How To Start Your Fashion Brand From ScratchJun 22, 2021
Gone are the days where only people with a ton of money or access could start a fashion business. These days, as long as you have desire, a great work ethic and commitment you can fulfill your dreams of starting a fashion business. But it still begs the question, "how do you start a fashion brand from scratch"?
There is no short answer here, and honestly if you're looking for a short easy answer, this may not be the industry for you. A fashion business, like any other business is a lot of work and brings up things that you may not even think you need to know. But for now, let's focus on the types of fashion businesses there are and what to do after you determine which is a good fit for you.
Types Of Fashion Businesses
It's not enough to say you want a fashion business; that can mean different things. The first place to start is how are you going to make a business with the skills you have? Here are some common options:
Some people love the idea of buying a product that is already made and re-selling it. That is considered wholesaling/retailing and there are a few ways to do it. You could have a store and house various brands and sell them on your website or in a brick and mortar store. You could also only sell the products to people will will only sell them in their stores.
Often in fashion, when discussing wholesale garments can be purchased from brands directly at a wholesale price to be resold in a store or website for a retail price. The garments can also be purchased
While this is not my area of expertise, I can say that being able to curate product that resonates with your audience/customer is of the utmost importance as you will need to be able to see something that you know they will like, purchase it at cost, an sell it at a markup. It's important to note that some people just do wholesale and some do wholesale and retail.
Inability to sell the product will result in fiscal loss and may require you to markdown the item(s) in an attempt to make some of your investment back.
While wholesaling is different from making your own product, the way you manage the business becomes similar to a designer brand (once you have the product) in terms of managing inventory, shipment of goods, sale of goods, and all that goes into it putting your goods in the hands of your ideal customer.
This is a great business idea for someone that wants to work in fashion, but doesn't want the added work of creating a product from scratch.
There are a few ways to refer to this type of fashion business: designer, designer brand, fashion designer. Essentially, what is being said is that a person designs and makes clothing. Most often once the clothes are done being made, this person or some other people sell it. It's important to note that the designer is the person making the clothes and they don't need to be famous to do that. Calling a brand a designer brand just implies that the person making the clothes is the person selling the clothes, or that the clothes being made and sold are a business by the designer or using the designer's name.
The main difference between this and the wholesaler is that the designer has a segment of work that happens before the product is created. They will often sketch and conceptualize a look, drape it or make a pattern for it, then cut it out and sew it. All of which are tasks that require an expert level of knowledge to execute at a level that will produce clothes that people will buy.
This specialized knowledge can be self taught or acquired from a college or university or learned from a family member that may sew and make clothes as well.
This is great for people who are super creative, like to make things and understand really well how clothes are made.
Sometimes overlooked but a very important part of fashion businesses is the stylist. The stylist is the person who will assemble, curate, procure and put together the looks of an individual or team of people.
Many times, people think that only the rich or famous will have a stylist and that's not true. Many regular people have stylists to help them dress the part for the type of job they want or circles they want to run in.
Many times when people are seeking promotions from jr. executive to the c-suite they will implement the help of a stylist to make sure they are dressing the way they need to for that executive role. Some people will also use stylists to help them for a specific day or purpose, for a television interview or their wedding day for example.
This is great for people who have a great eye and know how to put looks together for various body types and possibly genders. Knowing ways to make a look versatile is also helpful for a professional stylist.
Where to Start
Regardless of the route you wish to take with your fashion business, you'll need to do some common basic things to make it be a business.
Any business will need customers that purchase from them to be a business, otherwise you are considered a hobby. Getting customers can be one of the most difficult things any business will do. Just because you may have an audience, doesn't mean that you'll have customers.
Before you start marketing your product to people, it's best to first get an idea of who you want to sell to. Many tools and resources on line will describe this as a customer avatar. It's the basic idea of who you want to sell your product to.
When defining your customer avatar, you'll want to answer things like: age, gender, geographical location, income, educational background, buying habits, other brands they like, what motivates them to buy, when they buy, where they wear the products they're buying, are they the decision making of the items they buy? These are just SOME of the questions you'll want to ask yourself, but time should be spent in this area of your brand building because everything else you do will be built off of this.
Once you know who you want to target your product to, you'll need to know how and where to find them. There are entire classes on this topic, so I'm not going to be able to answer this for you in one paragraph of a blog post, just know that you will need to spend time on this.
Once you are extremely clear on who your customers are, you can start to make, buy or create products/looks for them; feeling confident that what you are creating fits who they are as people. If the products you make are out of sync with your customer, this can effect sales. Imagine design wedding gowns for nuns? It sounds crazy but if you're out of sync with how your customer or audience is, something like this could happen, causing you to lose tons of money.
Similar to the types of products you show your customer, the way you market your product to them will also depend on who your customer is. Your copy, brand voice, brand imagery, content, website even your social media will all be dictated by the information you've learned about your customer.
Once there's a clear idea of who you're talking to, what you're showing them and how you're going to show it to them-you can begin to build your business around this, feeling confident that the work you're doing will be received well.
Again, there are classes and degrees that are dedicated to marketing so we're not going to learn everything that needs to happen with marketing in this post, but having an awareness of your customer will help any marketing effort you pursue. Should you outsource this service to a marketing professional, it's also helpful for you as a business owner to know how your customer is so that you can make sure they are targeting the right people.
The Business Of Business
After you've created or sourced your product or styling service, and know who your customer is and how to market to them, the rest of the business is similar to any other. You've got to manage your books, your people and your products.
The Reality, In The Beginning
Keeping great financial records and managing your income is key. Many fashion businesses, have to pay for so many supplies or raw goods up front to make or buy their product. This means before you sell anything, you have to spend money to buy it or make it. This is one of the hardest parts of navigating a fashion business and there is no perfect way to answer how to do this.
Keep in mind that you need to be prepared to invest this money for a period of up to 120 days depending on how your goods are procured, before you'll see a return on your investment. I'm not trying to scare you, but rather get you thinking of all of the things you'll need to be prepared to address in order to operate your business successfully.
So much of how you choose to manage this part of your business, will depend on your specific situation. Understand that what may work for one person, may not work for another and that's ok. Keep trying things to raise the capital you need to make your business survive.
In the beginning and even up to a few years ago, I waited tables to help with the upfront costs of running my brand. It was an option to me that would allow me to avoid any loans; something that was important to me because I had student loans and didn't want to add more to my plate. But it also meant that I was working 90-100 hours per week between my brand and waiting tables.
You can also sell the products you make to help with costs, but once you're ready to grow or expand you may have to start answering questions on how you'll pay for more products, raw materials or help to aid with the increase of demand.
Planning up front and being prepared for these scenarios are the best way to ensure that your business will be prepared to succeed.
Production & Product Development
If you plan on designing your own product having an understanding of product development and production is going to be helpful. Mostly because you won't be able to make everything yourself and run a business. At some point you will need help to produce more than one item and sell them, particularly if you have a ready-to-wear business.
Knowing things like where are you finding the help to sew your products, who is making your patterns, who will make your samples, does your factory cut & sew or are they sew only, how do you make additional sizes besides the size you made your sample in? These (and many more) are all questions that you will need to now the answers to when making your own product to sell to the general public.
For me, I had it a bit easier because this is what I did in my professional career when I worked in the fashion industry. So when I started my own brand, I just put all of the systems in place that I had been using from my previous jobs; which made managing this portion of the work, the more creative side + the logistical side so much easier for me.
If this is not your background or you need help in this area, I can recommend my product development and/or production course for you to help get you sorted. Nic Hyl Fashion University
There are so many ways to approach the conversation of how to start your fashion business and honestly, there is no right answer. There are however some proven successful strategies that you can do. Research the are you want to get into, research your customer, learn what you don't know, never stop learning and set clear actionable goals that you can continually work towards. It's hard work, but it's rewarding and you can absolutely do it!
P.S. Some people start with just 1 style/item/client. The logic being that it gives you a chance to figure out all the things you don't know on just 1 thing. Allowing you to apply your lessons on more items/clients as you grow. Ralph Lauren stated with ties, Donna Karen started with her essential 7 pieces. I started with swimwear (specifically 3 styles). I can say from my own experience having fewer styles to manage was easier in the beginning. Again, do what works best for you and remember that Rome wasn't built in a day. So what may look like it happened overnight for some people, probably took years of hard work and sacrifice and you can absolutely do this!
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