How to Make a Living as a Textile Designer with Nadine Goepfert (The Creative Voyage Podcast S01E11)
“What is it that we actually need? What does the society need? From time to time we should ask ourselves, 'why is my work relevant?', 'who needs it?', 'what is it good for?'.” — Nadine Goepfert
In this episode, I talk to Nadine Goepfert, a Berlin-based textile designer. We cover topics such as the importance of listening to our artistic Intuition, Nadine’s work routines, her approach to personal and research-based projects, how to deal with obstacles, and much more.
Nadine Goepfert is a multidisciplinary designer offering creative direction, design, and consultancy on textiles and materials for the interior, product, art, and fashion. She investigates contemporary culture to create intelligent concepts and material innovations for clients from various fields. Her collections and art installations examine the function and conventional use of materials to develop new design perspectives. Her internationally exhibited research projects question the relation between garments, individual and society to reveal unconscious patterns of behavior in the everyday use of textiles. Selected clients and references include Adidas, Aleksandra Domanović, Clark, Common-Interest, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Fasson Freddy Fuss, Faye Toogood, Friedenauer Presse, Kampnagel Hamburg, Kostas Murkudis, Lucia Glass, LuckyMe, Lunice, Marsano Berlin, Martin Niklas Wieser, Michael Sontag, Museum für Gestaltung Zürich, New Ancestors, Solange Knowles, Vladimir Karaleev, Warp Records, Zeitguised, and Zweidrei Architekten.
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Selected Links From the Episode
Episode Introduction [00:52]
Advice to Young Creative Professionals [02:12]
Listening to Artistic Intuition [04:12]
Routines of a Freelance Textile Designer [07:04]
Main Challenges of Being a Textile Designer Today [12:57]
How to Make a Living As a Textile Designer [15:28]
Short Episode Break – Support the Podcast [19:03]
Nadine's Best Investment in Herself [19:55]
Going Outside of Your Comfort Zone [21:58]
How to Deal With Obstacles [23:58]
The Importance of Personal and Research-based Projects [29:20]
Advice for Being a Better Creative Professional [34:57]
Episode Outro [37:39]
Full Episode Transcript
Nadine: Try not to be too stressed. Just take a breath in between and ask yourself how big is this dilemma. Is it really that bad?
This is the Creative Voyage podcast, a long form interview show with the mission to help creative professionals to level up. I'm your host, Mario Depicolzuane. I'm a creative professional myself, active in the fields of graphic design, art direction, and creative consulting, working with companies such as Kinfolk, MENU, and Sonos.
Through Season One of this podcast, I present in-depth interviews with some of the world's most inspiring creative professionals, revealing the stories that shaped their lives and careers, plus actionable strategies to help take your mindset and skills to the next level. I invite you to join me on this journey.
Mario: In this episode, I talk to a textile designer.
Nadine: I'm Nadine Goepfert. I’m based in Berlin. I work as a multidisciplinary designer on commission jobs offering creative direction, design, consultancy on textiles and materials. I work in various fields for interior, product, art and also fashion. At the same time, I teach and I work on self-initiated projects.
Mario: Nadine has worked for clients such as Adidas, Clark, Warp Records, Faye Toogood and Solange, just to name a few. Through her practice, she investigates contemporary culture to create intelligent concepts and material innovations. Her international exhibited collections, research projects and art installations questioned the relation between garments, individual and society to reveal unconscious patterns of behavior in the everyday use of textiles. That's why besides finding her work beautiful, I find it conceptually intriguing and truly inspirational.
Mario: In this episode, we're going to listen to the highlights of the conversation I had with Nadine in September of 2018. We cover topics such as the importance of listening to our artistic intuition, Nadine's work routines, her approach to personal and research-based projects, how to deal with obstacles and much more.
The early lessons are usually hard-earned and extremely valuable. Looking through that lens, I’ve asked Nadine to share her advice to young professionals.
Nadine: Well generally, I think the most important thing is when you work in creative field, or in design is to be really motivated and enthusiastic about what you do. As well already during my studies, I studied with a lot of people that always had d better or other things to do than really studying. I was just the happiest person ever that I got into these studies, because it was my big dream to do that.
Mario: Yeah. Then is there anything specific that you think maybe you did wrongly or something that you missed, because you were just young and inexperienced and naïve?
Nadine: Yeah. What I definitely missed in my studies was that I think that I didn't get enough into the technical parts of textile design. I think nowadays, it's well, especially in textile and fashion, it's more and more important that you also know a lot of things about the craft itself. Of course, there are still like some companies that do all that, but at the same time, I think it's a very good combination if you do both.
Nadine: We had all this technical part. We had it pretty much in the beginning of our studies. It was like, this time where, I don't know, you come out of school and you just want to be creative and think about concepts and stuff like that. I missed a bit out on that, so I really had to do that afterwards again, like you teach myself all these things.
Inspiration could be a peculiar thing. Some of us have it in abundance. Some of us struggle to channel it. On top of that, due to the ease of use of social media, we all get fed similar cultural artifacts, which can negatively homogenize our ideas. Besides approaching her work conceptually and rooted in research, Nadine also seems to go a step further and incorporate her intuition into the creative process. Here she expands on that.
Nadine: We all get these influences to all these pictures and everything and inspiration from everywhere. Sometimes I have to feeling that we forget a bit to stick to, or to listen to our own artistic intuition. Well in my work at least, I always try to combine research and observation, which is mostly the starting point of my work, but at one point so it doesn't get too theoretic and too try, more or less. Then I would just yeah, listen to my intuition and make decisions really spontaneously also.
Mario: Yeah. How do you cultivate that? Is that something that comes naturally for you?
Nadine: Yeah, for me it comes naturally, that I also I would say, it can be quite expressive with ideas and things like that. I'm like, “Okay, I'm going to do that now.” Yeah, I think it's just how I am, like really and naturally. I think it's more something that I found out about my way of working that this is a structure that I follow.
Nadine: I also decided at one point to bring that into my classes. In the beginning, I always do a lot of research with the students. The moment they get bored of that, I just say, “Hey, today I brought tons of materials, and we just make – just what you have in mind now, just make it,” because I'm really convinced that it is really important also to work with your hand to get ideas. Yeah, in German we have this word “begreifen”, which means, like “greifen” means to touch something, or to grab something. Begreifen actually means that you understand something, so it's actually the same word.
Mario: Does it mean understanding through touch?
Mario: That's a good word. German has so many of those types of words. It's fascinating.
Nadine: Vilém Flusser, he wrote a book called Gestures. He also wrote about that word actually.
If we are professionals, our routines matter. As Charles Dickens said, “I could have never done what I've done without the habits of punctuality, order and diligence, without the determination to concentrate on one subject at a time.” Of course, there's no right or wrong way on how to approach our business. I believe it's useful to get a glimpse into how other creatives are working. I've asked Nadine to share her work habits with me.
Nadine: I would say I have a very contradicted feeling about routines, because on the one hand, I really need some structure, but on the other hand, I get easily bored. I think routine is something that I think about a lot and also that I work on a lot. I think as a freelancer, when you have the possibility to do that, probably a lot of freelancers think about that. I often ask myself questions like yeah, how do I be the most efficient? Do I really need to work 8 hours a day, or maybe only 5?
Nadine: I think especially in our job, time is pretty relative. Sometimes you can have an idea in two minutes and sometimes it takes you a month to come up with something. I learned a lot about that during a stay at a residency in the countryside for one month. There it was just like, I don't know, I also had to create another routine, because I don't have this way to work. I would go for a walk in the morning, or take a swim or something like that and then I would start working at 10. At 1, I would have lunch with the other residents and we would have lunch for two hours or something. Then you get back to work, but then you also only work until five or something.
Nadine: What I noticed was I was so productive during that time. It really changed a lot for me. It was also an important point during that residence is that the internet didn't work that well. Also, that it was really abandoned, so you couldn't just go also and get materials, or things like that. You really had to work with what was there. Yeah, this experience was quite important for me. After that, I actually also tried to change my own routines a bit.
Nadine: Yeah, so I'm not really strict about when I start working. Naturally it's something between 9:00 or 10:00. In the morning I get up, I make some tea, I do a bit of yoga, I have breakfast. I usually eat something else every day. It's the breaking out of routine. Then I cycle to the studio. If I'm early, I would stop by in a cafe and read some newspaper.
Nadine: Yeah, what I do like when I arrive in the studio is actually that I start with all the e-mails and all the computer work, so to get this done already in the morning. Usually after that, after I have answered all these e-mails, I usually depending on the project, but usually I don't answer e-mails anymore after 12, because after that, I would just start more focusing on the creative part. I don't need to sit in front of the computer anymore for the rest of the day.
Mario: Are you trying to be conscious about that work-life balance in general, or how do you approach that? I mean, because it's so hard to I think in a creative profession, to have that separation. I'm curious, how do you then cope with that?
Nadine: Well probably, one of a few creatives that say that, but when I leave the studio, I don't think about work anymore.
Mario: Okay. That’s good. That’s really good.
Nadine: I mean, I still stay in some open mode. Of course, if I walk down the street and I see something that inspires me. Yes, something like that. Usually when I'm done, I'm done. I don't have a problem with that. Also I mean, I still wonder, it's so hard for me. Before I just said, it took me some time to say like, “Hey, it makes maybe more sense if you leave the studio now and go for a walk.” Maybe that makes much more sense than staying there and not coming up with anything for the next two hours.
Mario: Yeah. I think there it seems to be at least anecdotal research and so many just reportings of that when you work on a specific problem. It's actually good to immerse yourself a lot and ask yourself all these things and put all these inputs in yourself. Then to actually release and go away from it.
Nadine: Yeah, exactly.
Mario: At least for half an hour, or an hour, or a day.
Nadine: Yeah. I mean, it happens to me so often that I work on a project and then yeah, I don't know. Maybe it's also just a simple design or something. Then it's weekend and I do something completely different. Don't think about this project at all, but then I don't know, I'm in the supermarket, I go to, I don't know, I'm outside and then I'm suddenly like, “Yeah, that's it actually.”
Each creative field has its challenges. I've asked Nadine to share what she thinks are the main difficulties of being a textile designer working today.
Nadine: Being a designer at the moment is quite challenging, because there were just a lot of designers out there and there are a lot of good designers out there as well, which is great I think. There are also people that can collaborate together and do things together. At the same time of course, it becomes more and more hard to establish as a designer. Yeah. I mean, what's the biggest challenge? I don't know. I think it's important if you want to establish as a designer nowadays, that you consider also the need and the relevance of what you do in a wider context. I always refer to a quote from László Moholy-Nagy who said that projects and works of designers, that they should not be seen in isolation, but rather in the relationship with the need of the individual community.
Nadine: I think yeah, you can do a lot of nice things. Yeah, you can do a lot of nice design, but there is tons of nice design out there and tons of things. I often ask myself like, “Yeah, what is it what we actually really need and what does the society also need?” I think it's really important to ask yourself from time to time, to ask yourself why is my work actually relevant? Who needs it? What is it good for?
Nadine: I mean, of course we are designers and we don't rescue the world, but I think it's important to not add to a bunch of things that are just so contemporary. Did they will end in the trash after a few months and that's it? I think well, contemporariness and fashion aspect of time and fashion, it's quite important. Still, it's not really what I'm interested in. I'm more interested in durable and sustainable things.
Another crucial factor which can often be a challenge for creative professionals is making enough money. I've talked to Nadine about how she manages that.
Nadine: I make my living mostly by the commission jobs that I work on. These jobs always have priority. The moment I get a commission job in, I work on that. When I don't have a commission, I would always spend these days on my own work. Then I also teach of course, so that's the other income I have. Yeah, of course, you have to get used to that. You can never be sure when the next commission will come, like when you will get the next commission.
Nadine: I get some confidence regarding that within the past two or three years. I mean, I worked as a freelancer for five years and as I said, yeah, the first two years I had a side job, which I think is absolutely fine to do that, because it just takes a while. I cannot say maybe in two years or three years, I will need a side job again. You never know what happens.
Nadine: For me, now it works really well and I hope it stays like that.
Mario: You said there's commissions, there's teaching. What commissions do you work on? Is it all a similar field, or is it quite different?
Nadine: The nice thing about being a textile designer is that you can work in a lot of different fields. I actually work in interior. I work in fashion. Sometimes I work for artists that are interested in making special materials, or things like that, or working with special materials. The last commissions I worked on was for example, for Nike, which was a more commercial job. Then I worked also for Première Vision, or things like that. These are the bigger jobs.
Nadine: Then I have also smaller things happening. For example, I work for a publishing house where I make drawings for the book covers. I work for theatre. It's really, really different. It's really very various.
Mario: Do you think you need that variation also to make it work financially?
Nadine: Well, I think that's the variation is more something that comes very naturally with what I do. My studies were called textile and surface design. What is not a surface? Yes, of course. Sometimes, there are jobs where I would like to say no, but then you do it because you think like, “Yeah, it's really well-paid.”
Nadine: Maybe it takes me five more years, or two more years, I don't know how long that I can also say like, “No, I'm sorry. I'm not going to do that. I don't need to.” Up until now, I really like it to work with any clients and collaborators, because when you do that, you also step out of your comfort zone. Most of the time, it's pretty exciting to get all these different influences and make these experiences.
Hey, friends. You're listening to the Creative Voyage Podcast. We are roughly in the middle of this episode, so it's time for a short break. There's no team behind the show. It's solely produced and edited by me, Mario. I don't have any sponsors, and I have no plans to add any. Nevertheless, I can use all the help I can get growing the show. If you like what you've heard so far, there's three simple things you can do for me and future episodes. Number one, review the show on Apple Podcasts. Number two, tell a friend and share a link on social media. Number three, visit the shop on creative.voyage/shop and support the show by buying bespoke Creative Voyage Products. Thanks everyone. Let's get back to the show.
To develop ourselves and our creative practice, we have to invest our resources into it consciously. The most popular resources being time, money and attention. I’ve Nadine what she thought was the best investment that she made in herself so far.
Nadine: I think one of the best investments that I made is studio that I work in. It's not that it is expensive or anything. It's just more this idea, or the fact that I really like to work in a nice space and a nice surrounding, because this is very you spend most of the time of your day. I mean, it's probably, it's something between seven and 10 hours, or I don't know, that you spent in the space where you work. Sometimes when I think about people that sit in an office everyday and surround themselves also maybe with people that they don't like. I think that must be really terrible and I feel pretty lucky to be in this situation that I can be with nice people every day and that we have a nice space and things like that.
Mario: How many people are in your team?
Nadine: I work mostly by myself, but with one assistant. Sometimes also only by myself, but I share the studio with Hello Me Studio, which is a graphic design studio. The founder is my boyfriend and there are five more people, but they are next door. I have my own space. For me, it's perfect, because I can work really concentrated with my assistant, or if we feel having more people around, you can just open the door and be with the others and have lunch together and things like that.
I wanted to hear how Nadine is making sure that besides working on client assignments, she also develops as a designer and creative professional. That led us to talk about comfort zones, which according to Roy T. Bennett are the enemies of achievement and a place where our unrealized dreams are buried. He argues that change begins at the end of our comfort zone. That has certainly been true on my journey and I think with change, there's potential to grow. Here are Nadine’s thoughts on that.
Nadine: I actually also force myself to step out of my comfort zone from time to time, even if I work on myself initiated projects. For example, I choose to work with colors that I feel uncomfortable with, or tiny things like that. I don't get stuck within one aesthetic, or one thing that I just yeah, can make sure that I would move forward and also collaborating with people, I think is really important in that case. You can really learn from others. Yeah, I think these are the two main things that I do to develop.
Mario: Does it come naturally to you, or do you have to – do you have certain systems that you put it in your calendar, from time to time you're just going to try to be intentional about it? How does that work?
Nadine: Well, regarding stepping out of my own comfort zone, I would say at one point, I noticed okay, you have been stuck within this aesthetic for three months now. Even if you worked a different job, maybe it's a little bit similar. Then I say like, “Okay, now it's over. Now you do something else.” All the collaborations, they come more naturally, or out of a feeling that I for example, meet somebody that I find interesting. Then I say, “Hey, I would rather work together with you on this code for my next collection than doing it by myself.”
At this point in our conversation, I was curious to hear what are some of Nadine’s professional challenges and how she deals with them. Here's what she shared with me.
Nadine: Well, I would say sometimes I feel a bit exhausted, but maybe that's something that a lot of people feel from time to time, which is probably natural. Yeah, as I said, I ran my studio all by myself. I do organize everything. Of course sometimes, I have an assistant which is a great help, but at the same time this also requires again a lot of organization.
Nadine: Well, apart from that, I don't have much struggle finding ideas. That's the easiest part of me of my work. Sometimes I struggle more within a single project with making decisions, making things work and dealing with these problematics and catastrophes that can happen during production. That's more the complicated things. Other than that, I would say I'm fine. I really enjoy what I do every single day and really never regretted my choice of working as a textile designer, yeah.
Mario: Was there any specific – I mean, maybe some example when things went bad or?
Nadine: Well, I just said the other day I'm so used to disasters. Now, because I think it's so normal. When just anything, or any project you do super smooth. To me, it happens all the time, especially when you produce textiles. Then sometimes you work with people. In Italy, they don't even speak English and things like that. You have all these complications all the time. Things just go wrong. I became really relaxed about that. I really don't stress out about anything, any of these things anymore, because yeah, it's just normal. It's more a question about how you deal with it.
Nadine: I would say I just became very solution-orientated. I'm just like, “Okay, that's the situation now. What do we do?” Not stressing out about things for hours and panicking, or something like that.
Mario: Yeah, that's a really, really good approach. I mean, in life and as a professional, that's what you would expect from a professional. How did you – I mean, you said now you're like that, or mostly like that. How did you develop that?
Nadine: I think it comes more with experience. It already happened to me while I was studying that you are in the screen print workshop and you could only afford 1 meter of this fabric and something goes wrong with the print. Then you need to find a solution for that, because you have this exhibition two days later, or this, I don't know. You have to show these things to your teacher. I think in the end, it was always fine. I think I never made this experience that in the end, it was a big toss, a big disaster.
Nadine: For example, I worked on some objects with a designer from the Netherlands and we were planning a photoshoot. He already had some of these objects in the Netherlands and I sent some others that we made and they just got lost. The parcel is just – it's just yeah, it's gone. It will never appear again. Yeah, so we were like, “Okay, now it's three objects less than expected.” We spent a lot of time making them, but this is how it is. What can we do?
Mario: During five years, what was your biggest struggle to date?
Nadine: Yeah. I guess the biggest struggle is of course this time when you decide to work freelance. Yeah, to constantly make sure that you yeah, that you earn enough money to make a living. I think that's a big struggle after I quit my side job and I decided, “Okay, I'm going to go for this now.” In the beginning, it was pretty tough. Yeah, I'm pretty happy that I made this decision.
Mario: How did you manage to push through that through those hard initial months, or years?
Nadine: I mean, you have to become way more active because as I said before in my first years after I was studying, people were just writing me e-mails saying like, “Hey, would you like to work for me?” Or something like that. There are times where it does not happen. You just need to write e-mails saying, “Hey, here I am. That's me. Let me know if you want to work with me.” Yeah, you have to become more active for sure.
I've always found fulfillment in self-initiated projects and personal work. This part gets being one of them, which makes me curious about how other creatives are approaching that segment of their creative output. Just by glancing at Nadine's portfolio, it becomes clear that she nurtures her personal projects, so I’ve asked her to expand on that.
Nadine: Well, I would say I work little bit different on commissioned jobs and on my own project. That is mainly due to the fact that I don't have that much time for the commissioned jobs. For my own work, I don't have deadlines. I told work seasonally. I don't know. I just work on the things whenever I feel like and when I have the time.
Nadine: Yeah, when I work on my own projects, they are very much based on a lot of research, on observations that I make in daily life. Yeah, mainly around our relationship to objects in general, but well in my case, textile objects and how objects actually influence our behavior and based on this, I create collections which are garment collections, but also last year I made a tablecloth and napery collection.
Nadine: Yeah, in the commission jobs, I'm much more I have to communicate, or react also on the people I work with. It's different, it's different. Still what I like is when people ask me to work for them and then they say like, “Yeah, we want exactly what you do. We want exactly your research part. We want exactly that you question functionality of things and really want this approach.” Of course sometimes, I also get commissions where I just work as a more or less traditional textile designer’s design patterns, or structures for textile.
Mario: It sounds like a big part of your work is this personal work that you do, is that correct?
Nadine: Mm-hmm. I would say a third. Yeah, yeah.
Mario: How did you come to that? There's a lot of designers for creative professionals who almost exclusively work on just a client project, or then maybe occasionally they have here and there a personal project to explore some curiosity or something, but see you have it like a very integral part of your almost day-to-day, or weekly practice. How did you come to that?
Nadine: I just have all these ideas in mind. I make these observations and then I think about collections. For me, it's really hard to not make them. I really need to illustrate these thoughts, or these observations that I make within these collections. What I knew from the beginning is that the things that I make are not products. It's not something that you could easily just sell in a store, because that's the freedom that I give myself when I work on my own things is that I don't think commercial. That I just yeah – I mean, I also – I put all my own money in there. I just really do what I want.
Nadine: Sometimes I make these collections and most of the things go more into museums, or galleries. Sometimes there are a few things where I say like, “Oh, that could also work as a product.” For example last year, when I made this napery collection, I produced some tea towels/aprons that I made, because yeah, they just work really well as a saleable product.
Nadine: Well, I also think it is really hard if you create for example your own fashion label, or something. It was never something that I really wanted to do, or only to sell things, because my approach is way too artistic for that. Of course, when you're a part of exhibitions or something, you also sometimes, not always, but sometimes you also get paid for that. Yeah, I could make a living out of that for sure.
Mario: Yeah. It sounds like you found a really good balance.
Nadine: Yeah. I mean, I could also just go on vacation with all this money that I put into these collections, but –
Mario: Why don't you take a vacation?
Nadine: Yeah, because I don't know. That’s just inner urge to really make these things for me. I really yeah – it's just like that.
Mario: That’s good.
Nadine: Also, I think I get way more attention for my own work than for the commissions that I make. I would say that based on my own collections, people ask me to work for them.
Mario: It does seem to be a good strategy, both for keeping your approach and yourself fresh in your craft. Then at the same time, also is a very good marketing tool to attract commissions and also to probably attract the work that you would like to be doing.
We've come to the very end of my conversation with Nadine. As with other guests, I've asked her to share parting pieces of advice based on what she learned so far on her professional journey.
Nadine: One thing is definitely that I think it is important to keep some ease within your work that you try not to be too stressed about things. Really just take a breath in between and ask yourself how big is this dilemma. Is it really that bad? Isn't there a solution for it? This also leads to my second recommendation, again it's a German word that I could never find a real translation for it, which is “Mußestunden” – well it means leisure, but it also means leisure in terms of inner silence, or something that you really spend time where you do something for yourself. Maybe at the same time is exactly because of that, you get inspiration.
Nadine: It's really a time where you should just follow your own interests. Yeah, instead of yeah, staying in front of your desk and think about all these things, maybe there are other ways to find ideas or solutions. Yeah, that was maybe more the spiritual part.
Mario: That's perfect. I think we need both.
Nadine: We need both. Yeah.
Mario: In general. We need both, like the spiritual and strategic, but then also very tactical and –
Nadine: Yeah. Other than that, I think for me the word relevance, or the term relevance is really important. I mean, the question should not that big that it would stop you from doing things. Sometimes it's also just good to do something. I think thinking about the relevance of your work is yeah, is very important.
Mario: How do you go about it? Is something that at the back of your mind all the time basically? Or do you have certain phases in your project where you're trying to evaluate that?
Nadine: Maybe I don't have it in the back of my mind all the time, but sometimes it happens that I sit there and I think like, “What am I actually doing? Why am I doing this?” I don't know. It's not there all the time. It's not that I think about a design and then I'm like, “Is this relevant for anyone?” Yeah, maybe just sometimes, I think it's good to ask that.
Hey friends, I hope you find this episode enjoyable and inspirational. I believe we touched on a lot of useful information for anybody out there interested in textile design and design in general and growth as creative professionals.
I want to thank Nadine for coming onto the show. I love her enthusiasm, artistic approach and intuition and I'm grateful for the insight she shared with me. Links to Nadine's work, as well as to some other things mentioned during our conversation can be found in the show notes at creative.voyage/podcast.
You can follow @creative.voyage on Instagram, and you email me directly on email@example.com. Tell me what you think of the show. If you haven't, already be sure to subscribe and until next time my friends. Take care.