Working Freelance with Studios

There comes a point in a budding freelance designer’s career when a decision is made to approach potential studios to work with. With this post I’m going to share what I’ve learnt from working with a number of studios who contract freelancers from around the world to design prints for women’s fashion.  Studios work differently and offer different rates of artist commission which vary between 30-60% for each piece of sold artwork. The studios I’ve worked with have been based in London, New York and LA although I’ve noticed there are quite a few also operating from Australia and Brazil.

The process of finding the right studio involves a fair amount of web research to find companies whose aesthetic closely match your design handwriting.  This is a very important step to get right to avoid wasting your time along the line. It’s easy to just contact anyone who remotely shows work that you like or aspire to do but doesn’t resemble your current work output...or to contact studios who actively encourage applications from designers on their contact page just to see how it goes.  I wouldn’t recommend applying for the sake of it as my experience of this is that if it’s not a good match from the beginning you’ll soon end up frustrated with the work they expect you to produce.

When researching a studio it’s important to know the following:

  • How many designers already work for it a small team or are there several dozens? This will impact you on the basis of competition and may be a sign of poor retention if they work with several dozen designers.

  • Which trade shows do they attend?  Some successful studios don’t attend any and still do well but ideally you’ll want your studio/s to show at a couple at least (preferably the big ones such as Premier Vision/Printsource/Surtex).

  • Do they require the work to be in repeat or not?  Colour separated? My experience has been that most don’t as this gives the client flexibility to adapt it as required.

  • Does the studio retain your work for up to a year after either party terminates the contract or are you able to “get it back” after 30 days of terminating the contract?

  • How much feedback will they give you on your work?  Some studios don’t and this can be quite frustrating especially if they don’t sell much of your work and you don’t know why that might be.

  • How organised do they seem? How good are they at communicating with their designers?  This is sometimes hard to tell at the beginning of a relationship but has had a major impact in my experience so far.  

  • Lastly, some studios impose an exclusivity clause which means you are contracted to work with them only.  This isn’t ideal in my experience as working with up to 2 or 3 studios simultaneously (full time commitment) makes more sense from a financial and creative perspective.

It’s also good to check their social media feeds to see how engaged they are and how actively they are promoting new work.  Instagram is the main means by which I’ve found studios to work with as they tend to post there every time they are recruiting freelancers.   I have also used LinkedIN to research studios and contact some of the artists they work with to ask them questions about working with the studio.  Both Instagram and LinkedIN are definitely good channels to be on as some studios directly look for designers to recruit via these channels. Do bear in mind that it’s a big no-no to show in social media any original motifs you are creating as part of the work you’ll submit to a studio.  This is mostly the case for apparel where the studio sells the artwork’s copyright outright and not on a license agreement.

Once you’re signed by one or more studios, you’ll receive design briefs on a weekly or monthly basis.  The scope of direction given by the studio varies immensely from company to company. You may be asked to submit anything from 3 to an unspecified number of designs (you decide) or there might not even be a submission deadline at all which makes it very flexible for you.  For women’s fashion, you’ll generally submit a group of designs fitting a chosen theme with 6 individual and unique motifs. For other markets such as stationary or quilting you may be asked to produce a collection group instead which consists of say 2 “hero” prints, 2 complimentary prints (less detailed work) and 2 filler prints (e.g. dots/stripes/one small repeated motif from one of the main prints).

Some studios like to have more control than others sending you moodboards or individual picture files to reference for the theme of the brief they’ll want you to complete. Some include a colour swatch to work from as well.  Some also require you to send initial work completed for approval first (say the first 2-3 designs) so they can give you feedback along the way and know that what you’re working on is in line with the overall brief aesthetic.

Once the work is completed you’ll be asked to submit a layered (Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator) file with copies of the file in other formats and resolution as well such as JPEG or TIFF.  This is for the purpose of their online catalogue and sample printing requirements. You may also be asked to place the final artwork onto a template which may also show a unique artwork file reference number.  Files are usually sent via We Transfer or Dropbox.

Interested buyers will be able to see your work online after requesting a password to access the studio’s online catalogue (valid for a limited time)  or at a trade fair where your work may be displayed on paper or on printed fabric. Buyers also get visited by the studio’s sales reps whose job is to travel around the world on an ongoing basis making appointments to showcase the studio’s latest collections.  Depending on the market your work fits in and how detailed it is, it may sell for anything from $300-$800.

As a freelancer you’ll be asked to raise an invoice for every sold piece and may receive notification of a sale as soon as a client buys your print or you may just receive a monthly notification of sales.  Clients are requested to submit payment between 10-30 days of purchase and it’s important to know this so you know how long you may need to wait to receive payment yourself.

Final points - working for a studio on a freelance basis is a great way to develop your skills as a designer completing lots of briefs which may challenge you to design themes you may not have thought of working on before.  The pros of working for yourself and being location independent are great but like with any freelance work contract, there is no guaranteed salary at the end of day hence why it’s so important to find the right studio that is most likely to sell the type of work you enjoy producing.  It’s important to remember that freelancing with a studio is a mutually beneficial relationship and shouldn’t be one-sided in favour of the studio. You need to be as happy and comfortable to work in collaboration with a studio and vice-versa.

First Competition of 2017

2017 has already brought so much into my life already...a temporary move to Spain to work on design, a fresh perspective to move forwards creatively as well as a bit of peace from the noise and pace of city life.  Yet, with all this positive mojo on my back, my to-do list seems never-ending and forever expanding like a black hole in my universe! So the thought of entering a design competition wasn’t quite planned...especially when I found out I only had 2 days to come up with a design concept and produce a collection to upload onto over 20 garments just to enter it!  But I immediately knew I had to forge ahead when I read the brief on the theme of the competition by PAOM which was: “Resistance” (definition: the refusal to accept or comply with something).  Quite topical though taking a political point of view wasn’t required.

As I had been photographing a lot of graffiti in the previous few weeks, I decided that this would be my starting point/inspiration.  I love street art in all its manifestations and recall fondly taking a two hour street art tour in Berlin a few years back which for the first time really made me appreciate the artistry involved and the spirit behind it.

To get started, I referred back to a Pinterest board I had created a while back appropriately called “Artistic Licence” based on a WGSN trend I was interested in.  I think graffiti art is the ultimate artistic licence an artist can take to some extent. This Pinterest PAOM Resistance board I created has some of the photos I took around me. So here’s how things developed from there…

I’d love to hear from anyone who’s done anything like this before for PAOM or other print on demand websites.  I definitely think it’s a worthwhile exercise irrespective of the final outcome. Let me know your thoughts if you have or are thinking of doing these types of competitions in the Comments below!