Freelance Fabric Design Question

Here’s a great question I got from one of our members today. I asked if I could post it but forgot to ask if she wanted to remain anonymous.

I have a question for you and maybe some others in-the-know who read FI. I am an independent textile designer (most days) and am working with a client for whom I am producing 1100 yds of fabric. It’s basically a wholesale transaction, where I am managing the production with a printer and arranging to send him the rolls upon their completion. He has asked about “minimums for exclusivity” for this fabric design and a few others I have. This is where I am stuck. I have some knowledge of selling designs outright as you would at a surface design trade show, or licensing designs for royalties/flat fees for a term. It gets confusing for me to think of this type of transaction because I would still be managing/financing all production throughout the process. Do you know how I would go about pricing this arrangement? How is it typically done? What’s the time limit? Do you have any resources?

Personally, I’d be interested in what she knows about selling designs outright at a surface design trade show. Can anybody help her out with this question?

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  1. dosfashionistas says:

    I don’t know how helpful this would be, but I remember that the big print companies will hold a design exclusive to a label for an order of x yards. I do not remember the yardage required, and I think it was often (usually?)just for one year or one season, and maybe just within that catagory of clothing. (The print might be exclusive to one children’s wear company but be available to women’s sportswear.)

    Companies that depend on prints for the appeal of their clothes will often try to get an exclusive if they think the print will be popular. It is a way of staying ahead of the competition, so I am not surprised at him asking for an exclusive and it is definitely a compliment to your work.

    Hope this helps.

  2. When I attended Direction in NYC I saw a woman pay $495 for a 10×10 vintage fabric that was supposed to be the only one of it’s kind. The fabric was collected, not designed, and I don’t know what designers did, but people were buying the rights to prints.

    I sure hope more people chime in. Interesting topic.


  3. Vesta says:

    Well, you can buy a print design at a show for around $400 on up. For your exclusive use. But of course they’re not putting any effort into getting the print into production. So perhaps this person could charge a set fee on top of the project management fee (or wholesale charge for the fabric). And if the customer ordered over X yards, the exclusivity fee would/could basically just be rolled into the yardage price.

    Of course, it costs more to get someone to design a print to spec, rather than just taking something they have lying around. I’ve paid between $400 (for something like “I need stripes in this colorway”) and $1000 (for something like “y’know, sorta oriental, kinda like this, but really more like that . . . “).

  4. raghav chhabra says:

    normally when companies ask for exclusivity of design what i do is to make sample yardage for the prints they select but those companies remain liable to pay the screen charges including yardage that i supply them .they may buy all or few or in some cases none of the prints but that does not free them from the liabilty clause .Also since this this will be just sampling i normally charge them twice the actual selling price of the fabric .one more thing to watch is the minimum qty of fabric that has to be printed say 50 yards .Another important point to be included in the deal should be the time limit by which companies have to confirm whether or not they are buying the print .All this only helps to ensure that you are safe bothways ie in terms of seriousness of buyer buying the prints and the safety of your investment which u might do for the buyer.hope this helps.

  5. Margarette says:

    I think you would charge exactly the same rate because of all the work involved. If the client is really interested, she will pay for the exclusive rights. Do not back down. Artists everywhere will thank you.

  6. Beth says:

    In January of this year, I attended a free lecture at RISD called Negotiating a Licensing Deal. The woman who spoke was Deborah Barones,textile grad 1979. She had some good advice and gave us her information for follow up questions.

    Don’t know if this helps but here is her info.

    Deborah Barones
    Painter/Textile Designer/Creative
    Director for the apparel and home textiles market – Warren, RI


  7. I am not a professional myself, but I know others who work in fabric and fashion industry in Europe.

    And I remember that a representative of an European company told me, that his company has to buy a minimum of 10000 metres to get exclusivity of a design. In this case it is theirs forever. (Until the next factory in China fakes it…)

    Maybe this information ist a bit helpfull.

  8. J C Sprowls says:

    I have never used a textile designer, directly, so my frame of reference is slim. I have, however, commissioned a custom weave, before.

    In the case of the latter, the weaver has a textile designer either on-staff or at their disposal (i.e. a subcontractor). It is traditional to pay a design fee separate from a setup fee and then also purchase a minimum length of fabric. In most cases, if you’re an established company with a long ordering history and sufficient volume behind you, you can get the setup fee waived. In my experience, the design fee is still itemized on the invoice. Though, I imagine if volume and longevity is there, that could probably be waived, too.

    My recommendation would be, if a textile/print designer, I would charge a design fee. And, then, I would charge a sample fee for the strike off. Then, I would charge a project management fee for facilitating the production and delivery of the goods. I would not, however, bake all of this into the per yard price.

    My reasoning is: what happens if the customer abandons the project? If I state each step as a distinct service/fee and then verbally tell the customer how it might be factored into costing, they have context and flexibility. I know they’re going to counter my proposal by chunking up the package, anyway, so I would talk in terms of lowest common denominator (i.e. discrete deliverables).

    If the customer already knew how to get the mill to produce the design, then they wouldn’t require that ancillary service from me. Rather than try to capture that service in order to make margin, I would price the deliverable discretely so the customer may exit when they’re done and I can move onto the next project.

    I’ve always been hesitant about package pricing because I don’t feel it can be effectively managed unless the company is a vertical business model (i.e. producing the goods you design).

  9. Trish says:

    The Surface Design Association (SDA) is a fabulous group to join if textile design is your thing… or any kind of surface design for that matter. SDA has been around almost thirty years, and in fact, the term “surface design” was coined by one of the early members — I think it was Jack Lenor Larson.

    Here is a link to SDA, and I am a Texas representative so if anyone in Texas or southern New Mexico needs any info on SDA, email me at

    Here is a link to info on Jack Lenor Larson. But you can search his name and you will find much, much more about him.

    Just one more link on Jack Lenor Larson.. this has a picture of some of his stunning textiles.

    Here is another tip… check out Surtex, this is the perfect place to sell textile designs as a freelancer.

    Here is what Surtex says about itself on their website. “Here’s what you can expect at SURTEX:

    The hottest trends, newest designs, and greatest resources from around the world 400 exhibitors on two floors, selling and licensing diverse art and design. Exhibitors include top artists, designers, studios and licensing firms. Outstanding network potential with key industry contacts. An incredible business-building opportunity you can’t afford to miss.

    Hope this helps.

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