The 5 key steps to starting a fashion business
Thinking of starting a fashion business? It’s best to address these five key things, in order, to ensure you’re laying the best foundation possible.
When consulting to people about launching a fashion label or starting a fashion business online, the most common questions I get are:
- How much will this cost me?
- Will I run out of money?
- Where do I find help?
- Can I actually do this?
I don’t sugar coat. The first thing I tell people they need to know is this: starting a fashion business is an intense, overwhelming, all-consuming experience. Just like running any small business, it’s a 24 hour a day, seven days a week commitment requiring an endless amount of dedication, energy, passion, self-discipline and often, sacrifice.
Not just that, you will also have to manage all aspects of the business. Unfortunately, the bits you love to do such as designing, trend research or travel – well, they may only end up being 10-15% of how you actually spend your time. There is SO much more to do if you want to build a successful label.
Once we’ve got that straight, I then launch into the five key steps required when starting a fashion business:
"Just like running any small business, it’s a 24 hour a day, seven days a week commitment requiring an endless amount of dedication, energy, passion, self-discipline and often, sacrifice. "
1. The nuts and bolts: Design and development
This includes range planning, designing/developing a collection, establishing fits and developing patterns, producing samples and selecting trims and fabrics.
TOP TIP: Set a budget from the start so that you don’t overbuild your collection. Every style is going to cost you money to develop.
2. Moving and shaking: Production and supply chain
You will need to source a manufacturer and put quality control procedures in place. Once you do, you then need to manage the production and shipping of your products.
Locally you may face challenges such as high costs, limitations on construction capability, narrow ranges of raw material availability and the amount of your time it takes to coordinate and execute a local collection.
Offshore you may face challenges with high minimums, travel costs to visit the factory, language barriers, and the logistics of importing to Australia.
No matter what supply chain you decide on, there’s a lot to learn and manage.
Want more articles like this? Check out the business startup section.
TOP TIP: Allocate plenty of time for researching and developing this process. If you lack experience in sourcing, surround yourself with experts in this field.
3. Setting up shop: Sales and distribution
This is something you must think about NOW, not when you have a studio, garage or spare room full of stock that you are struggling to sell.
When you are starting a fashion business you may choose to sell your collection online, but you then may decide that you need a wholesale strategy or offline retail strategy such as pop up or pop in stores to grow your business.
Startups often underestimate the planning and investment required in building an e-commerce site, especially if they do not intend to this themselves. Educate yourself as much as possible! Some questions to ask yourself:
- Do I understand the platforms available to build an online site?
- Do I understand the content/photography and other brand assets that will be required?
- Am I aware of the legalities of trading online?
- Am I prepared to develop a shipping, returns and customer service policy?
- Am I aware of the investment I will need to make in SEO (search engine optimisation) and other digital marketing strategies?
- How will I pick, pack and fulfil my orders?
TOP TIP: Don’t go with the very first quote you receive. Knowledge is power. Ensure you have thought through the answers to all of the above before making any decisions.
4. Telling the world: Marketing and PR
If you do not have a well-considered marketing and PR strategy in place, then your label may as well be located off the beaten track in the middle of the bush; no one is going to be able to find you!
Consider the marketing that you could do yourself.
- For example, are you prepared to establish, grow and run your social media presence yourself?
- Could you write, format and publish your own email newsletters (eDMs)?
- Can you write your own blog?
What would you potentially need to outsource and what budget do you have to do this? Think about Influencer outreach, press releases, Google Adwords and paid Facebook/Instagram advertising campaigns.
TOP TIP: Allocate a separate budget for marketing and PR, both for the launch period of your brand and also as an ongoing commitment.
5. Paying the bills: Finance
Have you considered right from the start how you are going to fund your business?
Underestimating how much money you need adds an enormous amount of pressure during a phase that should be exciting and rewarding. Don’t just think about the costs for your first season. In fashion, you are often developing the second and third collection before the money starts to come in from the first.
You need to work through and estimate:
- Cost of product development (including pattern making/sampling)
- Cost of inventory (the stock you’re looking at buying)
- Cost of website
- Cost of marketing
- Cost of photography (for Lookbook/online)
- Cost of studio (if you are looking to lease premises)
- General business expenses (Clothing racks, printing costs, stationery, accounting, legal, telephone, internet, subscriptions)
- Cost of consultancy (if you require business advice)
- Cost of outsourcing (if you require others to develop your patterns/samples or run your social media/marketing).
TOP TIP: You MUST manage your cash very carefully. Inadequate cash flow can be the undoing of a good business. Many designers have been in the situation where they have orders to fill, but insufficient cash to buy the raw materials to produce and deliver those orders.
Anything else to consider when starting a fashion business? Yes. Plenty!
Nail your pitch
Carefully craft your brand story. What is it that is unique and special that your label is bringing to a currently saturated and competitive market? Get to know your customer intimately so you can understand how you can not only meet their needs but also excite them and exceed their expectations.
Find a business partner or advisor
If you don’t think you can do this on your own, then DON’T!
Find someone who can come on board and compliment your strengths. For example, if you are the creative force then don’t bring on a business partner that is another creative. Consider bringing on board someone who can nail the business side. You are looking for two halves, a match made in heaven! Partnerships or advisors should enhance the ability to get the job done and increase your chances of success.
Just like brushing your teeth and charging your phone, make a habit of networking. Schedule it in!
Building and growing a successful fashion business requires a connection to a plethora of industry people and resources. Use your network of contacts, from workmates, classmates, and managers, to friends, family and trade organisations to help you.
Finally, do not be afraid to ask for advice or help.
There are many people who have the expertise and experience to help you on your journey. Research where you need the help. Investing the time and finances into getting the right advice will save you both time and money in the long term.
Good luck – you can do it!