For Elze Lambrecht, Belgian graphic and fashion designer, life could have gone in a very normal and traditional pace after she got done with the university studies. She could have started own fashion brand like many young Belgian entrepreneurs, get settled with a family of hers, and build the life everyone was expecting of her.
But Elze wanted something different. She wanted to see what the things were out of her comfort zone. And she went for it. She spent over a year on a trip around Asia, then moved to Australia, where she launched her career on Upwork as a freelancing fashion designer. Now, she’s building her creativity coaching business in Bali where she has settled (as for now).
How was it manageable for her to leave behind all the expectations her environment put on her to chase what her soul and heart really longed for? TheHusteIsFemale found out just that.
THIF: How did you start working in the fashion design industry?
In the last year of my studies, I was doing a graphic design job and did an internship for the Belgian shoe designer. The reason I chose to work with her, was because she was doing everything alone and I could get insight on the whole process.
I always knew I wanted to work for myself so that was the plan all along. For me, the choice of working with a smaller brand was very thought through as many of my fellow students chose to do an internship at very known names in fashion. But joining a small brand was my ticket to understand how a brand works from A to Z. She taught me about the production process, sales, marketing, advertising, etc. Most of it was not design work but that was exactly what I was looking for. I knew how to design, it is in my blood and I developed it over the years. Running a fashion business, on the other hand, was not something I knew and I learned a lot from this.
THIF: How competitive is fashion business in Belgium and Europe in general? What were the main challenges for you while working in the fashion business in Europe?
The fashion industry is competition no matter where you are because it mainly operates online. So the competition that you have in Belgium is similar to anywhere else in the world as clients have access to every product, regardless of where they are.
However, in Belgium, there is a trend of supporting Belgian-designed and made products. So if you start a brand and you are able to get featured in Belgian magazines, blogs, websites your credibility as a Belgian brand becomes bigger as more people get to know you. Getting access to boutiques, so they sell your products, is a good solution to increase your market next to selling online as well.
Belgium is a small country and many young entrepreneurs are focused on creating their own ‘thing’. It is really good and that is also why the support for buying Belgian products is popular I think.
I never chose to start my own brand in Belgium. I always knew I wanted to work for myself. Although, that did not mean starting own brand. I always liked the creative and consulting part but did not want to deal with the production and sales. I really believe in increasing and upgrading your expertise in what you are really good at because that is the best way to serve others. For me, it means creating on every level, with my hands and my head.
THIF: If somebody has the ambition to get on this market, would you recommend to do it now? What are the risks?
Competition does not matter. And I know a lot of people will believe otherwise, but this is my vision now. There were times where I checked on competition and you know when that happened? When I doubted myself, lost confidence and stopped growing. Checking others closes you off from your true potential and you get anxious.
In the end – what is the point? That is just your scarcity talking that you have to ‘beat’ others to find your clients. That thought has creeped into my head in the moments that I was not feeling confident. Surely, you can check on what other people do and how they do it and learn from that. But, if you really want something and you believe you can do it, then another designer should not stop you.
Every designer and person is unique at what he or she delivers. As long as you focus on your strengths, listen to your intuition and let that guide you, people will follow you. Trust in your decisions and remember there is no right or wrong in creation. The people who do resonate with what you do and admire your authenticity will cross your path.
A client should choose a designer (and a lot of times that is not the case) based on what he/she delivers as a creator, not solely on their price. If a client thinks only about the price, then he/she is really missing the whole point and harming their own business. You should hire someone because of what they do because you completely align with their style and truly believe this is what you need from them, because you are convinced this person can elevate your product and brand. Whether you decide based on confidence or fear, the result always reflects in your business.
THIF: After finishing studies in Belgium, you left for a 13-month solo-trip through Asia. What has served a motivation for such step for you? You basically left your comfort zone completely. How come?
I was living in my comfort zone. I did everything I was supposed to. I went to school, I went out with my friends, I had boyfriends but I always felt there was a gap. There was an unfulfilling feeling in my life. I knew deep inside I was not living up to my soul purpose expectations. I was not creating a life for myself that I loved.
That life did not necessarily lie within traveling and I see that now. But not then. For me ‘escaping’ that comfort zone was one of the most relieving feelings I ever experienced. When you consciously choose what you do with your life, a whole other vision opens up. A huge weight fell off my shoulders, the moment I embarked that plane.
However, this is one of the most important lessons for a young person to experience – the detachment from your parents.
Your surroundings really determine a lot of what you do and who you are. If you can step out of it, without leaving it, then you are hell of a strong person. And a lot of people are, but I was not. I had to leave to get it, I could not do that by staying. For me, traveling was my escape route before I came to a fixed lifestyle.
Being a young person, it was hard to shake the idea of not pleasing my parents. That is not their fault, it’s normal that young people want to live up to expectations their parents might project on them. Parents want the best for their kids and they have an idea of what that is based on their life experiences. However, this is one of the most important lessons for a young person to experience – the detachment from your parents. That does not mean leaving them completely. It means doing things the way you want them to be. Also, that might differ from what your parents have taught you. It was difficult for me because I treasure my parents a lot. They are so dear to me and I admire them. But detachment of old ideas is the only way the world can grow. If everyone would repeat what their parents did, the world would simply stay the same.
THIF: What were the most interesting moments of your trip to Aisa? And what were the most dangerous/ unpleasant ones?
I do not remember feeling scared. I felt excited when something unexpected happened. In countries where things do not flow as smoothly as in the Western world, you have to accept it the way it works there. This might be unpleasant but it is a great lesson: accepting that you can not control everything.
Traveling teaches you a lot. It teaches you how other people live and how relative everything is in your own world. I met 18-year-olds who were traveling for months by themselves and did not even blink when they were telling me this. I met people who live with their parents till they are 30 and it is perfectly fine in their surroundings. I met a 45-year-old man who was single his whole life until he found someone he really cared about because that was the one person he really felt he wanted to be with for the first time in his life. It taught me so much about how judgeful my mind was, no matter how bad that might sound. What is right for you is not necessarily right for somebody else. I had to see and experience all of this to see that it is perfectly fine to live a different lifestyle.
But that did not vanish easily by just doing a trip. I was still carrying that with me, the idea that everything had to be arranged. It is only recently that I have been able to let that idea go and live more mindfully.
THIF: Tell us your story with getting first clients on Upwork. What mistakes did you do, that you can warn our viewers about so they don’t do them?
Getting started was a lesson in taking myself seriously and setting boundaries. In the beginning, I was treating it like a side hustle, trying to get some money. But there are more than two million people on Upwork and not even mentioning the market outside of it. I had to go into it fully. Making a website, making a video, clearing up my description, taking tests, being active on it every day. It all added up to a positive outcome.
At the start, my mistakes were not taking it seriously enough, trying to please every client, and working cheap as that brings down the industry and also your quality. If I have one good advice that is – don’t be cheap. You get the worst clients who expect everything, don’t give back and offer the most boring projects. Also being an allrounder, doing all types of work, not concentrating on a niche. It does not make you an expert in one field.
You have to detach yourself from emotional connections with what you do and really start seeing your business as a serious thing. If you are out there, not working on improving yourself every day, you will slack and people will not see your value because you do not see it yourself. Really treat yourself and what you are doing as a business.
Once you decide to work for yourself, you are no longer an employee but a business owner with the freedom to make the choices. And personally, I love that so much I would not want to trade if for anything else.
If you are naturally good at something and you can deliver it, that is all that matters.
THIF: In your blog, you wrote that you had to work at the cafe. Can you please tell our readers, why did you have to do this and what saved the situation for you?
I did this job when I was in Australia, after traveling to Asia. I did a working holiday visa and just wanted to earn money. My idea about work and money was so different then. I wanted money and that meant working hard and not thinking if I enjoyed it or not. It was a good place and good environment but cleaning plates was not really what I was hoping for. However, it saved me at that time and showed me again how capable I was of doing other things.
After two months of working there, I stepped into online freelancing as a designer. I studied for ages and knew I had so much to give and was not really using it while doing the dishes at the restaurant.
THIF: What does the website of a digital fashion designer should look like so that it looks more professional? Tell us your story. How did you create it?
It has to look like you. It has to represent your personality. My website is simple and straightforward because that is who I am. I like bluntness in people because that is who I am and that is what I represent. I want people to know what they are going to get from me.
I feel when you have good images of your work, you do not need all the decoration to make it look better. Your work speaks for itself and you have to treat your website as a museum where simple white walls or a colored background do the work justice. Use a font you like and that fits your style. I am structured and I want to work with structured people as well, so I present that in everything I have and do. That comes naturally if you are a designer, I think. It is not that hard as you already have mastered that visual language.
Make sure people do not have to search forever on how to contact you and have a picture and some explanation on who you are. Be open, so people can get to know you and connect with you.
THIF: So how did you find your personal approach to working with clients? What is your “secret” to satisfying their needs? What do you do for that?
The secret is to know who your client is and really narrow that down as much as possible. I worked with startups and I chose that because I really wanted to do consulting at the same time. I loved educating them about how a collection was made because I wanted them to understand how things worked. As a business owner, I felt they needed to see and learn about how things go down when creating an entire collection. And next to that I had frequent/personal contact with them which created great understanding between us.
When you know your clients’ problems, it creates a possibility to build on that. You create solution-minded work and you can satisfy their needs as much as possible. This is a process and that is why the personal connection with the people you work is so important. If the market does not give you what you want, it means you are not giving the market what they want.
Get to know your audience, so you can serve them in the best way. Create your business around that. You can do surveys, if you do not have that many clients, read articles from other designers, ask questions, do discovery calls with potential clients, etc.
If you stopped searching for new goals and new opportunities then boredom is going to be a protagonist in your life.
THIF: You were looking for a coach, right? Why did you need a coach, what for?
To grow. When you get stuck with what you are doing and your emotions, that means you have to focus on growth. Surrounding yourself with people who can help you with that is such an important step. I can’t even explain the change I went through in only 3 months of working with coaches.
A coach or therapist is a mirror to yourself and shows you the things you really want. It is a realization when someone constantly confronts you with what you say and do and how far those actions sometimes are from what you really want. Starting on a personal level is the first step to expansion in your business. When you do not have stuff sorted out as a person, that translates into your job.
I struggled with what I was doing. I had emotional difficulties with stuff that happened in the past, regarding relationships and I did not see the solution to why patterns kept returning. Because of that, I lost control and motivation in designing.
I also noticed that consulting my clients was what I liked and a lot of times the clients I talked to mentioned they were uplifted and energized after our conversation and that was exactly the same for me. It brought me so much fulfillment.
Trust in your decisions and remember there is no right or wrong in creation. The people who do resonate with what you do and admire your authenticity will cross your path.
Hiring a coach opened a door to see what I really enjoyed and created a new path for me that allowed me to focus more on consulting others. It also helped me heal from my past that I needed to get rid of in order to move forward.
THIF: Now, as you started doing coaching amid just design, what challenges can you name in this field? What did you do first thing to become a coach and how do you look for the clients?
I have always been solution-minded and I am not afraid to say it because that is also something I learned – to acknowledge my strengths and show them to others.
However, if your problem keeps occurring then you have to take action. When I started to work with coaches, it was because I did not see the solution anymore and I wanted to find it with their help. The moment I mention a problem to someone it is because I am in need of a solution and I want to find it with the help of that person.
I hired three coaches to start. I learned from them first hand. I saw what works for me and what not. Some of them do not even have a certificate themselves. So what? I followed my intuition and I am glad I did. I found the right person and she has opened all the gates I was looking for. Next to that, I always read self-help books and do research about personal development on a daily basis. It is just so natural to me because I am so intrigued by it. But most of all, I just kept doing what I was doing all along when being a freelancer – consulting my clients.
Really treat yourself and what you are doing as a business.
You can school yourself and run around with ten certificates but that does not prove much, in my opinion. It proves you passed the tests and learned the material, however, I still do not believe that makes you good at something. There are designers out there who never went to school and are amazing designers. They just possessed that skill and mastered it because it came naturally to them. I went to school for eight years to do this, it does not change anything. I do not see them as less ‘worthy’ because of that. They had the balls to do it by themselves, so my respect is pretty big. It does not matter to me if you have a degree or whatever. If you are naturally good at something and you can deliver it, that is all that matters.
THIF: What does “hustle” mean to you as a self-employed female entrepreneur I can say?
It means ‘never stop growing’. Nothing is fixed in life, only if you make it so. If you stopped searching for new goals and new opportunities then boredom is going to be a protagonist in your life. You are always changing and you should, that is the only way you can keep serving both yourself and others.