Gone are the days when you needed to be a huge fashion retailer or luxury house to have a global reach. Thanks to the internet, even the humblest of startups can get their collections noticed by potential customers — wherever they happen to be. What’s more, from finding collaborators to fill skills gaps, through to sourcing factories, the logistical hurdles to actually getting a brand off the ground are actually lower, too.
However, while this makes it an increasingly accessible marketplace for new businesses, it’s a fiercely competitive one, as well. So what does it take to make a go of it?
Defining what your brand stands for
It may sound obvious at first but think about it for a second. Prada, Vivienne Westwood, Levi’s…we all know these iconic names, but they conjure up very different images and responses. We know what they stand for and what to expect from them.
This is, essentially, branding and marketing: it’s not just ‘having a cool logo’, but having a clear vision on who you are, what you are trying to achieve, and how that it reflected in the products you make. For a startup fashion business then, you need to focus on this right from the beginning. Not only is it a vital part of getting noticed in such a busy marketplace, but it can also help you to make better decisions in all sorts of company areas, such as what to include in your range, your pricing structure, and promotional elements.
So, where to start? Well, firstly, don’t try and be everything to everyone. It means that your creations and your voice are likely to be lost in the crowd. For startups, it makes far better business sense to focus on a particular niche and define a unique selling point (USP) that will really hit home with a certain group — the same with any new business model.
In terms of what your fashion brand will consist of, much of this will depend on your own passions, skills, and experience. From hand-made formal garments to simple streetwear gear, or even made-to-order accessories, the possibilities, of course, are endless. The important point is that someone discovering it for the first time will instantly ‘get’ what your brand is about.
Our guide to manufacturing your first product looks at the points all new businesses need to think about before deciding whether to take a DIY approach to manufacturing, or whether to outsource. It also includes suggestions for sourcing and getting the right deals from factories, so it’s a handy place to start. For a fashion business though, your choices will obviously be guided by the type of garments you are making. As such production values are really important. For instance, could the fact that your offerings are completely hand-made help you to define your USP?
For ‘cottage industry’ production, if the cost of purchasing specialist dyeing, sewing, and other equipment seems prohibitive, don’t overlook leasing options as a way of kitting out your business — while avoiding a huge capital spend. There might also be the possibility of pooling your resources with other designers to split the cost of machinery. Ask around to see if anyone is interested in collaboration.
If you’re outsourcing, it’s important that your manufacturer really ‘gets’ what you are trying to achieve in terms of quality and aesthetics. After all, you’ve worked hard to define what your brand is all about, and you don’t want that to be diluted.
Firstly, ask for samples of previous work from that factory to check that it meets your standards, being especially careful to ensure they are proficient at working with your fabrics of choice. If it seems to fit the bill, the next stage is usually a sample run of one or two of your own creations. You’ll be charged for this, so make sure you provide very clear directions, sketches, and other instructions. Provided the sample is delivered on-brief, you have the basis of what will hopefully become a long-term relationship.
You need to get your amazing new creations in front of the people who really matter; and in the fashion industry, this means trade buyers — as well as the people who will ultimately be wearing them.
A product line that already has a ‘buzz’ around it is obviously a much bigger draw to trade buyers than something that’s unproven. Your brand can — and should — become a ‘person’ in its own right, complete with its own website, followers, and fans. You’ll find that the marketing section of our help centre has plenty of tips on how to make this happen, including how social platforms like Instagram and Pinterest can be used as a cheap but effective way to build brand awareness. As these efforts on your part start to gain traction, this is the ideal time to pitch your brand to trade. Even just through looking at competitors’ websites, you can get valuable info on what stores might be worth contacting, while publications such as Retail Week and Drapers Online can tell you about events and exhibitions where people like you can showcase what they have to offer. Perseverance is essential, but with the right products, success is possible!
From tips on how to pitch to buyers, how to negotiate that all-important deal with a manufacturer, and much else besides, head on over to our help centre.