How I Became A Fashion Designer while Working A Full Time Job (in an unrelated field)

I wanted to be a fashion designer since I was a little kid – but it always felt like just a dream. In high school, I made a lot of my own clothes and was always trying to be different. When it came time to consider college, going to fashion school didn’t even cross my mind – I guess it just didn’t seem like a viable option. Instead, I went on to study graphic design, marketing and Spanish. That seemed much more practical.

Eventually, my obsession with being a designer outweighed any sense of what was practical, and I decided to give it a go.

I was scared and nervous.

But I knew what was in my heart and I had to follow that (and if I hadn’t, I’d probably still be stuck in a mediocre job that I hate).

This isn’t some fairy tale story. It involved a lot of hard work, risks and some super scary moments, but if I had to do it all over again, I would – the only thing I would have done differently is to have taken action sooner.

So, here is my story.

My college education was not cheap.

I went to a private school, which you may know means lots of moolah. I luckily did get some academic scholarships that offset the cost, but the total bill for that 4-year education would make your stomach drop. I studied graphic design with a double minor in Spanish and marketing, and graduated with honors. I was an exemplary student.

And then I got a job. As a receptionist.

At the moment, I was excited to have a job. But as time went on, the truth set in.  I had a 4-year college degree from a well known (and very expensive) private school, and I was working in an administrative position. It was not challenging, stimulating or rewarding, nor was it using any of the skills I spent so long refining. I spent the better part of my day answering the phone, filing papers: I was bored and unhappy.

I felt defeated, frustrated, and cheated by my worthless college degree.
And even worse, I was embarrassed about my situation.

I had to do something more with myself.

After a while, it occurred to me that I had a lot of free time on my hands, and that is often the missing ingredient for why people don’t do things – they are too busy. I was, luckily, in the opposite position. I had a full time job and still had a lot of time (remember – I was sitting at a desk all day answering phones keeping myself very bored).

I knew I had to get out of this funk, that I had so much more to offer than this.

I had to follow my heart and tackle my dreams.

So I put my booty into gear.

At night and on the weekends I spent most of my time learning how to sew, draft patterns, drape and design. You think I didn’t sit in my studio at midnight on a Friday while my friends were out partying quietly wishing I was with them? That I didn’t wish I could spend my Saturdays out shopping or lounging? I did – I wanted that very badly.  But what I wanted more was to be a fashion designer and I knew that I had to dedicate every free moment to designing.

I wasn’t sure how I would turn this passion into something given that I lived in Denver, CO (not the easiest place to find a fashion design job) and my degree (and work experience as a receptionist) had nothing to do with fashion, but I was determined to give it my best effort.

Without the proper degree, I decided I would tackle this DIY style.

I already had really strong computer skills and had a base skill set in Illustrator (my degree was in Graphic Design), so I was ahead of the curve on with that.  The rest of knowledge that I lacked, I figured out on my own by scouring the internet for research. I found a local seamstress to give me sewing lessons, and then discovered a vocational school with affordable pattern drafting classes. I found online sources to print back neck labels and hangtags. I researched local art fairs and markets where I could set up shop and sell my designs. I discovered some local fashionistas and started connecting them.

At night and on the weekends I sewed and created, and during my 9-5 work day I did all the leg work and research to figure out how to make this happen.

And then I felt defeated.

I vividly remember the first market I participated in to sell my designs. The disappointment and failure I felt is still palpable as I write this now. My mom had flown out from San Diego to help me, and we got up at the crack of dawn to drive to Boulder, CO and set up my tent. I had tons of inventory and was very proud of my designs – mostly repurposed items like men’s western shirts converted into skirts and the like. I thought it was a perfect match for the Boulder clientele, but I was wrong.

At the end of that very long day and countless hours of prep work (not to mention money to get my “show” rig together for the first time), I hadn’t even made enough sales to pay for lunch. I felt like I had disappointed not only myself but also my family. I was a college grad, working as a receptionist and trying to make it as a fashion designer…who couldn’t even sell one $40 skirt.  There was so much hype and excitement and my hopes for success were high. And just like that, I had failed.

But I got back up and tried again.

After continued encouragement from family and friends and a growing determination to make this work, I kept on trucking. There continued to be many ups and downs, small successes and big failures, but I did not give up.

I finally discovered a new market to sell at called Fashion Denver. It was a perfect match for what I was trying to do – sell my own designs – and my hopes were high. I knew right away that what dreamer / doer Brandi Shigley was doing for the Denver fashion community was just what we designers needed.

And in one weekend, I made $2000.

The show was a success and the excitement I felt was indescribable. People liked my designs, and even better, they were willing to spend their hard earned money on them!

So what came next?

I ultimately took the advice of “leap and the net will appear.”

And then I quit my job. BEST. DECISION. EVER.

This was my first big jumping off point, and it was scary and nerve wracking and stressful, but was truly the best thing I ever could have done.

Over the coming months, I worked my booty off designing, marketing and selling my collection. It was tough financially, but I wanted it so badly that I knew I had to make it work. And them something magical happened.

The experience I gained while having my own fashion label, combined with the computer savvy skills I had from my Graphic Design degree, made me a highly desirable candidate for fashion design jobs, and out of the blue, I got an offer I couldn’t turn down.  I was hired on as a full time fashion designer for a lifestyle apparel company, and I knew I was finally doing what I was meant to do all along, what I had craved in my heart to do for so many years. I had landed my dream job.

After a few weeks on the job, it became quite clear why I had been such a desirable candidate, and it was due not only to my creative eye but my savvy computer skills. This is where I stood out from fashion school grads, and where I had a leg up. The hiring manager had been quite impressed with what I had done on my own to create my own fashion line and that combined with my computer savvy easily landed me the position.

The rest is history (well, not totally, but I’ll save it for another post). The point is, I was in a bad spot, down in the dumps, and I got myself out of it and into my dream job. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth every bit of effort – it got me to where I am today, which is in a pretty amazing place.

Now, I want you to ask yourself:

Are you stuck in a boring & uninspiring job?

Don’t put up with it – life is too darn short.  Here are my biggest takeaways on how to jump from an uninspiring job to landing my dream job.

  1. Harness Free Time: Instead of sitting at that receptionist desk and floundering or fiddling around online, I dug in deep to learn and discover everything I could about following my dream. I know, we’re all busy – but I guarantee if you want something badly enough, you will find the time. You may have to sacrifice – skip happy hour or that weekend girls trip – and spend time learning and creating. I guarantee it will pay off.
  2. If You Fall Down, Get Back Up: I’ve had more failures than I can count, but I’ve learned a ton from all of them and I’ve always gotten back up and tried again.
  3. Do It Now: Of all the ventures I’ve done in my life (there have been and will continue to be many), I’ve never once looked back and thought “I wish I waited to do that later.” I’ve only ever looked back and thought “I wish I did that sooner.” There’s no better time to start than now, so get going – it’s never too late (or too early).
  4. A Solid Support Network: You are the product of the 5 people you spend the most time with. Don’t surround yourself with people who bring you down or are always negative. Instead, spend time with those who encourage you to be the best version of yourself. Thank you to my parents, sister, husband and many others for this. I would not be where I am without you.

*I do not suggest you neglect your job duties to pursue your own interests, or put your job at risk while you realize your dream. I was in a position that allowed me to surf the internet or read a book – so long as I physically sat at that desk, answered the phone and greeted visitors. Your work set up may not allow for this, in which case I suggest you re-read bullet #1 above for some suggestions on how to find more time – we all have it, it’s just a matter of prioritizing 🙂

You can read more about my inspiration for this post here.


Heads Up: We use cookies to customize your experience and track how you interact with our site to serve you better.    OK     more info