Thursday, March 21, 2013

What It Means To Be A Textile Designer - Designer and Consultant Michelle Fifis

I have been working on some fabric collections for the upcoming Surtex show so this is a very timely editorial - many artists are interested in textile and surface design but don't know how to start or how to create collections for this particular sector of the industry. So I invited instructor Michelle Fifis, Textile Design Consultant​ and host of the popular blog Pattern Observer to share with us what it means to be a textile designer.

The Moon from My Attic: What do you do? I work with textile designers to improve the professionalism of their work and grow their businesses. Since launching Pattern Observer in 2010, I have helped hundreds of designers through my free training programs, e-courses and private coaching.

Consultant Michelle Fifis
I also work with manufacturers to develop textile design collections. Over the past ten years I have worked with clients such as Lucy Activewear, Columbia Sportswear, Jantzen Swimwear, Nike, P&B Textiles and Pottery Barn.

TMFMA: What's exciting about your creative work? Design aesthetic is not an easy thing to teach and I find the challenge to be very exciting! The goal of my new course, The Ultimate Guide to Repeats, is to help fine artists learn how to modify their artwork so that it's more marketable in our industry. It is exciting to see artists enter the commercial design world and develop some of the most amazing patterns I have ever seen. They bring a sense of craftsmanship that is really lacking in our industry.

TMFMA: What's your main source of inspiration? Artists. I have an innate drive to help artists achieve their dreams. There is nothing better than hearing from students who have gone on to sell their first print or landed their dream agent. This industry offers so many opportunities and I want to help more artists and designers earn a living from their craft.

TMFMA: Is there any particular project you are currently working on that is exciting? I am currently offering virtual workshops every few months which provide more interaction and community support for designers. This has been an exciting shift in my business and the response has been amazing! I am also developing a new mentorship program which will launch in April and collecting data for an industry-wide business report. There is not a great deal of data on the textile design industry and I hope that this report will help artists understand the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

TMFMA: Please tell us about your textile design experience. After receiving my BFA in Fashion Design from Stephens College and completing an internship with designer Zandra Rhodes, I launched a line of hand-painted handbags called Fifi Handbags (my nickname is Fifi!). The collection was sold in over 100 stores nationwide and was a blast to run, but a financial disaster! Feeling burnt out and ready for a change, I decided to move to Portland, Oregon in 2003.

A few months after arriving in Portland I saw an ad in the newspaper (am I dating myself?!) for an assistant textile designer with Jantzen Swimwear. I applied and to my delight I was hired! I worked there for several years, designing a few original prints but mostly working on repeat patterns and colorways. This was a little frustrating because I wanted to create more original artwork, but looking back on it, it was wonderful training for the future.

After a few years I left to work at Columbia Sportswear, which was also a fantastic learning experience. While at Columbia I managed the women's print collection which averaged around 40 prints a season, developed high-level trend presentations, and fell in love with the concept of designing with the customer in mind. In 2010 I left the corporate design world to freelance and soon discovered a new passion: blogging and mentoring other designers through Pattern Observer.

TMFMA: What do manufacturers look for in a fabric/print collection? Manufacturers are looking for collections that their customer will find irresistible. A creative director may personally love your work, but if it is not right for the end-use consumer, the collection will not be a good investment.

© Michelle Fifis
The best way to know what trends or print styles a manufacturer is looking for is to research the end-use consumer. Find out which prints are currently selling well, how customers are using or wearing them and who they look to for inspiration. Combining this information with your artistic style is a recipe for success!

TMFMA: Some say trends are not important. What's your view about this topic as related to the textile industry? I think it is extremely important that textile designers have some sense of what trends are emerging or fading from the marketplace. Even if a designer creates prints for a market that is less trendy, knowing what colors and print styles are currently popular, or were popular, is so helpful. I can't imagine why a designer wouldn't want to have that knowledge!

TMFMA: Any important tips/tricks you can share or anything else you'd like to share as an artist/consultant? I encourage artists and designers to focus on the creative process and worry less about industry "rules" or standards. If your work is fresh and marketable, an agent is not going to care about the technical details. Focus on the artwork, experiment and enjoy the process. I give you permission!

Find out more about Michelle Fifis and her services here:


Unknown said...

@MoonFromMyAttic - I have taken two of Michelle's classes, which literally launched my journey into textile/surface design. Highly recommend! Cathy Hunt

Beth Grove said...

Alex, thank you so much for doing this interview. I've been wanting help with my repeats and didn't know where to turn for help. I will definitely being using some of Michelle's resources.


Nicky Ovitt said...

I am currently taking Michelle's Sellable Sketch Workshop and it's fantastic. Her mentoring and personal review sessions are an exceptional feature!

Rachel Fontenot said...

I too have taken three of Michelle's classes... They are fabulous! And Michelle is a wonderful teacher! Her classes definitely put me on the right track to the world of surface design. Everyone interested in the world of surface design should taker Michelle's classes ans keep up with what she's got goin on over at Pattern Observer.

Thanks Alex, for spreading goodness to surface designers!

Rachel Fontenot