Tips for Aspiring Fabric Designers: Pitching to Manufacturers

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

There are tons of great resources out there for aspiring fabric designers when it comes to the actual design process. Creativebug's video course series and Kim Kight's book, A Field Guide to Fabric Design, are two of my favorite resources I suggest to newbies. But over the past several months, as I was helping a friend on her fabric design journey (she just signed to her top choice! Yay!), I realized there aren't as many resources out there for the process of pitching your collections to a manufacturer. Let's try to change that. I'm going to share some tips with you based on my experiences when hunting for a licensing deal.

1. Look for manufacturers where you stand out, not "fit in"

For starters, don't put your eggs in one basket. Unlike with magazines and book publishers, it's acceptable to submit your work to multiple manufacturers for consideration simultaneously. So which ones are you going to try first? Well, almost every aspiring designer (myself included) seems concerned finding a company where their style "fits in well" with the other designers in that company's catalog...wrong move!

While pitching to one manufacturer, the art director commented that my work would likely end up competing against a designer they represented because we're both into colorful, playful, modern prints featuring animals. She explained that shop owners would probably choose to buy my collection or the other designer's due to the similar themes and colors. They generally look for things they don't already have because manufacturers are looking to reach new audiences rather than have their designers compete for existing ones. Of course their are exceptions. Companies like Cloud 9, Art Gallery, and Blend have a more narrow brand image and may be less likely to consider collections that don't assimilate with their style.

Visit the websites of manufacturers look through their roster of designers. Ask yourself, "Does this company represent a broad range of designers?" If so, ask yourself if you can fill a gap in their portfolio.

2. Pitch in person

Manufacturers get dozens, sometimes hundreds, of emails every week with submissions from artists. Some review them as they get them. Others have regularly scheduled meetings where they flip through submissions as a team. Either way, your work can easily get passed over. I believe pitching in person has a stronger impact and creates a more memorable impression. Furthermore, modern quilters tend to be interested interested in the designers themselves, which means personality and presence sometimes plays a role in marketing. As the designer, you're part of the "product," so showing up in person will help convey how serious you are about your aspirations.

3. Don't fuss over a pretty package

When I was in the pitch phase, another aspiring designer I met eagerly looked through each other's portfolios. Mine was just an album of designs on my iPad while she had a beautifully crafted scrapbook. Each page featured a print along with photos of her inspiration for that print (plants, architectural elements, etc) and a paragraph about the design. It was kinda like one of those "nailed it" Pinterest fail memes where my iPad portfolio seemed like the fail in comparison. I tried to regain my confidence by telling myself my work didn't need a fancy book to earn a licensing deal; the quality of my designs would speak for themselves. And they did! In talking to various art directors, they confirmed that they don't pay much attention to the "fluff". It's the fabric they're concerned with. Instead of slaving over the perfect presentation, focus on creating more content.

4. Make some digital project mock ups

Have you ever been "meh" about a certain fabric collection that later won your heart when presented as a finished quilt? Why not do the same thing with your fabric designs? Make a digital mock up of quilt patterns using your fabrics to show how great it performs as a collection. This tip has the added bonus of helping me work through issues I might not have noticed with my designs, like a lack of color contrast or scale. Manufacturers like to see that you have an eye for quilt design as well as fabric design because it'll make the collection easier to market. Make your talents easy to see.

5. Be bloody persistent

Early on, if I didn't get a timely response to an email, I took it as a flat out rejection. We women are conditioned not be "nags" so we sometimes feel bad about being persistent. Well, in this industry you need to be persistent as hell. It's nothing personal, these are just busy people and it seems very common to have to pester people for a response. As a general rule, I follow up on emails 1-2 times a week until I get a response. I've only ever gotten a snarky reply once, and it was pretty tame, so don't worry about being annoying. As long as you are polite and professional, no one will hold it against you.


  1. loved this! thank you so much! =)

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience! Always helps to hear about it!! Hope someday I could see my designs on fabric too! It is my BIG BIG dream! Working hard ;) love your work Felice

  3. Thanks for sharing your experience! Always helps to hear about it!! Hope someday I could see my designs on fabric too! It is my BIG BIG dream! Working hard ;) love your work Felice

  4. Very insightful! Thanks for taking the time :)

  5. Great article. you shared useful tips. Thanks for sharing.

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