I talk to 'Sew Heidi' the woman behind the brand "Successful Fashion Designer" about how she started and the pitfalls and advice she can give to new designers.
I first got to know Sew Heidi on Instagram, and loved, that we both shared an obscene amount of appreciation for excel formulas for writing up Tech sheets. And whilst I usually interview the people behind their lingerie brands, Sew Heidi has wise words for anyone in the fashion industry; whether you're just starting out or are already involved within the fashion trade; her knowledge, tips and advice on Illustrator and the industry is invaluable.
1. Firstly can you give a brief description of 'Sew Heidi'?
SH: In 2004, I felt “all grown up” with a very expensive degree in my hands. I was over the moon to graduate. And then I found myself stuck in a boring administrative gig that I was totally overqualified for. **(To be totally inspired on why you should follow your dreams and the hardship it sometimes takes, please take the time to read the link).**
With no fashion experience and “receptionist” on my resume, I didn’t feel qualified to work in fashion, so I DIY’d it and launched my own label. It took 3 years but I finally landed my dream job as a designer because of my Illustrator skills and the work I’d done with my brand.
Once in that job, I realized students coming out of fashion school didn’t have Illustrator experience - which was crazy to me away since that was a huge reason I got the job. So, I started making Illustrator for fashion videos on YouTube. That turned into real life workshops. And that turned into online courses, a podcast, and a lot more I never would have imagined.
The name Sew Heidi originated back when I had time to sew. While I’ll still always go by that name, I just rebranded to Successful Fashion Designer. My number one goal is to help people find success in this crazy industry, so the switch was a no brainer.
2. Who inspires you?
SH: Passionate people who put themselves out there. The older I get, the more I've realized there are too many people who go through life numb. The fashion industry is not where you find these people. If you're driven and determined, you are an inspiration to us all to get out there and do something.
3. What makes something worth designing?
SH: I appreciate fashion for fashion’s sake, but I lean towards designing practical, functional pieces that have fashion added to them. Great trims, subtle details, style lines, and prints can add style to every day items. But first and foremost it has to be practical and comfortable for its purpose - because if it’s not, it’ll never make it into my closet…and I think most people feel the same about what they wear.
4. What three things would you say is hard about designing on Illustrator?
SH: 1. The initial learning curve and understanding why things work they way the do can be tough. 15 years later, I still remember the “aha!” moment I had in Illustrator when the light bulb went off and I finally “got it”! It’s a hard place to get to, but once you get over that hump, things become much easier to learn and understand. Finding the right teacher with the right teaching style for you is key to getting there, otherwise you’ll get frustrated and give up.
There are a lot of tutorials that tell you step by step how to do something, and you’ll get a result. You may even be able to replicate that a few times on your own. But as soon as something goes wrong - which it always will, you can’t troubleshoot and your frustration peaks. Understanding why the software (and tools) work is critical to gaining confidence and success. Once you understand, you can figure anything out.
2. Doing things the long way, because that’s the only way you know. There are a lot of ways to do the same thing in Illustrator, and I often see designers doing things a roundabout way because that’s what they know. As a result, most designers are frustrated that “things take FOREVER!”. The challenge is that “you don’t know what you don’t know”, but with some effort spent learning faster ways and better shortcuts, designers can cut their Illustrator time in half.
3. Transitioning from hand sketching gets people every time. The drawing tools in AI work differently, and it can be hard switch to make from paper to screen. I remind people that they didn’t learn to hand sketch overnight, and they won’t learn Illustrator overnight. It takes time and you’ll get better, but just like hand sketching, you have to practice.
5. What is the most common question people ask you?
SH: People ask me all the time, how do I break into the fashion industry? Many of them are especially curious if they don’t have a background or are transitioning from another career. There’s no magic answer and the industry is tough. But I tell them to start doing something.
Put together mood boards and design mini collections.
Learn how to sketch in Illustrator.
Create some designs, sell them at local markets and do fashion shows.
Whatever it is, do something. I see too many people in the same spot they were a year ago - stuck in a job or industry they hate, but they’ve not done anything to pursue their fashion dreams.
It’s hard. And you’re not going to just apply for a job and get it without any experience or work of your own to show. But if you start doing something, start meeting people, do that scary “networking” thing, opportunities will arise and you’ll get noticed…as long as you do exceptional work. (See question 7 for more about exceptional work.)
6. What is your workspace like?
SH: I work from a home office and not gonna lie, it’s a hot mess. I’m a cluttered desk kind of gal and I work better in chaos. My Pantone books are usually spread out, microphones, webcams and wires are strewn about ready for podcast interviews and video tutorials, and my cat’s bed sits on the corner of my giant wooden desk so Puma can get comfy and watch birds in the yard (the dog bed is of course at my feet). If you ever jump on a Skype call with me though, it’s all smoke and mirrors. I have the layout staged so what you see on video always looks good :)
7. What words of advice would you give aspiring designers?
SH: Do an exceptional job. It sounds obvious, but many people don’t do it. Whether it’s for a client, employer or your own business, the majority of people do an average job. Instead, focus on doing an exceptional job - even if you have to decrease your output. Hold yourself to this standard and you'll sky rocket ahead of the competition...because exceptional gets noticed.
Do things before you feel ready. Get in over your head and challenge yourself. Stop worrying that you're not ready, that you don't know how or that you're scared. You will figure out a way to get it done. I'll quote Amy Poehler who says it best in her book Yes Please: “You do it, because the doing of it is the thing. The doing is the thing. The talking and worrying and thinking is not the thing…Because what else are we going to do? Say no? Say no to an opportunity that may be slightly out of our comfort zone?” Thank you, Amy, for your wise words.
One other thing I'd like to share :)
SH: I just started a podcast called The Successful Fashion Designer that I'm super excited about and proud of. I've interviewed some amazing designers, heard some crazy stories and discovered their creative and strategic ways of how they got where they are. The episodes are full of actionable advice to help fashionistas get ahead, and anyone working in or pursuing work in the fashion industry should give it a listen :)
If you want to follow Sew Heidi on social media, please click on the links below.
Snapchat: Lol - not a snap chatter....am I dating myself?