New Year, New Career?

10 Things You Need To Know About Starting A Fashion Business 

Life’s too short to sit in a safe-as-houses job, dreaming of a glittering, fast-paced career in fashion. Sure, stability and routine can be nice, but stepping out of your comfort zone to launch your own fashion business is exhilarating. Make no mistake: there’s a lot of hard work involved, ups-and-downs, and lessons to be learned, but believe me when I say it is totally worth it.

Here are a few of the nitty-gritty details you need to consider before you hand in your resignation.


1. Know Your Niche

You have an idea. You have sketches. You might have already been selling your product on a small scale and now want to make it your full-time focus. Awesome! But before you start dreaming of Times Square billboards and Rhianna rocking your designs at Coachella, make sure you know your niche inside out. If you have experience in creating leather bags, focus on perfecting the art of the tote bag and selling these items only, just like Rylan. Similarly, if your t-shirt designs have amassed a cult following like SKUEL WORK, start your business by manufacturing, marketing and selling the designs people love on a larger scale.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need an extensive line of product to be a success story, and definitely, don’t start trying to make apparel and accessories you haven’t designed before. In the initial days of your small business, you won’t have time to scratch yourself, let alone sniff! And you certainly won’t have time learn how to make something new and do it well. Remember: You’re more likely to be successful with one great design than a 16 piece collection that’s been cobbled together at the last second with your last dollar.


2. Identify Your Target Audience

A common reason fashion start-ups fail is because they haven’t taken the time to get to know their customer. And I mean really get to know them. How much do they spend on their morning coffee? Where do they hang out? What’s their social calendar like? Who are their friends? Run focus groups and surveys to get right into your customer’s head (and wardrobe) so you can ensure you match your product with the right people. We’ve developed a customer ethnology document to help manage all this – you can download it here
Whatever you do, don’t try to sell one product to every section of the population or have a massive age gap 25year olds don’t like to wear the same thing as a 44year old each has different needs and functional requirements, so don’t stop at an age when it comes to research. Hone in on who’s going to enjoy your designs and be able to easily incorporate them into their wardrobe. Marketing activity is a waste of time if you don’t know who you’re talking to. Let’s break it down: if you identify college students as your primary customers, think about placing an advertisement in college newspapers. If new mums are target buyers of your fashion products, you’re going to use a different advertising strategy.
Similarly, you’ll use different graphic design and copywriting strategies as well. If you’re looking to attract young people, your advertising will have trending design elements they’re drawn to.

3. Budget for a rainy day

Can you afford to keep all the elements of your business ticking along smoothly? One of the most common problems that cause small businesses to fold before they realise their commercial potential is a lack of ready money. You need to have a realistic idea of your finances and how much you’ll need to set up and run your company and stash away a contingency fund for when the chips are down. Download our first-year financials document to note down all your essential expenditures. Employee salaries, purchasing of office furniture and equipment, raw material and other supplies are obvious – it’s the small things such as postage, samples, electricity and business cards that are easily forgotten and that add up.

Remember, the dollars won’t be rolling in the door instantly. It may take some time for your company to start earning money and even longer to turn a profit. Keep some funds aside to meet unforeseen expenses, such as clients delaying a payment or large orders that you’ll need to fund up front. If you can’t front the cash yourself, consider a side hustle or waiting longer to launch. The idea of applying for a bank loan puts extra pressure on you to pay it back. Meanwhile approaching investors for financial help isn’t worth the effort if your items aren’t innovative. If your pieces can’t benefit someone’s life like leggings that stop the aging process, or anti-stink Tshirts then investors won’t look at you until you have one to two years of proven sales a strong supply chain or a cult following. – generally, they’re looking for a return on their investment and will need to see with hard facts about what that could look like.


4. The Price is Right!

Right from the get go you need to make your fashion startup profitable, to do this you need to make sure that pricing of your designs is right. You’ll only earn a profit when you generate more revenue than your fixed and variable expenditures.

One-time expenses on fixed items such as office furniture are taken care of in the early days, but other expenditures such as salary payments and buying supplies will be made regularly. Keep these costs in mind when determining the prices of your designs and absorb the costs in your per garment costings. Generally, business owners set their wholesale and retail rates way higher than their expenses. Depending on what it is you’re selling and who your target market is, your prices could be set to a high enough level that you earn a profit margin of 30-50% over your total expenses.


5. Logo Loving

There’s a lot of pressure to nail your branding when designing a logo. People will make a decision about your brand and designs with just one glance, so you really, really, really need to get it right the first time. When we worked with STRANGER our inspiration was bubble gum pastels and nostalgia while developing the ASTILLE brand we focused on elegance with a connection to vintage glamour using spicey warm tones. Your brand doesn’t only need to speak to your customers, it needs to encapsulate your tone of voice, messaging, aesthetic and who you are as a designer. Remember that people react emotionally to colours, typefaces, taglines, and images, so gather opinions on a few variations and find out how they make people feel.


6. Get Online

Having a great website and strong social media output is a no-brainer but isn’t always as easy as it seems. The majority of consumers today use the internet to research trends, gain fashion advice and (of course) do their shopping, so a strong presence in an ocean of brands is essential. The most basic element of having an online presence is a website. You might not be set up to sell a physical product, but you can advertise your lookbook, brand messaging and engage with customers. If you are selling online, your e-commerce website should provide consumers with all the information they need. The more information there is (pricing, measurements, descriptions, and details), the more likely you are to secure a sale.


7. Find A Business Partner or put your business hat on. 

One way to run your business smoothly is to find a sidekick who can share the ups and downs of launching a business and keeping it afloat. Don’t rush into this – set out your criteria as entering into business with someone is a big step. Consider someone who has some experience in the fashion and business worlds, and absolutely makes sure you can trust this individual. Don’t partner with someone who has exactly the same skill set as you. Otherwise, you’ll both be creating mood boards while no one is manning the critical time path
or managing operations.


8. Build Your Brand

One of the things to consider for attracting a consistent stream of customers is to build your brand.

This takes a lot of time and energy but will pay off massively when a bond is formed between you and your customers. Engage with your customers as you would with a friend. You’ve done your research so you know their values, likes and dislikes. Use your knowledge to engage with them through the channels you know they use. Talk to them about what they care about, whether that’s what the latest celebrity trend is or the fact you’re using sustainable materials to create your items. Don’t fall into the sales funnel trap or creating content for the sake of content. Churning out automated posts and machine gunning memes is going to fall on deaf ears.


9. Create A Marketing Strategy

A sound marketing strategy that’s planned well in advance will keep you on track when unexpected issues arise, or you’re too caught up in all the other jobs to focus and think of new ideas and keep promoting your stock. The success of your business will largely depend on how much and how deeply you engage with your target audience. If you’re not confident in creating a marketing plan, head to our shop and snap up a marketing framework so you can be guided through each step.  It’s an editable bare bones PDF that you can fill in tailored to your specific needs, you can also use this when hiring a freelancer to get the job done for you.

10. Learn From Mistakes Quickly

No matter how many blogs you read or experts you consult, you’re going to make mistakes, and that’s okay. Learn from those mistakes quickly and do not repeat. Keep an eye on your business strategies and don’t be afraid to change direction if things aren’t tracking as well as you would have hoped, or you see strengths in areas you hadn’t foreseen. The world of fashion can be fickle and unexpected things will happen, so be flexible when things change and make them work in your favour.


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