How to Be an Independent Fashion Designer

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People don’t just become independent fashion designers overnight. Many have spent years trying to build a brand founded on their core principles, which include caring for the environment and their workers. Unlike fast fashion brands, independent fashion clothing lines value quality over quantity. Instead of churning out a thousand pieces per month, they might design just 1,000 pieces per year.


How to be an independent fashion designer


Creating clothing with intention and mindfulness is rewarding, but getting your foot in the fashion industry takes time. Like any startup company, emerging designers need to make a name for themselves and prove their designs are unique. Becoming a designer is one thing, but getting noticed in an oversaturated social media world is not easy. Your talent and purpose will take you far, but you’ll need to learn a thing or two about marketing your designs if you want to turn heads in the fashion world.

Ahead, learn our step-by-step guide on how to be an independent fashion designer by drawing inspiration from the greatest in the trade.

Fashion School Education

Many indie designers graduated from an art or fashion school before they started their own brands. According to Vogue, Yueqi Qi, who is a popular Chinese independent fashion and jewelry designer based in Guangzhou, graduated with a bachelor’s degree from an arts school called Central Saint Martins. Mexican-based indie designer Sanchez-Kane graduated from Polimndo, a private fashion school in Florence, Italy. Dhruv Kapoor also graduated from fashion school called the National Institute of Fashion Technology in New Delhi.

One of the designers who sells her collections at idPearl, Fadwa Baruni, trained at Edinburgh College of Art and the Indian master-tailoring Pearl Design Centre. Carolina Wong, who also sells her collections at IdPearl, studied textile design at the University of the Arts London, Chelsea collage of Art.


Baruni Apparel


What do all of these recognized global fashion designers have in common besides their indelible talent? Most of them have graduated from fashion schools and worked for big fashion brands/design houses, before becoming the popular designers they are today who’ve taken part in fashion weeks, dressed celebrities, and ran their own fashion shows.

That doesn’t mean you need to go to fashion school to become an independent designer but it certainly helps a lot. You’ll learn valuable skills like textile design, sewing, business, pattern making, and much more. You’ll get feedback from teachers and fellow students who will help you become the best fashion designer you could be. Additionally, fashion schools typically have connections to fashion internships, designer jobs and other networking opportunities. During school, you can also decide whether you want to be in menswear, womenswear, sportswear, or another type of design.

Working at Design Houses

Before starting their own label, many indie designers work at top fashion houses to learn the tricks and tips of the trade from the masters of fashion. For example, Ta3 shaping swimwear (as seen on Shark Tank) is founded by Leila Shams, who is a graduate of Parsons School of Design and has over 20 years of experience in the fashion industry. She was a designer for Donna Karan (DKNY), Express, Bebe, and Tommy Hilfiger before venturing out on her own. From 2009-2015, she had a contemporary womenswear brand, which gained a lot of love from celebrities like Kendall Jenner, Kim Kardashian, and Nicki Minaj. She also sold to Harvey Nichols UK, Neimans, Revolve, Planet Blue, and Curve LA.

This goes to show that many indie designers gain experience in the fashion industry and collect as much knowledge as they know before making a name for themselves. However, some designers don’t start off at design houses at all. For example, idPearl designer Fadwa Baruni, the founder of the Baruni Collection was actually a petroleum engineer before pivoting to fashion designer.

An Eye For Fashion Trends

Evidently, every fashion designer, indie or not, has an eye for the latest fashion trends. This doesn’t mean that designers have to follow the most popular trends when designing their collections, but they do need to develop their own personal style. Every independent fashion designer brings something new to the table that distinguishes them from everyone else. It’s difficult to get noticed when you’re competing with so many other brilliant sustainable designers.

In just one moment — whether it’s because a celebrity wears your designs or your designs go viral on social media — you can make your mark in the fashion world. For example, Up Next Designer, is an Instagram account that features independent designers who’ve been discovered and connected through UND’s platform. Celebrities and stylists know how to source new designs from the biggest fashion houses. But now they want to know about the underdogs who design high-quality original pieces, rich with culture, diversity, and inspiring stories behind their designs.

What qualifications do you need to be a fashion designer?

Ultimately, independent fashion designers find their way in the fashion world by educating themselves, getting firsthand experience, making connections with influencers/celebrities, and developing their unique style to stand out from the crowd. You don’t need a degree or specific qualifications, but they certainly help.

 - By Bonnie Azoulay 

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