Meet Marc Freeman – Fashion Textile Print Designer
Meet Marc Freeman, textile print designer, and owner of Bella Prints studio in New York City. I have known Marc for years. I have called upon him every season for the last decade to bring me fresh new menswear print ideas.
What makes Marc so interesting to me is that he has always found a unique way to bring old and new techniques together. For example, he often uses photography as inspiration. But he will then use Adobe PhotoShop to filter the images and make brand new unexpected motifs for his textiles prints.
If you have ever considered a career in textile design you will love hearing Marc’s story. Like many people, he did not start out in the fashion industry.
We couldn’t cover every possible angle of the textile print industry in just one post! This article is part of an 8 part Fashionable Textile Print Biz Series. If you want to learn how you can build a successful career in the fashion textile print industry check out the other articles that are part of this series at the bottom of the page. You can also join the conversation on our Facebook group called PickGlass Fashionable Careers. See you there!
My 1st Introduction To Fashion…
I started out in the professional art world back in 1981 as a graphic designer. I had a design firm called “Flying Glove” on 47th and Broadway. One of my accounts was Western Communications in New York City. I had the opportunity to take a full-time assistant art director position there for Interior Design, Corporate Design, and Art in America magazines. These were just a few of their publications.
I worked on an issue of Bride magazine which had Brook Shields on the cover. I guess you could say that was my first exposure to fashion.
In the late 80’s I decided to open my own marble and tile installation company. I did the high-end installation in some very expensive houses, mostly in Tuxedo Park New York. I felt very much at home in that business since most everything in tile installation was done off a grid as in publication production. Everything was in a grid or repeat.
From Tile Installation To Textile Design…
I stayed in construction for years until one day, around 1996, I was working on site building a recording studio for a friend in Hoboken. There was this pipe that went through the “Live Room” and into his neighbor’s apartment next-door. This pipe would transfer sound and needed to be removed. So, I go over and knock on the door and the woman who lives there answered. I explained to her what needed to be done. We ended up being good friends. I finished that job, and moved on to the next one In Cold Springs, NY, “The Hastings Center’.
My new found friend turned out to be a graduate from Road Island School of Design. While having dinner one night she says “I want to open a print studio in NYC and will be looking for artists. Do you know of any?” “Well,” I said, “me”. She said “Really? You’re a builder.” Then I told her of my past experience in the arts. We made a deal. She gave me a shot to do some plaids for menswear. I said no sweat. I’ll use a ruling pen and ink.
She never heard of a ruling pen. A ruling pen is a German invention, which preceded a radiograph pen, which enables you to rule a line at various widths. I did a group of 14 prints. They sold like hot cakes.
She eventually brought in a Mac to the studio and I was all over it. It was the perfect tool for the job. I became her leading artist. I then eased out of construction.
Learning Every Aspect Of The Business…
There is nothing like on the job experience. While at Printed Planet I designed prints for both men’s women’s and even home. Eventually, I was so busy I took on an assistant.
Printed Planet had a few good sales representatives, and I was eager to try my hand out in sales as well. Once doing so, I liked it. I remember my first sale was to Woolwich. It was a good day, not only did they buy, they bought my prints!
I wanted to make more money and I wanted more control of my art. To do that, I needed to expand. Taking on another sales representative didn’t seem to make sense to me, particularly because I was able to sell prints as well as produce them. Being able to produce prints and having the knowledge of the process made me a better sales rep. I had confidence I could do it on my own.
Reinventing The Wheel…
The word “Bella” means “beautiful” in Italian. I am of northern Italian lineage. I thought it would be a nice name.
Regarding what makes my studio different is the fact that it’s about being different. You know the saying “don’t reinvent the wheel”? I disagree with that statement.
At Bella Prints we are always trying to do things differently, keeping it fresh and exploring new ideas, trying to get ahead of the curve. Reinventing the wheel. I always say to my artists that when folks see something new and exciting they respond to it in a positive way.
For example, you may hear this statement from a customer. “I don’t know what to do with it, but I love It!”, as they run their hand over the print. They may pull that print and other folks may pull it as well. All great indicators that the print will sell. It’s just a matter of time. Difference. That’s what fashion should be about. Turning heads. For the most part, I’m very happy with what I sell and love what my customers buy.
Growing The Business Slowly…
I’ll tell you, It’s not easy. I’m a firm believer in starting out small and growing a business slowly. With that said, it meant a lot more work for me. You find yourself working long hours in the beginning and being “the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker”.
As things began to level out, I hired studio representatives and freelance artists. That took a bit of the workload off me. Then I was I able to focus on getting a fantastic collection together to offer my clients.
I find it very rewarding. But it’s not for everyone. There is always risk involved. You need confidence in what you do as an artist and being an administrator. I guess it boils down to how you manage your time and how you delegate responsibilities.
Understanding Your Customers Needs And Capabilities…
It’s sometimes hard to know the buyer’s wants and needs. What they can sell, is what you will sell them. It takes time to understand them and their lines. Once you work with folks for an extended time this becomes easier. But don’t get too comfortable because clients needs can change at the drop of a dime.
One other difficulty is understanding how your clients’ production manufacturer works. It always helps when a buyer has a solid CAD team they work with. Some clients that are new to prints want to buy them but they don’t have the knowledge on how to execute the print to meet their needs. That can be frustrating. But I’ve always managed to work things out and to help the process move forward.
Not knowing more about technical production in the earlier days is one thing I wish I knew back then. Most artist, myself included, have had issues with whether or not a print is printable. But you learn that lesson quickly.
I travel a lot. I shop and look at what’s out there. Then I form a direction based on what I see that taps into the trends but somehow is different. I never take pictures. Things that strike me stay on my mind. Sometimes I’ll take notes and convey them to the artists and direct them as to what to do.
I believe it’s best to have what others do not. It sets you apart from them and it calls attention to your studio.
The Pros And Cons Of Big Trade Shows…
Yes, I’ve done lots of those large textile print trade shows in both Europe and the States.
Pros: You get to travel, meet new clients and get exposure. You’re able to mingle with your peers. You’ll get feedback from buyers as to their needs. Those are great things. You may make some money depending on the economic environment of the industry at the time of a given show. I notice a lot of start-up studios at shows. It’s a great way to introduce a studio and it’s collection.
Cons: Large shows can be overwhelming and tiresome for the customers. Some customers are just there to see what studios are doing and develop their own prints in-house based on what they see. This does not help studios, particularly if they’re paying a lot of money to do the shows.
I’ve also had clients tell me they feel uncomfortable at shows because other folks see what they’re buying. I can understand this feeling. Some designers like to keep things secret until they unveil their line.
Furthermore, time is at a premium to many buyers and designers and it’s sometimes difficult for them to make it to a show. So don’t get your hopes up that you’ll see your tried and true customers at every show. If you’re not an established studio, you may lose money at a show. But there’s only one way to find out.
Finding The Right Artists To Represent…
At present, I’m representing six artists. That number changes from time to time.
I never really look for an artist. They usually find the studio or me. Many of them were graphic designer prior to getting involved in textile print design. Honestly, I meet them sometimes in the strangest of place.
For example, I was in Paris a few years back outside my friend’s cocktail lounge, and this young woman overheard my conversation with someone. She approached me later that night and asked me what I did. So I told her in more detail. It turned out she was a well-traveled artist from Sweden who studied in NY, who lived in Paris and was currently tending bar in an upscale nightclub there. It was getting late, and I was saying goodnight to friends. When I said goodnight to her she asked me what I was doing the next day. I told her I was going shopping at Le Bon Marche to see what’s out there. She seemed very interested, so I invited her to come along. I knew that day that she’d be one of the best artists I’ve ever represented.
I believe that an artist is an artist and will always remain one. Regardless of which school or even if they went to school for art makes no difference. An artist can do art, then leave it for extended amounts of time and when they come back to it it’s as if they never left. Because being an artist never leaves an artist. It’s the way a person sees, their ability to focus on details, to be a visionary.
I want to see a drive in an artist, almost a blue-collar attitude. That works for me. To be honest, I could care less about there schooling. They will learn more about textile design just being and working in the field.
Changes In The Textile World…
Without getting into pros and cons. I think the single most major change in the industry since I’ve been involved is the computer. Closely followed the digital camera and cell phone. In general, digital media really changed the way designers think. Another giant change with the advent of the computer is the online purchasing phenomena of just about everything including garments. It’s changed the retail landscape substantially. Inevitably, robots and artificial intelligence will take their place in the industry.
Advice For New Artists…
When I was in school studying graphic design I had an instructor named Lou Donato. He looked a bit like Pablo Picasso and had a similar attitude regarding art. He said to me, break the mold. Shake it up. Don’t be afraid to destroy your art and start over. Most importantly be different. I kind of believe in all those things.
I’d have to say I admire most of the designers from various companies I work with. They’re very hard working people trying to get a job done. I admire those who are open-minded. Those who can and are willing to think out of the box.
Always do something different. Pay attention to what’s going on around you. Learn how too draw and don’t be completely dependent on the computer. Don’t be afraid to take creative risks.
To learn more about Marc Freeman and his services you can follow him here:
Makers Row: @Bella-Prints
LinkedIn: @Marc Freeman
Fashionable Textile Print Biz Series
If you, or someone you know, is interested in a career as a textile print designer check out the entire series here. Learn what skills you need to know how to get started. And learn what it takes to run a successful textile print business today.
- What Is A Fashion Textile Print Designer?
- What Does A Textile Print Designer Do?
- How To Be A Successful Textile Print Designer
- Interview With Marc Freeman From Bella Prints
- Top 10 Tips For A Successful Textile Print Designer
- How Top Print Designers Keep Coming Up With New Creative Ideas
- How To Build Your Own Textile Print Design Business
- Interview With Neil Elliott Founder Of Pattern Bank