Want to be a "Successful fashion Designer" ?

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).**

sew heidi interview on vanjonsson design

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.)

Example of "Successful Fashion Designer" by Sew Heidi

Example of "Successful Fashion Designer" by Sew Heidi

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.

Instagram: sewheidi

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sewheidi/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/sewheidi

Snapchat: Lol - not a snap chatter....am I dating myself? 

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/SuccessfulFashionDesigner/


Interview with ... WELL ME!

This original took place with Esty Lingerie, interviewing me from a freelance lingerie designer perspective. Here is a copy of it.

EL:You studied Contour at DeMontfort University so I imagine you knew from the start that you wanted to design intimates. What drew you to lingerie over other areas of fashion design?

LVJ:When I was leaving school I had secured a place at Loughborough Art college, as I didn't really know what direction I wanted to head in, I loved altering clothes (my poor wardrobe didn't survive my love of using scissors and re-sewing/re-hashing garments back to together)  and playing around with fabrics and I toyed with getting into fashion but at 18 yrs old, the industry intimidated me a little and I didn't view myself as fashionable and the clothes I tried to make, I never had enough floor space to cut them out or ended up spending so much on fabric for the garment not to turn out right. 

lingerie interviews laurie van jonsson

The Spring before I left school I saw a programme about lingerie design and knew that was what I wanted to do, I loved the way that you change the whole way you could feel just by garments that no-one else saw. I also liked the idea that it wasn't just about designing pretty lingerie it was about how it fitted as well. I loved the technical aspect side of things. I ended up writing a letter to Demontfort and found out you could do a late entry application and it would be on a points based system to get in not on a portfolio viewing or interview which was a good thing as when I told my art/sewing teacher I was changing my mind and going to Demontfort University she told me it was a bad idea as my sewing was awful and I didn't know anything about the industry - she was right but that didn't stop me.


EL: Would you recommend the same course for other hopeful lingerie designers?

LVJ: Yes. Although I don't think it's necessary to do a degree, a degree gives you the space to try out new ideas, have the resources to use and the time to gain knowledge from people who have worked previous in the industry. It also gives youth chance to build up your portfolio.

What I also think it does which is important is give you a time structure for when to complete things. If you don't have the money to do a degree then you should plan out your time to get things done, how many of us have dreamed about a new career and realised that a couple of years have passed from having the original idea of a career change. Although I don't think you always need a degree, I do think that some sort of course is helpful, like making patterns as it will save you time in the long run and working out everything yourself can be very time consuming and disheartening if you're not getting it right.


EL:I'm sure some people think lingerie designers just sit around drawing pretty pictures of bras all day, but more goes into it than that! For those wondering if lingerie design is the right career path for them, what can they expect to be doing exactly once they land a job?

LVJ: Drawing/planning out next seasons range including trend boards is such a small part of being a lingerie designer, your day is spent juggling future seasons, getting them sampled up, getting them fitted, altering the patterns, going for second fits etc... Costing the garment, going back and forth with the buyer and factory to settle on a cost, altering a design so it fits the cost. Then you're juggling with the orders that are to be delivered, making sure they are on time, and sorting out everything when it goes wrong, deliveries late, wrong fabrics, different fits from the first sample, wrong shade of components to the one that was chose. A buyer changing their mind over a colour. With everything moving so fast and in some cases with a three month turn around you do spend a long time on your time-line spread sheet making sure everything is where it needs to be, you need to be able to build good relationships with the buyer you're working with and the factories. Some mornings I would get to work and there would be 50+ emails waiting for me to be answered, you need to be able to make decisions quickly and have a good organisation system.


EL:Is there anything that's surprised you, that you didn't know would be part of the role of a lingerie designer?

LVJ: When I started out it was quite easy to move between positions, i.e. designer to grader to account manager, but nowadays it seems rarer to be able to do that, also I found it near impossible as an employee to switch between different styles of being a designer. For example my roles have been mainly supplier based - which means the company you work is an independent company and provides lingerie to different shops/brands etc. So you're not working for just one company, so if I've ever applied for a job opening of working for just one brand the feedback I've had received is that I've not the experience of being dedicated to working for one brand, also having been mainly designing high street has meant that applying for designer lingerie brands hasn't been successful. Working though as a freelancer has worked opposite, my CV shows that I can design in a multitude of styles so this has opened doors for different companies. So if you are planning to be a designer for a certain area of lingerie it's best to try and secure that area near the start of your career as it's hard to near impossible to change it later unless you freelance.


EL:Having worked both in house and freelance, how do the two differ in terms of a typical working day, regularity of work/income, responsibilities  etc.

LVJ: In house you have the security of a wage, but the higher you progress the more you delegate the work so you're responsible for a lot more as you're seeing everything from start to finish season after season, where as freelance you may be bought in for just one section or one season.  In House you're working hours are regular, you have your nights free and you;re weekend, where as freelance it's more of a balancing act. I like freelance as you seem to work on lots of different work, my main clients employ me usually for the technical side, they have the design already done and I work out their spec sheets, write up their tech packs, draw up their designs, attend fit sessions etc. 

I have two small children at the minute so freelance works perfectly, although in house I earned far more (peaking at 45K+) freelance allows me to have flexibility to look after both of them and still work. I also have more creativity satisfaction working freelance.


EL: You also had your own lingerie brand, Vanjo, from 2005 to 2009. Have you preferred running your own brand or designing for other companies, and why?

LVJ: Having my own brand was amazing, I don't think I realised how well I was doing at the time, I was the first independent brand to be stocked by Topshop  that provided bras above a DD cup. But having worked in the industry prior, at the the time I always thought I should be doing more, I was so use to the fast paced fashion side of things, it was a bit of a shock to be the one doing everything and the time it took to do it all. Having your own brand though you are responsible for everything, one thing I did miss was other people, but when people wrote to me saying how much they loved my brand and how it fitted it did make it all worth while. I did learn a lot doing it all myself, and would definitely do it again. 


EL: Obviously, to become a lingerie designer you need a certain amount of knowledge about how bras are constructed. Aside from technical expertise though, what do you think it takes to be a successful lingerie designer?

LVJ: Flexibility. Sometimes you have a great design and you have to be prepared to let it go and be altered or criticised. When you design something there are so many people who have their opinion, the buyer, the fitter, the sample machinist, the factory even your boss who may not have any knowledge about designing!! You need to pick the best advice and be prepared to alter your design, or be prepared to state your case why what you designed doesn't need altering. You also need to be always keeping an eye on the market and constantly be knowledgeable about what's going on around you.

Brights lights from down under -Interview with Hopeless Lingerie and Light Years

As Melbourne Fashion week makes an appearance this week (Sept. 3-9), I’m excited to head down to see what new lingerie brands stand out. (Dita von Teese showcased her range ‘Von Follies’ last March at Melbourne Fashion Week.)
A walk down Brunswick Street is littered with so many independent designers it seems near impossible to pick out my favourite. But two stand out: Hopeless Lingerie by Gabrielle Adamidis and newcomer Light Years by Annika Seidel.

Having owned an independent label myself, I’m always fascinated about the person behind the label. So today I catch up with these two Melbourne designers to learn more about their designs and a little more about themselves, and what it takes to become a lingerie designer in Melbourne.


Hopeless Lingerie (www.hopelesslingerie.com.au)  debuted in 2008 and was featured in Marie Claire earlier this year. It launched with a very soft and romantic collection, however Adamidis is not afraid, much to my delight, to let her label evolve, and her designs have been much harder and tougher as of late. Each season, Hopeless Lingerie keeps reinventing itself and gets stronger and stronger. I look forward to where it will head next.
LvJ: Did you have any formal lingerie design before launching Hopeless Lingerie?
Gabrielle Adamidis: No. In terms of lingerie I am completely self-taught. I studied art history and then fashion after high school. We learned how to sew and make patterns, but there was no lingerie component whatsoever. I have had to figure that all out for myself using the skills they gave me. It has been a lot of trial, error and frustration!
LvJ: What the hardest part about being a designer in Australia?

GA: I feel very isolated in terms of the lingerie world. I would love to be in New York, or London, where the industry is much bigger. I am very grateful for the internet — where I can interact with people — but it’s not the same as being in the same city. It is also very hard to find supplies here; the market is so small so it is understandable, I suppose. 
LvJ: What three things have inspired you lately?
GA: The Beach, German Expressionist cinema, the work of Frank Stella. 
LvJ: What do you love about your studio?
GA: It’s at home and it looks out onto the beautiful green backyard.
LvJ: What is your favourite part of the day?
GA: The morning, when I make my coffee and settle in to sew for the day
LvJ: What 3 things define beauty to you in a woman?
GA: Uniqueness, intelligence, confidence.



Light Years (www.lightyears.com.au) launched earlier this year with such a breathtaking collection that you would think Annika Seidel had been doing this for years.

As with all new labels, those that have been there will appreciate the time and dedication that goes into a launch of a brand and Seidel’s story is no different. With no contacts in manufacturing or retail, she worked on her brand for two years before launching Light Years earlier this year.

Designed to fill the gap between boring basics and ultra feminine styles, her designs use angular seaming, colour blocking and subtle stud details to keep the garments interesting without being girly.
LvJ: Did you have any formal lingerie design before launching Light Years?
Annika Seidel: No, I have no formal lingerie design training. In previous jobs I’d designed textiles, menswear and sleepwear, so I had an idea of the design and production process, but had never designed lingerie prior to this project. Nobody was making the kind of lingerie I wanted to wear so I thought I should do something about it.
LvJ: What is your dream?
AS: To go to Iceland! Maybe next year… 
LvJ: Do you listen to music while you work? If so, who?
AS: I alternate between listening to music and watching documentaries online. Lately I’ve been listening to Frank Ocean, Gnarls Barkley and Paul Simon and watching the Sunday Best series on ABC.
LvJ: What three things have inspired you lately?
AS: My first visit to MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) in Tassie a couple of weeks ago, classic movies from the 60s, and The Apiary’s amazing ideas for the next Light Years film.
LvJ: What is your favourite part of the day?
AS: Getting a hug from my boyfriend as I wake up in the morning.
LvJ: What are your top goals in your brand?
AS: To create cool, fun lingerie for girls who fall between the cracks of mainstream fashion.  And to have a good time doing it! 
LvJ: What three things define beauty in a woman?
AS: Confidence, a sense of fun and a great sense of style.

Article written for Lingerie Talk