Updated: Dec 16, 2019
For some reason everywhere I look online I see very general information about how to calculate your fashion design salary, because it gets complicated depending on the person.
WELL, let’s get complicated people!
I'm going to try and meet a wide range of needs and questions when it comes to calculating your freelance rate. LET'S GO!
1) What Are Your expenses?
You need to add up how much your life costs you, meaning everything from:
Rent, Food, Utilities & Other Bills
Holidays & Sick Days
Leisure, Entertainment & Miscellaneous (Gym, Movies, Jet Skiing…etc)
Let’s say you added all of that together and it comes to $60,000 per year.
8 billable work hours per day = 40 hours a week
4 weeks off for vacation, sick & personal days = 48 work weeks
40 hours/week × 48 weeks/year = 1,920 hours/year
$60,000 desired salary ÷ 1,920 hours = roughly $30 per hour
Ok… Are you ready for it…Now I want you to DOUBLE IT!!!
$30 per hour × 2 = $60 per hour (minimum fee...more on this in step 3)
Here’s why… We all know that freelancing doesn’t always provide a steady income and if you really need to make a living working as a fashion designer then you should plan your hourly rate as if you might not work for half of the year, because we all know that it’s possible to happen.
2) How long does it take you?
You should know exactly how long a project will take you, so you can estimate payments quickly and plan out your schedule. If you don’t know then you should do a few tests, and time yourself to find out.
Here's how long it takes me...
C.A.D. sketch = 30min - 3 hours (depending on the level of detail and whether or not I need to do a full color render of the garment).
Within this time frame I am also including the time it takes to think of the design idea and hand sketch a practice flat before doing it on the computer first.
30 minutes for a black and white t-shirt, panty, baby onesie, simple tank top etc…
1 - 3 hours for a color rendered detailed lingerie set, long detailed coat, etc…
Teck Pack = 1 - 3 hours (depending on how detailed the garment is and whether or not I need to make an original print/ pattern for the garment)
If you would like a reference as to what I mean by a tech pack, I offer a FREE TEMPLATE in my blog article (How to Make a Fashion Tech Pack)... CLICK HERE TO READ THE ARTICLE
Now, if you take a bit longer to do sketches and tech packs then I would work on improving your time…The best way to do that is to practice, practice, PRACTICE. You could take courses to get quick tips and improve your speed, but I feel like the best way to improve any skill is just practice.
WARNING: If it takes you 4 hours to make a C.A.D. sketch then that would cost the client $300
(if you are charging $60/hr) and this will probably be WAY too pricey for most clients.
3) What is a Design Worth?
So, as you may or may not realize… All designs are NOT created equal. A plain t-shirt isn’t worth as much as a detailed plus size non-padded wire bra. Also, a C.A.D. sketch isn’t worth as much as a technical package. This should ultimately be reflected in your pricing as well.
LOW VALUE: Let’s assume the T-Shirt takes you 30 minutes to sketch...You can charge your minimum fee of $30, since this is a "low value" item (in the eyes of your client)
HIGH VALUE: Now, let’s say the Bra takes you 2 hrs to sketch...Your minimum fee would be $120. However I think it would be very reasonable to mark up the price 25%, 50%, or even 100%. Because there is a very high level of skill needed to create a functional and beautiful bra, with complex construction details.
Don't forget that it has taken you years of practice to be able to do this kind of work in only 1 - 2 hours. So you should be compensated accordingly.
This “mark-up” percentage would vary depending on special factors (see step 4).
This principle would also work for your technical files. If a tech pack takes you 2 hours, then feel free to jack up the price in the same way as mentioned above.
4) Other Factors
As mentioned in step 3, you can mark up your prices for certain projects. The percentage of the mark-up would depend on some of the following factors:
Your skill level-
be honest with yourself, and really examine your experience and skill level for the project you are given. If you get a project that isn’t a part of your strong skill set, then you should charge accordingly…Meaning don’t mark-up high value items very much or at all.
You could also charge a little less for certain items, as a gesture of good faith. This will show clients that you are professional and flexible. It will also, most likely, have them coming back to you for new projects, even if you’re not the most talented designer for what they need.
Where you live-
Some parts of the country / world aren’t willing to pay as much for a designer as others are. For this you might need to ask other designers in your area what they charge for their services. For example, New York and California pay their designers fairly well compared to other states. However, this is mostly because the cost of living is much higher in those states as well.
I work and live in France where salaries in general are much lower than the salaries in America, so I don’t make nearly as much as I would if I was back in the U.S. It is so funny when I say my prices to clients, and they look like they just swallowed a golf ball!
If you are hired by a new start-up company then you should try to be understanding of that fact and be as flexible with your prices as possible, while still getting paid correctly for your time. You never know if their brand really takes off, then you could be getting a steady client for years to come.
On the other hand, if you land a good gig with an established company, then don’t be afraid to charge top dollar. They usually know how to pay their employees correctly, so don’t be shy when sending your quotes.
5) Negotiation = A Game of Chicken (Kind of)
So, after following all of the steps above you should be able to calculate your ideal “top” number for a project, and you should also be able to figure out your solid “rock bottom” number.
Read through the following list of how I make my negotiations:
Always put your number out first, and start with your top number (or more)
This helps make the client feel like they will be getting a “deal” on the project when the negotiation starts to bring the price down a bit.
If they really want you for the job they won’t say no
If you are the best for the job they need done, they will work with you on price. I have never EVER had a client say anything like, “What!? No you are asking $100 more than I am willing to pay…That is crazy, and I refuse to work with you!”
I have had clients say, “Oh, actually you are asking for double what we usually pay other designers…Could we work on your pricing?” My answer is always “Of course, let me go through the numbers again and see what I can do.”
Which brings me to my next point
Be kind but firm
There is no need to get emotional, it’s just numbers. You are trying to get the highest number possible and the client is trying to get the lowest number possible. It’s a glorified game of chicken. Remain calm and professional at all times, burning bridges in any business especially in fashion is a terrible idea.
Be willing to walk away
If they are not willing to pay you your minimum price, then you have to simply let them know that the project wouldn’t be worth it for you at that price. I have said that to quite a few clients and so far they have all come back to me and worked with me anyway. But if your client doesn't come back to you in the end, there is always another one right around the corner!
Know your worth, because you have done a lot of hard work to get to this point in your life and you should be paid accordingly. Stand strong and confident and know that your AMAZING skills shouldn’t come cheap. Now go fourth and PRO$P€R!