For the longest time, it was a dream of mine to design fabric. When I finally got that opportunity, there were a few things that surprised me about designing fabric for another company. In this article I'm specifically talking about fabric companies who work with freelance artists on designer collections, not print on demand fabric companies like Spoonflower. There are more nuances here, but read on for the 3 most surprising things I encountered as a fabric designer.
1. You Might Not Get Paid for a Year
Many fabric companies pay designers through royalties. This means that you as the designer receive a percentage of sales (usually 3-6%) in a quarterly check. However, you don't start receiving those checks until the fabric is actually produced and offered for sale. For example, you may have designed the collection that January, but it won't be released and shipping to stores until December, therefore you won't receive your first check until the company has processed Q4 payments, which would happen around January or February one year after you originally designed the collection.
Some fabric companies offer payments per yardage printed, but even then it can take up to a year to receive your lump sum check when the fabric is finally manufactured.
2. Each Fabric Company Has Unique Procedures
While the payment structures are generally standard, the design process with each fabric company is unique to them. Some companies give you more creative freedom, while others want to be more involved in the design process and make final colorway decisions for example. Some fabric companies require you to help present your collection with them at quilt markets, while others do that for you. Some will want you to handle the entire technical design process, while others will offer assistance in creating your repeats.
If you're looking for a fabric company to work with, it might take some trial and error to find the right fit.
3. Exclusivity May Be Required
Some fabric companies want you to exclusively design fabric by the yard for them, and not take on any other fabric by the yard clients, or may even restrict your selling your designs on sites like Spoonflower. Alternatively, I've had the experience where the companies I worked with did not mind if I worked on a fabric collection with another company, as long as the marketing didn't compete or overlap too much among the collections. It all should be detailed in your contract, and if not, don't be afraid to ask them their preferences or requirements early on in your discussions!