Vicki Wallis from 29andSeptember Print Studio gives her advice for freelancing and selling your pattern designs to print buyers, and a FREE checklist to help you prepare for your next meeting.
As someone who’s been on both ends of the process; as a print buyer and designer, I can tell you that print design is much more than pretty motifs. Unfortunately, in a world with so much competition, it’s not enough to just design things you like and hope it sells. Print design is big business and as print designers we have to treat it as that – a business.
That’s not to say that you can’t enjoy making designs that you like, but in order to make sales, there’s more to consider than just the design aesthetic. This post is to try and help you to make the most of your design talent by understanding what buyers are looking for and covering key information they’ll want to know.
How To Get A Meeting With A Print Buyer
If you’re new to the industry and don’t have any contacts yet, the first step is to find potential clients to arrange meetings with. I find it very beneficial to network, both in real life and online via social media. There’s lots of events throughout the year relating to textiles and print, such as sourcing fairs and trend forecasting seminars, where a lot of industry professionals will be looking for new ideas. Putting a face to a name can really help and being there in person is very different to sending an email that can be ignored.
Of course, there can be some success by sending ‘cold’ (contacting people you haven’t spoken to before) emails, but keep in mind that people are busy and emails can easily get lost. Do your research before emailing someone, don’t send an impersonal mass email. Choose brands to email that have a similar aesthetic to you and attach a few relevant examples of work to the email; keep the file size below 10mb as some businesses block emails with larger files and you don’t want to annoy people by slowing down their mail service. Keep the email brief and to the point, explain why you think your work is a good fit and essentially help the buyer to understand why meeting you would be beneficial to them.
Snail mail also has its place in making contacts. I like to use postcard printing company Moo for promotional materials. I choose them because I like the quality and they have a ‘printfinity’ option, meaning that you can print a different design onto each postcard that you order, meaning I can send a few different prints to showcase my work to potential clients. As with sending an email, enclose a brief message about who you are and what you can do for the company.
When you’ve got some appointments set up, the next step is to prepare for the meeting;
1. Be aware of costs
In order to have a successful business, cost awareness is crucial. Not only will pricing your works appropriately ensure that you have a viable business, but also understanding the cost implications of your designs will help you when speaking with clients. For instance, if you’re working with a client who is on a budget, it’s not a good idea to design a screen print with 15 colours, as this will be very expensive compared to a print with 4 colours.
Often clients aren’t very knowledgeable about the printing process and there is sometimes an expectation that the designer will advise on the process. Try to gain a working knowledge of print methods and costs so that you can help them, as this could give you an edge over your competition.
If you’re new to the industry, I’d also encourage you to make a business plan. It doesn’t necessarily have to be something really involved, but having some structure and financial goals will help you when it comes to pricing.
2. Be clear about what you are offering
As a print buyer, I found that different designers would offer different things, for example, some would sell a flattened file so that it wasn’t possible for us to edit in house, whereas others were happy to provide layered files. Before you meet with a buyer, consider what you’re willing to give and how you will answer questions on file types and what they can and can’t do with them.
Often brands already have their own colours chosen for the season, so they will want to use their own colours. You may be asked if you can recolour, or if they’re allowed to, so make sure you have a response and price if applicable. Nothing knocks your confidence in a pitch more than fumbling around trying to answer a question.
In terms of the print setup, I was surprised how many times people pitched a design that looked as though it was a repeat, only to find that it was a placement print. In my experience in the fashion industry, particularly the high st retailers, there’s often a demand for 4-way repeat prints as these can be very cost effective vs other print methods. Make sure you can easily tell potential clients about the print setup and any recommendations you have for the best result.
Another key thing that buyers will want to know is the terms of the license. Are they getting exclusive rights? If so, they may ask if the print has previously been seen on your website, social media accounts or by other clients. Some customers will insist that the print cannot be shown elsewhere.
3. Be organised
Pitches can be nerve-wracking, I’m a terrible public speaker but have found that good organisation can really help with the nerves. Before you go into a pitch, make sure you’re prepared for the questions on costs and your offering – if you need to write this down somewhere that’s absolutely fine, but make sure that you can access it easily. A few seconds looking for a piece of paper will feel like forever to a busy buyer sitting waiting for you!
Before going into a pitch, I’d recommend organising some sort of order for the designs you’re showing. This would depend on how you work, but for example this could be organising by collection, theme, or for customers with wide product ranges, prints suitable for a particular product or customer type. Even if the prints aren’t designed to be bought together, it’s best to consider how they’ll look on a rack or together on a table, you want to avoid colours or styles clashing as this can detract from the individual prints.
4. Be yourself
Buyers are busy and you wouldn’t have been allowed to show your work if they didn’t think you had talent. Therefore, an important lesson I’ve learnt is, stick to what you’re talented at. I know it’s tempting when you see a gorgeous print and would like to emulate the feel of it in some way (be inspired by, never copy, of course!), but if it’s a watercolour painting and you have no experience with watercolours, it might not be the best use of your time.
Don’t feel pressured into doing something because it’s on trend. It’s often a plus to be trend relevant, but there’s so many different trends each season, find the ones that appeal to you and your skills, rather than being totally driven by them. It shows when you’ve done something because you felt you had to.
Buyers want to be inspired and it’s ok to have some surprises in your offering, so don’t be afraid to follow your own style.
5. Be relevant to the client
If you’re showing work one on one to a client, this is the most important tip I have – make sure the work you show is relevant to them. A couple of brands I worked at have very specific tastes and even though trends change, season after season you can easily identify one of their prints; they have a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ about them. We would have people pitch prints that were totally wrong for us. It quickly became clear that the designer hadn’t made any effort to tailor their offering to us, which was disappointing as the work we had seen online was promising.
Buyers want to know what’s in it for them, why is the work going to make their range better. If you make their job easier, by carefully curating your offering to them, you prevent them from wasting time sifting through lots of unsuitable designs and instead they can focus their attention on a smaller range of prints that their customers will love.
If it’s a brand that you particularly want to work with and their style aligns with your skills, I’d encourage you to design some extra prints specifically with them in mind. Of course, this is extra work on your part but if you get it right it shows them that you understand their brand and are willing to work in order to build a relationship – traits that will have buyers calling you again in the future.
I hope this post has helped you with things to consider when selling your print designs – remember you’re selling something and as such you have to treat it like a business deal. I’ll be keeping an eye on the comments box, so feel free to message with any questions and I’ll try my best to answer them for you.
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Vicki Wallis Bio
I’ve been working in the fashion industry for over 12 years and have been fortunate enough to work in a variety of roles, including fashion and print designer, buyer, garment technologist and production management. I’ve worked for some of the UK’s biggest retailers, but found that smaller labels suited me best as I get to work on products from start to finish, rather than focusing on a small area.
I started my company, 29andSeptember Studio, to help small and start-up fashion labels understand the fashion industry and succeed in their business, through educational blog posts and one-on-one training.