Fashion Reality Check:
One of the great things about working in fashion is you do it because you love it, you are truly passionate about it. It's not an easy industry where you'll be a one hit wonder and people will know you and follow you and you would have 'made' it. It's an industry where it takes years to make a name for yourself, build a brand and stay consistent. Consistency, consistency, consistency. Every day you start fresh, looking for new venues, new leads and new contacts to get bigger and better than the day before. Every day you have to inspire yourself to do better than the day before. Every day you have to stay optimistic, and energetic. With the ever-changing nature of the fashion industry there is never a dull moment, or should I say a restful moment. To be truly passionate about fashion you have to be on the lookout, all the time, every time; for that new trend, for that new inspiration, for that new idea or vision. And you still don't know if you will 'make' it. You do it because you want to make it and you hope to make it.
Designs are cheap, selling is everything.
Even though every designer may have a different aesthetic, I believe that most everyone can design. From designing for a 20-something year old headed for a Gatsby-themed party, to producing printed separates for women of all ages, at the end of the day, most designers can find ways to execute their vision. However, in becoming a designer, or more importantly, establishing a fashion business, the real challenge is making sales, revenues and eventually a profit. In other words, finding ways to ‘sell’ or reach your customer is the real challenge.
Whenever someone starts designing, and asks for advice, reads fashion blogs and tries toeducate themselves, one of the first things they hear everyone saying that in order to be successful you need to first understand your target customers, where do they shop, what are their buying habits, what is their lifestyle, and the list goes on and on. Although these are all valid points, I say that the first thing to learn is ‘how’ to reach your target customer? How will you get in front of your customer and eventually ‘sell’ to that customer?
Know the execution behind the sales side of your business without spending all your time, energy and efforts in ‘getting to know’ your customer. Sure, you may need to improve upon the technicalities of your designs to be more competitive and be more appealing to your customer, but the fact remains that you need to know ‘how’ you will sell.
My take is, that before you even think of spending a single penny in making clothes, figure out how you’re going to ‘sell them.’ Take six months, or even a year to make a list of the boutiques you’ll potentially sell at, make test sales calls to see reactions, visit trade shows, determine your sales channels and how realistically will you be able to avail them to sales success. Try to establish relationships with boutique owners and determine how you’ll be able to convince them to buy from you.
You’ll sell through showrooms? How many showrooms can you potentially sell at? Will the showrooms even accept you? What is their process for taking on new labels? Will you be able to afford they fees etc. etc.? You don’t need to have samples to realize that you’re unable to make the investment to sell it through showrooms.
Most people have a backup, salesperson plan. Know the whole story behind hiring a salesperson. How easy or difficult is it to hire a ‘right’ salesperson? Will you be able to sustain yourself without any sales before you can find the ‘right’ salesperson with the right contacts and aptitude to make sales for you?
Before you spend money, try and figure out how you will break-thru. You need to have a ‘realistic sell strategy’ before you start spending money. Sales comes after the sell strategy. Even after you have a sell strategy, you may or may not makes any sales. But never-the-less, know how you will sell.
You need to know the world out there! Sure, fashion is competitive but know just ‘how competitive’ before spending your money. What is the real picture? Does your perfect selling spot encourage emerging designers? How long would it be before you build enough of a credibility and history to actually have buyers consider you a serious candidate whom they can rely on for delivering on their order? Research your selling market in parallel with conducting your client-based research.
There are two major areas where new designers usually look for the most advice; the first is the actual aspect of designing and the second is selling.
Once designers are ready to sell and can’t find leads to buyers, they turn to consultants, or fashion experts and spend more money on sales advice. Almost all fashion experts advising on selling techniques tell designers to get out there, get off your couch, make cold calls, visit the boutiques you are targeting, speak with the owners etc. etc. Push push push, be consistent, be determined. My favorite is there will be a point when you will catch the store buyer at the right moment, when he/she is not busy, has not had a bad day and is open to listening to you. I say do all these things but be proactive. Before you start spending money on manufacturing, have a plan in place to overcome the odds of selling.