Chances are you’ve had the same dream for as long as you can remember: designing and running your own fashion brand. Maybe you’re just out of fashion school, or maybe you’ve been working for another fashion label for a while. Or possibly you’re in another industry altogether, just chomping at the bit to follow your lifelong dream.
We know the feeling! The excitement that comes with unbridled creative freedom, days (and nights!) spent thinking about beautiful fabrics, trims and other finery, and the chance to be your own boss.
Well, before you jump in with both feet, hold on a sec. There’s a wise old saying that goes, “a goal without a plan is a wish.” This holds true in all business ventures, and maybe even more so in fashion; where the pitfalls are many, and are often an expensive lesson learned. (More on this subject in an upcoming article titled “Common Pitfalls when Launching a Brand.”)
What’s more, if you’ve dared to share your dream with others, you know that naysayers abound. When you’re armed with a good, solid plan, you are much less likely to be rocked by the opinions of other people. Just thank them for their concern, and move forward.
Ready, Set, Go!
When you’re starting out, there are some important things to consider:
- Starting a clothing line takes a tremendous amount of sweat equity. Most emerging designers work very long days, and often weekends as well. What’s more, the fact is, most don’t start making significant money for a couple of years. In other words, at the outset, your collection will be a labor of love.
- You will be faced with many challenges. Some you’ll be prepared for, but there will be others that’ll come out of left field and surprise you. That said, don’t let this deter you. We promise, with the right amount of determination, you will rise to the challenge!
- In the fashion industry, when the going gets tough, the tough power through. No where is it written that starting and maintaining a successful brand is easy. But we promise, it will all be worth it!
Okay, so that’s the reality of starting a brand. Now, as promised, are the important steps in doing so.
STEP ONE: Identify Your Customer and Your Market
You’ll have yourself running in circles if you don’t know who your target customer is. Spend some time identifying their needs, wants and desires. This goes hand-in-hand with identifying a niche in your target customer’s market. For example, maybe curvy women are having a hard time finding fashionable, well-fitting clothing to wear while working out. That could be your target (curvy women) and your niche (workout wear).
As far as research goes, some designers work best in a vacuum. If that is you, go for it! But most designers need a little direction, so they don’t end up doing a lot of work that doesn’t have a home to go to. Talk to your friends, family and mentors about your plans. Stay open minded; they might have some good input for you.
Don’t discount the internet either. It can be your best friend during this process. Research similar brands and see what they are doing right, and where they could stand some improvement. Your target niche might just be staring you right in the face.
STEP TWO: Pick a Target Season
Choosing your target season will do two things for you. One, it will give you seasonal focus when it comes to your designs (which will inform colors and silhouettes), and secondly, it will give you an all-important deadline.
We did an entire blog post about the importance of the fashion calendar and how to set up a launch schedule. In a nutshell, figure out when your collection needs to be in the hands of either the store (if you’re wholesaling) or the direct customer (DTC), and work backwards from that date. Whenever possible, give yourself a full year. If you adhere to a detailed schedule, you’ll be ready for your selling season.
STEP THREE: Start Designing
If you are like most designers, you’ve probably already started designing! Always pay attention to the size of your collection, and your fabric choices. Make sure your collection is well-merchandised. In other words, unless you have an intentional line plan that doesn’t require it (such as designing a collection that consists of all tee shirts), be sure you have represented each of the appropriate product categories for your collection.
To elaborate using the example above – workout wear for a curvy woman – you should be sure there are a few different styles of bottoms, a few different styles of tops, and maybe a sweatshirt or two. Think about how the silhouettes and colors work together within your collection. Can your customer create an “outfit” if she chooses to? If you have studied your target audience intently, merchandising a comprehensive collection should be relatively easy to do!
STEP FOUR: Identify Your Development and Manufacturing Partner
We will assume here that you do NOT plan to do your own pattern making (unless you are a professional pattern maker yourself). It’s very important that your patterns are “production-ready” and professional grade.
This is where many emerging designers cut corners, and think, “Oh, I’ll just get my fashion school friend to make my patterns for me!” Unless you know that your friend is an experienced professional pattern maker, we strongly advise against going that route. Pattern issues can cause many headaches down the road, and you won’t know the issues even exist until much later.
Don’t forget your fabrics and trims. You can source them yourself, if you’re comfortable doing so, or you can ask for assistance from your development and manufacturing partner.
“Made In USA” manufacturing carries its own particular cachet. It’s up to you to decide if that matters to you, or if it’s compelling to your target customer. There are also other manufacturing locations to consider, such as China, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, or Bangladesh. While the pricing may be less than in the US, the downside there is it may not be convenient to visit your partner factory when you need to. Of course, that also depends on where you live.
Also, overseas shipping costs can be considerable. So don’t forget to take that into account when you’re pricing your collection.
STEP FIVE: Start Your Marketing Program
Once you have all your development and manufacturing ducks in a row, you can start on your marketing. You probably have some of the important details in mind already such as your collection name, logo and website design. If you need help from a professional, now is the time to ask for it.
All your brand identification materials (including your labels and hangtags) need to be delivered to your production partner by the end of the manufacturing process, so they can complete the garments without delay. And your website needs to be up and running at the time of launch!
Next step is to get your name out there. No use creating a stunning collection if no one knows it even exists, right? This is called “brand awareness,” and every successful brand needs it! Think about the “story” you’ll be telling the world about yourself and your brand. If it helps, write it down so you can organize your thoughts. (We also did an article called “What Makes Your Brand Special” that you might find helpful.)
One last thing, take full advantage of social media (the cheapest, most effective marketing there is). And work with Instagram influencers, if possible. Most are happy to promote new brands in exchange for free products! (We have an article coming up next month about that called “Do Influencers Really Influence?)
STEP SIX: Do a “Soft Launch”
The point of a “soft launch” is two-fold. First, it gives you a chance to see where you’re succeeding with your collection and marketing, and where you might need to make some changes. Once you’ve identified those areas, you can make the appropriate adjustments. Then you’ll be ready to talk to potential co-investors and partners.
Of course the ideal would be to own your business outright, but many designers find themselves in need of additional working capital. Once you have a good grasp on how well your brand is selling (via your “soft launch”), you’ll know how much outside investment you need to grow it to the next level.
Ready to Start Your Own Brand?
So there you go. A bit pared down, yes, but by now you should have a good sense of the steps involved to starting a fashion brand. That said, we’re sure you have questions that are particular to your own goals and dreams. We’d love to talk to you in more detail about how you can start your own collection. Just reach out to us at https://tegintl.com/get-in-touch/ or call us at 800-916-0910.