Maybe you’ve given serious thought to becoming an independent designer and you’ve looked into the cost of starting a clothing brand. Whether you are trained, experienced or a happy amateur with a flair for fashion, there are lots of inspiring stories of others who have succeeded in setting up a successful independent label. Tiffany Rose started her UK-based and manufactured maternity wear line, from her kitchen table, with just £1,000. 15 years later, it’s a global success story. But for every Tiffany Rose there are many more who did not make it. Building a fashion brand is a wonderful dream but it’s never easy. Here are some of the key challenges you will face.
Wearing different hats
One of the most notable differences in being an independent designer is that you get to wear very different hats. You’re not only a designer, but you’re also an accountant, developer, IT specialist, marketer, project manager, promoter, and salesperson. You have to think like Sewport CEO Boris Hodakel and learn about the fashion design and manufacturing process.
You’ll have to take on different tasks and responsibilities. While you’ll spend most of your time at your desk, it’s hardly dull work.
Sometimes you’ll want to use your favourite hat, but you can’t rely on that alone. You’ll have to be a designer who is also a good negotiator and a solid communicator. Or, you’ll want to keep your sketchpad on you for when you have to travel for a meeting with a client. Don’t ignore the importance of some of these other hats, no matter how unnecessary or foreign they may seem.
Building an authentic brand
Brand is what will enable your designs to cut through. That means having a clear vision and values and consistently applying them to your range. A brand is what you’re known for, so if that is Streetwear don’t confuse your customers by bringing out a formal wear range. Brand is about reducing choice and making things simple for customers, so fight the urge to complicate. Your brand also needs to cut across every element of your business. So if you want to be known for environmental values, make sure that’s reflected in the fabrics you use, packaging and transportation.
Cutting through in a crowded marketplace can be the greatest challenge. You can have the most fabulous range there is, but that doesn’t matter if no-one knows about it. Social media has changed the rules of the PR game for many brands. Getting key influencers to wear and talk about your products has provided the break through for many. Just a shout-out on Twitter from Simon Pegg, propelled start-up label Dark Bunny Tees sales by 80%, while we’re now seeing brands reach billion-dollar turnovers through instagram.
Quick hype never lasts for ever though. You need to have a solid product beneath it and follow through with impressive delivery, packaging and customer service. Process design is just as important as your product design skills.
Knowing your numbers
Despite the fact that there is beautiful maths in garment construction, many fashion designers go blank when it comes to the financial numbers in their business. You can’t afford to take that chance. Profit margins in the fashion industry are typically just 4.5%, so it will not take much to push the business from the black into the red. You’ll probably need an accountant, but don’t delegate responsibility for keeping on top of those key numbers. Stay on top of the figures at all times. Your overall Profit & Loss and Cashflow forecasts are crucial but just as important is monitoring performance inside the business (eg. individual product sales and stock control) so that if there are any trends you can see the signs early enough to make adjustments.
Going it alone
If you’ve worked as a designer previously, you’ll be used to working in a tight team. When you start your own label you’ll more likely be working remotely, with a dispersed team of freelancers and online resources.
The autonomy can be exhilarating. You don’t have to have a meeting before a marketing campaign or before a major project if you don’t want to. You can manage your own time exactly as you think best. While you’re likely to spend more time than ever on work, it will be much more focused and much less frustrating.
Make sure you take steps to stop alone from being lonely. Join relevant networks, online and in person, and make time for friends and family. Turning your fashion dream into a reality is an amazing thing and even better if you have people to share it with.