The fashion industry is a tough market to compete in and not many survive. If you are considering starting your own brand, there are some key points you need to consider before you start.
This might be an obvious one but starting a business in fashion costs money. Start-up costs can be extensive and you likely will not see any money back from your investment for at least a year or more.
Poor planning or management of cashflow is the number one reason why fashion businesses fail.
Do your research, plan a budget, and also remember that the cheaper option is not always the best and could end up costing you more later. Utilize any skills you can bring to your company and find professional help for everything you can’t do. You need a real and sincere interest in learning everything you can about the development and manufacturing process.
We’ve created a quick budget estimator you can use. Check it out here –> Quick Budget Estimator.
Authenticity in design
We need more brands that have authenticity. Some brands accomplish this by innovation, think Spanx.
Others, like H&M, bring value to their customers by offering fashion-forward styles at a lower cost than the mass market can afford. Some offer Eco-friendly fabrics and packaging or are certified Free Trade (paying everyone along the supply train a livable wage). Some brands give back to the communities around them. The TOMs campaign is a great example of this type of value. Use your own passions and life spark to inspire your line. If you care about something then odds are others will too!
Hit the target
You have to know who your target customer is before you can successfully market to them. Don’t be too general, targeting women from gen-z to boomers. Narrow down your target and define it with demographic data. Your target customer might be middle-aged women who live in Florida and have an annual income of 65K+.
Don’t be afraid to go niche but don’t add niche on top of niche. It’s ok to have a line geared toward cat lovers but if you add on a cat lover who is also interested in outer space, and is a cowboys fan you will be left only targeting my aunt Betty in Dallas.
Follow successful brands who have a similar target customer and watch what they do. Is everything on their website 50% at certain times of the year or all the time? Do they have an artistic, luxurious atmosphere? What colors do they keep buying into season after season? And remember, as with a marriage, you can’t keep doing what you’ve been doing from the first date and think it will work for the 50th. Your customer will change over the years and you need to be on your toes and ready to change with them.
Logos and typography help set a brand image for your line. Along with an initial brand logo, you will also need different logo layouts for your website, social media, and artwork. Find photos that appeal to you and create a mood board to help set the tone for your brand. Take some time and write up your brand’s mission statement and core values.
Color can create a mood quickly. Pick core brand colors that can be used on your website, social media, and as palette colors for your clothing. When one of our designers worked with Soma Intimates; nudes, black, and silver pinks were the focus. When working with Tommy Hilfiger the colors were Americana red, white, and blue. Mike Jeffries saw black as a “mature women’s color” so Navy was used when working with Abercrombie and Fitch. Colors set the mood and tone for your brand.
Once you have all of this information compiled, you will be able to quickly hand it off to your website designer. If you anticipate working with a lot of social media influencers, you can hand it off to them too.
They then have the creative license to show off your brand while working within your values and sustained imagery.
Finding a Manufacturer
This step can be quite daunting! There are so many choices to make that will have a major impact on the quality and cost of your designs.
We suggest looking into and heavily researching different manufacturers as you go through the development process. Then, once tech packs and patterns are finished, you can send these items out to multiple factories to get quotes and pricing. It also helps to send a photo sample of your style as most manufacturers will ask for a sample.
When you are starting small, the number one question to focus on is, repeat after me, “What are your minimums?” Unless you are looking to start with 30,000 unit orders per style this question alone will disqualify most factories from being a good fit for you.
There are two major routes for American brands when looking for a manufacturer. Made in the USA or overseas and we are intimately acquainted with both.
Working with manufacturers overseas does not have as many barriers to it as one might think.
Factories often have offices with account managers who speak multiple languages. They help with communication and will coordinate the development process. Keep in mind that if you are just starting with small quantities the account manager will likely be juggling you along with a few other accounts so you have to keep communication as clear and concise for the best possible outcome for you and them. Factories overseas are built for efficiency and will often be able to offer a much lower cost than US-based manufacturers. More than likely, your material suppliers are going to be overseas as well and the shipping cost and time will be much lower than shipping to the US.
A possible con working with an overseas manufacturer is the lack of control you will have over the process. You won’t be able to just stop by and see how things are going or confirm yardages have been delivered. You will need to rely on the factory’s internal quality control to go over fabric shipments and final products. One piece of advice I have for anyone is if you are using a factory overseas and they are creating patterns for you, ask for them to send you the digital patterns for each style.
Even if you are not paying a separate cost for the patterns you are paying for them in the final mark-up for the goods. I have run into several small companies who needed to switch manufacturers quickly over an issue and had to start the development process from the beginning because all of the style information was housed within that manufacturer. Don’t let this happen to you!
Working with a US-based manufacturer will be more expensive initially but will allow you to have more control over the final design and product.
Several US-based manufacturers also work with small minimums allowing you the freedom to grow your brand naturally instead of taking on the huge risk of buying deep into untested styles.
A new model of US-based manufacturing has arrived as well where your garments are made on- demand. With this model, your minimum is reduced to one. This eliminates so much upfront cost and risk. This is also a very sustainable option since no clothing will be sewn until a customer has already purchased it. These new models of manufacturing are still being refined but definitely something to consider as you are looking at manufacturing options.
Lack of Industry Knowledge
The development process can be lengthy and requires a lot of technical skills. Know that you don’t have to go down this journey alone! We are here to help with any market research, trend research, technical sketches, fabric, and manufacturer sourcing, and patterns you may need. We also have the capacity to work with brands as they grow. So if you are designing into 1 style or 50, we can handle it. Finding a team of experts that you can rely on is imperative.
As Russ Alan Prince – president of R.A. Prince & Associates, Inc. puts it, “For talented designers, very often the key to significant success is putting the right team of professionals in place. Not only are these experts instrumental in building a highly profitable business, but also they are regularly involved in helping the fashion entrepreneur become personally as wealthy as possible.”
If becoming a fashion entrepreneur is your passion and you have an innovative, fashionable, progressive idea for a brand, do it! Follow that dream, invest in that value, and spend your life working hard building that brand. Know you don’t have to do it alone and that we have a team of designers, pattern makers, and project coordinators at the ready to help you bring this dream to life!
If you’re looking for more tips on how to get started building a fashion brand check our our Top Ten Items to Research list below!