How to start a successful fashion business

Do you want to take your small fashion business to the next level? A panel of experts share their advice on how to crack the industry in this Q&A roundup

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If the shoe fits – the expert panel gave advice on everything from pitches to pleats in an online Q&A.
> Anna Bance is a co-founder of Girl Meets Dress

The early days are all about testing as cheaply as possible. At the start being online and putting a basic website live to confirm demand for your product is a great first step. Once you know the market potential exists and customers are excited you can build on that and expand further and decide if a retail space makes sense.

Because some social media channels will take a while to grow fans or followers, I recommend setting up company accounts as soon as possible on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. It’s about establishing a presence so your fans have somewhere to follow your progress. There’s no need to delay any channel, even if your activity is slow to begin with.

> Emma Hart, a fashion PR and former journalist, launched Push PR in 2002

How can you use social media to its full advantage to promote your business? I would definitely recommend Instagram as the most powerful platform, so if you are to prioritise then go for this one. As a creative you have the advantage of a great visual eye and the key thing is to inspire others. Make it diverse and engaging – do not stick to just promoting your own brand, instead show what inspires and excites you, and mix it up (but be consistent) – it’s so important not to allow it to go stale. Understand that your platform is your shop window, it’s a representation of your business. If you do not post for weeks on end, does that show you are serious about your business? You should post every day and evaluate what you have posted on a regular basis to ensure you are not being repetitive.

Should we wait to establish a home market before looking overseas? I know many businesses that are more established and successful overseas than they are in the UK and choose to focus their attention in these other territories as a result. Japan and Asia are very powerful areas for business and especially fashion. If you feel confident that you can manage relationships well with the overseas market and keep on top of it then I would definitely say this is an opportunity not to turn down. Keep an eye on your costs; make sure your margins are right and that the quantities justify the investment of your time. Evaluate “what is this doing for my business?” on a regular basis.

> Chloë Haywood is the founder of Hatastic!

Should I be holding press shows? It all depends on whether you have a good list of contacts you can depend upon coming along, and them writing about your work. It’s worth teaming up with a few other brands who complement one another and sharing the marketing and financial load. Ideally if you have been to other press or trade shows you can see what works or not (maybe from a competitor) and talk to people at these events to find out their opinion.

If you’re thinking of selling fashion online, consider a physical outlet as well. In my experience it’s always good to have a website presence as people do research online before trying and then buying, but you also need to get out there and meet people and get their reactions. That information is so useful – you then know who your customers are.

> Alex Grace is the marketing director at Banana Moon

Should I start my website with a template platform, or invest in a web designer?It’s all down to budget and how far you want to go with E-commerce. I would always suggest a good bespoke website will bear fruit in the long-term. However in the short-term it will obviously cost a lot more to set up – and then you have the added cost of making your website visible on Google and so on which is a long-term commitment again. If you want to try a template option, there is no harm in this at all and allows you to focus on operating at lower costs while you build things up. The downsides are putting in your own time in developing the site and having less flexibility than a bespoke site.

> Lisa Chatterton is the business manager at the Fashion Innovation Agency

It is important to create a brand identity at the beginning. A common mistake I see with new brands is when they don’t know exactly who the customer is, so they go too broad and wide in their appeal, with too many options and no clarity within the offering. At the beginning it’s important to create a brand identity, define what is unique about your product and keep it focused.

The biggest advantage of selling online is having no overheads in relation to rent, bills, staffing and so on. Also you don’t have to buy volume stock upfront, which is always the drawback when opening a retail space – you must fill the rails. Your website is an opportunity to communicate who you are, create branding that expresses this identity and engage with customers. The biggest advantage of a retail space is having immediate contact with customers – try and talk to them, especially if they’ve been trying items on, get their feedback on fit and so on. If you don’t own the retail space directly, try and get this feedback from staff on the shop floor.

> Frances Card has been managing director of many businesses and launched the Frances Card Consultancy seven years ago.

Everything you do at the beginning will stay with you through your business progress – be really sure about your brand. Building the business ‘noise’ on social media before you launch is great but it does need to be part of your core business strategy. If you want your brand to be luxury and be sold in Selfridges, for instance, the way you project it initially needs to be in line with the values of Selfridges. The Industry is a great forum for supporting designers and helping with their progression.

Passion, drive and creativity are great for starting a business but long term strategy, clear financial planning and yearly goals make a business last. Our industry is wonderful because there is a natural generosity of spirit to support new businesses, but to sustain that business owners need a plan – the plan is key.

> Lisa and Tida Finch are a twin design duo and founders of fashion accessories label Finchittida Finch

Should I start by selling online or looking for a retail or market space? Definitely start online with marketplaces like ASOS marketplace or Etsy, which are affordable and already well established with a big following. Retail space is great but expensive, so a big risk when you are just starting out. Markets are also great for testing the market and getting direct customer feedback.

Mentors are crucial. Everyone can offer you some form of mentoring – insight, advice or feedback. An outside perspective is always helpful. We have friends and family members we consider mentors as well as professionals – you can never have too many.

Read the rest of the live Q&A here.

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