There are a lot of different paths to becoming a freelance fashion designer. And Heather Royer took one I’d never heard of before. Instead of working directly with brands, she got her first freelance opportunity designing for a factory in China.
The best part? There are ways you can create the same freelance opportunities for yourself, and she shares step by step her best advice to do this.
In her 20+ years in the industry, Heather has worked for brands like Target, LL Bean, REI and Talbots. She now runs a team of 9 full time fashion designers located around the world while working remote from her home in south Florida.
And it all started with one freelance gig from LinkedIn.
Heather Royer has created a job for herself that is unlike anything we’ve heard of before here at Successful Fashion Designer. But like most fashion designers, fashion was just a hobby in her early life. But she did get an early start! Heather was in 4H when she was little (the kids club that does hands-on projects surrounding health, science, and agriculture), and loved the sewing aspect of the group. She started making clothing when she was 7 years old! We’d say “the rest is history,” but we’d be leaving a lot out (like when she worked for the park service in Alaska building hiking trails–how cool is that??).
Knowing she always had a passion for working in the fashion industry, she took fashion classes on the side, and then made the commitment to going to Rhode Island School of Design. She started designing kids’ outdoor clothes (talk about blending her loves), and then got a great first job as “just” an assistant–but she loved it! It was “the bottom of the barrel,” but she got great exposure to the industry that way.
Heather’s freelancing career came about as more of a necessity–she wanted to move to Florida, but knew there weren’t going to be a lot of jobs in the fashion industry. So she took her fate into her own hands: she started working on her portfolio, working on her own projects, and branching out. She started her own jewelry line, and got a taste of business for herself. When one of her contacts on LinkedIn reached out to her about an opportunity, she was ready.
This is where her career path delved into the unknown. Much like her work for the park service, Heather made her own… fashion-hiking-trail, if you will. What started as a simple proposal for a factory in China for men’s cold weather goods turned into a huge project and eventually a team of 9 full-time designers working for her.
How? Partly the usual way: she gave it her all. She worked long long (long) hours, did tight turns, bent over backwards. But she also vocalized her ideas, drew on her previous experience, and eventually started outsourcing her workload to other freelancers, as well. Freelancing begets more freelancing! As much as she cringed at “networking,” she made it work with her friends and contacts.
Now that she’s the Vice President of Design and Operations for Weihai Luda Company, Heather is still looking forward. She has plans to build a private label, her own brands, and chooses to think of her company as an investment portfolio that she diversifies and keeps flexible. Heather’s rich experience building her own business has led to enormous insight into the life of a successful freelance fashion designer, and her advice is applicable to almost any fashion designer. She’s learned how to delegate, how to build a team, how to outline tangible results, and how to make sure things are getting done, all while acknowledging that the fashion industry is “not always glamorous. If you can see the humor in that, it’ll go a lot farther.”
We loved hearing Heather’s inspirational story–you really can create the job you want!