My Journey to Becoming a Knitwear Designer: 4 Lessons I Learned

This week I was asked if it was financially possible to work full-time by just designing and selling patterns. This was a really good question, as it made me take a step back and elevate my journey. While I do sell e-books and e-courses to help aspiring designers make their first steps into the design world, my passion and joy lies in designing. Since the beginning of myjourney I have been working to be 100% financially independent just from my design work. I would say that I’m 70% there. I’m definitely making much better revenue than I did last year, but I still have progress I want to make before I would even feel comfortable teaching other people how to do the same. So instead, I’m going to share with you MY journey and insights, and what changes and decisions I made that took my business to the next level.

1.           Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook

This is the title of a book by Gary Vaynerchuk. He’s loud, energetic, foul-mouthed and abrasive, but he knows what he’s talking about. I read this book last summer and it changed how I saw everything. The basic premise is don’t seek to be successful, seek to be valuable. Give value to your tribe. Give to your community—more than you ask back. For me, it’s free patterns; challenges; creating tutorials; ensuring my patterns are well-written, to make sure knitters are successful; writing these blog posts; etc. Everything I did from that point forward, I did with the goal of providing some sort of value to my community.  

2.           Take risks

Submitting to magazines is SCARY, because rejection hurts! I’ve submitted more designs than I can count and have only been published a handful of times. But one magazine that I’ve been published in has given me many opportunities, many of which I would not have had if I had not sucked up my fear and submitted a design proposal to them. That’s how I met my mentor, Kara, editor of Creative Knitting, who introduced me to many wonderful people and businesses when I went to the fiber trade show, earlier this year. 

Creating my 5 Shawls, 5 Days challenge was a risk because I had no idea if this was something that people wanted. I was scared that no one would bite or it would just fizzle. If I had listened to those fears, I would never have known how viral the challenge would go! When I introduce myself to people and mention my IG handle, they immediately associate me with this challenge. Yes, I’ve had plenty of ideas, which I have implemented before, that didn’t work out. However, it only takes one successful idea that will make you think that it was all worth it. 

3.           Know it’s long-term

Success doesn’t come overnight. Building a business takes time. There’s investment you have to make before it starts paying off—don’t quit your day job until you feel you have enough momentum to do so! I’ve been doing this for two years and I’m finally feeling like I’m making a name for myself. Two years sounds like it’s a long time, but honestly, it’s gone by so fast! I look back to where I was one year, then two years ago and I feel really proud of myself for the distance I’ve been able to travel since then. Break your long term goals into smaller, manageable goals. For example, setting 90 day goals is a great place to start—working bit by bit over the months to reach these goals is really good for keeping motivation up!

4.           Build your email list

Email lists are still the #1 way to really make decent money these days, even over social media like Facebook and Instagram (though you CAN make it work there too). You don’t need a BIG email list, you just need a strong one. Provide plenty of value and incentives for people to sign up for your email list (it doesn’t have to be just free patterns) and nurture that list through valuable content. There are plenty of resources online that can teach you how to do this much better than I can, but I will say that having a strong email list really helped grow my business.

 

I want to end this entry with a post I wrote in my Facebook group yesterday, as I was looking over the initial design concepts from my participants.

The thing about starting at the beginning is that we are often inspired to start by those who are at step 20. 10. Or 5.

We begin with our wonderful idea! ‘Oh, it’ll be a crescent shawl with intricate lace shaping!’ And then we go our way trying to figure it out.

Then we get discouraged. It’s out of our comfort zone, but we associate that with *designing* being much too out of our comfort zone.

In order to get to step 5, we need to get to steps 1, 2, 3 and 4 first.

I like to think of our growth in designing as the way we are taught math.

The designers that we see and admire are in Calculus. We haven’t even learned how to add yet.

We look at the calculus homework and think (rightfully so) ‘This is way too hard. Math is hard!’

No, it’s not! But we want to get from zero to 20 immediately. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

Designing is a long-term game. Start simple. Learn the process. Practice it over and over. Go to the next level. Practice that. Then the next, and the next and the next, etc.

My first design is the yellow cowl you see on the left. Such a simple design, so elementary but it made me feel SO GIDDY like, wow, I made this on my own! It gave me a confidence boost that I needed to try another cowl design but with something a bit more fancy.

But if I had tried to make the pullover on the right (which I designed two years later?). I would have never have gotten to where I am now.

Embrace the beginnings. Embrace the simple and easy. A year from now, you’ll be glad you started.