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Onno Rikpstra of IllustratorSupport.com Discusses Carving Out a Niche for Himself in the Fashion Industry

Written by Robin WildingFebruary 2, 2012
DesignersSupport.nl

Vivienne Westwood, O’Neill, Tommy Hilfiger, McGregor, Le Coq Sportif, Brunotti. These are just a few of the designers that Onno Rikpstra has worked with.

Onno's success came from his ability to leverage the training he received at the Utrecht School of Fine Arts, in fashion design and illustration, and turned it into a career. Onno found his niche in being an Adobe InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator expert, teaching other designers how to properly leverage Adobe tools for fashion illustration. Onno's business, IllustratorSupport.com (DesignersSupport.nl, in his native Holland) offers online lessons, in-person classes, downloadable art, file sharing and their custom online Plaid Designer Tool. In addition to running IllustratorSupport.com he also creates apparel, accessories and footwear designs, you know, in his 'spare' time. For more on Onno check out his LinkedIn profile.

We recently got a chance to sit down (virtually, given that he lives in Amsterdam) with Onno to talk about what it was like carving out a niche for himself in the fashion industry:

For any of our readers not familiar with you could you explain your DesignerSupport's vision?

Designersupport.nl (countries outside holland: www.illustratorsupport.com) teaches and supports designers in the business in digital fashion drawing and creating fashion artworks. We teach Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign. But especially on the subject fashion design. We discovered that 90% of the designers / stylists who work for a brand do not have enough digital skills to be able to digitally create what they have in their mind. That's a huge problem. That's why we created designersupport.nl. Brands become a member. This way their designers can log in, study online, download stitching libraries, extra Adobe Illustrator functionality and most important, they can ask for online professional support.

What inspired the idea and creation of your business to help up-and- coming fashion designers with their technical drawing skills?

We do not help up-and-coming designers, we help all designers. Escpecially designers that already are employee at companies. On the other hand, we also teach teachers on fashion schools. Schools can use our online video's in their lessons or use them to prepare their lessons.

How does someone go about using your company's services?

We sell year memberships to companies or freelance designers. But businesses can also
hire us to teach at the office in person.

What kind of advantage to your customers gain from using DesignerSupport?

A companies help-desk online has knowledge of standard computer / network issues. They are not able to answer professional Adobe questions. Companies that are designersupport.nl /illustratorsupport.com member give their designers the opportunity to get this kind of support as well. The designers will get a load of extra features that will help them work much more efficient in Adobe Illustrator. They will get a 110 page masterclass book written by us, not for sale in bookshops. This book supports the training video's on designersupport.nl /illustratorsupport.com. Companies get an online tool to create plaids and stripes. This tool is extremely simple and fast. No software knowledge needed.

What can existing professional designers learn from your company?

They will learn to work as efficient as possible using Adobe Illustrator / Photoshop and Indesign. They will learn skills to be able to create anything digitally what's on their mind. They will learn to work in Adobe program's 'non-destructive'. This means they will work as fast as possible but on the same time their work will be very easy to adjust or re-use.

How did you initially get your foot into the door of the fashion industry?

I am a fashion designers myself. I started at Vivienne Westwood during mij study at the school of fine arts in the Netherlands. Afther that I was a employed designer at O'Neill and after that at the Tommy Hilfiger office. At both offices I teached designers in digital drawing because I discovered the skills of the designers where way to low. Afther that I started to design on freelance base, and almost immediatly brands started to ask me to teach their designers. After eight years of desinging freelance and teaching colleagues I launched designersupport.nl /illustratorsupport.com. To be able to stay in contact with the designers we teach and to be able to keep giving support to them.

What type of education did it take to get you where you are today? And how has your career path progressed over the years?

I graduated at the school of fine arts in Utrecht, Netherlands, fashion design and illustration. I started my own brand to soon at a to young age. So that only lasted a few years. I did learn a great deal of this adventure. After that I have been a video game designer / games concept art designer for two years (one of the games: Knight Rider). I just felt to do something else for a while. After that I got back in fashion at O'Neill and after that at Tommy Hilfiger. 8 years ago I started to go freelance. I designed footwear, accesories, garments and (mainly) artworks and I teached designers at brands. I worked for brands like G-Star, Viktor & Rolf, Blueblood, Protest Boardwear, Vingino, Le Coq Sportif, State of Art, McGregor / Gaastra and many more.

What is the most important skill and/or hard lesson you have learned while working in the industry?

Stay close to yourself. You need to find out where your talent lies. Not to take jobs that don't match your personality / talent. It takes a few years that you will develop and discover what your specialty is. And as soon as you discover that, expand this talent and become and expert! Never present yourself as a all-round designer. Even if you are. You will only find work / be taken seriously if you specialise in a certain profession / product.

How have you turned an idea into a successful fashion business?

A good idea in my situation was not created over night. It actually came by itself. I started to help colleagues when I was an employee. When I started to freelance businesses started calling me if I could teach their designers. After a few years teaching I discovered businesses need professional support and more training possibilities. But it

MUST be affordable. Not one brand is willing to pay what normal training institutes are asking. So that's why I created a way businesses can get a cheap membership so their designers can study online anytime they like. And get online professional support.

Which skills do you consider to be most critical for a career in fashion?

Be social and honest. You get work because people grant you that work. Fashion is a touch business but that does not mean you should act a-social. Fashion is still a peoples business. Next keep improving yourself. Even when you are an employee. When you got a contract does not mean you can sit and lean back. Stay focussed on what you do and most important find a way you enjoy your work as much as possible. If you are not happy at a job, switch as soon as possible! Work MUST be fun or it won't work.

What advice would you give to aspiring fashion professionals looking to break into today's fashion industry...how can they get ahead?

If you use Facebook, use it only professional or else, stay away from facebook until facebook finds a way you can get professional and private life seperate. Get on Linkedin and present yourself as good as possible. Be on Linkedin every day for at least 15 minutes. Network, network, network. You don't have to live excentric to be taken seriously in fashion. Be and act like a professional. Just be good in what you do and show that to the world. It does not matter where you go out, what you wear etc. Try to figure out what the core knowledge is you need to get a hold on for your profession and focus on that. All the time! Becoming a senior professional takes time. Be patient and enjoy what you do, in time you will become a senior automaticly :-).

Check out more interviews at The Fashion-Schools.org Interview Series.