With the increase of programs like ‘Project Catwalk’ and various others that offer prizes for winners, more and more people are considering starting their own fashion brand or online shop. These are great for creating enthusiasm and inspiring people but the problem with these programs is that they only show a process that they have created for their show. The process is unrealistic to the real world of retail and fashion and if people are following this path as their point of reference, unfortunately it sets you up to fail.
Creativity is not a bad thing and if these programs are creating a new generation of ideas and brands then I am all for it, but this does create in itself another problem.
For most people, the idea or inspiration behind their brand is the main focus. The design and the ‘vision’ is what consumes a designer and of course that is natural. However, if you are the one trying to create a brand or product, you need to step away from the ‘idea’ you have and take a moment to think about the business side.
The preparation, research, sales and business itself will be the thing that makes you successful or not. If you’re not putting the same amount of creativity and passion in ALL areas of your business, then you will be in the 98% of those who fail. Yes it’s boring, I won’t lie, and yes, you want to concentrate all your efforts on your product and designing, but the truth is that honestly, there is no point doing all of this work if the rest of your business is not at the same level of quality.
The rare 2% of focused people, and I’m sure this includes you, because you are reading this post, are the ones who know that focus has to be spread across all areas of your business, not just the creative areas. There are many things that you will need to cover, and if you have some help, or a team, this will make things easier. Any type of product in the retail world requires some specialist knowledge and experience. Things like marketing and branding will need some specialist expertise and there are huge differences in what photographer you need depending on your brand, how you style, where you sell, and so on. But these are for later on in your process along with many other decisions you will have to make. So where to begin?
Well I promised to give you 5 things that will help to make sure you are in the 2% and not the 98%.
1. DO A CUSTOMER PROFILE
A customer profile is basically a long report on the behaviour, thoughts and actions of your ideal customer. This has to be one of the most important documents that you could ever do and yet, many companies don’t bother, which is fascinating to me because in order to please your customer, and your business is all about pleasing your customer or at least, finding the right customer base, then how would anyone magically know where they are, who they are, what they need, what they want, at what price and with what features?
I’ll let you into a secret. The magic formula of getting sales is to offer the right product, at the right time, to the right people, in the right place at the right price. That’s all……. and no one can just come up with the winning combination by chance. It requires some research and time. A customer profile will give you all of the answers you need because it collects data from your customer base and ask them questions about everything in the sales formula and much more.
Ask yourself one simple question….. How do you expect to know your customer, if you don’t KNOW your customer? Answer….. Get a Customer profile done and if you can afford it, get it done properly by a professional. It’s is the best money you will ever spend.
2. HAVE A PLAN
Regardless of where you think you are going to be in 5 years, or how you think things will go, have an actual plan with real data, costs and steps to follow. You’ll be surprised how far people get into their journey when they realise that they just can’t afford it, or haven’t planned for a crisis or that next member of staff that would allow them to deliver to another country. Yes plans and data and figures are boring, but it will give you something to aim for, goals that you can focus on and tick off as you go and a clear map for the future.
My advice would always be a proper business plan. You’ll be surprised at how much they can reveal. They don’t have to be long, but they do make you focus on most of the larger parts of your business, which means you’ll have to consider the time, effort and cost for each part. What most people don’t tell you is that if you have a business plan, things will rarely stress you out. If you have a plan you are prepared for most things, including cost, which is often more than you think.
3. REALITY CHECK
Without customers, you don’t have a business. The idea is a simple one. So sometimes, you need to please your customers. Sure you’re the designer and sure you might have the best, most beautiful garment in the entire world. Yes it’s in the perfect fabric, with the perfect shape and at a very reasonable price……. but you don’t have the same mind as your customer. Everyone thinks differently. So you might have to compromise a bit, but if you want to pay bills and make sure that you can design and do the things you love, then at some point, you might need to compromise to get people in the door and them show them your other amazing things.
Many years ago I was standing next to Hussein Chalayan. A girl walked up to him and said “Why don’t you stick to your aesthetic when selling clothes in stores? I love your catwalk stuff and I’m really disappointed that I can only buy watered down versions. Why are you diluting your creative identity?” He looked at her and simply said “Because I want to be able to eat”.
The point was that he is incredibly creative, but the attention grabbing catwalk items, whilst beautifully crafted and unusual, were not the sorts of things that were easy to wear to a restaurant on shopping. Ultimately sales of garments or products are what keeps your business alive. He still puts some unusual things down the catwalk, but also caters for other customers and gives them things they can buy, love and wear.
Your ideas are what make your brand and don’t get me wrong, you shouldn’t fall over and just be a sheep. That’s not the point I am trying to make. Everything you do should scream your brand name certainly, but you might have to offer it in a popular colour for example, even if you don’t think it works. Maybe you might want to create 2 or even 3 ranges, to offer different price ranges or design ideas. That’s fine. Even designers like Vivienne Westwood and Marc Jacobs to Levi Jeans do that to allow more customers to join the brand fan club.
Whatever you do, keep in mind that the customer is the focus because without them there are no sales. No sales means no profit and no profit means no business.
4. IT’S ABOUT MORE THAN DESIGN…..
Starting a fashion brand is something I hear daily and every time, people talk about their idea of fashion, or how they will dress the world. That’s great. I’m glad people have strong creative visions and a clear direction for their brand. What most people don’t think about is how they will produce the garments? How are they going to sell it? How much time will it take to create a community on social media? and a million other things.
Staring a fashion brand, or creating a successful one is hard work and about so much more than design alone. With social media and the internet, now more than ever, it’s more about finding the right customers and building relationships. Marketing and building your brand name are key, probably more so than your products. The world has become very small with the internet and there will always be someone else in the world that likes what you create. Finding that person, and many more who think the same way, has nothing to do with the product and everything to do with marketing and community.
In the beginning you’ll be tight on cash and that’s ok….. but the minute you can afford to take on another person, a freelancer or even a friend who can help out, make sure they are a marketing guru, because it will make all the difference to how quickly your brand grows.
5. GET PROFFESSIONAL ADVICE
I want you to do something for me right now….. close your eyes and think about your dream house. What it would look like and smell like? What colour is the furniture or walls? How big is it? Where is it?….. If you won the lottery, where would you live?
…..You dream it, design it, rethink it, design it again, add things, take things out, dream and design again. Then what do you do…. you get it made cheaply because of cost. You skip on the building quality and get it built quickly because you are so excited about getting in there and living in your dream…… But one day that house will fall down around your ears. Why? because you skipped the important parts. You skipped on the foundations and the structure. You never took the time to make sure that everything that held that house together was solid and strong. Bye, bye house.
Now think about your fashion brand like a dream house. Do you want that to happen to your dream? So why, oh why, oh why, do people trust unreliable information on the internet and in books? Just because someone has written a blog about something, doesn’t mean they have actually done it, and trust me, after 20 years in this business, I see a lot of rubbish and lies around building fashion brands on the web from so called “reliable” sources.
If your tight on cash and you are going to research every area of your business yourself, then at least check someone’s background and if they actually have experience in what they are writing about, and I mean really check. Someone who tells you ” how they did it” is not helpful because what worked for them, won’t for you and you’ll end up trying idea, after idea with nothing working. Plus every “mistake” they warn you about, probably would never of happened if they themselves bothered to get proper advice.
My advice would definitely be, that if and when you have some spare cash, then get professionals to help you in the areas you don’t like or are good at. This means you’ll have more time to do the fun stuff you like and you know that someone else is doing a great job for you without you wasting time researching, leaning and figuring it all out.