Realities of Being a Knitwear Designer (Part Two?)

Warning! Rambly post where I'm not entirely sure what point I'm trying to get at! 

I'm feeling really compelled to write this after reading Woolly Wormhead's very vulnerable and transparent post about being a successful designer but still living below the poverty line. 

This is a tricky topic to talk about since it involves money.

I certainly hope I didn't give anyone the wrong impression, but I am not making heaps and heaps of money from my design work (I did talk about the realities of being a knitwear designer at one point). Now whether's that's because I have only been at this for about a year or not that I'm not rolling in dough, I cannot say. 

Left: What you probably think I'm like. Right: What I'm actually like.

Left: What you probably think I'm like. Right: What I'm actually like.

I first started designing as a hobby. I was working a part-time job at a bakery in the States - I couldn't work a full-time job because of the time frame: I was only going to be in the States as long as I needed to get my American citizenship, and then I would be moving to Japan to be with my husband. I had picked up knitting at the beginning of the year, but that quickly shifted from knitting other people's designs to creating my own. I had always had a tough time following other people's instructions and I loved playing around with stitches and see what would happen. Designing was a good way to pass the time and I was having tons of fun with it.

When I moved to Japan, we found out that I couldn't work there either because of visa restrictions. However, I was able to work as a PR manager online through some old connections. The downside, it was not a job I enjoyed, it was extremely stressful and the pay was not worth it (just a bit above minimum wage). I continued designing on the side as a way to calm me down (remember, designing was still a hobby at this point).

Dramatic Renactment of my Inner Struggle. PITY MEEEEEEEE (no, please don't).

Dramatic Renactment of my Inner Struggle. PITY MEEEEEEEE (no, please don't).

It was in January 2015 when I decided I would shift from designing as a hobby to designing full-time independently. I had gained some traction from my earlier works, my social media following was slowly growing and I was creating designs that I was really proud of and excited to share with the community.

And it's here that I want to mention some of the circumstances that allowed me to make this shift. Even though we live in Japan (which is known for not being a cheap place to live) and my husband makes a teacher's salary, we live in a very cheap place. However, we had to default on my husband's college loans until we returned to the States. It was a choice between saving up money to help us get settled when we return and enjoy the remaining time we have here (which I should say here, living in isolation is NOT fun, so it is really important for us to get out of the house or risk falling into depression. Fun!) or be miserable, be stressed about out financial situation when we move back and end up just paying off a small amount of that monster loan. My husband completely supported me in my design endeavours because we had some of that financial leeway.

The point is, designing isn't and doesn't have to be a full-time endeavour. Don't quit your day-job. It's ok to have it as a part-time gig or just as a hobby. You design because you LOVE it, because it's fun, because it's a great mode for self-expression. It's completely fine and normal, starting your design biz and wanting to make money. Even when it was still a hobby of mine I still thought it was cool to make some bucks off of it. If you want to make the jump to designing full-time, make sure you have your house in order. 

Making a living of design work is hard, but not impossible. It can take years before you see the financial rewards of running an online biz. And I think mindsets play a huge part here. I'm a strong believer in positive affirmations. Read up on successful entrepreneurs and you'll find that mindset - having your head in the game, not listening to naysayers, believing in yourself and the hard work you're putting in will pay off - plays a huge part to their success.

And sometimes you'll trip.

And sometimes you'll trip.

And there are successful designers who are able to make a living off of their design work. They believed that they could, worked hard to make it happen (you have to be creative and do lots of reading up on online and social media marketing) and are seeing the fruits of their labors. This is one reason why I really appreciate Robin Hunter's weekly interviews with designers on Ravelry. They share some really great tips and insights and an overwhelming majority of them say, "If you want to pursue a career in designing (or even just want to design as a hobby), don't feel like you have to quit your day job. Have fun, work hard, it takes time to see results, but it is so worth it".

So while making a living off of designing independently is hard, it is not impossible. But if you find yourself having to work and having your design career as a part-time thing so you don't have to stress over finances, that's ok and I give you permission to do so.

I'm writing this post to hopefully give you some insight of the struggles and realities of being an independent designer. That said, I don't want this to turn you away from pursuing a passion project, especially if you're wondering about making the transition from knitting to designing.

Doing what you love is important, but doing what you need to do to get by is even more so.

And that's ok. 

(And to everyone else: thank you for your continued support of small businesses and independent designers. We really appreciate it.)


Thanks for taking the time to read this. This was a really off-the-cuff type of post as I felt really inspired to write about this so apologies if my thoughts were difficult to follow. This is why I am so dedicated to empowering aspiring designers. I know how frustrating it is to not have enough extra cash to spend on supplies, not knowing where to look for help for growing your biz, feeling like you're just putting your work out there and no one is listening.

Yeah, one of my goals to make enough $$$ to live comfortably and help pay off my husband's loans doing what I love, probably just like you, but that's why I put out sooooo much free and (hopefully) valuable content for you. To show you the do's and don'ts, to help you!

What are your thoughts and experiences on this topic? I would love to hear them and start a discussion on how we can best support indie biz's!