Karen LePage is a freelance patternmaker and grader who specializes in size inclusivity and sustainability. She’s also a fit consultant, a sewing and fit teacher, an author, and a mom. Karen broke into the industry without going to fashion school, and she has built a thriving freelance business doing meaningful projects for clients she loves. In this episode of the Successful Fashion Designer Podcast, Karen shares how she did it, and how she’s found happiness in an industry where she never felt she belonged.
Karen LePage started sewing when she was just 5 years old. By middle school, her difficulty finding garments that fit right had led her to start making her own clothes.
Although she loved sewing and was passionate about personal style, Karen didn’t see a place for herself in the “Fashion” industry. She didn’t see herself as an artist, and couldn’t find any fashion programs that focused on inclusivity for normal people rather than the runway aesthetic that had excluded her in the first place. She didn’t want to pursue a creative role, and back then she didn’t know that technical designers and pattern drafters were also an important part of the industry.
So she kept sewing and enjoying her passion for clothing while she took some college classes in economics and German, and worked in unrelated jobs.
But when Karen’s first child showed sensory processing issues that meant store-bought clothing didn’t work for them, Karen’s passion for creating inclusive garments was renewed. She took what she learned from creating clothes for her own child and wrote her first book, Sewing for Boys.
From there, she started to develop a following for her patternmaking and sewing expertise.
As Karen learned more and more skills so she could help the people who were reaching out to her, she finally realized that this was what she should be doing for a living. She had just had her second child, and she took advantage of a buyout from her job to stay home and dive head-first into learning everything she could about the science of fit, how to create patterns for other people to use, and drafting patterns and flats digitally.
Over the decade+ since then, Karen has built strong relationships with generosity and quality work. And she’s grown from one good client to a full-time business. She only takes projects she’s passionate about and which align with her values of sustainability and inclusivity. She’s fulfilled, and proud of what she does.
If you enjoyed this episode, check out episode 117, How to quit your full time fashion job and start freelancing!