Last Updated on November 6, 2017

Independent designer Celia Bernardo is in Miami to meet with wholesalers in hopes of bringing her Spanish-based independent clothing brand Celia B to a handful of digital shops and brick and mortars on the East and West coasts. She looks as if she has stepped out of her own lookbook. She is casually dressed in a flowing dress that is a kaleidoscope of colors and shapes. The bright mid-afternoon Florida sun playfully shines against the lively print.

The worlds of art and fashion have always been intrinsically linked to one another. For Celia B, it’s the rule of the game. The brand was birthed five years ago in Shanghai as a “multicultural project with an eclectic collection of exclusive designs,” that served as an expression of Bernardo’s experiences traveling the world and exploring the ways different women expressed themselves through their clothing. Each Celia B collection is the result of a direct hands-on collaboration with artists and graphic designers, and there is nowhere too far-reaching to collaborate. Collections have been birthed from browsing illustrated novellas at a Buenos Aires alt bookstore, as well as from long-standing friendships with artists in her local community of creatives.

Portuguese-born, Barcelona based Natacha Duarte is a frequent collaborator. “We have worked together so many times I’ve completely lost count,” she told us with a laugh. The pair met while working for Spanish powerhouse Zara before both decided to break clean and try their luck as independent designers. Duarte designing fabrics and Bernardo designing her women’s clothing line.

Although Duarte has since returned to full-time design for a printmaker, as a freelancer she has landed gigs for international brands like Reebok and Blanco and local brands like Lava Surf and Ananda Pascual between regular collaborations with Celia B. The pair sat down with Artrepreneur to discuss the benefits, both for artist and designer, of collaboration as independent designers, and the importance of dressing the part.

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Natacha Duarte designs prints for fashion brand Celia B.

The Role of the Freelance Textile Designer

Within fashion graphic design, the textile designer is the “ying” to the clothing designer’s “yang”. Each one is fundamental to the health of the other. But for many independent designers and start-up brands, steep overhead costs like studio space, travel expenses, public relations, marketing, online shops, and most importantly, production, make hiring an in-house textile designer a completely infeasible option.

Celia B falls in that category. Bernardo has just one full-time employee in charge of production, but the rest of the business’s needs rest on her shoulders. Likewise, her business is truly global. She lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand, produces in China and sells in Shanghai, Dubai, the Arab Emirates, Argentina and across her native Spain. She also travels frequently to set up new business connections, check in on production, and seek inspiration for upcoming collections. These work conditions are standard arrangements for clothing manufacturers both big and small. Having a freelance textile designer that can work remotely is fundamental to the overall health of her business.

But more so than other independent fashion designers, Celia B has incorporated the spirit of collaborating with other female artists, graphic designers and textile makers into the fabric of her brand image.

“Collaborating is really important to me. Prints are fundamental to Celia B,” Bernardo says. “I work with prints that have lots of colors, lots of shapes. They are inspired by things I see from around the world, and it is important to work with someone that shares that vision. I’m not a printmaker or a graphic designer, so for each collection, I make sure to work really closely with an artist or freelance textile designer.”

What Makes a Good Collaboration?

So how exactly does a freelance textile designer or artist team up with a brand big or small? Independent designers are first looking to find a freelance textile designer or graphic artist with an aesthetic that matches that of the brand and the goals of the upcoming collection.

“I collaborated on a small collection with an Argentine artist named Maria Luque,” explains Bernardo, “With Maria’s work, I saw it and immediately fell in love. So I sat down and really analyzed her work. I picked out specific works that I really liked and spent time analyzing the way she illustrates. For the actual collection, I wanted something that felt Latin. Something that was very Andean. And that isn’t necessarily what she does in her own work. I wanted colors that she doesn’t normally work with, either. But I could see the collection with her.”

Duarte share a similar story on a campaign she worked on with Reebok. “They found my work online and it fell in line with a collection of Women’s Classics that they wanted to develop. One concept was a customized version of their ’90s watercolor print to be printed on different women’s garments. It was this mixture of a vintage Reebok look with a more modern feel. When they found my work online, they felt it was a fit.”

For the graphic designers and artists that are looking specifically to break into fashion graphic design, they should be stalking their dream clients, taking notes and imitating. Read news about favorite brands, set alerts on your phone and track general trends of what those future clients are already producing. Similar to the way a creative director might imitate content of a client they’d like to work with, graphic designers and artists looking to break into fashion graphic design should be consistently producing work that looks like it was produced with the same level of quality that would be produced for independent designers, whether it is to simply be hyped on your social media or used for a paid production.

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A close-up of a print designed by Natacha Duarte for Celia B.

Use the Power of the Internet

Simply having the right aesthetic is only half the battle; brand recognition is the real key. Freelance graphic designers and artists looking to work in fashion graphic design should be building consistent content and promoting it via relevant social media like Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest, an artist portfolio or personal website.

When we spoke with graphic designer Caro Niño about her collaborations with RedBull Music Academy and Adidas, she credited her carefully curated Instagram and Behance accounts to landing gigs with the two massive brands. But less visual platforms were valuable to Duarte, who has gained many clients from her LinkedIn account.

“I get way more messages on LinkedIn than I can possibly respond to. I get requests from people that aren’t just looking for a print, they are looking for a designer that understands the industry and has experience with ‘fast fashion’.”

Duarte’s previous experience in fashion graphic design – designing textiles for brands like Zara and Blanco – opened the door to her work with Reebok, who were in search of a designer that was familiar with the fast fashion industry. The global fashion industry is a $1.5 trillion dollar annual industry and fast fashion—catwalk trends that are quickly turned into inexpensive apparel for retail—makes up the bulk of it. Over the next three years, the global apparel industry has an expected growth of nearly 6%. Experience with such an integral part of the industry isn’t something that can be expressed in visual social media platforms, whereas a well-versed CV can.

Working for a fashion brand sounds like a dream come true, but what freelance artists and graphic designers should learn from Bernardo and Duarte is the importance of a clear visual aesthetic expressed through strongly curated content and a solid understanding of the needs of the industry itself.

Have you broken into fashion graphic design? What was your approach?

Kevin Vaughn
Kevin Vaughn

Kevin Vaughn is a writer and photographer focused on food and culture in Buenos Aires, Argentina. His work has appeared Munchies, New Worlder, Remezcla and Savoteur.