The fashion industry is competitive and it’s hard to make it as a designer. It’s even harder if you’re trying to be a freelance clothing designer.
But here’s the thing:
Being a full time, work from home remote freelance fashion designer – while still earning a fair pay rate – is possible.
In this episode of the Successful Fashion Designer podcast, Melissa Borelli tells us exactly how she did it. From negotiating contracts, pitching and finding new clients at trade shows, and making sure she did an exceptional job, she shares all her tips and strategies.
Here’s Marissa’s backstory:
Marissa ditched her volleyball career during her junior year at UCLA to enroll in Parsons – without the support of her parents. She turned her love for sports and fashion into a successful career as an activewear designer which she’s been doing for over 10 years, working with brands like Lululemon and Athleta. She also had her own line of scarves with distribution to over 60 retail outlets internationally, and she now freelances full time from the comfort of her home while being a twin mom to two boys. Marissa shares exactly how she pitches new clients, prices her projects to make a fair wage, and successfully does that scary networking thing to get more work.
Sign up for the 9 step proven process to getting more freelance clients (without sounding salesy) + swipe copy email templates (that work in any industry).
Heidi: Hey everybody this is Sew Heidi and you’re listening to the Successful Fashion Designer podcast. We all know this a fashion industry is brutally competitive and it takes loads of hard work to get ahead, the problem is that everyone’s secretive and tight-lipped about their ways. After working as a designer and educator for over a decade I wanted to help break down those barriers and bring you valuable knowledge from industry experts and this show is exactly where you’ll find that, whether you’re trying to break into the fashion world make yourself more marketable launch your own label or become a successful freelancer we’ll help you get ahead in the cutthroat fashion industry. This is episode four these Successful Fashion Designer Podcast and today I’m chatting with Marissa Borelli who didn’t even discover fashion as a career option until her junior year in college when she fell in love with the industry. She ditched UCLA moved to New York City and enrolled in persons all without the support of her parents. Marissa has been working as a designer for over 10 years for brands like Lululemon and Athleta. She had her own line of scarves with distribution to over 60 retail outlets internationally and she now freelancer full-time from the comfort of her home while being a twin mom to two little boys. Marissa shares exactly how she pitches new client’s prices her projects to make a fair wage and successfully does that scary networking thing to get more work. Before we jump into the interview I want to let you know that I prepared something extra special for you for this episode. Marissa gave us so much great advice and tricks to land freelance work that I created a step-by-step checklist plus swipe copy email templates you can use to get more work .You can find this free resource on the Successful Fashion Designer network at SFdnetwork.com/download4 that’s download and the number four. To access the show notes for today’s episode visit SFdnetwork.com/4. Now on to the interview with Marissa. Okay so why don’t we first start out, tell me a little bit about yourself and how you got started working in fashion.
Marissa: So my name is Marissa and I’ve been designing now for 10 years but I started, I went to UCLA to play volleyball and then I studied abroad, I actually quit volleyball because they weren’t gonna let me study abroad and I’m obsessed with traveling so when I was studying in Italy I took a fashion class and then ever since then I’ve been wanting to do it so but what I did was like marry my two loves like I design activewear so I get to work in fashion but then I also get to work in sports and so those are my two favorite things and after UCLA I went to Parsons in New York City and that was such a blast and so hard he’s very that program was tough but New York City you know is an awesome spot to live in so inspiring and you know you’re with students from all over the world and not my friends you know they still work all over the world but yeah and then after that I moved back to Los Angeles and started working for like a startup company so I was their only employee and they brought me on to design but then I ended up doing like sales and marketing, website design and you know production and so yeah that was a good learning experience
Heidi: So did you, have you ever really thought about fashion before you like randomly wound up taking this course when you were abroad?
Marissa: No, not to do for work you know I always loved fashion but I never thought that that was gonna be my career because UCLA we don’t have a fashion s a program I think they have like a costume design, maybe like minor but they don’t have you know a fashion program so it wasn’t really an option and I went to UCLA to play volleyball like that was the main that was why I went there yeah and then I kind of shifted gears once I quit and then I was able to you know study Italian and fashion and changed what I wanted to do.
Heidi: How far into your education was that like discovery of fashion?
Marissa: Junior year.
Heidi: Okay, so you were like pretty well invested already in that then did you feel like what was that transition like were you scared to be like I’m gonna not do this and I’m gonna pursue this other thing that’s like kind of a 180 or I mean how’d it how that transition feel?
Marissa: I was super excited about it, my parents were not happy, my dad was like what are you doing like when they moved me out to New York City they came out there for like a few days to tell me try to find an apartment and it’s such a nightmare trying to find a place in New York. So my parents just left me and I lived in a hostel for the first like two weeks of school because we couldn’t find a place but yeah so they weren’t super supportive no but I don’t know it didn’t really matter to me like I knew what I what I wanted to do.
Heidi: So this is actually really interesting because I experienced almost the exact same thing I went to school for business and then I was like “I can’t do this, this is horrible” and I discovered graphic design and I pitched it to my mom and dad and they were like “what you’re gonna be studying art” and they just they were really I mean at the end of the day they’re your parents so they’re like they’re there for you but they were really not, they were not into it and I really had to sell them on it and even once I sold them on it they were not really that excited and it wasn’t until years later that I actually got success in that industry and then ultimately wound up turning that into a career in fashion that they were like “okay yeah this is something we get it” so did you like after you were able to show them or actually let me win on that question because before we even get to that like what were they not supportive of because this is something I’ve heard from a lot of other people in the industry too.
Marissa: Yeah, my dad wanted me to study business too. His dad started a real estate company and so then my dad took it over when he was 22 sad enough that he was thinking like I was just gonna come home and work for the family business but you know I didn’t come home for 12 years. California is great and Northern California is beautiful but you know I wanted to move around and experience new things so I think they weren’t super happy about that you know sending me to UCLA they were like “oh our daughter’s gonna go to this awesome school and go get a job right after and then it’s like “oh no now I’m gonna move to New York and study fashion” he’s like “what are you doing”
Marrisa: But yeah and they didn’t come visit me like it was looking back. Yeah they weren’t super supportive I guess but I don’t know that my parents are also kind of tough love parenting. They, when I was studying abroad I was in Prague and I got everything stolen my friends and I we got our passports or credit cards our cell phone, our IDs everything stolen and we called like each one of us called our parents and my parents or my dad just said figure it out and hung up the phone on me.
Marrisa: So yeah, I think they kind of let me do it they do what I want.
Heidi: But at the end of the day you wanted to pursue this so badly and you just said you know what this is what I’m gonna do with or without your support like I want this.
Marissa: Right, yeah!
Heidi: That’s kind of, you had to take reign to your own life.
Marissa: Yeah, because my boyfriend at the time wasn’t happy either. So, but then you know in New York City it’s so easy to meet people
Marissa: Everybody moves there to do their dream and what they’re that’s you know finance or arts or design or it could dance you know it could be anything but so everyone’s there without any family, like without any support system. So the people that I met my first week at school I’m still really good friends with now.
Heidi: So that turned into your support system?
Heidi: Yeah, no I love that and okay, so you were out there for for many years then you take like your first real job in the industry was back on the west coast working for a start-up, how’d you get your foot in the door with them?
Marissa: So actually I know the girl from growing up her name’s Kerri Walsh, she plays beach volleyball in Olympics. She wanted to start a clothing line and you know she obviously is very good at volleyball but she hadn’t done anything in fashion. So she heard that I was graduating school, I’m moving back to LA and that’s where she’s in LA, so they were like “oh do you want to come work for us and for InDesign” I was like “yeah sounds awesome” but then I ended up doing or being in charge of you know production and sales and you know doing trunk shows and pop-up shops and things like that. So it was a good like you know throw yourself in learning experience but I mean that’s just startups so I think that’s probably why I still like freelancing because you have your hands and lots of different areas you know it’s not CAD all day every day.
Heidi: So speaking of freelance, you’re a freelance designer and have worked with some really big names Lululemon, Athletica, Ralph Lauren, Swiss Army Victorinox and so you went from this startup like how did you start branching into some of these really big companies because some of those opportunities that could be hard to get from the door, did you know people are like what did you do to land some of those gigs?
Marissa: Yeah, so basically what I would suggest to for people is, networking is huge and not necessarily like let me go to a trade show and meet people it’s more you know keep keeping in touch with all your contacts from before because you never know where they’re gonna end up later. So I actually worked for Ralph Lauren back when I was at Parsons and because I was so niche I wanted to do activewear, at Parsons no one wanted to design activewear so I went to like that you know there was a Ralph Lauren table like “oh come work for us” and there weren’t many people wanting to do golf like I went into women’s golf and then I was doing like the women’s tennis and then I was working on Wimbledon. So you have to just be willing like “riches are in the niches”, I totally believe that. You know, back when I started freelancing and I started like I called myself an active lifestyle consultant and I started that about six years ago and it was right after I worked for Lululemon. So okay, sorry let me back up and at Parsons I was working at Ralph Lauren and Swiss Army and the head designer at Swiss Army came from Ralph Lauren. So once he saw on my resume that I’d worked at Ralph Lauren he’s like “oh I work the same way” you know we set up our concept board first and then we figure out our trims and then we meet with the designers and we give them like the vibe and then they come up with the designs and then we do a presentation like Ralph Lauren is very structured it’s insane and everything sketched out and illustrated and the CAD comes way later so that’s how I landed that job you know. So they kind of trickle-down off each other.
Marissa: And then after KActive which was Kerri Walsh’s, the startup that I worked at first then I went to Lululemon because I was wanting to do something with like a bigger company. So I did actually visual merchandising for them and then I was assistant manager at a store so I worked the corporate side and when they wanted me to move up to Vancouver like I went up and interviewed in Vancouver for a design job because they only take you in Vancouver for design. My husband or my boyfriend at the time, he proposed so it just the timing didn’t work out and they weren’t gonna give like both of us a working visa so instead of staying in the stole Wars which I didn’t want to do, like I wanted to design, I started freelancing, so then I left Lululemon and then I was freelancing and my first freelance job was working for TJ Maxx and Marshalls and I think I found that one maybe like off of Craigslist.
Heidi: Oh, really?
Marissa: Yeah, and it’s not like he advertised it as it was green-apple active and so that brands still around but he used to do so sporty and green apple at TJ Maxx and Marshalls. So for they were hiring a designer just to do the TJ Maxx and Marshalls brand so I had no idea what I was interviewing for I go in you know and he’s like “oh” like you know obviously I have to have a portfolio and your resume but I think it’s more personality you know like how well can you get along with people, freelancing you know we were freelancing that like out of his house like he set up one of his second house and so he had it set up as like a little office so you know can you work in these kind of strange working environments you know can you work from home, you know or do you need more structure, like my husband needs more of a structured office whereas I can work from Mexico or from Taiwan or I can kind of work from wherever but yeah and then after that I’m trying to think where I went next, oh I started my scarf line.
Heidi: Oh yeah, I want to hear about that.
Marissa: Yeah, so I was freelancing and I was doing yeah green apple and then I was also doing stuff for race-ready, I don’t know if you’ve seen them but they’re a super niche running brand all they did was running shorts I’m and they had he’s patented crazy five pockets on the back but you know I was like “oh this is awesome” so I started working for them and I launched my scarf line at the same time when I was working at Lululemon always wanted something like cool me down after our workouts because at Lululemon you know you work out like three times a day at all the different studios and so I wanted something that was really soft. I love Lululemon’s clothes but they don’t have, it’s you know, it’s very synthetic it’s not a ton of cotton and bamboo so I was looking for something you know that you just like drape over yourself and so I started this scarf thing and I called it a Barelli scarf and you know I sourced all the fabric and I got it into about sixty retail outlets about in five different countries.
Marissa: Yeah, so that was a really good learning experience too. I did that over four years but yeah and those a lot of those stores came from the context I made at Lululemon or the ones I made at KActive.
Marissa: So if you stay in the same realm, you know like the same not the same industry but the same like niche fashion then all those contacts you’ve made before you know as long as you’re a good person and you think you’re nice to everybody you know they want to help you out so I would just do a trunk show at some you know at a Pilates studio or maybe get into a yoga studio you know they would start buying it wholesale but yeah so they’ve all like built upon each other.
Heidi: Okay you’ve said so many things that are like I that I want to touch on a part of them were parts of my questions that I already had outlined so let me just go through kind of one by one the first one is that you made the comment earlier and I literally have this on my on my sheet that your personality and like that you can just kind of like mesh with the group and you can work in this odd environment if it’s like out of someone’s house or like on the road or wherever it be and so in one of your bio you had a testimonial and it says her creativity with product and her fun personality was what made her stand out and why I would work with her again and so it’s like being a good designer is really key but people also have to like you…
Heidi: … and so I mean part of that is just your personality at the end of the day we can’t all like each other but like are there any things you feel like you’ve just done to make yourself easy to work with and to get asked back or to you know two years later go out to that buyer who you knew from Lululemon and say hey I just launched my own label and it’s not it’s not competitive to Lulu its complimentary like here’s what I’m doing and she so remembers you and she still likes you I mean what have you have you really done anything strategic to maintain those relationships and be quote unquote easy to work with and have a fun personality?
Marissa: There’s a few things and this sometimes people think this is a bad thing but saying yes to everything you know when you’re at a job this is one of my pet peeves when you ask someone to do something like “oh that’s not in my job description for”, “oh that’s not my responsibility” I think that’s what you learn working for startups is, it’s everyone’s responsibility and so you need to pick up the slack sometimes but people want to hire you again if you can be dynamic and you know take on different pieces of the project without being prepped maybe beforehand but I mean yeah being nice that’s kind of easy to do but yeah being like more of a team player maybe that comes from sports you know like you’re not always gonna be the lead designer you’re not always going to be like the maybe like the main sales rep or you know you’re not always gonna get your name on everything so yeah I think those are like my top things on or that’s what why people have asked me to work for them again cuz I still get reached up you know like brands still will reach out to me from the past.
Heidi: With opportunities?
Marissa: Yeah, or like “oh what are you thinking about this” or I have this idea you know maybe like bounce ideas off each other things like that.
Heidi: And what about kind of the same lines because I know I’ve worked with third-party vendors in various aspects of my work who I ask them to do something and they’re like oh that it can’t be done or we can’t do that like it’s an or no and instead of it kind of goes in line with what you said of just say yes it’s like “you know what let me take a little bit of time to dive into that and see you out and figure out for you and I’ll get back to you in a day or a week or whatever appropriate timeline it may be” but it goes hand in hand with that whole saying yes thing right?
Marissa: Right, yeah like there’s always a way…
Heidi: …that right
Marissa: …or there’s always another factory…
Marissa: …like I run into that a lot with my clients now is you know some of my clients are big some of them are small so the smaller ones they can’t meet the minimums but you know we just keep asking we look at different countries, we look at different states you know like in the US now there’s lots of places now to manufacture here but yeah I do not take no really for an answer ever.
Heidi: Okay, so this leads me I do have a question about sourcing because like you said you work globally all around the world as well as stateside and local so what are some of the really big challenges that you see brands facing with sourcing whether they’re startup or established?
Marissa: Well, it’s funny even if you’re an established brand you know you might be launching a new product so they may have a ton you know maybe in accessories you know a ton of different styles and accessories but when maybe when you’re launching apparel you’re not going to order a big amount you know even if you already have thousands of stores, the buyer is still gonna want to test out your product so I think they all kind of run into the same problem is that fine balance of meeting the minimums of fabric and cut and sew or maybe it’s seamless. I can work it on the seamless project right now too and also like figuring out how are you gonna sell it right like you don’t want to be sitting on inventory but you also don’t want to pay a ton to actually manufacture it so it’s constantly trying to strike that balance of right you know do you have a following yet do you have stores yet if not maybe you know do pay the higher amounts you know to do to get the surcharges for a smaller round of production but I think you know when they’re all kind of starting out if it’s you know it’s usually like with freelancing you’re usually brought on to test something new you know if there’s if it’s already in-house or like if it’s already like a well-known piece of their brand they’re just gonna use someone in-house but usually when freelancers are brought on it’s like okay let’s test you know women so I could be doing really well in men’s let’s test like a small capsule in women’s or we’ve been doing really well on accessories like let’s do apparel so it’s really you know getting to know their customer too and what their customer would actually want to wear with whatever there are wearing of theirs so…
Heidi: …okay you’re doing a phenomenal job of leading me into each of my questions this is amazing because you mentioned there it’s like about getting to know the customer and what they want to wear in conjunction with maybe that other item that they’re already wearing from that brand and so one of the lines on your bio says who are we designing for where is she running where is he spinning what’s in their green smoothie and these are like these are really specific questions like and I love this though because there’s this whole concept of defining an avatar for like who is your customer and so I love how specific you are with these questions and I find that these are things to really overlook and instead just let your own aesthetic drive the design which is important you have your vision you have your nice aesthetic isn’t a designer but that’s only part of the puzzle you really have to work towards designing for what the end customer wants and what she or he is gonna wear and so I’d love to hear a little bit about your research process when kind of discovering this person and figuring out exactly who they are and is this going to work for them or isn’t it going to work for them I think this is great insight I mean for people who are just getting started out it’s something I see with startup designers is that they have this idea and it’s just their own vision and they can get kind of stuck in what they want like how do you take that and marry it with what the market wants and who how do you even define who your market is who is that person what’s in their green smoothie?
Marissa: Right, yeah so Usually, well this is also reason why I’ve stayed an active wear too is because I love working out so I might not play all the sports but I understand like how uncomfortable you can get when you’re running in something that are you running like a half marathon in something that’s soaking wet or like where it’s gonna chase you know I’ve done almost all the sports like I used to do triathlons and step stand-up paddleboarding all before I became a twin mom because you can’t really do those with twins but I always have my clients fill out of like a two-page questionnaire and kind of them defining their customer and then I’ll research what kind of what they give me you know like what age, where is she going you know since the Pilates or yoga brand or a rerunning and then I’ll try to like actually put myself in those areas so then I’ll go to a Pilates class or go to a yoga class or run a race now my races are a lot smaller they’re like three to five miles rather than half marathon but you can still see what everybody’s wearing you know and like what the daughter like a lot of moms the daughters run together it’s like what’s the mom wearing versus what’s the daughter wearing you know figuring out the trends cuz your client is also at looking at you like as an expert you know what’s cool right now you know, what are the trends, what is a buyer looking for I get that question a lot so it’s really dialing down who he or she is and then like building a collection around that and oh it but always keeping in mind like what does the client actually want you know like what colors, what fabric sometimes they’re very hands-on and sometimes they’re very hands-off so you’ll figure that out pretty quickly but some of them need more guidance than others but yeah I always try to have them define their client their customer at the very beginning and then help them hone that down but at least I get you know little pieces of you know who they are or who they’re going after, you know who’s their target customer…
Heidi: …yeah and then you literally put yourself in their shoes and go to those events and classe…
Heidi: …and look around you…
Marissa: …yeah or like if I can’t I just had a football client in Nebraska and Florida and I couldn’t fly out there and you know see this whole highschool crazy football that they’re doing now but it’s it’s not like what you play at school it’s like more of a club sport, but so I went to Dick’s Sporting Goods you know and walked around and it’s like okay what are the other brands doing, you know where do they need compression, where do they need more padding, what is this padding, how can we make it better yeah so it changes every project so you can’t always like actually do the sport but yeah just always asking the client and then I do check out the competitors you know see actually how they’re doing it the construction but then I also always read the reviews online like so say if Nike maybe has like the top compression short well then I read all the reviews and it’s like what’s negative what’s positive like how can we make it better.
Heidi: …and there’s a lot of your market research kind of done for you because those people are definitely pretty brutally honest about what they don’t like.
Marissa: Yeah and then you can see like what size they are you know, how old are they…
Marissa: …it’s like that usually put that on so…
Heidi: Yeah and then you mentioned the buyer too so I just want to touch on this for a minute because a lot of the brands that I work with we work pretty closely with the sales team because those are the people that are in front of the buyers day in day out and they get that feedback so how have you gone about understanding, getting inside the buyers head?
Marissa: That’s been more from experience, so you know when I was selling my scarves the Borelli scarves what were the questions I was getting to the buyer I did a lot of trunk shows and pop-up stores and I had visual merchandising experience from Lululemon so I understand like how the buyer wants it to look in the store you know they want to make sure that it goes with the other pieces that they have in the store so it’s pointing that out to the buyer you know rather than just like here’s my line shape it’s walking them through it like where would you even see it in the store…
Marissa: …you know like oh is it going on a waterfall hanger you know is it being hung up on the wall are you just like actually merchandising it on the shirt on the hanger you know cuz mine was a scarf but it’s thinking about all those things so you constantly have to be watching like what colors you know are good for 2017 or 2018 because you need to make sure that it’s actually gonna like look cohesive in the store…
Heidi: …right, so if neons are really big or like a dusty palette and then you come in with this like florescent thing it’s like that’s just gonna look good even in the corner of the store it’s gonna stand out…
Marissa: …right because the buyer, yeah she wants to make sure everything’s sold…
Marissa: …you know so you have to like constantly point out what are the key features what makes it different you know that and a lot of that was too was from Lululemon we were always like dialing that down with the customers you know like this is what makes it so awesome, this is what I love wearing it you know showing it that way.
Heidi: Yeah, okay so coming back then to your own brand you just said you do that for about four years and it sounds like it was a pretty good success you were in sixty outlets internationally…
Heidi: You go ahead.
Marissa: …yeah it was good it’s just when you have little ones like so I had twins so a twin pregnancy isn’t super easy so I couldn’t like be traveling as much be on my feet as much as I was before when you have your own brand it’s a lot of work and you don’t know how much money you’re gonna be making like each month it’s a little tricky to tell so when you have two little ones at home you know it’s tough to like “oh let me just hire a babysitter” even though I don’t know what I’m gonna be making next month and I took time off to actually you know have the kids so you can’t just bounce back right away or actually funny story I my water broke as I was cutting fabric on the floor…
Marissa: …yeah, so cuz what is your own brand there’s no turn off switch…
Marissa: …I think that’s kind of what I needed when I became a mom the twins was kind of overwhelming.
Heidi: So is that when you kind of said you know I got to put this on hold and focus on my family and then end and freelance?
Marissa: Yeah, because then I can take on projects when I want to and some months are busy and then some months are like you know like oh let’s go on vacation this month okay I’m not gonna work as much…
Marissa: …and I’m like right now my little son oh my goodness he broke his leg last week.
Heidi: I saw the picture.
Marissa: Yes, so sad so but now you know mommy needs to take care of him more whereas if I was in house I don’t know what we would do…
Marissa: …so my husband you know commutes and yeah I think it’s a good, it’s a freelancing is a good job you know if you want to travel or if you want to take more time off or just want the flexibility really it’s just it’s more flexible than it is being in house so…
Heidi: Okay, and I want to talk about that before we get to that I want to just step back to your own collection really quickly because I just have two things I want to touch on obviously you had your kids and that’s a huge life change I mean and for you personally that was the sounds like the biggest reason you said okay I’m going to shell this for now maybe forever but at least for now outside of that what was like the biggest challenge you faced with your own line?
Marissa: I think it was trying to figure out what to focus on when you’re creative and then you start your own brand you tore what I did I tended to create it to focus on more of the creative side of it right so picking out the colors, designing the website, shooting the collection, like sourcing the fabric things like that rather than pushing sales more or like tracking exactly what sold when so I know for next season you know like what to order like it’s better for inventory you know like I hated doing inventory, I hated doing shipping even sales is you know it’s tough you know like every ten stores you call it will probably get one so if you can get a little frustrating and you know the creative side of it was much more fun so yes I did get into sixty retail outlets but I probably should have been at more you know like I should have spent more time doing that. Yeah, that was probably the biggest challenge was you by yourself so I mean I had like a few interns and like I had some part-time people helping me when I was super busy but you don’t have anybody telling you like oh maybe focus here you know like this seems this part of the business is dropping down like maybe you need to spend more time here you know you have to make it up as you go, so I try to I lead like a for all my clients I give them this like two hour call or a meeting you know if they are close enough to me but I call it the apparel startup bootcamp and we do like a zero to six month plan for them and all the things that they should do and like once a week you have a task and by the end then you’re able to launch it so I think I needed more of a roadmap whereas just kind of went into it like you know let me try my own line…
Heidi: And like one week you’re like I just feel like doing this so the next week you just I don’t know it’s all over the place.
Marissa: …right, I’m not a super structured person.
Heidi: So what advice would you give to other people who want to launch their own label like what would be one thing you could say to them that they could walk away from this interview and say okay that’s something I’m gonna focus on doing and that’s gonna help me get to success.
Marissa: Yeah, I would I would stay at your day job for a while until you get it launched I quit my job and then started doing the brand so there’s like a good six months basically you know of time you’re not gonna get paid, like you can’t even sell your product so that’s six months of you know like going through your savings or I don’t know crashing on your friend’s couch whatever you do but if you were working or at least part-time working just like keeping some sort of income then you don’t have to worry about that because at the beginning it’s really just getting a word out there of your brand unless you know already having a huge following which I didn’t nobody knew about me but so it took a little while you know like I think first year sales I did that in one month my next year.
Heidi: Oh wow! Okay.
Marissa: Yeah, it goes pretty quick if you work your little butt off but that first like six months year that’s tough…
Marissa: …yeah, I would stay my husband just asked me that like what would you change…
Marissa: …career, yeah and I was like I would still launch my line but I would have stayed freelancing or I would have stayed at Lululemon or I’ve stayed wherever you know because then you’re still just making those contacts like I’ve always stuck in the same industry so it would have been helpful.
Heidi: And you would have just had to figure out a way to because you know as a let’s say if I wanted to be a startup designer then I would come back with well then I get home from work after I’ve worked 40 hours I’m so tired but I think on some level you like you just gotta figure it out you gotta find the time you know and yeah and I hate to say this like I sound like an old lady nag but I’m gonna turn off the TV, turn off Facebook and like spend two hours a night working on your own thing I think that there are people out there that do it and if you’re passionate and driven enough then you’ll figure it out…
Marissa: Totally or like if you become a mom their moms oh my gosh we you think you don’t have enough time and then you become a parent you’re like oh my god what was I doing my whole life before this because you have zero free time once you once you’re a parent…
Marissa: …so yeah you can find the time yeah two hours your weekends like if you really want to launch it if you really want to do it you can you can figure it out…
Heidi: Figure it out, yeah.
Marissa: …yeah wake up early I’m not an early person…
Heidi: Me either I’d rather stay up till 2:00 a.m.
Marissa: …yeah exactly that’s what I used to do when I first had the boys I started freelancing again when they were three months old and I worked at night…
Marissa: …and my first client was in London so it worked out perfect, yeah.
Heidi: You were working and they were just starting their day.
Marissa: Yeah, so it really works well like I work well with Australia, London cuz I work a lot at night, not anymore no they’re in preschool but yeah.
Heidi: Yeah, okay so then back onto the freelancing thing because this is another like really interesting space in the industry and a lot of people I’ve heard say things like they’re so scared about freelancing you know you never know like where your next job or next paycheck is gonna come from and yes you get this great lifestyle but the two biggest things and I’d love to get your insights on both of these is the security of it like where’s my next gig coming from and how to price how to know if I’m charging too much, how to know if I’m not charging enough how to get a fair wage, basically bottom line so you can tackle each of those in whatever order you like.
Marissa: Yeah, okay let’s do how to price because that was last one you just said.
Marissa: I remember my CPA when I first started freelancing she was like you need to at least be making $60 an hour and I was like why you know like coming from Lululemon where we didn’t make that much an hour and she’s like because you have all your taxes to pay like you have to pay your self-employment tax and you know all the other taxes like I just filed mine and wanted to cry, but yeah I think you need to figure out like what’s your base, you know figure out all the costs of running your business whether you’re incorporated or an LLC I’m sure it depends on what state you’re in but figure out the bottom and then maybe like tack on more because the thing is like with freelancing you might spend extra time on things like QuickBooks you know like you’re running your own business well no one’s paying you for those hours so you have to include that in your hourly rate and I actually do a lot of project based rather than doing it hourly because I’ve had issues of clients not paying me you know if I just did it hourly and I bill at the end of the month and they don’t pay me I’m not I don’t make any of that so if you do a project based I always figure out you know exactly what the client wants before I build like an Excel spreadsheet same exact like really lay everything out like I’m giving you this mini CAD’s and this many views and this many colorways and then I do a project base and I have them do a 50% deposit so and then I start working like I don’t even touch a project unless I get a 2% down anymore so you lease no and that that leads into like how do you know where your next paychecks coming from like you at least know you have 50% and then it makes you work harder to it makes you like to stay on schedule it makes you like deliver it quicker because you want to make the client happy you’ve already set your schedule like I set up a timeline in there and then you know more and you’re not waiting for a paycheck anymore either you know cuz sometimes people pay late you know at people go on vacation people you know aren’t super organized but at least you’re you know what you’re gonna be making those next like two weeks three weeks and then I again I would say like stay it’s your job and save up six months of expenses my husband and I have like six months expenses just like tucked away that’s liquid that I just in case one of us loses our job but I would do that before you actually go into freelancing because you’re gonna have some awesome months where you’re gonna work so much and then you’re gonna have some not so awesome months where maybe like you know one project gets pushed back so instead of freaking out how to pay your rent or your mortgage you know you already have that like tucked away and you don’t need to take on projects that are maybe not ideal for you maybe you’re making less like you don’t want to take on work that’s not a good fit for you and that could be you can’t you’re not making your proper hourly rate or maybe it’s like a field that you have know nothing about and you’re just taking it on to make the money like the clients not gonna be happy you’re gonna be freaking out like just it’s good to like test your knowledge, you know maybe one step at a time but don’t like take a huge jump and just like I would never try to design gowns no, just give me all the active wear I love active wear, yeah that’s six year.
Heidi: Yeah, okay so two questions based off of that so when you’re doing and I’m in the same boat as you I always do project based so when you’re doing project based one of the things I see designers really struggle with is how to come up with that number, how to know whether what that project should cost and you know…
Marissa: I just shrug it all down…
Marissa: Yeah, so like say if it’s a like a woman’s capsule collection. So I’ll do one top one bottom you know one jacket one bra well I know how long it takes me in Illustrator to do that and how long it takes me to research for it I know how long you know a tech pack takes me and maybe this is more because I’ve been doing it for six years freelancing for six years you can kind of gauge how many hours it’s gonna take you and then I just multiply it by the hours…
Heidi: An hour rate that you want to earn?
Marissa: Yeah, because you have to make sure it makes sense for you like and now for me you know I have to pay for preschool and my self-employment tax and all those other things so you have to make sure that it’s actually worth it to work I guess.
Heidi: Yeah, and did you, I mean that perhaps took some time to learn how to not over underestimate what the project really entailed to do your proper research and discovery with your client to figure out exactly what was included also to correctly include that in the proposal and make sure that scope creep didn’t happen which is where your client starts asking for more and more things that weren’t really included but you just keep doing them and then also putting a correct estimate on well I don’t know I think the tech pack has didn’t take me an hour but then in reality it takes you three hours so did you get burned a couple times at the beginning and learn guidance where you’re like “ah! this took me three times as long”.
Marissa: Right, yeah and I still do like if I take on a project that’s a little outside you know my wheelhouse it might take me a little longer like I just did a duffel bag and I hadn’t done a soft good accessory in a while so it took me a little longer but I mean when it’s a project base and you’re doing like four or five different things it’s okay…
Marissa: …you know it’s it’s kind of bound to happen, you’re not going to know everything and maybe being okay with that but and really just start tracking your time to you know there’s almost time tracker apps then it keeps you focused and you can like figure out how long it does actually take you to do the CAD you know and how long does it take you to sit back garment things like that…
Marissa: …so just adding all that up…
Heidi: And those are things you could start tracking at your full-time job just say like alright I’m gonna make some notes how long this task takes me so then when you go to freelance and you’re bidding a project of that caliber you’re like okay well I know it takes me two hours for this and you have a good reference so those are things you could maybe do to plan ahead.
Marisa: …yeah and then to touch upon your um what you call it scope creep?
Heidi: Yeah scope creep. Have you heard that term before?
Heidi: It’s just where you know i give you a proposal I say I’m gonna do this this and this A B and C and then I say I’m gonna do three CAD’s I’m gonna do front and back view just to keep it really simple and then next thing you know your clients asking for like eight revisions and well you know we really want this to be long sleek not short sleeve and and they just asked for all these things and sometimes they’re little and they happen really slowly but the next thing you know it grew into this monster and the scope of the project creeped out of what it was intentionally supposed to be and what you and since you’re charging by project that can be a scary space because that’s where at least…
Heidi: …I mean how do you had that happen and how have you dealt with it ?
Marissa: Yeah, so when I first started that would happen a lot but now at the bottom of the proposal I say anything not outlined in this project proposal and I try to be super detailed you know exactly what they’re getting I even put in like one revision now or one two three you know I kind of talked it through with them sometimes they’re so detailed you know sometimes they’re to give me like hand sketches that I know it’s not gonna be too much back and forth but if I know what’s going if they’re kind of if they don’t have a good vision then I know it’s gonna be probably two or three revisions you know I might include that in there and all included I’ll just tack it on to the project price so I can kind of gauge beforehand or you can write it in there like if you need any revisions they’ll be billed at your hourly rate or you know anything not outlined in this proposal will be billed at my hourly rate and I get questions all the time like what does that mean I’m like okay well you’re asking for two tank tops if you asked me to do a headband or a bra that’s gonna be billed at hourly rate or we go back and do another project I’m totally fine working on project that everything needs to be nailed down beforehand or else yeah you’ll get screwed.
Heidi: And so if you had some of those moments where you’re like all of a sudden they send you an email they’re asking for like five or ten things and it’s not including the proposal and how does that convert have you had that conversation?
Marissa: Yeah, I’m like oh okay this yeah I can totally do this but this is an outlined in the project proposal we’ve never discussed this before it’s either gonna be builds at an hourly rate or and I try to always give them like the option you know or it’ll be this much project.
Marissa: So just like I don’t like being told NO, you know they don’t like being told NO, this is the only way. I try to always give some options.
Marissa: So even with sourcing I do, a lot of sourcing for clients I always try to do a but like give a few different options for a fabric or a button or a factory because you know you can’t you don’t know what’s gonna be in stock like you just always need some a few options.
Heidi: Yeah, I feel like you know, I’ve had those conversations to where I have to pick up the phone I’m like hey you know you’re asking for eight rounds of changes and we really only included three and it can feel like a really hard conversation to have and I think the first couple times you do it it’s awkward but then it gets to the point it’s like you know what this is just business we’re just having a business dialogue and this is what it is and it has to be fair for both parties and you’ve said it so elegantly but it’s something I know a lot of people struggle with especially at the beginning is putting their foot down and saying “no I can do this but here’s how it has to work either one of these two ways.”
Marissa: Right, like I almost always say yes but I’m like this is this is how I can do it.
Heidi: Yeah, I love that right so instead of saying no just saying you know what yes we can make that happen here’s your two options of how to make it happen.
Heidi: Perfect. Okay cool and then the other thing I wanted to talk about and kind of going back to what you said about like you know you get 50% down so that lets you be comfortable for a couple weeks and then you finish the project and then that then you get the next payment and so there’s this idea of like well where’s my money coming from so that gets you through let’s say a couple weeks or maybe through a couple months but like, do you ever worry or like and I know you said you do outreach and networking and stuff and a lot of the clients are just people who you’ve grown throughout your network over and over but are you constantly like maybe, constantly is not the right word but are you actively when you meet with people and you cross people’s paths when you connect with them are you actively saying and reminding them like hey I’m available for freelance or like how are you kind of keeping how are you helping them keep you in the back of their head?
Marissa: Yeah, so I started doing, I send out a monthly newsletter to my current clients and my potential clients and even some of my vendors I put on the list because I’ve become like good friends my vendors and so once a month I send out an email and it’s, I link five top articles about our industry so it could be fabric, it could be you know how Lucy was closing all their doors so-and-so is going public things like that. I’ll link all those articles and just once a month I do like a touch point basically like “hey I’m still here” you know and I’ll at the bottom I’ll do like a new picture of my portfolio just to kind of keep things fresh you know like this is what I’ve been working on like I just did a wearable technology projects I worked on it last year but they just launched this year, so I’ve been using those images and then I just got a wearable technology a new client off of LinkedIn last week. So you know, it’s just it’s keeping in touch you know it’s how they talk about it in marketing touch points but it’s not once a week you know it’s just it’s once a month and then if I go to the trade shows I used to go to O.R and magic and all that you know I just go by and say hi I’m not pitching them constantly I’m just like “hey you know I’m still here, I’m still doing freelance” you know I’m still up my pulse on all the trends and what’s going on and meeting with you know sourcing and like I kind of a touch base that way too but it’s not constantly “hey do you need freelance help,” “hey do you need freelance help” because that’s this annoying.
Heidi: I love the newsletter idea that’s really brilliant.
Marissa: Yeah, is because…
Heidi: Go ahead.
Heidi: No go ahead.
Marissa: They look at you like you’re an expert…
Marissa: …and so it’s showing them but like you’re constantly reading up on it that you are an expert, that you you know what you’re talking about because sometimes you’re a lot I mean when I first started you know I was like 25 so I was younger than most suitable that owned the companies right and so like who are you, why do I need to pay your hourly rate you know I just want to pay you twenty dollars now and you’re like no that’s not we’re gonna pay me you know I’m worth X so the more the more knowledgeable you are then like you can stand behind your hourly rate or your project rate because you know that you know what you’re talking about basically and they don’t always understand that because they might be new to the industry or they might be new to that section of the industry but yeah so it’s like constantly proving your worth I guess, it’s another way to say it.
Heid: No, that’s great and the other way I look at it like the first thing I thought when you said that you send them these five really relevant articles is not only are you showing that you’re an expert in that you’re you’re keeping up with what’s going on the industry, you’re providing them value because they may you know this month this past week whatever timeline they may have just slipped on keeping up on some of the news like as we all know it’s like information overload out there so it’s hard to keep up on everything so you can be that conduit we’re like I’m gonna deliver this stuff on a silver platter to you and I’m just gonna give you these great articles I think these are things you should know about so it’s delivering them great value. So, I’d I want to because I want to step back and really look at this from like if I am in a full-time job and I want to go freelance, okay I like the newsletter is a great idea but like you said that you include current and past clients as well as potential clients or prospects so it would be the best word that you want to work with that you haven’t worked with yet and some on there and are you just like where are you finding these potential prospects potential clients these prospects and how are you adding them to you quote unquote email list and if I didn’t have any clients to start with like how could I maybe think about doing something along these lines?
Marissa: Yeah, I mean I’ve just created this list over the years like I’ve never actually paid for any sort of SEO or Google AdWords or anything like that my website used to show up on the first page of Google because I created active lifestyle consultant website you know almost ten years ago like I set it up a long time ago. So a lot of them have found me but just when I go to trade shows too – I’ll meet people, I pitched a lot at trade shows oh man O.R is intense. I have to like always psych myself up like stretching in the entryway and people are like cuz I’ll go with my vendor friends and like what are you doing I’m like well now I have to walk up to like ten different booths today and they’ve no idea who I am and they think they don’t need my help but have to convince them that I can help their brand so it’s it’s like selling to stores but selling yourself to the owner of the company or maybe the designer or whoever it might be and then you know I just keep in touch with them that way but reaching out you know if you can’t go to the actual shows cuz O.R gets expensive to go to. I would do LinkedIn I’ve never paid for that premium LinkedIn but you know that’s an easy way to do it it’s just so expensive so you can like reach out so you know owners of companies I mean you can just blind contact them on you know from their website and see you know how you can get in that way but…
Marissa: …yeah, it’s just like selling the stores, you know, it’s getting to talk to the right person explaining why you’re different and explaining how you can help them.
Heidi: So can you give me your three to five sentence pitch that you would give you’re in O.R and if you need a little stretching in the background I have this great visual image of you it reminds me of Alec Baldwin from 30 rock if you’re familiar with that episode?…
Heidi: …he psyching himself up in the mirror and he’s doing this little like game dance it’s amazing…
Marissa: I’d totally do that.
Heidi: …but, if you could give me your three to five sentence pitch whether you’re doing it in person or whether you’re doing it in writing like what are you saying to these people?
Marissa: Yeah, so usually okay let’s hold on, I try to like understand the brand at first right? It sound like I’m walking up to a brand and I don’t know anything about them um like MPG Sport okay let’s go back let’s go to them I’ve never actually worked for them but back when I was with KActive I with Kerri Walsh clotheline, she knew someone who worked there so we like we went out one night at a trade show this is like eight nine years ago so this is like the one guy that I know at that brand and yes I follow all these brands on Instagram and like I know who they’re new you know celebrity endorser is and you’re like you could you need some talking points so yeah I guess talking points…
Heidi: Do your research.
Marissa: …yeah do your research, you know like what’s their new collection right now, maybe have something in mind I’m like what to say about it but yeah, so you just go in, oh my god I totally remember doing this to the owner of MGP at O.R last year and I’m like “hey does Blaze still work here I think that was his name” and he’s like “who no he hasn’t” “oh no bill blazer” he’s like “no he hasn’t worked here in so long” and I’m like “oh really” like you know I hung out with him at the O.R show you know back when I was with Kerri Walsh in Bella blah and so you get him talking and then he’s like oh cool and he’s like why are you my booth you have to say like “oh so now I’m freelance Designing. I’m no longer in-house, I work from home and I was wondering if you guys need any freelance help you know I see this awesome new collection like are you guys just gonna stick women’s you know are you guys gonna launch any outerwear next season” kind of getting them to talk about their brands and figure out like what their pain points are like what could what could they go into next you know what do they need help with like maybe their design or just last maybe someone’s on mat leave trying to figure out how you can help them and so you don’t want to just talk about yourself you know it’s not a lot a job interview when you go pitch people you know you always have your resume and your portfolio ready but you don’t need to just like throw that on the counter right away cause really you’re just like they’re trying to meet buyers so you’re there trying to provide help for them just like you know the newsletter I send out we get them talking and see yeah you can help them would be my and then always leave like a card you know show them your portfolio if they want to see it sometimes they want you to come back later just be flexible but yeah I think just like be nice, be personable.
Heidi: Okay, so just sum that up because it was a really good formula. So do your research and have something relevant to talk about that current with like their brand and what they’re currently doing. Let them know that you’re doing freelance and then ask them a bunch of questions about their brand and maybe directions how they thought about doing this or if you thought about doing that and then from there you can just you’re gonna have to win the conversation to see how it goes.
Heidi: Yeah. Oh that’s awesome!
Marissa: Right yeah it’s kind a like insert yourself into this is how I can help you…
Heidi: Yeah perfect.
Marissa: …rather than just blindly “hey I’m a designer”…
Heidi: And this, and this, and this.
Marissa: … I’m looking for a jobs yeah like they don’t wanna hold you. So yeah it’s making it more about them than it is about you.
Heidi: Right and then once you understand where their needs and like you said pain points which is something I’ve not heard many designers say I hear that a lot in the business and marketing world you seem to have a pretty good side of the brain that thinks a lot about that stuff though.
Marissa: Yeah, because you constantly like that that’s how they’re gonna sell it to their buyer…
Marissa: So maybe it’s from having my own brand but you’re consciously thinking about you know how are you gonna stand out in the store and you know what the customer is gonna end up wearing it.
Heidi: Yeah, I love it. Okay, this has been so much fun Marissa I really appreciate your time. I have one last question that I asked everybody at the end of the interview and it is what is one question that you wish people would ask you about working in fashion but never do.
Marissa: I have no idea.
Heidi: Okay, let me give you like here’s would be my answer.
Heidi: So, I think a lot of people think working in fashion like working as a designer like we just frolic in fabric all day and colors right …
Marissa: Yeah, I was thinking about that.
Heidi: …and like I am so much more fascinated not so much more but I’m so fascinated as well with the whole engine like I’m actually really fascinated with the technical and the engineering side of things and like how to turn two-dimensional items and the three-dimensional things that fit on a body and so but no one ever talks about that or like the process of actually sourcing and manufacturing and managing that whole process and so I don’t know if I just stole your answer we can cut my answer out and then you can just answer now.
Marissa: No. so my thing is working in fashion is awesome and it has its perks but it’s just like every other job there’s parts of it that nobody wants to do I mean well some people like accounting but I hate accounting, I hate having to like chase payments I haven’t you know, I don’t want to be in QuickBooks every single day but in order to run your business you need to take care of the business side too so I don’t know probably half of it is creative and the other half of it is measuring and excel so it’s just like almost every other job we’re all just doing data entry and yeah, I’m not just playing with colors and fabric although that’s what I show you on Instagram just the flesh pieces of it but yeah I spend a lot of time just on the computer tracking everything…
Marissa: So, yeah you know I just drives me crazy “oh my job is so boring” you know or like, “oh I wished I would worked in design” it’s like well only half of my job is creative the other half of it is how to get it done basically…
Heidi: And can be super tedious.
Marissa: …yeah, just as boring as your boring part of your job you know like everyone has an exciting part of their job and everyone has a boring part of their job and it’s like focus on the exciting like the part that you love…
Marissa: …rather than complaining about the bad part.
Heidi: Yeah, that’s great! Okay Marissa I’m where can people find you?
Marissa: Yeah, so my website is marissaborelli.com that’s M A R I S S A B O R E L L I dot com and on Instagram, the same and another, on snapchat.
Heidi: Are you snapchatting?
Marissa: Yeah, kind of.
Heidi: Awesome! I will link to all of that in the show notes and then is there anything you’re currently working on that you’d like to share with everyone?
Marissa: I just got back from a week in Taiwan and I was there with a client and we’re doing seamless running apparel and I’m so excited about it because we were at the factories like at the fibre factories, we were at the yarn factories, we were at the seamless factories, I mean it was such an amazing experience being in Taiwan and seeing all that and now I’m back home and doing all the tech packs and the design for it so that should be out probably next year, yeah and then wearable technology that’s like the hot new thing to that I’ve been loving doing.
Heidi: It’s awesome, very cool well thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate you chatting with me today. Thank you for listening to episode 4 of The Successful Fashion Designer Podcast. If you’d like to learn more about any of the resources mentioned in this episode visit the show notes at sfdnetwork.com/4 and since you made it this far you must have liked the episode if you can take 60 seconds to leave a review on itunes it helps the show a lot and makes the podcast easier for people to discover it’s super easy to do and I’d really appreciate it visit sfdnetwork.com/review to leave your rating and thanks for your support and help.