’s LinkedIn profile, she also sends out PDF versions when she’s pitching and talking to brands. I’ll share her quote again:

“Literally every time I link a few of those PDF bad boys from my dropbox into an email I get such amazing feedback, clients are always so impressed!”

Remember, all you need is a few simple screenshots and photos—no branding, no fancy layouts, and no complicated website. Keep it simple and don’t overthink your portfolio! 

Freelance Textile Design Portfolio Example: Lucia Sanguinetti-Jonescheit

Lucia is a FAST grad who lives in Germany and has two young boys. After applying for freelance jobs on Upwork for 6 months but only “luckily” landing 1 project, she felt defeated. Once she joined FAST, niched down and applied our strategies, she got a new project for $1890 within weeks. Then another, and another, and another.

Lucia’s niche is kid’s / baby textiles and design. Her portfolio website is impressive, but she gets a lot of clients by sending a simple PDF with specific projects that speak directly to the brand.

Project 1: Save the Arctic

Freelance kidswear fashion and textile designer portfolio example

Project 2: Safari Buddies 

Freelance kidswear fashion and textile designer portfolio example

There are a few reasons Lucia’s freelance textile / fashion design portfolio works so well. She included:

  • Inspiration: To show where her ideas come from, there is a simple collage with motif and color inspo.
  • Digital fashion flats: Whether you’re designing the silhouettes or not, including flat mockups as a textile designer will help you stand out from the crowd.
  • Print closeups: showing the placed prints + AOP at larger scale gives the brand a closer look at your designs 
  • 3d mockups of prints in use: Whether or not your designs have gone into production, there are many websites out there where you can mockup your prints with a few clicks. This is a great way to show how the designs translate to real life.

Notice how Lucia’s projects are cohesive—the same brand could easily run both of these looks. One of the biggest mistakes I see in textile portfolios is designers including a mish mash of different prints that could be for a wide range of brands. If you do a variety of work, that’s fine. Just make sure you only send relevant designs when you’re pitching.  

I’ll remind you that working on your portfolio is a comfort zone project that won’t result in getting paid work. Using these 4 portfolio examples, put a simple PDF together this weekend and start finding clients.

Let’s recap the three big steps to creating your freelance fashion portfolio:

  1. Keep it focused! 3-4 projects (that speak to your niche) is enough.
  2. Show the process! As much as possible, include inspiration, design, and finished product.
  3. Don’t worry about the platform! A simple PDF works great.

Is it ok to include client work in your freelance fashion design portfolio?

You’ve probably heard that including client work in your fashion portfolio isn’t ok since it’s technically their property. So, what do you do? You have a few options. Ask, just do it, or create self-directed projects.

(Disclaimer: I’m not a legal professional, this is my opinion and not legal advice! Depending on what contracts you’ve signed, your rights may be different.)

Here are 3 options for including client work in your fashion portfolio:

  1. Just ask: Once the product has launched, ask if you can include it in your portfolio. They’ll likely say yes.
  2. Just do it: Once the product has launched, there’s no reason you can’t include it in your portfolio unless you’ve signed something that says otherwise.
  3. Self directed projects: Do a few mock projects to show your work. They don’t need to be labeled as such, just include them. (Because yes, it’s ok to include student work or self-directed projects in your fashion portfolio.)

I’ve done all three of these things and they all work. So pick one and move on.

Pro Tip: What about showing tech packs (and other proprietary stuff) in your fashion portfolio? Showing “design” is much more straightforward once a product is available for sale. But tech packs can be sticky, and personally I wouldn’t show them in their entirety. You could include some screenshots of non-proprietary parts, or create 2-3 mock examples. Prospective brands will appreciate this—if they hire you, they’ll trust that you won’t publicly share their TPs.

How long should you spend on your portfolio?

This isn’t the sexiest topic, and honestly it’s not something people even ask me often.

But I’m including it because most fashion designers spend WAY too much time on their portfolios.

You do not need 3 months or even 3 weeks to get your portfolio done.

Set yourself a hard deadline and get it done in ONE WEEK (or honestly, one WEEKEND is more than doable).

Because here’s the thing about “working” on your portfolio and trying to make it “perfect”…

Chances are you’re doing this because it’s a comfort zone thing. Hiding behind your screen, going through old projects, or creating new ones, is a very comfortable place to be.

It’s an avoidance tactic to doing the scary things like reaching out to brands, negotiating pricing, and actually landing your first freelance project.

Give yourself a hard deadline of 10-15 hours MAX (one full weekend or 2-3 hours a night for a week) and put together a simple PDF.

DO NOT worry about

  • updating or building an entire website
  • getting your brand identity, a logo and color palette together
  • making business cards
  • setting up an LLC or business bank account

None of these things matter right now.

How much work should you include in your freelance fashion design portfolio? (And are self-directed projects ok?)

Your fashion portfolio should be a lot smaller than you think! Keep it specific, short and focused with 3-4 pages or 3-4 small projects. (And yes, it’s ok to include self-directed projects in your freelance fashion design portfolio!)

If you only have 2 projects, just show 2. Don’t add more just to make it bigger.

Because your portfolio is about quality, not quantity.

Brands don’t have time to browse 20 pages of your work.

Show a snapshot of your best and RELEVANT work so they can look at-a-glance to decide if you’re right for them. If they want to see more, they’ll ask.

This is the best way to show your experience and knowledge that matches their needs.

And it will be much easier if you’ve chosen a niche (instead of offering everything).

If you really want to pitch to different categories or offer different types of services, you can create 2 or 3 versions of your portfolio.

But to get started, stick with just one and start finding clients.

Remember, don’t spin your wheels in the “comfort zone” of your portfolio.

Because it’s not where you’ll actually find any freelance fashion work.

Midjourney prompt: a freelance fashion designer, holding a massively huge oversized magnifying glass, colors hot pink, teal, coral with accents of leopard print –ar 7:4 

Step 3: Finding Freelance Fashion Design Work + Jobs

There are a lot of places to find freelance fashion designer work and jobs. Some of them work better than others, and it’s up to you to decide which strategies you like best. 

I know freelancers who have great success with (and love) Upwork. I also know freelancers who prefer to find clients on their own and work directly.

Click through to jump right to the answers, or keep scrolling to read them all!

What types of brands are best for freelancing in fashion?
What websites and job boards are best to find freelance fashion design work?
Where do I find brands that need to hire freelance fashion designers?
How do I reach out to brands for freelance fashion design work?
How do you write a good freelance pitch? What should you say?
Freelance Pitch Templates for Fashion

The Best Types of Brands for Freelancing in Fashion

When it comes to freelancing in fashion, the type of brands you work with can affect how much money you make, the kind of work you’ll do, and the services you offer. The “best” one can vary, but the 4 big types are startups, “middle-America” brands, big name brands and non-glamorous brands.

You don’t have to decide right now or limit yourself to one category, but use this as a guide to start thinking about what kind of work sounds good.

Or, just as importantly, what sounds terrible.

Now, there are tons of different kinds of brands out there. They all have goals to achieve, problems to overcome, and challenges to work through. If you can help them do any of these things, they will love you and happily pay you.

Here are the 4 big types of brands you can work with as a fashion freelancer:

  1. Startup brands / indie designers
  2. “Middle-america” brands
  3. Big name “glamorous” brands
  4. Non-glamorous brands
What types of brands can you work for as a freelance fashion designer

Some may be a better fit for you based on experience or preference, so think about that as you consider what brand category you’d like to work with. Below are general pros and cons for each type of brand. Of course each brand varies, but this is a good overview.

Startup Brands and Indie Designers

This sector of the fashion industry is seeing the fastest growth right now and there’s a lot of opportunity for work. The pandemic has amplified the number of startup fashion brands out there. 

That’s because a lot of designers got let go and said “screw it, I’m not working as an employee anymore—I’m finally going to start my own clothing line.” 

There are startup projects of all types and sizes out there.

I know one freelancer who did a ton of tiny projects with over 60 indie designers in one year and charged $35/hr.

I know a freelancer who worked with just 5 startup fashion brands and made $200k+.

I personally worked with a startup brand and regularly did $5k-13k projects for them.

Many startup brands have sizable budgets, so don’t dismiss them as not having money to pay.

There are a lot of pros to startups. Here are just a few:

  • There’s an unlimited supply and new ones pop up almost daily
  • Many of them have small teams and are required to outsource
  • Since they are small, you can have a greater impact and more involvement
  • They’re often most open to a remote / work from home arrangement

But they have their challenges too. Here are some cons:

  • They may have smaller budgets (but you’re in control of your rates, so you decide)
  • While new ones are launched daily, they may be gone next season
  • They can require a lot of hand holding or management (this could be a pro for you)

In my 10+ years freelancing in fashion, I didn’t love working with startups and preferred brands who already knew the industry. But a lot of our FAST grads love exclusively working with them.

It’s really a personal preference, and I’d encourage you to be open to this category until you have firsthand experience to decide what you like.

“Middle America” Brands (that you probably haven’t heard of)

Personally, I think this is one of the best types of brands to work for. It’s also one that most freelancers forget about. 

So, what do I mean by “Middle America” brands?

I mean brands that aren’t located in NYC, LA, London or other fashion hubs. They’re brands that make everyday clothes for everyday people. They often aren’t glamorous and you’ve probably never heard of them, but they have their own niche and many of them are doing really well.

Here are some pros to freelancing for “Middle America” fashion brands: 

  • There are way more of them than you think (I’ll show you how to find them soon)
  • They don’t have access to huge talent pools like the New York or LA brands, so hiring remote freelancers is sometimes their only option
  • There’s often less drama and abuse (it’s a known industry fact that the “bigger” the brand name, the more toxicity)
  • They usually pay better (since there’s less competition)

But there are cons. For some fashion designers, they’re deal killers:

  • You won’t be adding sexy lines to your resume
  • You won’t have brag worthy work to tell your friends about
  • You won’t work on runway designs with loads of prestige

“Middle America” brands are anything but glamorous. I don’t care about those things, but a lot of designers do. I’d much rather have fun, easy going clients who treat me well and am okay sacrificing a little glitz. But you decide what works for you (one of the perks of freelancing in fashion).

Big Name “Glamorous” Brands

In my opinion and based on feedback from our FAST students, this is the most difficult type of brand to get remote freelance work from unless you have a pre-existing relationship. Even then, it can be really hard to negotiate.

I know a woman who worked for a big name brand for 9 years. She left to start a family and offered to do remote freelance work…

They said no, because they were worried she would steal their designs—after she had worked there for 9 years!

Now, to be totally transparent, in my 10+ years as a freelancer, the biggest brand I worked for was Izod (if you’ve even heard of them!). And every time someone asks me what brands I work for, it’s a little underwhelming to say “a bunch of random ones you’ve never heard of.” 

That’s where I miss out on the brag worthy work. But in the big picture, I’m 100% okay with it.

If you do want to work with the big names, it is possible. I even know a couple designers who have had success with remote freelance work for fair wages with big companies in New York.

If you do want to go after this “glamorous” work, there’s one big pro:

  • You get to show off the names on your website / portfolio, which can help you get more work

But the cons to freelancing for big name fashion brands are pretty heavy:

  • True remote projects where you can work from home are rare (even since the pandemic, a lot still have the old school “butts in seats” mentality)
  • Competition is higher and rates are typically lower
  • Creative freedom can be limited and work can feel more like you’re a “regular employee”
  • Most “freelancing” gigs are just “permalance” temp jobs in disguise

Some freelancers like this structure, so it may be a good fit for you. Just remember, this is the hardest type of brand to get true remote freelance work from and you’ll make the biggest sacrifice on flexibility, freedom and rates.

Non-Glamorous Brands (uniforms, trading companies, resort brands, etc.)

In my decade as a freelancer, I did a lot of work for these types of brands. And I loved it.

The list of pros is strong:

  • They’re easy to work with and have the least drama
  • They have budgets and can pay
  • There’s often little to no competition for this work

And there’s just one big con:

  • The work is pretty unsexy

That may feel like a total turnoff to you, but before you make any judgments, let me tell you about a really interesting concept called the Sex & Cash Theory.

Here’s how it works:

Credit: Gaping Void

“Non-glamourous” brands offer the kind of work that pays the bills. 

You’re in control on how to diversify your client roster, just make an informed decision to build the freelance life you want.

What do you want from your work and which types of brands may be a good fit? You don’t have to limit yourself to just one type, and you don’t have to decide right now.

In fact, one of the great things about freelancing is that you have the freedom to explore different companies and see what you like best. If you take a gig and hate it, you can explore something else next time.

Whatever you do, don’t make assumptions like “oh, they’re so established, they don’t even need more help” or “oh, they’re too small and don’t have any money.”

I’ll remind you that all brands have goals to achieve, problems to overcome, and challenges to work through.

If you can help them do any of these things, they will love you and happily pay you.

What are the best websites for freelance fashion designers to find work?

The most obvious way to find work as a freelance fashion designer is to dig through postings on websites like Upwork, Fiverr, People Per Hour, and others. So, we surveyed the hundreds students enrolled in our Freelance Accelerator program to see which sites work best for them. 

I wrote a whole article on the best sites for freelance fashion designers to find clients.

But I’ll tell you now, Upwork is your best bet. Fivver, People Per Hour, and others are not worth your time. They’re full of cheap clients and junky projects. 

You may find some opportunities on LinkedIn, but be mindful that a lot of the “freelance” gigs posted there or on job sites like Indeed are actually temp job “permalance” roles. If those work for you, great, but if you want real, remote freelance work, you likely won’t find them there.

While finding fashion design work on freelance websites may feel easy because the jobs are listed and all you have to do is apply…

It’s actually just one of many ways to find clients.  

And based on the experiences of my hundreds of FAST students, it’s maybe not even the best. So where else can you find brands to get freelance work? Let’s talk about a strategy you may have never thought about.

Where do you find brands that need to hire freelance fashion designers?

There are a TON of fashion brands that need to hire freelancers. From startups to established brands around the world, there is so much work out there for freelance fashion designers. Beyond Upwork, but there’s another really effective way of finding brands that need to hire.

It’s called cold pitching, and it’s exactly what it sounds like:

You reach out to the brand, cold, and you pitch yourself as a freelancer.

(Cold means you don’t know them, and they don’t know you. The relationship is “cold.”)

I’m going to show you exactly how to do this, but let’s talk about why this strategy works REALLY well.

First, you may not know this, but freelancers have a reputation for being flakey and unreliable. In a fast paced industry like fashion, many brands don’t search out freelancers because of this stereotype.

They’ll just keep overworking themselves or DIY-ing everything because they’re hesitant to hire a freelancer in the first place.

Add this to the fact that it’s hard and takes time to find a good freelancer, there are a lot of brands who just don’t pursue it.

They have to create a job posting, interview and vet candidates, and then hope the freelancer doesn’t flake out on their time sensitive project.

Now, I know that YOU aren’t that flakey freelancer. You’re a kickass soon to be Successful Fashion Freelancer. But trust me firsthand, there are a lot of flakes out there.

All this to say that there are TONS of brands who desperately need help, but aren’t putting it out there. Instead, they continue to spin their wheels, frantically trying to get everything done.

So you know what happens when the PERFECT freelancer (ahem, that’s YOU!) falls into their lap? 

When they get an email that reads “I’m a freelancer who helps brands like yours with tech packs”… And right at that moment they’re drowning in tech packs and could use some help?

It’s like the best day ever. Speaking from personal experience, as a business owner who’s hired a freelancer from a cold pitch, it’s really quite phenomenal when the right person just lands in your lap.

But don’t take my word for it, let me tell you about some results our FAST grads have gotten by sending cold pitches.

Alison, a patternmaker who started freelancing with just a couple years experience, landed a $3900 project on Instagram using this strategy.

Mari, a freelancer from Puerto Rico who didn’t feel “expert enough” to get started, landed a $5,000 project from cold pitching (and now averages $5,000 a month working just 20 hours a week).

Arya, a 20 year old freelancer from India who didn’t go to fashion school and has no experience, got her first client for $100 by reaching out cold (she quickly turned that into 6 clients!).

Randomly emailing someone you don’t know may feel super weird. Super intimidating. Or super awkward.

That’s totally normal. Which is why I’m going to tell you who to reach out to (like literally where to find their email), and what to say.

How Do You Reach Out to Brands for Freelance Fashion Design Work? 

To increase your chance of landing a new freelance gig, you’ll want to reach out to the right people.

Decision makers are key and email is best. Think people like the head of the department where your services fit best. Meaning the best person to reach out to could be different if you’re pitching textiles vs tech packs. If the brand is a smaller startup, you’ll likely want to reach out to the founder.

It can take some digging to find the right person, but you’ll get in your groove. (Sometimes I do this tedious work at night on the couch with a glass of wine. Whatever works, right?!)

Here are a few tricks to finding the right contact person:

  • Search LinkedIn (take advantage of the premium free trial)
    • Pay attention to the keyword search feature on the right hand side column to find the “director” or “VP” or “founder” person
  • Look on their website (depending on the size of company, they may or may not list this)
  • Google exactly what you’re looking for
    • “CEO of ABC company” or “Design Director of ABC company”
    • If you find 2 people who may be right, CC them both
  • Use Google “news” results
    • Design directors and founders are often quoted in articles, so this is a great way to discover any press and quickly find the name of the best contact 

How do you find their email address?

Luckily, the internet and all the fancy apps out there have made it pretty easy to find anyone’s email address. There are tons of great options. But to not overwhelm you, I’ll share my favorite one. is a great free tool to find email addresses. Just input a URL and it’ll spit out any email addresses it’s found online. It even predicts common formats, so once you have a contact name, you can formulate their email.

You can also go old school and call. “I was trying to email Jenny Smith and must have her email down wrong as it keeps bouncing back – can you confirm what her address is?”

Reaching out directly on LinkedIn works too, just be mindful that a lot of people aren’t active and don’t check their inbox there.

If you can’t find a specific email, you can always send it to the generic, and ask for it to get passed along to the right person. It could go into a black hole, but it could work. I know designers who’ve landed jobs this way, and you could too, just don’t waste too much time on these ones.

Whatever method you choose, don’t spend more than 5-10 mins trying to find the contact info. It’s a waste of effort when there are thousands of other brands out there. 

How do you write a good freelance pitch? What should you say?

You’ve got a list of emails, your portfolio is ready, and your heart is racing because now it’s time to actually write the email and hit send. It’s scary, I’m not going to lie.

Here’s the thing though…

The design director on the other end of that email? She’s just a real person like you and me.

The CEO who may want to talk to you about doing work for his brand? He’s just a guy who thinks you may be able to help him.

And you probably can. Which may terrify you even more – them saying “yes, we’d like you to do some work for us“

It’s ok to be nervous. Just be honest about your work, what you can and can’t do, and relax.


Ok, so what exactly do you write in a pitch email?

First, be yourself. Write something that feels like you. You have a voice, and you’ll refine it over time.

Second, don’t over tweak it. Your emails will get better the more you outreach (like everything in life).

Third, don’t be overly salesy. They’re a real person, and they want to feel like you’re a real person too. If your email is salesy and robotic, they won’t reply.

Like finding your niche and creating your PDF portfolio, focus on getting started and taking some sort of action, not on being perfect.

It’s okay if you mess up or do a bad job. This is a learning process!

At a high level, keep these pitching strategies in mind:

  • Make it short. 6-10 sentences should be more than enough. People get a lot of emails, so don’t overwhelm them with a novel.
  • Don’t send a generic copy/paste email. Write a personalized and authentic introduction. This will take more time but will 10x your results. The more specific, the better.
  • Talk more about THEM than you. One sentence about yourself is enough, you don’t need to list all your experience and work history.
  • Focus on how you can help them achieve their goals or overcome their challenges.
  • Close with a CTA (call to action). The goal of the first email is just to open the conversation and get a response, so keep it simple with a yes or no question.

What about subject lines!?

Be clear, personal and to the point. Don’t be obscure, confusing or vague.

Good: Freelance design work for [brand name]

Bad: Question

Don’t be afraid to play with all of this to see what works best for you and your market.

Pitching is something you figure out as you go. So experiment, get creative and have fun. 

Freelance Pitch Templates for Fashion

There are a variety of freelance pitching formats and there isn’t a one size fits all template for fashion. Inside FAST, we include our Proven Pitch Pack with tons of templates our students have used to make THOUSANDS.

But here, I’ll share one bad example and one good example of a freelance fashion designer pitch so you can see the difference. We’ll dissect them so you can understand what works and why.

A bad freelance pitch example:

This is an actual email someone sent to me. There are a lot of things wrong with it, and I’ll go through each one.

(If your stomach drops when reading this because “OMFG I’ve sent this exact email,” don’t feel bad. We’ve all done it. No one teaches the right way to reach out, so the fact that you’re here means you’re already 100x ahead of the competition.)

Freelance Fashion Design Email Pitch Template Bad Example by Sew Heidi

Here’s why this freelance pitch is terrible: 

  1. Subject line is vague.
  2. The most generic salutation ever. No one wants to be referred to as “hiring manager.”
  3. It’s all about the freelancer and not one sentence about me (the brand / client).
  4. Web layout? Data input? The list is so scattered, I feel like there’s no way she can do any of those things well.
  5. Too many details, and no CTA. I don’t know what to do, so I do nothing.

Do you feel overwhelmed reading this email? I do. It’s long and there are too many big blocks of text with long lists.

A good freelance pitch example:

Freelance Fashion Design Email Pitch Template Example by Sew Heidi

Here’s why this freelance pitch works:

  1. It has a clear and personalized subject line
  2. There is a genuine and specific introduction, letting the brand know where you found them and what you like about their work. I also snuck a compliment in there at the end.
  3. The sentence about who you are and what you do is short and speaks directly to them.
  4. You show them how you can help achieve goals or overcome challenges.
  5. You include results (not a thorough resume and all your experience).
  6. There’s a simple “yes” or “no” CTA.

Protip: Don’t write in huge chunks of text. Each line has spaces between them and it’s easy to read at a glance.

Listen, pitching is an art and a muscle. At first, it’ll take you a while to write these. You’ll get better and faster and stronger over time, but for now, don’t over tweak it.

Just follow the rough outlines I’ve provided and see what works.

Most people write terrible emails that are summaries of their resumes. Even if yours aren’t perfect, you’ll be doing better than 99% of the aspiring fashion freelancers out there.

And that’s way more than good enough.

Pro Tip: Late nights and weekends are terrible times to send pitches. Use tools like Streak or Boomerang to schedule your emails to go on Tuesdays – Thursdays during normal working hours. 

Midjourney prompt: a stack of money sitting on a desk in an office, colors hot pink, teal, coral with accents of leopard print –ar 7:4

Step 4: Figuring Out Your Freelance Fashion Design Rates

“How much should I charge as a freelance fashion designer?”

This is by far the #1 topic aspiring freelancers ask me about.

How should I price my freelance services?
How much should I charge for a tech pack / sourcing / patternmaking?
Do I charge based on my location or the client’s location?
How do I make sure I don’t lowball myself but don’t scare off the client?

In the tight-lipped fashion industry, nobody talks about money. So if thinking about freelance pricing leaves you with a big ol’ question mark… 

That’s totally normal. 

Unfortunately, when it comes to how much to charge as a fashion freelancer, there’s no “right” answer.

The salary for a senior designer in NYC isn’t the same as an assistant designer in Ohio, and freelance rates vary a LOT!

Your location, category, level of experience, services you offer, and lots of other factors will affect what you can charge as a freelancer.

In fact, figuring out your freelance pricing is a lot like learning to sew. 

You can only learn by doing it

You can read every guide, watch every YouTube tutorial, and listen to every podcast on sewing. 

But you still won’t really know how to sew until you sit down, thread your machine, and try stitching some fabric together. 

In other words: You won’t be confident in your pricing until you have a few completed projects under your belt. 

That said, I am going to give you some massive tips for success in figuring out your freelance fashion design rates. 

Click and go directly to what you need, or keep scrolling to read it all:

The biggest pricing mistake freelance fashion designers make
Whether you should use project or hourly pricing for your freelance rates
How to figure out your hourly rate as a freelance fashion designer
How to charge by project or piece as a freelance fashion designer
How to charge a day rate for freelance fashion design work
What to do if your client asks for a lower rate
Whether or not you should work for free (for exposure)

(I also wrote this article on how to raise your rates as a freelance fashion designer, and if you want to make sure to protect yourself and get paid, snag my freelance contract template for free here.)

If you get one thing out of this chapter, let it be this: Don’t obsess over your freelance pricing, just do the best you can.

Get started.
Mess up.
Do better.
Rinse and repeat.

That’s exactly how you start building a life of freedom and flexibility as a freelancer.

I know. It’s scary putting yourself out there before you feel 100% sure about your rates (or anything else!). 

But I promise, it’s the ONLY way to get there. 

Yes, you will get it wrong sometimes. But I wrote this guide to help you avoid the big mistakes I made as a new freelancer (when I made a whopping ZERO dollars my first year!).

So in this chapter I’ll give you some foolproof strategies for figuring out your freelance rate as a fashion designer.

The biggest pricing mistake new fashion freelancers make

Remember, no matter how much you read about pricing your freelance services, the only way to really learn is by doing. 

That means putting yourself out there, taking on a few clients, and adjusting your rate as you go. 

And because of that, there’s one pricing mistake pretty much every freelancer makes: 


It’s when you get to the end of a “quick” project and realize it took 5X as long (and 10X as much stress) as you expected.  

This will happen to you. And that’s okay!

It’s part of the learning curve, and it happens to every freelancer at some point.

There are two common reasons you might undercharge as a fashion freelancer:

  1. You underbid a project 
  2. You don’t feel confident asking for the rate you deserve

Underbidding a project or two at some point is pretty much unavoidable. 

That’s why below you’ll find tips that can help you avoid it, and strategies for fixing it if (and when) it happens. 

But undercharging because you don’t feel confident is something you can avoid. 

First of all, in case you haven’t heard it lately: You have great hair, you’re more qualified than you feel, and you deserve to earn a great wage for your hard work. YOU KICK A$$!

And the truth is that confidence comes from experience— NOT the other way around. 

Which is why I always tell new freelancers to use the tools below to settle on a rate they feel comfortable charging… 

And then raise it. 

Charge just a bit more than you’re comfortable with. Increase your rates before you’re ready. And watch your confidence (and your income) soar. 

Oh, and wanna know the icing on the cake? Higher rates mean better clients. 

FAST grad Alexandra snagged a new client from our private student group (the exclusive place we share freelance opportunities) and here’s what she had to say about charging a higher rate:

“It really put into perspective my worth$$ and raised my confidence/ standards on the type of clients I’ll work with. It’s so so true the saying like, the more money a client is willing to pay the easier they are to work with! It’s such a relief having someone trust me, not having to justify the work I’m producing.” 

If your freelance rate is always slightly out of your comfort zone, you’re doing great and will attract awesome clients. 


Should fashion freelancers use hourly or project pricing?

There are some simple tricks for determining how much to charge as a freelance fashion designer (or TD, patternmaker, or textile designer!). And there are strategies to decide whether hourly or project pricing is right for you.

When you’re starting out, I always suggest hourly pricing. 


Because hourly pricing is a lot easier to figure out than project pricing. 

And hourly pricing is a lot harder to mess up than project pricing. 

Let me paint you a little picture…

You take on a new client, and agree to do sketches and a tech pack for one design for $400. 

You’re fast, so this feels like a big win! 

Once the project gets started, your client starts emailing you a lot. Can you give them some advice on sourcing denim? Their factory dropped them, can you recommend a new one?

At first, you don’t mind spending a few minutes answering their questions, even though it isn’t really part of the project you agreed to. 

When you’re almost done with the tech pack, suddenly your client has a brilliant idea for a different pocket… 

…and snaps instead of a zipper… 

…and a slightly different neckline… 

And you find yourself spending hours revising all the work you already did. 

Then, the phone calls start. 

And after yet another hour-long Zoom at 9 pm to deal with last season’s production problems, you realize this “simple” project is barely paying you $5 an hour. 

While project pricing CAN be a great tool, stuff like this happens ALL THE TIME with flat-rate projects. 

It takes time to learn how to manage scope creep (when the project creeps beyond the scope of the original proposal), wrangle your client, and speak up when you need to adjust the price.

Which is why I STRONGLY recommend that you start with hourly pricing. 

How to figure out your hourly rate as a fashion freelancer

How to charge hourly for freelance fashion design work

Option One: the “drop 3 Zeros” Method

Swiped from Ramit Sethi, this simple trick is as easy as it sounds, especially if you’ve been working as an employee. 

Just figure out what your yearly salary is (or would be), and drop 3 zeros.


Yearly Salary: $40,000

Hourly Rate: $40


Yearly Salary: $90,000

Hourly Rate: $90

This trick works because it accounts for the time you spend on outreach, brushing up on your skills, and anything else you can’t bill a client for!

Option Two: Go by Industry Averages

This one can feel the most foolproof, but it takes a bit more effort. 

With your skills, location, and level of experience in mind, you’ll do a little detective work. 

Do some googling, ask around to industry friends, see what’s on Upwork, and pick a price that’s fair based on what you discover. 

While you’re doing this, remember: 

Other fashion freelancers are your colleagues and friends—NOT your competition! 

So reach out, make connections, and don’t be shy about talking numbers. Chances are they’re dying to know your rates as much as you want to know theirs. 

Pros and Cons to charging hourly as a fashion freelancer

Although I recommend hourly pricing for new freelancers, it’s not perfect for every situation.  


  • It’s simple to plan your finances based on how many hours you work
  • It’s a comfortable option for many freelancers, especially when you’re starting out
  • It’s normal and understandable for clients


  • You only have so many hours in the week and your income potential is capped
  • You can only raise rates so much before your client refuses to pay $xxx/hour (although I know a very successful freelance fashion designer who charges $300 an hour… so chances are, this one’s all in your head!)
  • It’s laborious to track time for every email, phone call or meeting
  • As you get faster at doing the work, your rate doesn’t scale proportionally

If you’ve completed some hourly projects and are curious about other pricing options, read on!

How to charge for freelance fashion work by the project or piece

If you want to give your clients a set rate for a single flat sketch or one complete tech pack, you’re looking for project pricing. 

But just one more word of caution: 

Flat rate pricing is HARD!!!

Even after a decade as a freelancer, I still underestimated a couple of big projects. 

It’s tough to manage clients when it comes to excessive revisions and dozens of extras that take “just a few minutes.”

You have to know what questions to ask at the start of a project, and be really good at clearly outlining what’s included and what isn’t. 

And you have to be willing to put your foot down and increase the price if your client asks for too much work outside of the scope of the project. 

(Scope creep is REAL, my friend.)

I don’t want to scare you! I just want to prepare you so you can protect yourself and make smart decisions about your freelance rates.

How to calculate a freelance project rate in the fashion industry

Freelance Project Rate Option One: Charge Based on Estimated Hours

If you know a tech pack takes you 4 hours, and you want to earn $50/hour, then you can charge $200 for a tech pack. Your client doesn’t know the rate or the hours, they just know a tech pack costs $200.

This method can backfire though if a client you previously charged $200 for a tee-shirt tech pack comes back with a fully-lined piece of outerwear, and expects the tech pack for the same price. Make sure you communicate that there is a rate range based on complexity.

Freelance Project Rate Option Two: Charge Based on Value

Maybe you’re really fast and can complete a tech pack in one hour. That doesn’t mean it’s only worth one hour’s pay. 

You’ve worked hard to learn this skill, to get this good at it. All the time and energy you’ve invested is part of what your client is paying for.

If the value of a tech pack to your client is $300, then you’ll charge $300 even if it only takes you an hour. If the thought of charging $300 an hour makes you cringe, instead think of it as the client paying your flat rate in exchange for an item that’s worth $300 to them. 

Pros and Cons to Charging By Project or Piece


  • The faster / more efficient you are, the more money you can make
  • You can charge based on value
  • Some clients like knowing a flat rate of what something will cost


  • It can take time to develop the skill to accurately estimate what a project will require, and most freelancers tend to underestimate at first
  • Scope creep (when a project creeps beyond the original agreement) is common and can create difficult conversations— either you get taken advantage of, or you have to raise the rate mid project

Project pricing is much trickier to navigate than hourly pricing, but for experienced freelancers it can be a great option.

Just remember to ask smart questions, clearly outline the project, and have tough conversations when required. 

How to charge a day rate for freelance fashion design work

The day rate pricing structure for freelancing in fashion is more common with UK freelancers than US ones. I also see it being used more for “permalance” onsite temp work, which I don’t recommend or support. 

But if you’re doing a few days of onsite consulting, or heading to the office to help with fittings or a photo shoot project, a day rate may be a great option. This is the only time I’ve ever used this pricing structure.

To calculate your day rate for freelancing in fashion, multiply your hourly by 8 hours and adjust to a flat rate.

Example: $35/hour x 8 hours = $280. Your day rate could be $300.

Pros and cons to charging a day rate as a fashion freelancer


  • It’s simple to plan your finances based on how many days you work
  • You don’t have to track every minute and can just invoice how many days you worked


  • If you do onsite days, an 8 hour day somehow always turns into a 12 hour day
  • Your leisurely morning dog walk and coffee shop stop (one of the reasons you started freelancing) can *poof* be gone real quick. If you’re just doing a few days of consulting here or there, this may not be a huge deal, but think carefully about signing up to do a day rate 5 days a week. You may not be creating the lifestyle you were imagining.

What if your client asks you to lower your freelance rate?

“We’d love to work with you but that rate is really too high for our budget. Is there any way you can do it for less?”

I’ve heard this line more than once. There are experts who will tell you to hold strong and never negotiate your rate. I think it’s more complicated than that.

But I’ll warn you that most freelancers lower their rate too soon and too much.

So, how do you negotiate your freelance rate? 

You have a few options, but the one I suggest is offering a trial rate

If it’s your first project with this client and you really want the job, you can offer a lower trial rate for the first (small!) project. 

Clearly state that this rate is for the initial project only, and that any future projects will be billed at your regular rate. 

This gives you the chance to knock your client’s socks off—do an exceptional job, and they’ll be happy to pay your full rate next time. 

Here’s exactly what you can say:

(Go ahead and swipe this verbatim. You’re welcome.)

“My usual rate is $40/hour. I’d love to work with you on this project, so I’m happy to offer you a trial rate to start to make sure everyone’s happy. How about we do the first 3 hours at $30/hour and if you’re absolutely pleased with my work, we can continue at the usual rate of $40/hour. Does that work for you?”

Other reasons you might consider lowering your freelance rate

You’re the CEO of your freelance business, and you make the decisions.

Many times you can stand firm on your price and still get the job… and a lot of it comes down to confidence. (So you may have to “fake it ‘til you make it” at first, but you’ll get there!)

Go with your gut, but I only recommend considering a lower rate in a few specific situations:

  • You really need the cash… and you’re not going to resent earning less. This is critical. If you feel resentful, it takes a toll on both your work and your relationship with the client. It’s just NOT worth it. 
  • You really want the experience to build your portfolio. This is a great way to get work in new categories and learn new skills. Be transparent with your client if this is the case. You can always increase your rate later—once they know you’re a kicka$$ freelancer who always exceeds their expectations. 

Here’s what you can say in this situation:
“I don’t have much experience with kidswear, but am really passionate about the category and would love to work with you. Since it will be a learning experience for me, I’m happy to do this project at a lower rate.”

  • You just love the project or brand, and you’re excited about the work. If you’re dying to work with this brand, and they truly can’t afford your full rate, you can decide to offer a lower price. Consider making it a temporary (trial) rate, and/or limiting the number of hours per month you invest in it so you still have enough time for your full-rate clients. 
  • It’s a big chunk of ongoing work. This is almost like offering bulk Costco sized pricing (e.g. the price per tech pack is less for 15 than 1). Done well, it can be a win-win for you and the brand.

Pricing is a sensitive topic, and it can be a tough conversation for you and your client.

But every time you do it, it gets a little easier (and you get better!). 

You will underbid projects. I did—even after freelancing for nearly 10 years. I once charged just $5k for a project that should have been $10k.

Which led to a conversation that went something like this: 

“Hey Joe – It was great working with you on the spring collection. I’m very pleased with how everything came together! I know you guys were, too. I just wanted to give you a heads up that I undercharged for the project by quite a bit, and I don’t want you to be in sticker shock the next time you ask for a proposal. In my rush to get the proposal to you, I didn’t get enough information and way underestimated the price. This was completely my fault, and I was happy to do it at that price. But I wanted to give you a fair expectation of the cost for the future. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure we get to a price that’s fair for everyone.”

The next time he asked for a proposal? He was thrilled. He felt like they had gotten an insane deal on the first project, and was happy to pay the full rate for the next one.

(He also admitted that, as a business owner, he too had underbid things!)

This is what happens when you find great clients, do an exceptional job, and have an open and honest relationship with them.

You respect each other, and everybody wins. 

When a client asks for a lower rate, keep these things in mind:

  • Don’t go so low you’re going to resent the work. No one will be happy and the project and relationship will sour.
  • Don’t immediately say yes. If you’re willing to negotiate, meet them in the middle:

You: “My usual hourly rate is $40/hr.”

Client: “Would you be able to work for $30?”

You: “I really love your project and team, but that rate is pretty tight for me. How about we meet in the middle at $35. That way we both feel good about the price.”

Client: “Great, that sounds fair.”

  • Consider decreasing the scope of work instead of lowering the rate. Maybe someone on their team can handle part of the project so you have less work to do. This keeps things in their budget and maintains your rate.
  • Always clearly mark the adjusted rate on your proposal and invoice as a “courtesy price adjustment.” This reminds them that the actual price is higher, and makes rate increases easier. Make sure to highlight this, so it’s hard to miss. (Oh, and don’t use the word discount. You’re not Walmart.)
  • It’s ok to say no! If the client asks for a rate that’s too low and they aren’t willing to negotiate, kindly tell them it won’t work out.

“It seems like my services may not be right for you, and that’s okay. Thanks for the opportunity!”

  • It’s okay if you accidentally underbid! Don’t beat yourself up over it. Do the work for the rate you agreed to, and be upfront and honest with your client about what happened. If they’re a good client, they’ll understand, and want to pay you what you’re worth.

What if you have to defend your freelance rates?

Defending or justifying your freelance rate can come up, more or less often depending on the types of brands you’re working with. 

For example, big name “glamorous” brands are so competitive to get work with, you can try validating your rate but may not have success. On the other hand, startups simply may not realize the extent of the workload, which means it’s your job to educate.

It can be helpful to explain what goes into the work you do, so they understand you’re doing more than pushing a few pixels in Illustrator or punching in a few numbers into Excel. 

As you grow, you can create PDFs, pages on your website, or blog posts that explain your process and why your rate is fair. 

For now, keep it simple and verbally explain why the price is what it is.

All that said, if your rate is reasonable, there’s a limit to how much you should have to justify it.

If a client continues to nitpick, question the value of your work, or leave you feeling like you have to defend yourself, this is a red flag that they’re a problem client and not worth it in the first place. Confidently walk away.

Again, one of the joys of freelancing is we get the freedom to choose who we work with, what we work on, and define how much we earn.

And that is priceless.

Should you do freelance work in fashion for free (for exposure or experience)?

Don’t do it. 



Freelance projects in fashion you do for free are never worth it. 

A client who doesn’t value your work enough to pay you for it will do nothing for you. 

They won’t recommend you to other potential brands (except ones who also want you to work for free). 

They won’t come back later wanting to pay your full rate (if they thought your work was worth paying for, they’d pay for it the first time). 

They probably won’t even give you a testimonial (after all, they’re so busy and all you did was toss them some free work). 

And worst of all, it will encourage these abusive and predatory behaviors, which devalue our entire industry. You did the work for free, so they figure the next person should, too. After all, how much could it possibly be worth?

Out of respect to yourself and our industry, just. don’t. do. it. 

What if it’s a brand you really want to work with? 

Tell them your full rate, and be confident about it. 

If you really feel good about it, you can tell them your full rate and then offer to do a trial project for a lower rate to make sure it’s a good match.

But whatever you do, do NOT do it for free. 

The more of us who put our foot down and say NO to this, the better place our industry will be for everyone.

What if you’re looking for more experience and offer to work for free?

This is the ONLY scenario I somewhat support working for free. 

If you reach out and initiate a free project, that’s a completely different scenario than a client asking you to work for free.

Used sparingly, it can be a great way to grow your portfolio and resume (especially if you don’t have much experience).

But be transparent about why you’re doing it, define clear boundaries, and start charging clients as soon as you have some experience to show for it. 

The work you do is valuable. Don’t let cheap clients convince you otherwise. 

A final note on freelance pricing in fashion: 

Remember: No matter how you choose to charge, your rate should probably be higher than you first guessed. 

Because here’s the thing about freelancing:

You’re not spending all day, every day doing work for clients. 

Especially in the beginning, a lot of your time goes to things like finding clients, sending out proposals, invoicing, and all the other day to day “business stuff” that comes with working for yourself. 

And NO ONE IS PAYING YOU for that stuff! 

So track what you earn, charge what you’re worth, and feel good about it!

Midjourney prompt: money falling out of the sky, colors hot pink, teal, coral with accents of leopard print –ar 7:4

Step 5: Making Consistent Income as a Freelance Fashion Designer

Freelancing can seem like a rollercoaster of making $3k one month and $100 the next. What will your next project be? Where do you find another client? 

Most importantly, how do you make consistent income as a freelance fashion designer?

One of our really successful Freelance Accelerator: from Surviving to Thriving (FAST) grads, PKP,  felt the same way:

“I did not know how to deal with clients, how to get paid, how to be successful… After my first project, the client didn’t pay. And it felt like I was in constant search for a job, as after one project gets over, I need to think about finding the next.” 

But after implementing these strategies, PKP has more than enough work. In fact, she had to hire more designers and is now running a thriving agency–all from the comfort of her home.

If you’ve ever felt like you’re on an endless job hunt too…

Or if you’ve read this far and are thinking “it feels like an assload of work to land one project…”

I’ll be blunt: getting started is the hardest part. Cold pitching is hard. Sending out your first emails is hard. And then you land one small project, make a few hundred bucks, and now what?

Well let me tell you a little secret…

With the right strategies, your freelance income will be consistent and your growth will look like this:

How to earn consistent income as a freelance fashion designer

Now, there are a ton of strategies to grow like this and reach your earning potential as a freelancer. We cover them all inside FAST, but here are two tips to get you started right now.

ONE: Do an exceptional job.

Go above and beyond to show your client how great you are to work with. No one does this.

Not only will you stand out, they’ll love you and happily give you more work.

Here are three examples of how you can do an exceptional job (it doesn’t take much):

  1. Give them a couple extra design options. “I know we agreed to 5 versions, but there were a few extra ones I thought looked great so included those as well.” (Hillary Glenn shares how this strategy gets her more paid work in this podcast interview!)
  1. Beat your deadline. Since most people are late (and freelancers have a reputation for being flakey), they’ll be thrilled: “I know we set a Friday deadline, but I had this done a little early so wanted to help you get ahead with your work.”
  1. Make yourself available and reply quickly. Even if you can’t get to something right away, acknowledge the email and tell them when you’ll get done.

TWO: Ask for more work.

Just because you landed a project, doesn’t mean they’re going to just start throwing work at you. They may, but most of the time you have to keep asking for it.

The best time to ask for more work is once you’ve completed your first project and your client is thrilled (since you did an exceptional job).

Don’t bombard, but offer to help on whatever task logically comes next.

Design is done? Offer to help with line sheets.

Sketched flats? Let them know you can help with tech packs.

Finished tech packs? Ask to help with sourcing and vendor correspondence.

You can (and should!) also ask for referrals. Freelancing is a relationship business and people in fashion know other people in fashion. If you don’t ask for these things, you won’t get them.

Remind your clients by saying things like this:

“I’m always looking for new brands to work with, if you know anyone who needs some help I’d really appreciate getting any names from you.”

Or if you know they used to work at another brand, you can say: 

“I’d love to reach out to XYZ brand – would you be able to tell me who I could email to see if they have any work? Would it be ok if I mentioned your name?“

You’ll learn to ask for what you want. You’ll learn to put yourself out there. It’ll become more and more comfortable, and you’ll get better and better at it.

And you will be a Successful Fashion Freelancer.

Midjourney prompt: a freelance fashion designer wearing braces on teeth, awkward, colors hot pink, teal, coral with accents of leopard print –ar 7:4

Conclusion: Fashion Freelancer Puberty…If You’re Feeling Awkward, You’re Not Alone

PUBERTY. It’s an awkward word. It’s also an awkward time.

But puberty is a MANDATORY stage in life.

And no one, literally NO ONE is exempt.

The same is true for freelancing in fashion.

There’s an “awkward” puberty stage that everyone goes through—it’s kind of like a right of passage to becoming a successful freelance fashion designer.

Symptoms may include:

  • Trouble “finding yourself,” including figuring out details like your portfolio and services
  • Awkwardness putting yourself out there, talking about $$$, or engaging with clients
  • Uncomfortable conversations with lots of “ums,” “likes” and “uhhs”

This stuff is ALL normal! It’s part of growing, just like getting boobs or discovering hair where it didn’t used to be. #uncomfortable

Know that you’re not alone during this time of growth and life transition.

So take that awkward freelancer puberty stage by the horns and own it. 

Smile through those braces, hold that pimply chin up high, and speak with pride through all the voice cracks. 

(Even when you feel like 7th grade me in a super cool jailbird tee and a mouth full of metal.)

Like real life puberty, these uncomfortable freelance moments will pass. And you’ll blossom into a beautiful, confident and Successful Fashion Freelancer.

But the journey can still feel a little rough. Because deciding to freelance can feel like a BIG life decision.

And I don’t want to discount how you may feel about taking that scary leap.

So let me tell you something you may not know about all the Successful Fashion Freelancers inside FAST.

Like Mari, who didn’t think she was enough of an expert. “I had a manager that had [freelanced] in the past, and she just made it seem like you need to be this like rock star to do it. She made it seem like, ‘Oh, but I’m the expert at this and that.’ So I never saw myself as being able to do it until I was able to listen to some of your stories.”

Or Alexandra, who wanted to be a patternmaker. She thought she had to put up with a toxic workplace and a job she didn’t love because she hadn’t finished fashion school. 

“I felt like such a failure, like, I could never work in this industry that all I wanted to do was be a part of. [Then] I found your podcast, and that gave me the confidence to just start trying. I got a job as a production sewer. About two months in, I was asked to design an intimate collection… and I wasn’t paid for it. I was working two jobs. It was just really underpaid. [But] that’s what I thought my only options were.” 

Then in March 2020 she heard this interview with a freelance patternmaker. It was a lightbulb moment, and she was inspired to take the leap to freelancing. Now, she makes more money in one day than she did in nearly two weeks at her old full-time job. 

Some of our BEST students started freelancing before they felt “ready.”

And they came with a lot of… umm… “stuff.”

“…can I REALLY make a fair wage as a freelancer if I don’t [insert your thing here]?”

“…is this gonna put me too far outside my comfort zone? I don’t want to have to be pushy and sell myself.”

“…do I really have enough time to build a freelance career? I’m already so busy…”

If you’ve felt any of these things…

Let me tell you something:

Nobody has all their “stuff” figured out before they start freelancing in fashion.

Your doubts, your fears, your sense that “this will never work for me…” 

Everyone feels that way in the beginning. And the only way to get past it is to jump in and do the things that scare you.

So if you’re ready to take the FIRST STEP in ditching the Exhausted Employee hustle…

…working 12-hour days and clocking in on the weekend even though you’ll never earn another cent (because you can’t make a lot of money unless you make it to the very top).

…secretly sharing the same doubts that your friends and family have expressed about fashion being a dead end (although you’d never admit it to them).

…and the constant feeling of burnout as you question your career path choice (but you love fashion… what would you do instead?!).

Then take what you’ve read in this guide and apply it. Put in the effort, and you will see the rewards.

Feeling scared? That’s ok. But here’s why I’m not worried about you.

You’ve been down this road before.

When the whole world told you that you should keep “playing it safe” instead of venturing off into fashion, you still had the courage to go after your passion. (I hear you, my parents did NOT support this path!)

You know how EFFING rare and awesome that is?

And even though you’ve had to put up with probing questions and forced smiles every time the “career” conversation comes up at family get-togethers… (“Why don’t you just go get a regular job already?”)

…you PUSHED THROUGH with power and determination to follow your heart and chase your dreams.

So now, even though I’m inviting you to take a scary step forward in re-defining yourself and making the shift from Exhausted Employee to Successful Fashion Freelancer…

I trust that you can do it.


Take action, get started, and make it happen.

P.S. Because if you’re on my email list, you know it wouldn’t really be over without a PS!

Thank you so much for hanging out with me and reading How to Be a Freelance Fashion Designer.

I hope this guide has brought you some inspiration, relief and tangible know-how to kickstart or grow your career as a Successful Fashion Freelancer. You’re off to a great start!

But to actually build your freelance career and create the flexibility you deserve, you need to do more than read a guide. 

You need to take action! Don’t get overwhelmed, just focus on these 5 steps:

  1. Figure out your freelance services (don’t overthink it, just pick something!).
  2. Get your portfolio done (this weekend!).
  3. Find true remote freelance clients (not permalance temp jobs!).
  4. Set your freelance rates (and grow from there!).
  5. Be so good, brands come back (and you make consistent income!).

If you’re stuck or need more step-by-step and personalized guidance, get on the FAST waitlist. Enrollment opens just a few times a year and we’d love to have you.

Freelancing in fashion isn’t easy, just like having your own brand or working as an employee. But for me, and for many of our 700+ FAST students, it’s fulfilling in ways you never knew were possible.

Work when and where you want.

Do a variety of projects you love. 

Earn unlimited income.

No matter your experience, where you live, or who you know, you can build your dream life. Remember…

You know more than you think. 

You’re worth more than you think.

You have more potential than you think.

Me and my whole team are rooting for you. Now go get to work!!!