Meet Karen Avila, Freelance Fashion Designer & Illustrator
Meet Karen Avila, a freelance fashion designer who also started her own online business teaching fashion illustration. Karen and I met about six months ago through a Facebook group for online entrepreneurs. She was offering these amazing fashion illustration courses online, so I jumped at the chance to check them out. I was really impressed how well she was able to break down the steps in a simple easy way that anyone can grasp. After that, she and I chatted back and forth and I learned how she had gotten into the fashion industry via freelancing. That is not an easy path, but she had used networking to build a successful freelancing business. Think you will learn a lot from her interview.
We couldn’t cover every possible angle of how to create an amazing fashion design portfolio in just one post! This article is part of an EPIC 10 part Fashion Portfolio Blog Series. If you want to learn all the tricks to make YOUR fashion design portfolio stand out and get you hired you can check out the entire series at the bottom of this page.
Carving her own path…
I was still in college studying industrial design, and I really wanted to do something fashion related. So, I started researching and Googling a lot until I discovered something called ‘freelancing’. You have to consider that I live in Mexico, and it was almost ten years ago. Freelancing was not a popular term then or in that location.
When I realized that I could work remotely doing what I was craving to do, I immediately put together a little portfolio. I started sending proposals via People Per Hour and what is now Upwork. I was more interested in landing a project as a fashion illustrator. But since my portfolio had some shoe designs I caught the interest of someone who wanted footwear design.
This client wanted me to design his collection of women’s footwear. He also wanted me to take care of the sample making of this collection, which I did. And that’s how my fashion journey got started!
Building her clientele…
After my first project, a lot more clients and different types of projects started to come my way. It was especially easy because these websites (Upwork + People Per Hour) were where my audience/ideal client was. Every time I finished a project I got their review. As I sent more proposals new potential clients saw those reviews, which helped them to trust me and my work. It was like a snowball effect, and I built my client base pretty quickly. After that, the same clients came back or referred people to me.
It was when I quit Upwork and PPH that getting new clients got more difficult. The main reasons are because 1) I had to look for my ideal clients by myself outside those platforms, and 2) I had to build trust from the ground up through my own website, social media channels, and portfolio. So, that meant more work on my end, but also I could save money on fees and focus on getting higher paying clients.
Now that I don’t work through any job board site, I keep getting clients through referrals, by introducing myself and my work in Facebook groups and using Instagram and Pinterest. I’m keen on using LinkedIn, and I’ve heard great things about it, so I think my efforts for next quarter will be there.
Learning the hard way…
The most difficult part about working as a freelancer definitely has been to realize that not everyone has the best intentions and being too naive in business.
As I mentioned, my freelance business grew pretty fast in the beginning. My now husband was working with me by then. We both worked really hard to create a design studio with manufacturing capabilities. We weren’t able to invest in machinery, so we joined forces with people who already had that, and we networked with tons of high-quality suppliers. And, we just started to make this new phase move forward when a bad client happened.
A potential client with a huge project asked us to help her out to create a kid’s wear line – without contracts, without nothing, just her word. I really wanted to be part of this project, so I convinced my husband to put all our savings into this only to realize the client would take advantage of us. We ended up with no money (with debt actually), angry suppliers and mad manufacturers, and feeling really hopeless.
Working as a fashion illustrator…
I started creating fashion illustrations way before landing my first fashion project. Actually, I wanted to work as a fashion illustrator before working as a fashion designer.
But, the first time I got paid to create fashion illustrations was a little after I began working as a freelancer. A new client needed some illustrations of his handbags collection to show on his line sheets and also on a magazine feature. So, of course, I said yes! We still work together from time to time.
Then I started teaching fashion illustration to my little sister. She wanted to become a fashion designer. Spots were limited and she needed to create a mini fashion collection and portfolio. So, before she started to freak out I helped her out. Then, a couple of her friends also asked for my help.
Starting another side business as an illustrator…
At the time I was struggling with freelancing as a whole. I was dealing with hard clients, working endless hours, and not having time for myself, my husband, or anything. I really needed a break out of all this craziness. We went to the beach for a weekend and I almost suffered a dislocation in my leg! I was so distracted thinking about work and mentally replying to client’s emails that I fell off when climbing a little sand mountain.
Getting my knee injured made me realized that I couldn’t trade my time for money for the rest of my life. So I started researching about new income streams and ways to make what is called ‘passive income’. That was when I learned about selling ebooks. That was almost four years ago before online courses started to get a lot of hype around them.
I joined a membership site to help me launch my ebook. There I found great materials about creating online courses. I thought that an online course would be a much better way to help and teach people than an ebook. And that’s how I found my way to creating online courses.
Online course creation process…
My very first course, which I launched on Skillshare, took me around one month to create and set up. But I wasn’t happy about it because I hired someone to make the voiceover for the lessons (because I’m not a native English speaker), so I took it down.
Then, my first official course really took me a long time to create and set up because I wanted everything to be perfect. There wasn’t a lot of information about creating online courses at that time. I was really lost on what I should cover, what tools I should use and everything in between. That course took me a year since creating the first draft to hitting publish. During this time I bought a DSLR and filming tools, and I taught myself how to film and edit videos. I got the courage to speak and appear on the video. I researched and tried platforms to host my courses, and I built my website FashionStepByStep.com.
After that, each course varies depending on how many lessons they have, and if they require video lessons or not. Some written courses have taken me from 2-3 weeks to create and publish, while others with 20+ videos lessons have taken me around 2-3 months. Of course, another factor to consider is how many client projects I’m handling while I’m creating the courses.
Currently, I have three courses available:
Drawing Fashion Figures & Faces. This course is all about teaching how to draw proportionate fashion figures and faces with ease. We get started by using some cheat sheets that help the student get used to the proportions and train their brain, hand, and eyes to draw this kind of figure. The whole method, lessons, and cheat sheets are here to help the student feel confident about her drawing skills so that she can draw her figures and faces free hand.In this course, we cover how to draw faces in different positions (front, profile, ¾, upwards, looking down), how to draw hands, feet, arms, and legs, and how to draw figures in different positions too (basic, front, back, side, and ¾, etc). With this course, the students can create their own fashion figures or re-create poses from magazines and Pinterest pics.
Rendering Fabrics with Markers. This is a step-by-step course that shows how to illustrate fabric textures with markers and complements like color pencils, brush pens, and fine liners. Each mini-lesson teaches how to render a different kind of fabric such as Scalloped Knit, Braided Cable, Knits, Corduroy, and more. There are 46 different lessons for the fabrics, plus 6 bonus lessons on ‘how to color skin’, ‘how to color eyes and mouths’, ‘how to color hair’, and ‘how to color garments’.This course is perfect for all the aspiring fashion designers and illustrators that already know how to draw fashion figures, faces, and garments, but don’t know how to render fabrics yet or those whose sketches and illustrations still look kinda flat.
Watercolors for Fashion Illustration. This is a beginners course to introduce aspiring fashion designers and illustrator to watercolors. It teaches the basics, and allows the students to study and practice each element of a fashion illustration (skin, face, eyes, mouth, nose, hair, and garments) individually, step-by-step, and simply but thoroughly.We cover all the basics like tools, supplies, color wheels, hues, tints, creating color wheels and mixing colors, and 24 different basic techniques. Then, we dive into painting faces, skin and how to work with texture for fabric rendering. And finally, we get into painting different kinds of garments and accessories.
I really want to live the full-time job experience. I know most people want to get out of that and be able to work only on their businesses. But since it’s something I’ve never done I think there’s a lot of value and knowledge in a permanent position for me. So, I hope to find that perfect job match as a textile designer in the UK. And, if that doesn’t happen anytime soon (because of Visas and work permits), I have a fashion masters waiting for me to get started next year in Milan.
People I admire…
I admire all my family (my parents, siblings, and husband). They all have followed their dreams and happiness in life and professionally. They have faced difficult times. Even then, they’ve known how to keep the faith, move forward, and overcome those difficulties with joy.
I’ve never had a mentor. But, my husband and I always dive into deep conversations, and one of the best pieces of advice he has given me is:
Stop comparing yourself and your work. Your success won’t determined by the stats. It will be determined by you, what you do with what you have, and how much you believe in yourself and what you do. So, do your best, and expect the best.
Fashion Portfolio Blog Series
If you, or someone you know, want to learn how to create a killer fashion design portfolio you can read the entire series here. Learn what it takes to build an amazing fashion design portfolio that will get you noticed and get your foot in the door.
- How To Create A Killer Fashion Portfolio
- Fashion Portfolio – Step 1 – Review Your Current Body of Work
- Fashion Portfolio – Step 2 – Find Inspiration
- Fashion Portfolio – Step 3 – Get Clarity of Concept
- Fashion Portfolio – Step 4 – Create A Mood Board
- Fashion Portfolio – Step 5 – Create A Color Palette
- Fashion Portfolio – Step 6 – Create Your Concept Board
- Fashion Portfolio – Step 7 – Sketch Out Your Ideas
- Fashion Portfolio – Step 8 – Find Your Fabrics
- Fashion Portfolio – Step 9 – Add flat sketches
- Fashion Portfolio – Step 10 – Fashion illustrations
- Interview With Karen Avila – Freelance Fashion Designer & Illustrator