Realities of Being an Independent Knitwear Designer

I've been working as an independent (or freelance) knitwear designer for over a year now. It is definitely my favourite job and career that I've had so far, and one that I want to continue to pursue for a good long time.

For this week's post, I want to talk about the behind-the-scenes of being an independent knitwear designer. I hope to give a small peak into the daily challenges and rewards into this career for anyone who wants to also pursue a career in this field, or turn their passion for designing into a business. There are my personal experiences of working independently in this industry, other designers will have their own stories to tell.

Let's start with the challenges...

The Challenges

1. It's Stressful

Like any other job, stress is a given: whether it's trying to finish a design on time, handling customer complaints or just trying to meet your own expectations.

You really have to learn how to manage your time and when to put down your work. Overworking yourself in order to eliminate the sources of stress, for example, by answering client emails during the weekend, or working more hours than needed hunched over a project, can have devastating effects on your physical and mental health. 

By stepping away from your work, be it having worked a full day's worth or just needing a break, you give your body time to relax and refocus on the task at hand. It's much healthier in the long-run and can help regulate the stress.

2. It's Hard to Predict

Unless you are a big name designer, the best way to determine whether or not your design will be successful is just putting it out on the market (ie. Ravelry) and see what the reception is. You can gauge the interest of your design by posting WIPs, FOs and sneak peaks on social media, but that is highly dependent on your audience following and how interactive they are with your work. 

The tricky thing about managing and running a business is that you can follow all the rules, all the marketing strategies, run a good ad campaign but it doesn't guarantee that knitters are going to buy your pattern. However, don't let this bring you down. Even if a pattern launch isn't go as successfully as you wanted, you still did something that many aspiring designers are too hesitant to do: make your work public. And you add to your online portfolio, which is always a plus.

3. It's Not Super Profitable

Unless you are churning out three to four patterns a month that all do exceptionally well, don't expect to make a living off of designing alone, especially when you are first starting out.

Use the first couple of years to grow and expand, get your name out there and get a solid design portfolio. This does possibly mean juggling designing and another career if you have to (we all have to live). 

4. Expect Rejection

I submit so many design proposals to magazine publications almost every month and I get lots of rejection letters. And that's ok. Rejection is all but a part of being a designer - it's how you handle the rejection that matters. You can send it in to other publications or self-publish it: just don't get discouraged.

Plenty of talented designers get rejected all the time - and the ones you see in almost every knitting publication (*cough*Bristol Ivy *cough*), there is a good chance that when they were starting out they got lots of "No"s as well. But they continued to design and persevere and look where they are now!

This is only a slice of the challenges that independent knitwear designers face. However these shouldn't deter you from pursuing a career in this field as 1) every job has its downsides and 2) the rewards from this career in particular easily make up for the negatives.

The Rewards

1. You are your own boss

To help offset the stress comes the ability to determine how you run both your brand and yourself. You set your own schedule, your own deadlines. You can take your lunch break whenever you want, take a day off if needed. You assess your own abilities, set your own goals and benchmarks.

This does require a good amount of self-determination and really sticking to a schedule, but you are allowed to give yourself flexibility.

2. You make amazing connections

One of the most important parts of running a business is networking. Designers are no different: you have to develop relationships and increase your social media outreach, especially if you want to grow your brand name.

The connections formed with the knitting community, whether it is other knitters, designers, yarn shop owners or yarn makers, really can make or break your business. But know that it is more than just people recognizing your name, it's knowing the person behind the logo.

That said, I think the knitting community is truly a special one. Because many of the designers, yarn makers and yarn store owners are also small businesses, we all understand the importance of developing a strong community and a fostering a sense of unity. Thus making friends and reaching out has not only been easy and welcoming, but also very rewarding. Collaborations, mentorships, friendships... You can develop life-long connections!

3. You learn new skills

Yes, outside of learning how to knit and design, you learn valuable business skills like networking, copywriting (which I'm still learning), content marketing, how to run an effective social media campaign, etc.

Unless you went to school for business or marketing, you learn everything as you go. The experience you gain from developing and nurturing your brand is invaluable. While you do have to do some outside research on these topics in order to accelerate the growth of your business, these skills are easily transferable into any career field.

But it's not just business skills that you learn, you also develop your social skills. As an introvert, I am very shy when it comes to reaching out to people, even over email, and handling customer inquirers is often stressful (especially when its related to a pattern). However I have learned how to better communicate with people, push myself outside of my comfort zone and better manage myself when I am in a stressful situation.

4. It's extremely rewarding

Despite all the challenges that this career brings, nothing brings me more joy than seeing knitters from around the world knitting my patterns and posting their FOs online with big smiles on their faces. It makes me extremely happy when people leave wonderful words on my patterns, talk about my designs with their friends and interact with me on a daily basis on my social media. It truly makes my job worth it.

In the comments below, share your challenges and rewards of being a knitwear designer! If you found this article insightful, share it with your friends!