There is an idealized job: The one where you make your own hours, choose what you do and report to few — if any — people. The life of the freelancer. With the uncertainty of today’s modern employment landscape, working on your own terms is enticing as ever. However, for as desirable as this sounds, making a legitimate living this way is not without its challenges.
Learning by Design
Sylvester attended the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York City where she received her associate’s degree in communication design and her bachelor’s in packaging design. At the time, it was the only school where you could major in such a discipline, but recognizing it as a niche industry that was growing, she pursued it.
The training at FIT was focused more on real-world applications of design. “It wasn’t like, ‘redesign this car to be a flower planter, ” Sylvester jests. “It was more like, ‘imagine you have to design baby formula for this age group and demographic — how would you go about it?’ You’re given actuals briefs to work off of. But you were still able to be conceptual, which is important in my industry even though a lot of work you do can be kind of corporate.”
While still in school, she took on internships that weren’t required by her program. She was eager to learn and develop on the job experience, explaining that she “interned four times before I got a job and I did that as a part-time job outside of what was required of me from school. Experience is just as important as your portfolio. If not more so.”
From Corporate to Freelance
After graduating, Sylvester landed a job at the design firm Pearl Fisher where she was senior designer. There she did illustration, branding and design work for various children’s and food brands. Of her time there she says, “I loved working at Pearl Fisher and I really do believe that it was the best place I could of gone to start my design career.”
However, as with being new to any industry, starting out takes longer to get into the flow. “When anyone is starting out in the design industry, they’re going to work really hard for the first few years, ” Sylvester says. “It doesn’t stay like that, but on top of that I had a two-and-a-half-hour commute both ways. It was hard not living in the city.”
She enjoyed the work she was doing and who she was doing it with but the grind of working late nights and commuting five hours a day for two years reached its watershed moment for her. Feeling secure enough, she decided it was time to give freelancing a shot.
“I had established a very good relationship various people in the industry, ” Sylvester says. “I let that network of people know I was available for freelance work.”