Meet Sew Heidi – Creator Of Online Courses For Fashion Designers
Meet Sew Heidi, a fashion designer turned serial entrepreneur. I connected with Heidi almost 9 months ago when I first started following her and found she had created a successful online courses business teaching people how to use Adobe Illustrator for fashion sketching. That is a much needed skill in the fashion industry! Then I reached out to her again just a few months ago when I discovered she had come out with a weekly podcast where she interviews people in all areas of the fashion industry. It is phenomenal! (I highly recommend you add it to your playlist.) When I was ready to re-launch my fashion design portfolio series I knew it would be the perfect time to collaborate and introduce her to my audience as people would need the skills she teaches to make their own KILLER Fashion Portfolio. In this interview I was surprised to learn that Heidi is actually a serial entrepreneur and she is just getting started!
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.
Starting at zero…
I always had a love for fashion and grew up sewing on my mom’s red Husqvarna. But fashion never seemed like a viable career path, so I studied graphic design and marketing at the University of Denver instead. It was a compromise between my desire to be creative and my dad’s encouragement to study business.
This decision actually worked to my advantage as it was a combination of my college education and my sewing experience that got me my first job as a fashion designer (more on that later!).
The start of my fashion career began in my basement studio with zero experience except some basic sewing skills from my mom. While working my first job out of college as a receptionist (that I hated), I spent nights and weekends designing, sewing and launching a collection of one-of-a-kind handmade dresses and accessories. I did local fashion shows, markets and made friends with the Denver community. I traveled to tradeshows and grew the business pretty substantially. At its peak, I had product in 50+ doors worldwide.
That experience and my Illustrator skills (from my degree) got my foot in the door at a golf brand in Denver, which was my first exposure to seasonal collection design and overseas production. I worked there for a few years and learned an insane amount – things I had never heard of before like lab dips, handlooms, tech packs and all the real industry stuff!
But employee status wasn’t for me and I knew I was meant to be an entrepreneur. So together, my boss at the golf brand and I quit to start a design agency, The Fashion Element. She had fit, construction and textile knowledge, and I was a whiz at all the computer design related tasks. Together, we make a great team and almost a decade later, we still work together helping brands do everything from design through production.
Putting your foot down…
One of the biggest challenges I think we all face is being stuck in a job or working on a project / with a client that doesn’t serve us or make us a happier or better person. I’m always up for challenge and think that working through tough situations makes you stronger, but there’s a fine line between what you put up with and fight through and when you finally just say “no, I am not doing this any more.”
Putting my foot down and saying no, whether it be to tolerating an unhealthy work environment or putting up with an abusive client, has proven for me to be a good decision with positive impacts.
Twice, I’ve said “no” and walked away to do something that would make me happier.
The first was quitting my first job out of college as a receptionist – I was bored, unfulfilled and very overqualified. I left to pursue running my own fashion brand full time. It was risky and very scary, but I learned so much about myself and working in the fashion world as an independent designer.
The second was quitting my job at the golf brand and leaving to start a design agency with my then boss. Leaving a steady paycheck and some form of stability to pursue something bigger and better – something that I knew I would be happier doing – was terrifying but was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Almost a decade later, I can’t imagine doing anything else.
The freedom and control I’ve gained by taking these risks – quitting a job to try and do something more fulfilling – has proven twice now to be the best decision I could have ever made. It opened up new opportunities and allowed me to create my own path to success.
Creating online courses…
When I started working professionally as a designer, I discovered that fashion graduates were not learning Illustrator in school, and were leaving college unable to find a job. I also saw many of my coworkers doing things very tediously in the software – they had figured out one way to do a task, but simple projects would take them forever. If fashion school wasn’t going to teach them, and there weren’t other resources available in the market, I knew I had to share my knowledge. I had discovered so many tricks and shortcuts to use Illustrator for fashion, so in 2010, I started making short YouTube tutorials.
The business grew pretty organically and there wasn’t really a “leap” per se. Since I run my own agency and do client work, I fit this business in when I had time (I now split my time between the two business 50/50). My Successful Fashion Designer business started out as live workshops, which designers loved, but the content was too overwhelming to consume in just a few sessions. So, I went online with 3 courses to teach essential skills like Illustrator and tech packs.
I’m thrilled to have over a thousand students enrolled in my programs and have been able to reach designers all over the world, something live training didn’t allow for. But the best part is hearing my students’ successes. Some have landed their dream job or been able to launch their own label with the skills they’ve learned. The emails I get sometimes bring tears to my eyes, and to be able to have an impact on people’s lives like that is priceless.
The riches are in the niches…
I believe in being extremely niche, so it’s been somewhat intentional. I wanted to create something really specific for an audience that was being underserved. That turned out to be Illustrator for fashion designers.
I do have a course that teaches tech packs in Excel, but as far as design software goes, I did stick with Illustrator. Why? It’s by far the #1 program necessary to be a designer. Some designers use Photoshop, but I’ve found they do this because they don’t know how to do it in AI, not because PS is a better tool.
With the exception of textile design, a fashion designer will do 98% of their design work in AI, so it just made sense. Sure, we sometimes use InDesign for line sheets or catalogs (which I do many of for my client work), but as far as the design process is concerned, AI is key.
I currently have three flagship online courses…
The Adobe Illustrator Masterclass teaches designers how to cut their design time in half. We cover flats, repeats, tech sketches, and line sheets. It’s great for designers who want to do a little of everything and get up to speed fast, or break bad habits and stop fighting with the software.
Sketch Beautiful Flats with Illustrator teaches designers how to create more realistic flats with dimension. We go through advanced techniques to emulate complex details like ruffles, fringe and distress. It’s great for designers who have a base knowledge but want higher level skills to give their flats more life.
Design to Development teaches designers how to communicate their vision clearly and confidently with a professional tech pack (without spending thousands on a college course!). Designers leave with an understandable set of instructions for any factory to follow so they can speed up production and decrease mistakes in sampling (or production!).
Being more open about myself and my journey was surprisingly hard. When I started teaching, my content was very technical and structured, as were my blog posts and emails. Over time, my audience started asking more about me. They wanted to know what my journey was and what my struggles were, not just how to use the Pen Tool in Illustrator. They even started to be curious about my personal life (which I’m now fairly transparent about).
It sounds silly, but it was hard and uncomfortable to open up to them at first. I was so used to being “an Illustrator teacher” and not a “real person”, that it took time for me to be ok letting them into my life. It’s changed everything in my business for the better though. I have an amazing relationship with my audience now and see them more as friends than anything. I talk to many of them regularly via email and Skype to see how they’re doing or what’s going on.
Going into podcasting…
One person only has so much knowledge to offer, and I wanted to introduce more industry experts to my audience. It actually started with a live YouTube show every Monday night where I occasionally brought guests on, but the format was too hard to coordinate or scale…and it slowly become the “Heidi Show”, which I hated.
The live show was a good learning experience though, and a necessary stepping stone for me personally to do the podcast. We just celebrated its 6 month birthday (is that a thing? I’m making it a thing!) and it’s been more amazing than I ever could have dreamed. Not only is my audience learning an insane amount about making it in this industry (again, some of the reviews have brought tears to my eyes), but I am too. I’m also getting to meet tons of really great people doing awesome stuff in fashion (including you Malie!) and that’s been a blast.
More to come…
I’ve been working on a new program for about 18 months (yikes!) that will launch in early 2018. I don’t believe in creating something unless it’s exceptional, and that takes time! I’ve been researching, beta testing, and working with coaches and mentors. My goal, as it is with every program I create, is to make it the best possible.
It’s the first program of its kind in the fashion industry, and I’m over the moon excited to share it. I won’t give too many details, but it’s around freelancing in fashion. If you’re curious to know more and be the first to hear when it launches, you can sign up here (and get the hourly freelance rate calculator to help you get started right away).
Who I admire…
It’s a type of person, rather than a specific one. And it’s the type of person that does things and takes action instead of just talking about “someday, when I’m ready, I just need to…”
Listen, it’s scary and competitive and intimidating out there. And it’s easy to talk about an idea you have or what you “maybe one day” want to do.
But it’s really hard to go out there and actually do it. Even if you fail (I have more times than I can count), you’re learning and moving forward.
Those are the people I admire. And if you’re one of them, hit me up. I’d love to meet you.
Best advice I ever got…
I have many. I’m a firm believer in continuing education, investing in yourself, and getting help, advice and guidance. Every year I budget a substantial amount to invest in coaching or mentors, and it’s helped me grow professionally and personally. They push me out of my comfort zone, help me get out of my head (it’s scary in there sometimes!) and keep me on track to get things done.
(I learned the hard way that it’s really *bleeping* hard to do any of this stuff on your own.)
The best advice all of them have given me is to invest in yourself. One of them says, “stop debating whether or not to buy a book, just buy it. If you learn one thing from it, the $10 or $25 was well spent.”
I make informed decisions and invest wisely, but I have no problem spending a few hundred or even a few thousand on a program or coach who can help me be a better version of myself.
To follow Heidi and get some of her great instructional tips you can follow her below:
Fashion Portfolio Blog Series
If you, or someone you know, wants 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
- Interview With Sew Heidi – Successful Online Courses Creator
- 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