I’ve talked in previous blogs about the difficulty of nailing a job as a new fashion designer. The fashion industry can be cut-throat – who you know is just as important as what you know, and dirty tactics, such as asking hopeful job applicants to complete ‘homework assignments’ – potentially to be referred to later as the label’s SS19 collection – for free, are still rife.

It’s no wonder that fashion graduates and even veterans decide to throw in the towel and make a break for it. Many designers dream of having their own fashion label and complete creative control over every stitch, pattern cut and fabric selection. Those who take the plunge are brave, taking a leap into a cluttered and competitive industry. I admire their courage.

I’m here to tell you not start a fashion label.

Part of my reasoning is to stop would-be designers from clogging up our planet with endless samples, and the other part is: you’re just not prepared. That said, there are also many, many reasons to ignore me completely and insist on following your dreams.

Failing to prepare is preparing to fail
More than 60% of small businesses in Australia disappear within 3 years, and a recent study by data analytics company, Illion, found that 86.9% of failures in the last financial year were businesses with less than 20 employees. The reality is that most of these businesses fall into the same traps. While you might not be able to sidestep the landmines completely, just knowing they are there will help you in the battle for survival. The three most common reasons new Aussie businesses fail are: cashflow issues, growing too quickly, and not having enough business knowledge to succeed. This brings me to my next point…

There’s a BIG difference between being a designer, and being an owner
Dreams of days filled with inspired moments and sifting through fabric swatches, playing with patterns and bringing your dream garments to life are about to go up in smoke. The reality is, running a successful business doesn’t leave much time to be creative. As the owner of a small business, you’re more likely to find yourself being creative with how you can stretch your budget than how much you can stretch a piece of fabric. Running a business is a full-time job – and if you have no prior experience, you’re going to have to allocate time and money into educating yourself in business management. While it’s not impossible, it certainly isn’t going to be easy.

No money, no honey
Starting your own business is going to cost you – you’re going to have to shell out for equipment, materials, samples, advertising and more – and the minute you start opting for lower price points is the same minute the quality of your materials starts to be compromised. There are more than a few famous faces who have slipped up in the business world: Christian Lacroix, Betsey Johnson, American Apparel, L’Wren Scott and many, many more designers have been challenged by the mechanics of running a business. Some rise from the ashes: Tommy Hilfiger filed for bankruptcy in 1977 after his first fashion brand, People’s Place, collapsed. Tommy Hilfiger blames himself for the loss. “I wasn’t paying attention to the ‘business’ part of the business … I forced myself to learn the nuts and bolts of the business, and not solely on the creative side. I got hyper-focused on it. I learned how to read a balance sheet. I figured out how to control expenses and figured out a way to build a business on a shoestring budget,” he said. Today, the Tommy Hilfiger brand is worth billions.

But if you just have to start a fashion label…
We can agree that deciding to start a fashion business requires a lot of upfront thinking. Here are the things you need to know:

There are four key steps in the fashion value chain:

  1. Design & Development:This includes designing a collection, making patterns, developing samples and researching textiles and fabrics.
  2. Production & Supply Chain:At the early stages of your business, you will probably be able to make the low volumes of your samples and commercial collections in-house. Later, you will need to find production partners to help you produce the quantities demanded. Supply chain, logistics, delivery and quality control are critical parts of growing a business.
  3. Marketing & PR:You will not be able to sell your collection unless people know about it. In the digital age we have tools like social media to help people know your brand exists, and most of these tools cost around $5 a week – like Sked Social
  4. Sales & Distribution:The last step is to distribute and sell your products. At the early stages of your business, sales will involve wholesale, selling to online or offline retailers. Eventually, you may have your own retail through an e-commerce website and physical stores.

Focusing on four critical success factors will help to increase your chances of success

  1. Bring something unique to the market: Carefully craft your business concept. It is essential that you have an idea of the person you are designing for. Get inside the mind of your customer to understand how you can meet their needs and how you can connect with them through communication and marketing.
  2. Find a business partner or advisor: To help realise the business that you want to build, find someone who can work side by side with you to help manage your business. It is important that you find someone you can trust.
  3. Use your network of contacts: Building a fashion business requires access to all kinds of people and resources. Use your network of contacts, from classmates to friends or family, and trade organisations to help you. Do not be afraid to ask for advice or help.
  4. Manage your cash tightly: Too many designers have been in the situation where they have orders to fill, but insufficient cash to buy the raw materials to produce and deliver those orders. To stretch the time you are able to survive with limited cash, ask manufacturers for longer payment terms, and wholesale customers for deposits in advance.

If you’re looking for someone to guide you through the trenches of the industry and help you to avoid costly mistakes or adding to landfill – talk to us about our 1:1 masterclass to help you start with confidence or completely pass it in. Either way your wallet and the planet wins.

If you’ve been following The New Garde on Instagram you may have seen the latest crop of designers and brands that have launched in Brisbane. Check them out and follow their journey through fashion startup life! Reach out to them and say “hi” the more we connect the more we all grow.


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