Sourcing freelance services if you’re smart, young & web savvy

So you’re looking for a freelance designer (or maybe a pattern maker or sewing contractor) and come across a really great site -beautifully coded, neat and clean with tons of current designs, tech packs and image files from brand name customers the designer supposedly worked with. I’ve seen sites filled with such impressive stuff that even I am tempted to hire them to do my own job.

Have you had this experience? I thought so. Before you move any closer, check the dates on those sample sketches. If they are recent -meaning, stuff that isn’t even for sale yet or just barely is- better check your enthusiasm at the door because you don’t want to hire this person. No way. No how.

Or maybe you think that’s just old-school talking. I say that if you hire someone like this maybe you’d better get a signed NDA. Conversely, old pros find these offensive and will show you to the door the minute you whip one out because contracts are the antithesis of trust. Personally, I’d keep looking. A designer/patternmaker/sewing contractor who doesn’t know enough to keep mum on customer’s information probably doesn’t know a lot of other things either*. It doesn’t matter how nice they are. However nice or unintentional, you can’t trust a freelancer who could hurt you this badly.

This is the skinny: If you paid for it, it’s yours. No provider can use your stuff without explicit permission. A legitimate service provider will not use customer’s work to generate business for themselves unless it is dated. As a point of comparison, see my policies. A legitimate provider won’t even ask. If you hire someone who broadcasts customer information, why would you be so special that they wouldn’t do that to you?

As I’ve said ad nauseum, I’m more likely to trust a sewing contractor with a scruffy cardboard sign on the door; don’t presume someone is a pro by a slick website. These days, it’s almost a strike against someone. Give me a 1995 era website with the only interactivity being a button you can push to set off fireworks and I’d trust it more. Building a pretty site can cost close to $0 but everybody falls for it. Most of the best people in the business don’t even have websites. Never forget that this business is mostly offline and is very personal and relationship centered. You’ve heard of the diamond dealers who do it all with a hand shake? That’s us too only they dress better than we do.

And yeah, it annoys me. Start ups can be paranoid and crazy. Crazy wastes time and alienates the very people you should want to hire. People who put up professional websites but break the very precepts of professional conduct do things that fuel craziness and make the rest of us look bad. And you want to know the craziest thing? The people most likely to hire an amateur are smart and young, web savvy people. Don’t hire someone like yourself. That’s not the skill set you need otherwise you’d just do it yourself.

There’s more at the back story.
* I don’t doubt X worked for X company (being an associate designer in a lot of companies often means answering the phone, getting coffee, cutting swatches and filling out paperwork) but if they’re hanging their own shingle, they are out of the loop if they’re broadcasting customer information like this.

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  1. Kate R says:

    This is really interesting – I’ve started to notice that the really good people don’t seem to have websites. Why would they need one, I guess? I mean, if they’re getting all the work they want/need/can handle. Websites are basically a marketing tool after all. Hmm. Only problem is it seems to be hard to convince suppliers – especially fabric suppliers, who, I find, like to make it incredibly difficult to buy their products – that you are a worthy recipient of their goods if you don’t have a website.

  2. Liz says:

    Websites do have a use, even in a low-tech relationship industry.

    But that use is NOT as a flashy marketing tool, or a way to show off how cool you are. Instead, think of a website as a yellow pages ad, with photos.

    A good website for someone in the sewn products industry (and is not selling to end customers) might have:
    – contact info: mailing address, phone, email
    – a short resume, naming companies and people you worked with
    – your portfolio: photos and sketches. As Kathleen said, what images you include should follow industry ethics.
    All this can be put on one simple page that needs updating once a year or so. In other words … boring.

    Who would want a website like this? If you do business with others all over the country/world, they now can access your information easily. You’ve already met them, the site just refreshes their memory. Think of the site as an un-lose-able business card with pictures.

    I have to admit I’m biased here — I’m a website designer. I won’t say no if you want to hire me to build your online business card/website, but you don’t need me — these websites are easy to create, and can look nice if you have any design sense at all.

  3. Samantha says:

    I have recently decided to start a fashion design business and find this site and The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Sewn Product Manufacturing inspirational and informative. Fashion has always been my passion, although my “formal” career training is as an intellectual property lawyer. Given my background, this article has completely pulled the rug out from under me! I have no idea how to reconcile everything I’ve learned (and counseled others) for the past decade with what I am looking to do in the future (including hiring a freelance designer, a pattern maker or a sewing contractor), particularly with regard to the idea that “contracts are the antithesis of trust.” Most notably from my perspective, I understand that you wouldn’t work with a client who insisted you sign a contract (as I would, particularly because I have issues with the statement “If you paid for it, it’s yours.”), but I see that you have a statement of professional integrity that sets forth various rights and obligations of each party. What do you see as the difference between a contract and the statement of professional integrity? To me, they seem very similar, which actually gives me hope that I can transition into this world after all.

  4. Kathleen says:

    What do you see as the difference between a contract and the statement of professional integrity? To me, they seem very similar,

    This isn’t my area (obviously) but many authorities would agree these are both contracts. The one you’re thinking of is a written and legally executed instrument while the other is a statement of professional comportment/deportment. Barring absence of the latter in situations with established long standing professionals, there remains an implied contract albeit unstated. It is among new service provider entrants that these norms are not followed, leaving one’s integrity in question (the point of this entry).

    We do have contracts; in the case of sewing contractors/pattern makers, they are called “purchase orders” or “work orders” which describe the scope of work to render. The contracts many would have us sign are outside the scope of that, a case of asymmetrical information.

    As a practical matter, contracts (among professionals, not newbies) are unnecessary. To suggest otherwise renders the conclusion that the only thing keeping us from being you is lack of a good idea. Meaning, a perhaps unintended implication that we provide services because we are bereft of insight, intelligence, skills and talent. I speak for many when I say we don’t want to be you. We love our work. If we can do something you can’t, why would we be deprecated in such fashion? We’re not the ones copying you. It’s people like you who copy you so why are we to bear the brunt of it?

    I would have no problem with a standardized legal boilerplate, equivalent to HIPAA -but we don’t get that. Try to imagine if you will, what crosses your desk versus mine. What we get are cobbled together hodge-podge word-soup constructs “written” by laymen; at best largely unenforceable and useless. At worst they are inimical, peremptory and predatory.

    If you go to a doctor, you have an implied contract and scope of work that he/she will solve your health problem. You sign a HIPPA statement which serves notice that the provider won’t tell anyone about your health concerns. If this confidentiality is breached, it’s pretty easy to know because whomever will say the doctor or nurse told them. However, the healthcare providers have no control over the information you leave among your personal effects such as receipts or prescription bottles that someone else could find and arrive at their own conclusions.

    I only wish we were as lucky. Start-ups want to hold us liable if their concepts are copied once being released in the marketplace and frankly, it’s silly. It has been my observation (and that of my colleagues) that the people most obsessed with IP protection are the ones who are copying others. Start-ups also want to limit our economic activity, to not provide like services to others citing conflict of interest.

    Since you have the book, I recommend joining the forum where you could see examples of what I’m talking about. You might also consider scanning the IP category where much of this is discussed in greater detail.

  5. Kathleen says:

    Oh, and with respect to needing a good idea to finally ascend the dais… a reminder of the Dunning-Kruger effect: the cognitive skill needed to generate good ideas is the same cognition needed to recognize good ideas. Meaning, if we’re doing what we’re doing because we can’t come up with any good ideas of our own, it also means we lack the ability to know a good idea when we see one so you’re safe.

    As a practical matter, you can’t predict what will make it and what won’t. As providers, we see tons of cool stuff we really love but we don’t get attached to it (that will jinx it) because what we inevitably like, fails. Very disappointing (she says with a sigh, continuing to ruminate over a much loved jacket that failed in 1992). At the same time, we see tons of stuff we wouldn’t use to line the bottom of a bird cage become very successful. I can’t speak for you, but can you find it in your heart to invest time, money and sweat in something you can’t stand and think is hideous?

  6. Lori says:

    I’ve been browsing and reading your website for the past hour plus and I must say at this early date even,I have found you to be both intellectually stimulating and hilarious at the same time. Wonderful information here and boy do I have ALOT to learn, thanks.

  7. Christi Lang says:

    I am looking for a sewing contractor. I have a startup company called Under Dry and am trying to manufacture camisoles and slips that wick perspiration. Any ideas for turn key sewing contractors that will work with a small company? I live in San Antonio, Texas . These undergarments are made out of a knitted natural fabric so it needs to be a company that deals with knits. Any suggestions or advice would be greatly appreciated

  8. Kathleen says:

    Hi Christi -since you’re a forum member, I suggest looking there (we don’t post referrals in public) and taking advantage of that resource. We have a great contractor member who is very close to you in Houston who may be helpful. I have a local contractor here in Albuquerque who does small lots who is fabulous.

  9. Mark Paigen says:

    I came to the rag trade from the footwear industry. I have had to do a major rethink about the way that I assess vendor/contractors. Small scale pattern makers, grader/marker makers and cut and sew shops that looked antiquated with their minimal infrastructure have become trusted vendors.
    Todays economy makes infrastructure investments risky and as a consequence, rare. I do think that there is progress to be made in terms of process enhancement, even at some of the smaller shops. Hopefully, a resurgence of domestic production will allow smaller shops to grow and learn the concepts of Just-in-Time Manufacturing and Total Quality Management.

  10. Very interesting! I think having a website is great for a freelance designer so they can point prospective clients towards examples of their work. On my own site, I have Spring/Summer 15 work on there, but no styles that I have sold to anyone, just my own portfolio work. I hadn’t even thought that people might assume I was posting a company’s designs before they hit the market. I don’t see as much value in the websites of a sewing contractor or pattern maker, but a good website wouldn’t turn me away from their businesses.

  11. Dee says:

    Sorry if this isn’t the right thread (if not, please point me in the right direction) but I am starting up a small lingerie label and need some advice regarding pattern ownership. I design the lingerie but I need someone with experience to make patterns. I found a small factory that takes individual orders but also manufactures on a small scale which is perfect for what I need at this point. I can get a sample made from my drawings and get the pieces produced, BUT they keep the patterns and won’t even sell the patterns to me. I just pay for the lingerie. Would you say this is a problem? What implications can this have if I don’t own the pattern, even though it is my design and I am selling the garments?

  12. Kathleen says:

    Dee, the hyperlinks in this post will take you to entries better suited to address your questions. Context in this post is clear though, you do have a problem and there is a great deal that can go wrong. I recommend finding someone else to help you.

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