We’ve all seen The Devil Wears Prada, but despite the fashion industry coming across as a place only the mad and foolish would want to be a part of, it still manages to capture the hearts and minds of many a young entrepreneur. The good news is that you don’t have to accept verbal abuse as part of a rigorous internship to get ahead. Today is the era of the entrepreneur, and if you want to be involved in the fashion industry at a high level, you can be: you can do it yourself. By starting your own clothing company, you’ll have a space to showcase your business and creative skills, all the while making sure your customers are dressed to the nines. Here’s everything you need to know to be the proud owner of a successful clothing company.
Work in the Industry First
OK, we did say that you don’t have to follow in the footsteps of Andy Sachs, the college graduate subjected to verbal and emotional abuse as she tries to break into the fashion world in The Devil Wears Prada, but you will need to have some industry experience before you set out your own ideas. You can find a position in a large organization, to begin with at least, but try to work in another startup at some stage, too. You’ll have more responsibilities and opportunities to take on the many roles required in a fashion start-up. Once you think you have an idea of how the industry works, you’ll know the rules to follow when it comes to creating your own organization – and the rules you’re going to break.
Conduct Market Research
Every business should be thoroughly researching the market they want to enter, but it’s of particular relevance when it comes to the fashion industry. No matter how good you think your ideas are and how efficient your manufacturing and shipping systems are, the success of the company will ultimately depend on how many people buy from you. At a minimum, you should be spending three months gathering up as much data as you can. Test your ideas with people who form part of your target demographic: would they buy clothes from a store like yours? Would they prefer to see it online only, or is there scope for a store? What aspects of your ideas do they most respond to, and which can you get rid of?
Assess Your Skills
Before you fully commit to the idea of setting up a clothing company, it’s important that you look at your skill set and investigate whether they line up with what’s required for the leader of such a company. The fashion industry is about much more than just clothes: you’ll need to understand profit margins, be able to multitask, use your analytical skills to determine the right course of action, and have a rigorous determination to see your company succeed. The success rate of most businesses are pretty weak when looked at over a four year period; the numbers are even less inspiring when it comes to fashion related companies.
Some commentators say that it’s pointless pursuing a fashion degree, arguing that you either have what you need to succeed or you don’t. You should ignore those voices: a fashion degree might not turn a no-hoper into a superstar of fashion, but it’ll give the people who were always going to succeed a much-needed leg up. Aside from teaching you the rules and context of the fashion industry, it’ll also enable you to play around with styles and ideas without the pressure of success. If a fashion degree can help take care of the creative side of your company, topping up your degree with a master of supply chain and logistics management course or other undergraduate or graduate fashion programs will help you navigate the practical side. Having an in-depth of understanding of forecasting, supply chains, and international logistics will be invaluable, as these tasks will provide the bulk of the work you do.
As well as the skills you need to succeed, a significant factor in the level of success you’ll achieve will depend on your vision. You can – and should – start small, but to be profitable in the fashion industry, you’ll need to think in bigger terms. Adopt a ‘big company’ mentality, even if the company is only you and a handful of employees. Think like a big company, and you’ll act like a big company – don’t be afraid to make mistakes, don’t get distracted by the small details, and accept that some things will go wrong. Leaders who have a small mentality never achieve their potential, especially in the fashion industry, where risk and gambles are an inherent part of doing business.
In the early days, your business is going to be 24/7. That doesn’t mean you’ll always be open: it means you’ll be working all the hours of the day, trying to get yourself in an ultra competitive market. As such, you’ll need staff who are equally as hungry for success as you are. Look to pinch employees from established companies, as they’ll be able to bring invaluable advice and expertise to your business. While you might not be able to offer as much financial compensation as the bigger players, you can give them a greater hands on role on the ground floor of a promising business. The most ambitious workers will understand that it’s an excellent opportunity.
Of course, deciding what clothes you’re going to sell is relatively easy: having them produced and ready for sale is more difficult. You’ll need to figure how and where you’re going to manufacture your clothes. Some companies have their own factory, with their own production line, and produce their clothes that way. If you’re small, however, you’ll most likely be better served by outsourcing the work. As it’s a global market, shop around for the best deal. There are many, many factories, especially in places like China, and you’ll need to figure out which is the right one for you to establish a long-term working relationship with.
A clothing company’s branding is almost as important as the clothes they sell, and as such, you should be dedicated a significant portion of your budget and resources to solidifying your branding. The name, logo, tone, and colors of your company will be what initially pique’s a customer’s interest. Keep things simple if you’re struggling to find the right tone for your company. Think about what you want to represent and whose interest you’re trying to grab.
Marketing Your Clothes
There are a lot of good clothes out there, with thousands of companies selling their offerings. So how come you’ve heard of some, and others are a complete mystery? It all comes down to the company’s marketing. Above everything else, let your clothes do the talking: if they’re good, they’ll get people’s attention. Communicate with fashion bloggers, leverage the power of social media (especially visual sites, like Instagram), and parade your clothes at fashion shows. Finally, make sure you’re wearing your own clothes from any event you attend.
Who Are You Dressing?
Before you can decide how and where you’re going to market your clothes, you need to figure out who exactly you’re trying to dress. There’s a big difference between marketing to budgeting twenty somethings and marketing to eco-friendly, cash-rich thirty somethings. Throughout every decision that you have to make, always view it through the lens of the people who will be wearing your clothes: it’ll help you home in on the right path.
Where To Sell
You’ll have a website for your clothes, and you might eventually think about opening your own store. There are many other opportunities to sell your products and build buzz about your company, though. List your clothes on the most popular online marketplaces, like Etsy and Asos, but also take a look at festivals and events. If you’re a clothing company that has earth-friendly practices at the core of what you do, then selling clothing at a vegan festival, for example, is logical. Find out the kind of events your customers go to, and be there.
Kill Your Darlings
Not every item in your store can be a killer piece, but you should have a handful of standout items that are considered best sellers. Then, at the right time, remove them. It sounds counter productive, but if you’re not routinely updating your lines (for example, at the change of the season), then you’ll be in danger of falling behind.
As well offering new clothes, as you grow you should also be aware of any directions you can go in. Being open to new challenges and ways of operating is the best mindset a wannabe fashion entrepreneur can have; the fashion industry is all about the next big thing, not looking back!
So: Are You In?
It takes grit, determination, and plenty of hard work to get a clothing company of the ground, but those who are most passionate for success will always rise to the top. So the question is: are you ready for the challenge?