Welcome back to the FINAL installment of our team introductions! Today, it's my turn to reintroduce myself.
While you may have picked up some tidbits about me if you've been following my blog, I've never actually shared my entire journey before. In a recent conversation with Riley, I spilled all the details on my fashion design agency's founding story, how I hired an amazing team, and what my role as design director looks like today.
While it hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows, it’s been a journey that makes every day a bit of an adventure.
Ready to learn more about my journey and get inspired to follow in my footsteps? Keep reading for all the juicy details.
Where did you go to school?
"Framingham State University in Framingham, MA."
What did you study?
"I majored in Fashion Design + Merchandising, and I minored in Studio Art."
What made you decide to pursue a career in apparel design?
"The summer between my junior + senior years of high school, I bought a sewing machine with my first-ever paycheck. I started making skirts, and I never looked back. There’s something wonderful about creating something that used to be only fabric. There’s more to it, but here is the full story.
How long have you been in the fashion industry?
"I’ve been designing garments for over 13 years!"
What other things do you like to do in your free time?
"I love taking long walks in nature with my husband and our dog. Reading is my favorite morning activity; I’m always digging into a new book. Journaling is something I try to do in the mornings as well. I love plants, especially succulents, but also my outdoor garden/patio area and cutting roses to put all over my house. My husband and I just got into pickleball, and that’s been fun so far. Drawing on my iPad is always a fun time. I also love learning, and I’m currently taking Trudy’s course on Clo3d to try and up the ante, as I LOVE using the program via Trudy, Jasmine, and Monika. I’ve got serious FOMO about Clo! 😛"
"I absolutely *loved* going to the South of France for a dear friend’s wedding. We had the chance to stay in her grandfather’s chateau on the evening of the wedding. The wedding itself was phenomenally beautiful, and the company was wonderful. One of my best friends was also there along with another good colleague of ours from a time when we all worked at Adore Me. My husband also came, so that was a wonderful treat for all of us. It was the longest wedding I’ve ever been to, and it felt like it would never end, but in the best way possible. The food was delicious, and it felt like we just kept eating and eating—which is obviously one of the best parts of travel, haha. We didn’t go to our beds until 5 am, and the party was still on fire. The bride and groom and both sets of their parents were still heating up the dance floor!!"
Favorite brand or designer?
"Hard to pick just one, two, or even 3…haha, I like so many for different reasons. A few of my loves:
Zimmerman - love the femininity of this brand and how it's so ornate, bohemian, and just overall stunning
Eres - simplicity is key; no brand does it better than Eres. Not that I truly own anything, but it’s aspirational for sure.
Fleur Du Mal - Such a rising player in lingerie; I’ve loved them from day one. Jennifer Zuccarini has done a really excellent job with this brand.
Livy - Another stunner and relatively new brand, I love the deco nature of the Livy line.
Icone - I love how this brand plays with shape, materials, and texture. It’s got a cool-girl vibe that just sits with me.
Montce - Love their swim; it’s fun and feminine while being a little edgy and beyond the realm of the expected.
Rhythm - I love their use of prints and colors.
Else - I love their use of materials, they’ve always got beautifully graphic laces.
Lonely Lingerie - I love their photography, the rawness of the way they shoot their products, and the total vibe—just a great whole package!"
If you weren’t doing the job you have now, what could you see yourself doing?
"Some kind of creative director — maybe in home goods because I also love decorating :D"
What’s your job title?
"Owner / CEO."
What made you decide to start your own freelance business?
"It was sort of an accident. In late 2018, I created a portfolio site and considered freelancing on the side. A friend I was helping at the time planted a seed by telling me I was great at helping people with their design + trend work, and she suggested I start a side hustle. I noodled on it for a while, but in January 2019, a friend recommended me for a job she had just learned about designing the creative direction for a period panty line. I got the gig and worked on it for about 3 months before moving on and taking my next client.
I was tired of working for others and feeling my voice wasn’t heard. I decided I wanted to take a sabbatical, which turned into much more than a sabbatical due to miscommunications. More on that here: How I Started Doing Freelance Fashion Full-Time | My Bali Sabbatical
I thought I would return from my sabbatical with a freelance gig in hand along with my two other clients, but that turned bust. My husband was looking for work in coding, a new career path he had honed in on. I needed to earn money for our survival, so I started hustling and trying to get clients in January 2020. I was initially very successful, landing one of my ex-competitors as a swimwear client, along with 2 others by February. It all flipped a bit with COVID, but ultimately, I grew quite a bit over 2020, so it showed me that I can survive under the worst conditions, which is a great thing to learn about yourself to keep going. Given the circumstances, I’m glad I kept pushing through the hard parts."
When did you know it was time to start hiring employees?
"I was part of a mastermind group in Jan of 2020, and someone was talking about hiring a VA, and I was like…what? I can do that? I debated a bit, and three or four weeks after someone suggested it, I hired Ashley, my first VA and my first hire, and she was a great seed that started the hiring process!!"
Can you describe your approach to hiring and building a team? What qualities do you look for in your employees?
"It’s funny to call it an approach, really…I’d say that most of my team found me, and I just kept those people in mind as the opportunities to expand my business came. I appreciate proactive people who go after what they want, so people who reach me with a half-decent request will likely get a response. Riley, Monika, and Trudy were all individuals who came to me and were interested in a role with me before it existed as a long-term role. I kept them in mind over a period, and when the opportunity came to hire, they were front and center. Besides proactivity, trustworthiness is essential, curiosity, a growth mindset, resourcefulness, and dedication to their craft. Besides all that, I’d say resilience — a willingness to keep coming back even when the feedback is that you could do better. You’ve gotta have thick skin to survive in design!"
What’s it like having a fully remote team?
"In one word: challenging.
In many: It’s a fantastic opportunity for me to lean into the future of work. While some days, I seriously wish we were closer and could share the same air, most of the time, I value having a 1-minute commute from my downstairs sofa to my upstairs office. My team appreciates the extra time they get to spend with friends and family. It keeps things interesting and makes for creative workarounds. Still, I’m grateful for the opportunity to be able to connect + share the burden with such an awesome team."
What tools do you use to stay connected with the team and clients?
"Slack, Clickup, Gmail, Zoom, Loom."
What are your favorite parts of working with the team?
"I love seeing everyone’s unique design perspectives and thoughts come together at the metaphorical table. It’s rare to be truly surprised, but seeing my teams' ideas come together always feels like wonderful adult surprises that I get week by week as I watch them grow and evolve into better and better designers, more confident and more capable every time I see their work."
What’s your workspace like?
"A dumpster fire hellscape of lace and satin 😛."
What sets your agency apart?
"We care about making products that solve problems and serve a purpose. We’re not willing to take just any work that comes our way. We’re incredibly selective about the opportunities we choose to pursue to ensure they truly light us up and stay true to our values."
How do you foster a creative and supportive work environment for your team? What steps do you take to encourage their professional growth?
"We’ve got a quarterly review process where we map out the next quarter's goals on an individual basis. I also try to foster a safe space where people are free to make mistakes–it’s the best way to learn."
How do you manage the overall creative direction and design process within your agency?
"Somehow? 🤷♀️ lol
Michael Scott’s imaginary management book “Somehow I Manage” feels a lot like my approach. Truthfully, our process is pretty streamlined now because we’ve done it so many times, but generally speaking, we are very collaborative as a team. We love getting together and talking through the design process. I believe our best path to greatness starts with being in an environment where people are free to share their opinions without fearing harsh or critical feedback."
As the CEO and design director, much of your job is managing and delegating, is there anything you miss doing yourself?
"I miss drawing, sketching concepts, and presenting them. There’s ownership over design that I feel a little removed from. While I am still a creative force behind the business, my hands don’t do much of the actual drawing."
What tasks do you spend most of your time doing?
"Lately, it’s been Zoom calls, fittings, delegating, emails, and working through our task management system, ClickUp."
Who was your very first client?
"A menstrual cup company called Saalt. I was working on its debut period undies. I helped with the overall design direction and getting started on the overall look/vision."
How did you go about finding clients?
"I don’t try to find them lately; they usually find me. We’re so busy that it’s OK not to immediately fill every gap. I love getting a better hold on our content plan for the future and creating educational resources like our upcoming FINDING YOUR FACTORY!"
How do you stay updated with the latest fashion trends and industry developments to keep your agency relevant?
"I love checking out WWD every morning; it’s a fun place to keep a close eye on. I also try to check out WGSN trend reports when I can get my hands on them. I’m always looking for new brands on Instagram and social media, so that’s a goldmine for trends."
What are your long-term goals for the agency? How do you envision the future of KRSTN NDRSN?
"It’s funny because I haven’t really considered the long-term planning of this business too much. Originally, I just wanted to do something I loved in a way that felt less pressure than the daily grind I had working in NYC for years. At this point, I’ve started to think about what the future could look like here, and there’s a lot of places we can go. I’ve really enjoyed leaning into the educational part of what we do—I love playing the role of mentor and showing young designers the ropes, so I imagine we are going to try to lean into this area more. The future is anything I want it to be—it’s going to ebb and flow with the times because as much as I love to plan, I know most plans fall by the wayside once you’re deep in the weeds of work. What I’m planning for the near future is to systemize everything we do so it’s easier to onboard new designers and clients."
What advice do you have for someone who wants to start freelancing or wants to build their own freelance agency?
"Don’t wait for the time to be “right,” get started when the idea strikes you because it’ll take a long time to build. If a business concept really digs its claws into you, see what happens, and let it take shape.
I often have gut feelings that I ignore or throw towards the back of my mind…but often, when I actually do those things, I tell myself almost immediately, “I wish I had done this sooner.” It feels like I knew this answer intuitively. Still, I ignored it until it became loud enough it was no longer possible."
In conclusion, I'm proud of the success my agency has achieved in just a few short years. If you take anything away from my story, I hope you remember that you must be willing to pivot when necessary and hire help when you need it.
This dream of mine would not have been possible if not for my willingness to forge out on my own, take risks, grow professionally, and hire passionate team members.
I can’t wait to see what the future holds for KRSTN NDRSN!
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