Pattern design is very much a part of the fashion world. A piece of fabric with attractive patterns mesmerizes people as it presents a unique repetition of design. But turning your design skills into a business and then creating a valuable brand is not an easy task. It requires a carefully chalked out plan. Nasrin Jafri, the pattern design expert, gives insight on how, as a pattern designer, you can start a creative business and build a brand out of it.
At some point in time, most pattern designers think of creating a business from their skills and experience. Some of them successfully achieve their business goals. They can establish a good business with a long list of clientele.
Others, however, fail miserably and continue to depend on some jobs here and there. Where do they go wrong? To address the issue, Designhill conducted an AMA with pattern designer Nasrin Jafri, who gave useful tips. She advised budding pattern designers on how to proceed with a purpose to create a business in this field.
Nasrin Jafri is an expert pattern designer who is a founder of Mixed, a highly successful one-women textile brand and design studio. She founded and established the company with her own money doing pattern designing, textile curation, product design, branding, sales, and marketing. She studied at New York University.
Here Is the Video Of The AMA Session With Nasrin Jafri
Here Are The Essential Tips From Nasrin Jafri On Starting A Pattern Design Business
Designhill: How did you get the courage to start your own company and do everything on your own?
Nasrin: I did not plan to develop this brand or build a business. When I started with textile production, it was for fun. I was doing graphic design before, but I wanted something that I could touch, such as graphic design and illustration that stays on the screen and computers, and it’s digital. I wanted something physical. So, I decided to produce some textiles one day, and I liked the way it felt and looked. It was easy enough to do because there’s another company that prints my designs on different fabrics.
Then I decided to sell a couple of things. I thought of putting it out there and seeing how people react. For me, a lot of it came from curiosity and wanting to have fun with it. I enjoyed the process and not putting pressure on myself to start a business or make it a brand. It later grew and developed. The excitement I felt from the community made me develop the brand more seriously. So, it started as a personal interest.
Designhill: Where does the inspiration for your work come from?
Nasrin: Inspiration comes from everywhere, such as travels or nature. I have a lot of nature themes in my patterns. Sometimes it’s being outside or even seeing another clothing brand and loving the color palette that they are using. I try to study what I like. For me, it’s not enough to look at something and like it and replicate it. Instead, I want to understand what it is about this piece that I like. Is it the colors or the texture? Is it a kind of composition? Once I figure out those elements of what makes a piece that I like, then I use them into my next piece. So, I can pull inspiration from other places but still make my work my own, and I make it unique.
Designhill: How do you deal with some artists copying your work, and do not even give you credit?
Nasrin: I haven’t yet experienced that someone copied my art. I know that in the fashion industry and clothing industry, everyone’s ideas are pretty stolen. But I try not to put my energy into worrying about what other people are taking from me, and I try to create my most original work. And I find that even if somebody else creates something that’s similar to me, it’s not going to have the same soul. It will not have the same character and will not do well if it’s not authentic.
Designhill: Do you think it’s worth spending money on starting a website to market your product?
You Should Have A Website
It depends on what your goal is. I found that spending my own money to start my website and market my products has been completely worth it. I use Squarespace. It’s a great e-commerce platform. I know a lot of people use Shopify, which is a little bit more robust. I chose Squarespace because it has a beautiful design, and it is easy to use. Here is a little tip to save money on Squarespace. If you have a student ID or a student email and sign up with it on Squarespace, you get 50% off your yearly subscription for the first year, which is a great deal. So, you could start your website on Squarespace for $75, to put your products online, give them a presence, make them feel legitimate.
I think it’s worth it. Marketing does not always have to be expensive. It is about putting a lot of effort as you have to take quite a lot of graphics, create many copies, and think about the ideas behind what you are selling. But it depends on what you want to do, such as trying to make sales or wish to have an online presence.
A Website Legitimizes Your Craft
The last thing I would like to add is that even if you don’t want to sell anything happening, an online presence legitimizes your craft. If you are a designer and a client wants to hire you, they will probably find you through social media. But they will do some more vetting and see if you have a website that projects you as a serious and professional designer and business owner.
Designhill: How should budding artists begin, and what should be their focus on?
Nasrin: I started designing and learning about it one year ago. I am a self-taught designer via YouTube. You should start doing it. But here are the actual steps. I use Procreate and create an illustration or a pattern on this tool. You can also use Illustrator. Once you have your digital image, pattern, or illustration created, send that pattern to a textile production company.
But you need to research the right company. I use a company called Contrato, which has over 100 fabrics. They have a good website platform where you can upload your design and choose your fabric. And then submit that payment for the order, after which they ship you the printed fabric.
If you have a digital illustration or a pattern already created, I suggest that you take that image and send it to a textile design production company and ship you the finalized fabric. This way, you can experience what it’s like to see your designs on a physical product. That’s how I started with producing like a linen towel. I wanted to try it and see how it felt, and I liked it, and then I continued doing it.
Designhill: What are the prominent marketing techniques you use to target your style of work in your particular selected niche?
Nasrin: Marketing and sales are two very different things. Generally, people confuse those two terms. They think that marketing is about something like saying hey, I came out with this new scarf, buy it, there is a link in my bio. That is not marketing as you are trying to get sales. Marketing is about interaction, which is talking to people to make them aware of your brand.
If you look at my Instagram and posts, I often don’t push people to buy the product. I’m not sending them to my shop and instead talk about my brand value. I talk about the product sometimes to tell you about the color or the feel. Then I have conversations with people about their life, work, and art. That kind of interaction helps create trust and makes people want to support you and potentially buy from you.
Marketing is about interacting. Most people think that social media is the vehicle for sales, and they treat it with a sales mindset. But I will suggest that you treat social media, develop your community who trusts you, and support you. Then they will be much more willing to buy your product.
Designhill: How do you find potential companies to work with, and what should one consider beforehand?
Nasrin: I don’t contact clients. I think that if I approach a client, it puts me in a disadvantaged position because it makes it seem like I need it. Or, they may take advantage of me and not pay me as much. So, I have clients come to me. Now, how do I do that?
Three Steps To Get Clients
You need to follow three things to get clients. First and foremost, you have a portfolio that people like. They should resonate with your work shown in your portfolio. Otherwise, they will not ask you to work for them. Secondly, you must have great relationships with the people around you. And those people need to trust you and also like your work. And the third requirement is that you should publicize your work to generate awareness about your work.
Build Relationships On Social Media
When I started to design last June with no design experience in the past, I started working on my own pieces for fun. I put them out on Facebook. I didn’t even have an Instagram before June. I am not an Instagram kind of person. So, I was posting like my early designs on Facebook. My friends started seeing them and liked it. They became aware that I was doing design. And so as soon as I started posting stuff on Facebook, I can go on their radar. But on top of that, we had a good relationship, trusted me, liked me, and wanted to support me.
When their bosses and their businesses needed a designer, they immediately thought of me and recommended it to their boss. That is how I got pretty much all of my work. So, as a designer, you need to show your work. But you should not be nervous about what people think. As you put your designs out there, you will get over your fear. At the same time, you should continue to build good relationships with the people around you and stay in contact with them. You should be kind and authentic. And once you have those two things, you’ll find that those people will start referring clients to you.
Designhill: How to establish your pattern making process from an idea to production, and what’s your creative process?
Nasrin: I use the iPad and Procreate with Apple Pencil. For instance, I like this flower called a pansy that I saw in New York on the streets. They have beautiful colors and cool petals. That is how an idea starts. Then, I go to my iPad Pro, and I start drawing and create the pattern. It takes me several hours to a day to create it. Once I have created that pattern in Procreate, I export it as a JPEG. And then again, I use Contrato. So I then go on to those websites to choose the kind of fabric I want.
Pattern Design Will Depend On The Product
A lot depends on the product, am I making. Is the product a scrunchie, a scarf, a towel, or anything else? I choose the appropriate fabric for the product. I then place my pattern onto the product and onto that fabric, digitally. Then, I submit my order, and Contrato essentially prints my pattern onto that fabric. Also, you will be influenced by the choice of your product while creating your pattern.
When designing something like a scarf, you want to make sure that the trim and the edges are nice, pretty, and ultimate. They are ornamental because they are going to be seen. I like to use a lot of different colors because eventually, they are going to blend. If what products you want to create beforehand, that should influence the type of pattern that you create.
Designhill: Do you have different prices for planes, and what factors do they depend on?
Nasrin: I think you are talking about licensing patterns. I license my patterns uniformly. But when it comes to a product, I have different price points. There are a couple of things you have to consider: how much are people willing to spend on your product? What is the market that you are in? What are the other prices in that market and in that range, so my scarves sell for $50? The way I chose that was I have an idea of who my target demographic is. I checked Urban Outfitters, anthropology, free people, and big brands that are in the vicinity.
Set Competitive Prices
I look at their prices, and then I competitively set my price plan. I want to be in between urban outfitters and anthropology. Urban Outfitters is like a very young and kind of streetwear brand. And anthropology is a little bit 35 to 40-year-old woman. So, I want to be right in between there, and I want to offer a price point that is right in between those stores. Selling a pattern is very different from selling a product. Therefore, you have to be contextual to the target market.
You should play around with your price. I sold my first batch at $5 each because I want to put it out there, I want to break even, and those masks were sold quickly. Then, I raised it to $8 still people were buying the masks quickly, and then I raised it to 10. So play around with it, you are not going to get it right the first time.
Designhill: How do you cope with the competition and make sure that you stay in the race?
Nasrin: I think that this is something a lot of designers and artists feel. There is a lot of pressure to have a presence on social media every day. You will feel like competing with other people. So, here is my approach.
I don’t look at other people’s work and compare myself too often. What I do do is look at designers I love and aspire to be. But I don’t think of them as competition. I think the world is abundant. There are many people on this planet who you can share your work with. And I don’t think that we are necessarily competing for all of that. When you are worried about the competition and what other people are doing, it takes a lot of energy away from your craft and your process.
I focus on my lane and work on my process to get better than I used to be yesterday. I do not compare my patterns to someone else’s patterns and even to my previous patterns. I try not to think about competition since many fine artists and designers give you shout outs, things that keep it going. I know social media, and putting out stuff every day is tiring, I get tired. There are days when I don’t post, which is normal.
Designhill: What tools do you recommend for any artist starting out in the industry?
Nasrin: It depends on what you want to do. Do you want to work in print or do illustrations? If you want to do graphic design, I would suggest using Adobe Illustrator. Adobe programs, in general, are a must, in my opinion. It’s powerful. There is a different range of products. Another little insider tip is if you use a student email or a teacher email, you get great discounts. When I was in my first year, I got a discount, and it was $20 a month for every Adobe Creative Cloud App, and that is InDesign, Illustrator Photoshop after effects. It is crazy how much you can do in Adobe programs.
I would use Illustrator and Photoshop probably if you want to do print like, books or magazines or posters, InDesign is a good one. Or is the standard if you want to do illustration, I recommend actually having a Stylus or something you can draw with by hand you can do Procreate and the Apple Pencil Procreate is a $10 five or $10 One time purchase app. The only expensive part is the actual iPad and Apple Pencil.
You can also use the walk home and hook up your walk onto your laptop and use Adobe programs with the Wacom stylus. It depends on what kind of feel you like, and what program you prefer.
If you are doing illustration, being able to use vectors in Adobe Illustrator will be handy. This is because then you can scale your images and your work up and down without losing quality. Whereas, if you are working in Photoshop or Procreate, it’s something called raster, and if you want to blow your images up, they’re going to start getting pixelated at a certain point.
Have Books as Well
Also, books are great. You can Google them. I think there is one book I started called OSHA, a fun, cool design book that talks about people who are beginning in the design industry. It talks about client work and portfolio and stuff like that, and a fun and personal life. I would recommend that book.
Designhill: What are the sizes and resolutions of your patterns, and what is the difference between seamless patterns and digital papers?
Nasrin: It depends on what you design. When I started making patterns, it was purely for Instagram, and it stayed digital. And because of that, I did a square shape in size 2048 by 2048. The standard for Instagram is 1080 by 1080. I went a little bit bigger so that the quality wouldn’t be poor.
I use a square shape, but it’s all about context. I use the square because it was for Instagram. When I make a scarf, I also make a square pattern because the scarf is going to be a square. If I’m going to make a towel, for example, and I want that towel to be rectangular, my artboard will be rectangular. It depends on what you create.
Designhill: Do you also make the masks or scarves or products, or do you outsource?
Nasrin: Everything at www expired hazard calm is designed and created by me. I create the pattern step one, and then I do fabric curation. Here is an important tip for people who want to go into textile production. When you find a manufacturer or production facility, start with doing fabric samples.
If you ask the company for fabric samples, they will send you a bunch of different fabrics that you can touch and feel. And then I know what fabric I’m going to do and send the design to the production company
Designhill: Could you tell us about your process from designing to manufacturing of patterns?
Nasrin: After designing, pick the fabric
I start with the design, and then I curate the fabric. This is an important step because you need to understand what kind of fabric you want to use for a project. If you make a scarf, you don’t want it to be stiff and rough. You want it to be soft, silky, satin, etc. I get a bunch of fabric samples. These are all samples, not my designs, samples that the company sends me.
They put prints on it because they want to show me how certain colors show up on fabrics. I like to touch it and feel like there are labels to tell me what kind of fabric this is. I looked through all these fabrics, felt them, and saw which one I wanted.
Contact The Production Company
Once I choose what fabrics I want, I then tell the production company, hey, I want this pattern or this image produced on silk, satin, and boom, then they produce that image on that fabric. And then they send it back to me.
Ask Manufacturers To Print The Design
I work with one manufacturer to produce my silk scarves. They print the scarves and have it for me, and they ship back to me, I get these finished products that I can then sell from other companies. I get a raw fabric, and I sell it myself. So, all my face masks are handmade and hand-sewn, and it depends on the product. When I’m trying to do more, the manufacturer does the selling for me, which saves me time.
Designhill: What is the process of licensing your designs?
Nasrin: Some clients will ask for the license because they want to use the branding or packaging design pattern. I recently started with patterns, so I set my prices. If I have any pre-existing pattern that someone wants to use, I sell it for $500. I license it for $500.
As far as the licensing process is concerned, it is a contract that explains all the details of this license, how they can use it, who owns the rights, and where they can use it where they cannot use it, and I make sure that they sign it. That way, we are bound by this contract to make sure that my pattern is used for a set purpose only.
If I am going to make a new pattern, I do it for $1000. And this is, when I first started in graphic design last month, I would do a logo for like 100 bucks. And because I was starting, I didn’t have any kind of credibility. Now I do logo and branding starting at $1,000. I know it’s not directly answering the question, but if you start with a low price, that makes sense for a beginning designer, and then you can always raise your prices as you go.
Designhill: What is tissue paper? Is it also seamless patterns? I saw a lot of tissue papers for scrapbooks on Etsy and the creative market.
Nasrin: I don’t even know what that is, to be honest. I think it is a special paper with a pattern printed on it that people could use for the scrapbooking process.
Designhill: Where do you get your products from?
Nasrin: I use Contrato right now, and they are based in the UK. I use them because they have over 100 different fabrics selection and have a good platform where I can submit my orders. I also have another international manufacturer based in China. Our relationship is a little different as we talk via email. It’s not necessarily it’s not like Contrato where I can upload my image to the website. This manufacturer in China runs a larger scale business. I email them and negotiate with them their prices.
But manufacturers often have minimum order quantities. If you start out doing 100 pieces of the run, it will probably be too expensive. So, when you are doing a business that requires you to have inventory such as a scarf product or face masks, you have to learn how to balance inventory. You want to have enough to be able to sell a product and not be sold out constantly. But you don’t want to order so much that you have a bunch of inventory sitting around collecting dust, and then you lose money on it.
Therefore, if you start out in textile design, like me, you can use Contrato or Spoonflower, which are based in the US. But Spoonflower has a much smaller range of fabric selection having around 20 different fabrics. I don’t use them because they are currently not running with full potential due to the whole COVID thing. I was running behind schedule. I think it took over a month for my fabrics to come in. Whereas with Contrato, the turnaround time is like a week. So, google search textile production companies to see what fits your needs best.
Designhill: What do you think of Patternbank, and have you ever tried such platforms?
Nasrin: I don’t go that route because I want to keep my brand in the house. In a big marketplace like Patternbank, they might see and like your pattern, but they won’t necessarily know about you or your brand. So, I try to keep everything on my mixed friend hazard website and my social media accounts and then create a community in those places, so that my brand stays strong.
Prefer Creating Own Community
Also, on those big marketplaces, you might spend a lot of time and energy trying to get into those places and be unsuccessful, which is discouraging. It takes your time away from building your brand and creating your platform. Of course, I understand the benefits and kind of the draw being logged in marketplaces. But I think when you start, it’s much better, and it feels better to create your community and develop the brand. Develop the community around the brand.
Designhill; How to balance the creative side of a business and remain consistent?
Nasrin: There is this quote I heard that if you want to be a designer, want to design products or clothes, don’t start a business. That sounds true. You should start a business because you want to start a business, not because you want to design. When you do start a business, it consumes so much of your time. What that means is dealing with finances dealing with inventories, customer service, marketing. I used to go from designing a pattern every day to having maybe one or two days a week if I was able to sit down and design a pattern. That was because so much of my time was spent elsewhere.
For me, it works because I love the creative and the more business side of things. But if you are like a true designer, you don’t want to deal with business. But you want to start a brand. What I would suggest is maybe you should go for a partnership with somebody who does enjoy the business side of things. That way, you can play to your strengths.
I don’t have a very specific weekly schedule. But what I do try to do is like that in the early morning, when my mind is fresh, I work on a pattern. That is a good way for me to start the day. After that, I spend the rest of my day doing social media marketing, customer service of keeping the website, etc. promotional activities. But it’s hard, and every day I have an existential crisis. What am I doing? It is kind of lonely too because you are the only one running it. So, you will get tired, and you will have days where you do not do anything. I have those days, and you gotta keep going. Think of how the business will be in five years from now? You need to go slow and steady.
Designhill: How to build brand recognition with your patterns?
Nasrin: When you think about brand recognition from an aesthetic standpoint or a visual standpoint, it has a similar look visually. So, for me, you can tell what my patterns look like based on the color, like the vibrant colors that I use. Also, the form I use a lot of forms and subjects. I use a lot of nature, elements, and flowy, but still geometric shapes. Having these kinds of consistent elements across all your patterns will help create a brand look.
The next part is the idea of mixing different patterns. Not all my patterns look the same. That is why it is a little bit harder to create that brand because I have to work 10 times harder not to make everything like the same. I allow things to look different and unique would still exist under one brand. And, a lot comes through the writing and your caption. So that’s another thing I’ll add, especially for Instagram, which I know it’s very image-heavy.
While the image is extremely important, when you post a pattern, try writing a little bit about that pattern and talk about its design elements or what inspired it. That context is also going to help create that brand identity for the people who are seeing it. You have to be consistent in these efforts.
Designhill: How do you get out of the creative rut when you are stuck and aren’t able to think next?
Take A Break
I take a break, essentially, and I try not to force it. I usually get frustrated with myself when I think that I can’t do this anymore. Then, I stop and take a break. It comes and goes, and you can’t force it. What you should do is create anyways and make something you don’t like, and continue practicing every day. Get the skill of practicing and showing up every single day, not getting it perfect every day.
But doing it every day is going to improve your skills. It’s going to improve your ability to face failure or frustrated feelings. So when you have a creative block, my suggestion is to create anyways, even if it’s something you don’t like, and get that practice. Today, my charger and
Designhill: Did you have any kind of negative experience in the industry?
Nasrin: Here is one such experience. After my first ever client, I was working on a book, designing the interior and the cover for this book. At first, the client was giving a lot of money and creative control. I would say give me these concepts, or I would read the book to create the design concepts and then bring it to him. He usually would like it and give some feedback, etc. When I started working on the cover design, it was something more precious to him. Later, he started to tell me exactly how he wanted the cover to look like. He used to suggest I make this blue, put this here or there, and was over my head that doesn’t give you creative freedom.
So, I got frustrated because I thought that if the client knew what he wanted, then save money and don’t pay a designer to do the job. He was telling me exactly how to create the cover. It was something I didn’t like, personally, as it wasn’t my style and did not want my name to be attached to.
And so I kind of let my emotions get the best of me when we were on a call, and he was telling me how to design the cover. And I said I want you to have a cover design that you like. And that’s important to me. I also want to make sure that I’m doing work that goes against my thinking. And if this is the book cover design you want to go with, then I don’t want my name to be on the book. But in retrospect, looking back on it was too harsh, I understood where I came from and where the client came from, and they’re both valid places.
What I could have done is waited and gave it some more thought about how I wanted to approach a client that wanted to give me specific directions. And if you have a client that doesn’t give you creative freedom, you have to decide what’s important to you.
Is it important to get money from the project? I get that sometimes that’s what’s important. That’ll pay the bills. Or, do you want to stick to your creative identity and creative integrity? If that’s the case, sometimes you do have to walk away from the project if it’s not the right fit. Ensure that your client is a good fit for you and that you service them and are going to be a good partner for you.
Designhill: One year after you first started building your brand, do you have enough income as a full-time job?
Nasrin: My brand is only two months old. I started designing about a year ago. I was able to go into design full time because I saved a lot of money beforehand. Before that, I was a middle school teacher and taught seventh-grade history and English. I was able to save enough money and be comfortable without working for about a year or more. It made me not worry about getting clients, and I could practice design and my creative work as freely as I wanted to. What I would suggest is to make sure you save enough money beforehand.
Start A Business With Your Own Money
My business does not create enough money for me to have a full-time income yet. It takes many years for businesses to become profitable. If you want to start a business, you want to have your own money to be able to invest in it. You can also take money from investors and start the business that way. But I think it’s kind of better to start with your own money. You have full control over the business.
Designhill: Is there any great advice as an artist that you want to share with all of us?
Your Brand Is Who You Are
I think my greatest advice is that your creative process is tied to who you are as an individual. Instead of worrying about selling your work or getting clients to start first with creating work that is aligned to who you are, that reflects who you are. And that allows your design process to help you discover more about yourself. What does that mean?
When you create a pattern or an illustration or a design, that is a piece of you that’s coming out visually, it’s kind of crazy. What can you learn about yourself from that? And how can you express yourself and how can you make your art and design and yourself understand one process. I know that’s a little bit abstract. But I think that when you are true to your process, your work will look unique. And then, eventually, it will be a lot easier to create a brand. If you want to create a business or sell prints or whatever you want to do, it first has to start from an authentic and honest place.
These are useful tips that Nasrin Jafri gave to the pattern design community, especially those who are starting to convert their skills into a thriving business. Pay attention to these suggestions from the experienced designer and entrepreneur.
Meanwhile, budding designers can find work and do their practice at Designhill as well. This leading creative marketplace is your source of finding hundreds of design contests which you can see an opportunity to create for clients and drive their attention to your skill sets. You can win attractive contest prizes as well.
You can turn your pattern design skills into a flourishing business by keeping the basics. Nasrin Jafri shows the way with her rich experience as a pattern designer and businesswoman. She advises focusing on your art and skills. To get clients, she emphasizes on creating an impressive portfolio and then building relationships with clients. An aggressive promotional campaign on social media about your design abilities will also help.