In 2014, The British Fashion Council and London Business School collaborated on a report entitled Commercialising Creativity — Creating a Success Model for British Fashion Designers which aimed to investigate whether or not there was a distinctive formula to creating a successful fashion business.
— There are three dimensions of success within the designer fashion sector:
1 Creative acclaim (how the designer’s creativity is perceived)
2 Communications perception (public profile and awareness)
3 Commercial acclaim (how much sales and profits the designer generates)
This is how the report defines success, and while your outlook on success could be very different to commercial viability, for the purpose of the report and this blog post, I will define success in a similar way to the authors.
This post will offer 6 Tips which are based on some of the most critical and interesting points of the report and try to give up and coming designers a blueprint for turning your hobby into a successful business.
The report has striven to identify the biggest challenges designers may face and the best means to approaching and eventually conquering them. The report is based on information collected from a varied and knowledgeable group of people.
Tip 1: Behave like a Business
The business and creative side of being a designer need to become interconnected so it is critically important that from the start you treat your craft as a business. This means that you as a designer should embody entrepreneurial spirit that will drive your business towards success.
What do I mean by entrepreneurial spirit? I mean having a clear vision for your company and drafting a business plan right from the start. You should have a desire to promote yourself as being reliable and credible, more than someone just tinkering away in there kitchen. There’s noting wrong with tinkering away in your kitchen, as long as you are working towards a establishing a solid business.
It might also be worth considering bringing on board a business partner, someone with tried and tested commercial and business skills, to help out, although it is of the utmost importance that you as the designer have an understanding of the basis of commerciality.
Tip 2: Recognise the Importance of Product Development
Once you have decided you want to turn your talent into a business, the tendency can be there to show off everything you can do and create lots of beautiful designs. However, if you look at any emerging designer who was fortunate enough to find commercial success and establish themselves in the industry, they all started small with one product line and then developed their brand from this jumping off point. This is an important step to take as it creates a concise image of your brand which needs to be consistently intrinsic in all of your future work to give your business brand recognition.
Linked to this is the process of setting the correct price point to ensure commercial success. Ensure that you price your work accordingly, taking into consideration the cost of materials, manufacturing, delivery, market value as well as your cut as the designer of the piece. Too often, emerging designers will forgo their dues and pay themselves little to nothing, which results in them losing out on the much needed revenue to invest in their business.
It is also important to try to gain feedback from people who understand the commercial success of a designer, which surprisingly are not the press. The fashion buyer is an emerging designer’s best friend. While it may be super exciting to have your work featured in a local magazine or showcase, the only thing that will sustain your business is sales, not column inches.
Tip 3: Create your Brand Identity through Marketing & Advertising
There is no point in having a company if no one knows about it. Right from the beginning you should establish your brand identity, by which I mean how you want the public to perceive your business. This refers to the consumers perceptions about the product, the quality and the advantages your brand has over its competitors.
Young designers need to understand what they are and why they are starting their own businesses. If they do it, it is because they really believe that they have something to say that cannot be said in the context of Paul Smith or Oscar de la Renta or Dior.
Vanessa Friedman, Fashion Director, The New York Times.
A strategised marketing and communications plan are key to building your brand. Understand your market share, your target audience and how you are going to approach your customers. While social media is critically important to tapping into the current fashion audience, there is a lot more to it than setting up an Instagram page. You need to create a disciplined approach to tackling your consumers and peaking their interests in an super-saturated market.
It is also important to see PR companies and the rest of the media as powerful aides in your broader marketing plan. Hiring a PR agent or company is probably one of the best steps you will ever take in taking your business to the next level, but you should only try to bring your work to the attention of a wider audience if your business can sustain it.
Tip 4: Tackle the Challenges of Production
As a designer and head of your business, you need to have a comprehensive understanding of the manufacturing process so as to ensure that you can make realistic demands. Creating a sustainable relationship with a reliable manufacturer will be the key your success. You will be faced with the ethical dilemma of choosing to manufacture locally, which while good for your local economy and local fashion industry but can prove to be expensive, or to outsource production overseas where it is cheaper but perhaps more questionable.
As a new business you may struggle with production. You’ll be placing smaller orders, which ultimately leaves you in a poor position to bargain with manufacturers. Often, a manufacturer will ask you for a deposit before you are anywhere near to receiving payment from a retailer. While this can be a difficult pill to swallow in the early stages, it is essential to make this payment or any other promptly so that production is not delayed. If you rescind on your promises to get deliveries to retailers, it will damage your credibility.
Tip 5: Find the Key to Sales and Distribution
In order to be a successful designer of a successful company, you need to make sales. Lots of them. The direct financing of you own independent store is not the only option when it comes to making sales. If you do wish to open a flagship store, there are numerous investment options such as partnerships or joint ventures like our own Galway Designers Studio House, franchising or to approach established retailers.
When approaching an established retailer, you need to attract the attention of buyers. Approach buyers with an understanding of your Unique Selling Point, how your product fits with all of the other brands they buy, a set price point and a well structured business.
I think what could be improved is the designers’ sense of place. They need to know how they compare to the competition. Who is going to buy the product? Where you would like to be sold, realistically? Will it be the right price? These questions have to be answered before picking up a pen to design.
Anne Pitcher, Managing Director, Selfridges
Designers need to fully understand the contractual conditions of working with retailers, distributing companies and sales agents. When deciding to take your business this step further, you must fully appreciate the various different channels and options available to you and the effect each choice could have on the business.
If you choose to create an online business, it is important to consider all of the advantages, disadvantages, opportunities and peculiarities of this choice. Selling online is entirely different to selling in-store. With no tangible items for a customer to hold or try on, it can be incredibly difficult to make sales. As a general rule, more colorful or printed products tend to be the best sellers, and any item that has an unusual shape or fit will be a tougher sell. However, having an online site will maximise your sales and increase your brand recognition.
Tip 6: Understand the Importance of Funding and Financing
Money, money money. At the very start, you will find your cash flow is going out a lot longer before it starts coming in. It is critically important therefore to know where your funding is coming from and keep your finances under control. In order to establish a successful fashion business, you need to appreciate the fact that the gap between funding your company and recovering revenue from the sales of your designs needs to be carefully managed with the utmost skill.
As a fashion business, you will need to be fully aware of the various funding options – loans, investors, grants etc – and and take into careful consideration what option is best to maximise your liquidity. Most businesses will bring an investor or two on board to gain some initial funding. If you choose to take a similar step you need to understand that you will lose some of the control over the business as you will have to meet their requirements and demands, so think very carefully and don’t undersell yourself and your share of the business.
The above tips offer just a brief snippet of what the full report explores. It has been written with the UK in mind, but all of the advice can be appropriated by anyone starting a fashion business.
Read the full “Commercialising Creativity Report” here to read case studies and educate yourself fully on the factors that contribute to the success or failure of a designer’s fashion business.
Supporting emerging designers in the fashion industry is of particular importance to us here at the Galway Designers Network. Our current project the Galway Designers Studio House has been established by young designers, Ann Petrov of Cozy Handmade Designs, Gayle Poppers of Kizmet Clothing and Virtue Shine of Emerald & Wax, but they need your help to make their dream a reality. Follow the link to read all about the project and how you can take part.
The Galway Designers Network are always looking for new and exciting designers or anyone who feels they would love to be involved in the Network. Get in touch by commenting below, via Facebook @galwaydesignersnetwork, via Instagram @galway_designersnetwork or email firstname.lastname@example.org.