As the pandemic normalized remote work, there has been an increase in opportunities for freelancing in fashion. If you’re thinking about being a freelancer, it’s important to know the pros and cons. Like anything in fashion, including having a job or starting a clothing line, there are advantages and disadvantages.
If you’re unsure whether a career as a freelance fashion designer is worth it (and right for you), we’ll cover that too.
(Spoiler alert: freelancing in fashion is 100% worth it. I know from my first hand experience of growing my decade+ long freelance career to $100k+ a year. And I also know from the ~500 students inside my program, Freelance Accelerator: from Surviving to Thriving (FAST).)
But first, let me define what a freelance fashion designer is (and isn’t). Because there’s A LOT of confusion about this in our industry.
A freelance fashion designer works with a variety of brands offering any number of services from flats to design to tech packs to patternmaking to product development to sourcing to consulting and beyond.
Freelancers work remote (with the occasional exception for on-site meetings if the client happens to be local) on their own schedule. They set their own hours and figure out their own rates. Freelancers have extensive freedom and flexibility.
A freelancer is NOT someone who works full-time for one brand, is required to show up on-site 40hrs a week, and looks / acts like an employee without getting any of the benefits. While the fashion industry calls this “freelancing,” these are really just temp jobs in disguise. I call it permalancing.
This type of “freelance” work is massively beneficial to the brand and massively abusive to you. It’s not the type of freelance work I talk about or condone.
Instead, I’m talking about true, remote work where you – the freelancer – are in charge.
If you have lots of questions, you’re not alone! So let’s talk about the pros and cons of this kind of work.
Every career in fashion has its pros and cons. Let’s talk about what they are for freelancing so you can decide if this path is worth it and right for you.
There are 3 big pros to being a freelancer in fashion. Freedom and flexibility, work with brands you love, and earn as much money as you want.
It sounds like a fantasy life, but from firsthand experience and success stories from the ~500 students inside FAST, I’m telling you it’s possible.
Let’s look at each pro in detail.
Have freedom and flexibility (to work when and where you want).
Most people don’t love being required to show up in the office 9-5 (or more like 7a-11p in fashion). As a freelance fashion designer, you don’t have to.
Freelancers have the freedom to work whenever and wherever they want. You can schedule your day around your family, like FAST grad Amy Barnhart who’s a full-time mom and fits freelance work in during naps and after bedtime. You can travel whenever you want, like FAST grad Katerina Dimovska who splits her time between Macedonia and Italy.
You truly get the leisure of working wherever and whenever you want, whether that’s in a bikini on the beach in Mexico (done that) or in your pajamas on the couch (done that too).
The flexibility is priceless not only to travel, spend time with your family and work in your jammies. But this freedom also allows you to work when creativity strikes instead of being confined to a company schedule. Want to work at 2am when you’re full of ideas? Do it. Are you more productive after a morning yoga class? Get your exercise in first.
The lifestyle advantages of freelancing are so, SO, SO worth it.
Do work you love (not just what’s dumped on your plate).
Most of us got into the fashion industry because we’re passionate about design and clothing. As a freelancer, you get to choose projects you love.
Obsessed with sustainability? Choose brands that align with your ethics, like FAST grad Mari Medina who exclusively does sustainable sweater design. Determined to rid the world of wasteful fast fashion? Pick projects that share this goal, like FAST grad Alison Hoenes who does patternmaking exclusively for slow womenswear brands.
Choosing the work you do (and don’t do) not only fuels your passion, it gives you the power to have a bigger impact on the industry as a whole. Considering fashion contributes considerably to pollution and global warming, it’s a pretty big opportunity to change that.
Earn unlimited income (like way more money than a full-time job)
As a freelancer, your earning potential is unlimited. #srsly
Want to work part-time but still rake in the cash? You can do it, just like FAST grad Eleni Apostolopoulou from Greece, who works just 10-16hrs a week and consistently makes $3-4k a month.
Determined to earn more than your $27k/yr associate designer salary? You can 5x your income, like FAST grad Alexandra Agreda who earns more in one day of freelancing than she did in 2 weeks at her previous industry job.
I know most of us didn’t go into fashion for the money, including me, but earning more sure is a nice perk. We have tons of FAST grads who are massively outearning their previous full-time income, and you can do it too.
There are 3 big cons of being a freelancer in fashion. You gotta do some business stuff, you’re responsible for your own benefits, and you’ll be juggling multiple projects.
For some people these are deal killers. So let’s look at each one a little more closely to see how they may impact you.
Handle business stuff (like pricing, invoicing, contracts, proposals and taxes).
Lots of people are really overwhelmed by the business side of things when it comes to freelancing in fashion. But I’m here to tell you that it’s not actually as scary as you think. Most people overcomplicate this!
There are strategies to set your rates and negotiate. There are simple contracts you can use to protect yourself. And there are ways you can make sure you get paid.
Regarding taxes in the US (every country works differently, so do your research!), you will be responsible for paying them yourself. Which means a portion of your paycheck will go to the government, and you’re in charge of figuring out the percentage. (Your tax rate will depend on how much you make, where you live, if you have any dependents (e.g. kids), etc.)
I interviewed an accountant on the SFF podcast, and he shares some great tips that apply to business owners, whether you’re starting your own brand or becoming a freelancer. You can listen to that here.
Beyond that, you can use free tools like TurboTax or similar to figure out how much you owe. It will walk you through step by step to calculate your dues.
The one thing you want to do is set aside some money for taxes. If you earn $5000 a month, you won’t be keeping the entire $5000, so don’t go spending it all! Some quick googling will tell you how much to set aside for federal taxes and state taxes based on your projected income. Here’s a great chart from NerdWallet, a reputable financial blog.
My general rule of thumb, depending on how much you plan to earn your first year as a freelancer, is to set aside 20% of your income for taxes. As you grow, that number will increase.
(This is also why you can’t just take your hourly rate as an employee and use it as your hourly rate as a freelancer. You have to add some padding!)
Aside from taxes, the reason the business side of freelancing feels overwhelming is because there aren’t a lot of great resources for fashion freelancers out there. Which is why we include all the essential business templates you need for freelancing inside FAST, as well as an expert interview with a lawyer so you can learn how to protect yourself.
It’s why one of our super successful FAST grads, PK from India, was able to turn her freelance career around and build a small agency with other freelancers.
“It was a long struggle, because I had the skills to design, but I did not know how to deal with clients, how to get paid, how to be successful..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.”
One last thing about the business side of freelancing…lots of people are scared about not getting paid. Of course this can happen, but in my 10+ years as a freelancer, I never once got stiffed on an invoice. And of the ~500 students inside FAST, I only know of one freelancer who was unable to collect on an invoice. She adjusted her invoicing process using our strategies, and she’s gotten paid for everything since.
Be responsible for your own benefits (health insurance, time off, etc)
Probably one of the biggest downfalls of being a freelancer is being responsible for important benefits like health insurance and paid vacation / sick leave.
Depending on what country you live in, this could have a bigger or smaller impact on you. For example, in the US, individuals are responsible for their own healthcare. If you do not get it through your employer, then you have to pay for it yourself. It can be quite expensive! If you live in a country with socialized healthcare, this may not matter to you.
Alternatively, if you have a spouse or partner who gets healthcare through their employer, you are likely qualified to be on their plan.
For things like paid vacation and sick leave, as a fashion freelancer you are responsible for building this into your rates and your schedule. It’s why you can’t just take your full-time salary and translate it directly to your freelance rate.
To make sure you charge a rate that will give you enough padding for benefits and vacation (and taxes!), use my free rate calculator.
Juggle multiple projects (because you’ll work with more than one brand)
A lot of people feel overwhelmed by the thought of managing multiple projects. As a freelancer, you will have to. If that seems crazy hard or not the way you want to work, freelancing just might not be for you.
But a lot of freelancers actually love the ultimate result of this. Because while yes, you’re juggling multiple tasks and deadlines and it may take you some time to figure out systems or tools to keep it all straight (I love Asana)…
One of all of our FAST grads love is the opportunity for a diverse workload. Getting to work on a variety of projects can be very fulfilling and worth the tradeoff of managing the load.
If this feels like a deal killer for you, let me share a quick story.
One of our FAST students, Krystal Lewis, got on a 1:1 strategy session with me to talk about her project overwhelm. Turns out, she was overwhelmed because she had 15 clients in 15 (FIFTEEN!!!) different niches. She was jumping around from hunting to yoga to golf and beyond and it was impossible for her to keep things straight.
This is a great recipe for overwhelm. It’s the best way to burnout and quit freelancing.
And it’s exactly why I suggest choosing a niche – not only will it make your life as a freelancer easier, it actually helps you attract more clients.
Let’s do a quick recap so you can decide if being a freelance fashion designer is right for you!
With all these pros and cons…
In my opinion based on my own experience (after launching a fashion brand I grew to hate and working for an abusive employer) freelancing is 100% worth it. But beyond my personal career (I’m just one person), being a freelance fashion designer is totally worth it based on the experience of ~500 of our FAST students.
I do believe that fashion can be a good career, as long as you choose the right path for yourself.
Still not sure? Hit play on the SFF podcast to listen to real life stories from aspiring and successful freelancers around the world. It’ll give you a firsthand look at what freelancing is really like.
Ready to get started? Grab our best freelance resources!
YOU GOT THIS!