How to Establish Yourself as a Freelance Fashion Designer: An Interview with Katie Royce

Fashion design is one of those highly coveted dream jobs in fashion. When it comes to a career as a fashion designer, we often think of the classic big names like Prada, Louis Vuitton, and Chanel. Fashion designers however, come in many forms, from those designing for high street retail, such as Aritzia or Zara, to those crafting elite couture, and much more, including the role of freelance fashion designer. We caught up with Katie Royce, Canadian freelance fashion designer, to get the scoop on what freelance fashion design entails, how you can establish yourself in the industry, and what advice she has for those looking to pursue freelance fashion design.

What is a Freelance Fashion Designer?

Freelance fashion designers can wear many hats, however it’s always good to have a niche, just like most brands do. Katie believes, “All young designers should choose a niche specialization—having a niche tells clients that you are an expert in that field.” Katie, for example, specializes in women’s activewear including club/court sports, yoga, training, and running. How you decide on your niche is up to you, Katie chose activewear because it was the best fit for her skillset and industry experience (she cut her teeth at Lululemon), which gave her the confidence to move into freelance work.

A freelance fashion designer works with clients on an individual basis to provide bespoke services based on their needs and budget. This service includes trend and market research, colour and mood bards, CAD drawings, design briefs, tech packs, and product development.

What skills and education do you need to be a Freelance Fashion Designer?

For starters, be able to sell yourself! Once Katie decided she wanted to pursue freelancing, she put together a portfolio, Instagram account, and began seeking clients, saying “I started sending out as many cold emails as I could.” An introvert by nature, Katie notes this was one of the hurdles she had to overcome on her journey, but assures that it gets easier over time and with practice. She encourages young designers, saying “Be confident in your skills and know that not only are you an expert in your field, but clients are looking to you for your services and expertise.

Though success as a freelance fashion designer is not impossible without a degree, Katie does recommend a formal education in fashion design. “My formal education opened doors for me that would have otherwise been closed.” She states that her experience at Lululemon, which she began working at right after she graduated, would not have been an option without her degree. “Without my education I would not have the knowledge or confidence to go into freelancing. My past industry experience is also a big selling point to potential clients.”

Why choose freelance fashion design?

Being a freelance designer offers freedom, flexibility, and control. For Katie, being a freelance fashion designer means pouring her energy into the companies and people she believes in. “I love working for women entrepreneurs and helping them grow their business from anywhere in the world.” She has also gained the flexibility to work remotely and design her own schedule—a huge perk as a mother of two.

How does networking play a role in freelance fashion design?

Sometimes who you know is just as important as what you know. For Katie, some of her first clients came from old colleagues. She says, “it’s always good to stay in touch with your past co-workers and classmates and let them know that you’re freelancing. They can help spread the word.

Though at this time all of Katie’s networking is done virtually so she can be present at home with her two young children, she also recommends attending fashion networking events and trade shows if that is available to you. With the accessibility of digital networking, your opportunity for reach is vast. You can attract new clients by joining online freelance groups, through social media and cold email pitching. Katie shared, “When I started freelancing I was cold emailing around 10 brands a day for four to six weeks and the odds were at least one was going to respond!” She completed her portfolio in September and her goal was to land her first client by Christmas—after hundreds of cold email pitches, she landed her first client in the beginning of December, with a few discovery calls in-between.

Once you’re established and have some momentum, you can gain clients through more passive avenues. Katie shares her past work on Instagram on LinkedIn, as well as free useful information that shows potential clients her value and results in clients reaching out to her for her services.

What are the greatest obstacles and hurdles that Freelance Fashion Designers must overcome?

For Katie, her biggest obstacle was herself, suffering from the all too common imposter syndrome and clouded by self-doubt, “I thought I didn’t have enough experience to be a freelancer,” she says. She also worried that her skill set was out of date and inadequate. “At the time, 3D design was taking off. I thought I needed to have it all: be a print designer, a 3D pattern maker, a product developer, and a designer.

While all of these skills are great assets for a freelance designer, having them all is not necessary (or realistic). Katie advises, “You just need to focus on what you do best and your work will speak for itself. Down the road you can always invest in new skills.

How do you get started as a Freelance Fashion Designer?
For those looking to pursue a career as a fashion designer, Katie recommends the following these first steps:

1. Build a strong mindset

2. Figure out what your strengths are to build a strong offer to clients

3. Create a polished portfolio

4. Set your prices (they can be hourly or project based)

5. Target your ideal clients

6. Set up organizational systems

7. Practice your pitch and sales process

8. Figure out how you will deliver a great client experience to build repeat customers

Finally, Katie shares her advice for aspiring freelance fashion designers. “Keep going and stay positive. You need a strong, positive mindset as a freelancer. The fashion industry is a fast moving and ever changing industry, but that opens opportunities for growth and learning new skills!

Katie Royce is a freelance activewear designer from Vancouver, Canada. To learn more about her offerings, view her portfolio, and connect visit

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Sheila O’Neill is a creative, innovative and inspiring storyteller with a background in fashion.