With London Fashion Week just around the corner, now is the perfect time to look at the opportunities available for new start-ups in the world of fashion. As this industry is generally perceived as being a tough nut to crack, this week you will find a selection of case studies in our blog that aim to show you what the fashion world is really like for start-ups.

Rags to riches

Let’s start with an inspirational story to give you that extra push you need to take your designs from the kitchen table to the catwalk…

Ralph Lifshitz was brought up in the Bronx by a relatively poor immigrant family during the 1940s and 1950s. With money scarce and daily life dull, Lifshitz spent many of his afternoons at the cinema, becoming inspired by the movies of the day to make a better life for himself. This love of film also gave him an appreciation of fashion. From the age of twelve, he would sell his own hand-made ties to classmates to make money to support his already extravagant taste in clothing. After a change of surname from Lifshitz to Lauren, to avoid the scorn of playground bullies at the age of 15, he finished school and began studying business at college. This was before getting a break at tie manufacturer A Rivetz & Co after having worked for Brooks Brothers as a salesman.

Holes in the market

It was here that most ties available were of the super-skinny variety. He felt there was a huge gap in the market for something a bit wider. With the financial help of clothing manufacturer Norman Hilton, Lauren opened his own necktie business. Within a year, he had sold half a million dollars’ worth of ties. From this point, his success continued on an upward trajectory, adding the now legendary Ralph Lauren polo shirt to his armoury under the now world-renowned Polo brand.

Ralph Lauren has had a consistent presence in London Fashion Week since its early beginnings. It is a beloved icon for fashion as recently as last year’s “Very British” Collection at the 2012 Fashion Week.

From humble beginnings

Lauren now has an empire encompassing menswear, womenswear, fragrances, jeans, accessories and homewares, while amassing a net worth of $6.5 billion. His story shows that with passion and flair for a subject and the ability to spot a gap in the market – coupled with a strong work ethic of course – it really is possible to build yourself up to be a huge success in this industry, no matter where you are born.

Adding analytical skills to creative instincts

Obviously, for many would-be designers, it is the creative instinct that is the most prevalent. However, if you are running your own business, creativity alone will not keep you afloat every month.

“Like many designers, I’m so much more creative than analytical. But you have to focus on the numbers to make your business actually work” – Annmarie Scotto-Dinan

Annmarie Scotto-Dinan left her stable PR job in Manhattan to fulfil a life-long dream of running her own fashion label. She came up with the concept for Chloe&Reese and set about her attempts to receive a small business loan to fund the venture. Unfortunately for Ms Scotto-Dinan, her 2008 loan application coincided with the recession, and her request was turned down. Undeterred, she utilised her personal savings to get the project up and running.  After a lot of hard work and ‘bootstrapping’, she can now proudly say her dresses are sold all over the world from Saks Fifth Avenue to hundreds of luxury boutiques.

Speaking to Inc.com regarding her success, Ms Scotto-Dinan added: “It’s not just making a design that’s great – it’s figuring out wholesale margins, adding in the cost of packaging, shipping, taxes, tariffs, and making sure your profit margin will keep your business running. Like many designers, I’m so much more creative than analytical. But you have to focus on the numbers to make your business actually work.”

Explore niche markets

While it is true that the fashion world is difficult to break into, it could be argued that this is only the case for the mainstream. One of the best ways to get somewhere fast in the world of clothes design is to identify a niche market and find something that you can bring to that area that no-one else is doing.

The right approach

This is exactly the approach Jane Faye, owner of alternative fashion company Gaia Noir decided to take. The alternative fashion community is a rapidly expanding niche market. However, Jane found that her Fair Trade and eco-friendly concerns were not being met by existing designers in the sector. So, she decided to create a niche within a niche. She did all the sewing herself by hand, with a focus on recycled, organic or Fair Trade materials.

Looking back

Ms Faye admits that she was a bit too fiercely independent in the beginning, but soon rectified that: “I eventually went to Business Gateway but it would have been better to do so at the start. I took some free workshops to learn more about things like SEO marketing. The learning curve was quite steep but when I made bad decisions I learned from those too.”

Her business is still going from strength to strength. It is clear that if she continues to combine her strong values with good business sense, she will continue to be a success for many years to come.

Our Blog will always share these Inspirational Entrepreneurs’ stories with you for London Fashion Week and beyond…

And even if Fashion isn’t quite your cup of tea, stories like Ralph Lauren’s or Ms. Scotto-Dinan’s may very well fuel you to make that next step or strengthen your resolve. So trust us to share more entrepreneurial successes regardless of what niche market you choose. (Click here for the next LFW Schedule if at least curious).

Published Sunday January 12, 2014

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