This is the number one question for any designer who hopes to take their work and turn it into a successful business. By understanding who your target audience is you can execute your product design and marketing messaging with precision and a definitive strategy enabling you to make strong business decisions and generate sales for growth. Essentially, the more specific you are about who your ideal customer is, the easier it will be to attract them.
The key to customer acquisition is finding your niche.
In order to identify your ideal customer you need to be exactingly specific, focusing on explicit attributes and using this information to create your best client. Once you have become established, you may choose to expand your brand and attract a wider consumer base, the in the initial stages, it is critical to remain focused.
Initially, as a designer you should identify the following factors:
Demographics: age; gender; income; profession etc.
Psychographics: values; attitudes; belief systems etc.
Lifestyle: geographic location; leisure activities; travel etc.
Buying Habits: brand loyalty; price awareness; paying attention to the other brands they buy from
However, the most critical element is to define the specific needs of your ideal customer.
Does your client want to wear a dress to a wedding that they know no one else will have? Are they a mum of three who needs comfortable, easy to wash clothing? Are they a wealthy business woman who needs office wear that she can carry through to social events in the evening time?
What do they need and why are you the best option for them?
A successful business relies on one factor – a customer base who are willing to part with they money for your product because it meets their need, it really is as simple as that. By understanding why your customer is buying from you, it will make it much easier for you to give them the clothing or accessories they want.
How to Identify Your Customer
Some designers see themselves as their ideal customer, inspired by a desire to satisfy their own needs. If this is true for your brand, it will be to identify the specifics about your customer.
However, if this is not the case for your business, you will need to carry out some customer research. It is critically important that you do not try create a customer profile based on assumptions or guesswork because you will inevitably end up wrong about some aspect, no matter how easy you think it will be to build your customer profile.
Talk to your current customers or people you would consider to be your ideal customer. Find out the information regarding the attributes listed above as well as information regarding their needs. Spend time in your competitors stores, watching how the customer shops, the other bags they carry, how much they spend etc. Approach people as they shop and explain who you are and what you are trying to do. Research brands like yourself online to get a grasp of their customer base and then use this knowledge to inform your own. Start up designers sometimes prefer to do this themselves or you have the choice of hiring a company to do the research for you, the choice is really up to you based on what your budget can allow.
The fashion retail industry is an over saturated market place as it stands right now, with only more and more brands emerging every week. It is a highly competitive arena and without a loyal customer base, your business will flounder. An attempt to appeal to everyone will leave you constantly chasing your tail as you try to attract sales.
By defining your ideal customer, you can provide focus for your business, enabling your merchandise, branding, marketing and message to be consistent and which will target a customer who is somewhere out there, waiting and willing to hear what you have to say.
If you are a young designer looking to make your mark in the retail sector and start your own fashion business, check out the following blog post for a strategy in negotiating the various challenges of going from a hobby-designer to a successful fashion business.
The Galway Designers Network are looking to make our own mark in the fashion retail sector. Our current project the Galway Designers Studio House has been established by Ann Petrov of Cozy Handmade Designs and Gayle Poppers of Kizmet Clothing but they need your help to make their dream a reality. Follow the Galway Designers Studio HouseFacebook Page to read all about the project and how you can take part.
— 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.
Galway Designers Studio House: Providing a space for you to grow your business.
The Galway Designers Studio House will be a venue, rather than a store, created for the purpose of offering a solid space for designers to sell their merchandise, whilst also offering a designated hub for people to come together, collaborate and learn something new as well as promote themselves and their business.
The vision for Galway Designers Studio House has grown from a need to create a new shopping experience, enabling consumers to step away from high street and department stores, from faceless fast fashion, and towards supporting local industry and ethical fashion.
A Store & A Studio.
The structure of Galway Designers Studio House will be two-fold: a store and a studio.
Within the store, local designers will have the opportunity to ‘rent’ a rail/table/window display, which will give them the much needed chance for exposure and getting their designs and their names into the minds of the wider public.
This studio is a space onsite will enable designers to work in a professional environment, helping you to get your designs/work stations out of your spare room. The studio will also serve as a venue for information evenings, networking events, courses and showcases to not only boost the profits of a designer’s business but also to offer education, tools and support to take the business to the next level.
The hardest part of being an independent designer is having your voice heard and your creative vision seen; Galway Designers Studio House offers you the chance to achieve just that!
Gayle, Ann & Virtue: The 3 women behind the idea.
This is an idea that has been created by three members of our Network, Gayle Poppers of Kizmet Clothing, Ann Petrov of Cozy Handmade Designs and Virtue Shine of Emerald & Wax. All three women have a desire to come together and combine their passion and experience to create a new avenue for their respective businesses. Each of these women have been designers and members of the fashion industry for a long time, and have gained extensive, essential experience in not only design, but also styling, marketing, event management and merchandising.
Below are some photographs of the three ladies so you can put faces to names and some thumbnail images of examples of some of their own stunning design work:
Help make this dream a reality!
Gayle, Ann and Virtue have set up a crowdfunding campaign, to not only raise the much needed funds to back such an ambitious project, but to encourage everyone to get involved and support your local fashion industry. Galway is a hub of talented designers, innovators, crafters, stylists, models and photographers, and a project like the Galway Designers Studio House will be beneficial to everyone who wants to be a part of this special industry.
Gayle, Ann and Virtue have set a target of €11,000 in order to get the project up and running. This money will cover the costs of renting a secure premises, utilities, rates, fittings etc. The money will also go towards creating a strong and innovative marketing campaign which will help to spread the word, encourage more designers to join and ensure customers come flooding through the doors. With a detailed and extensive business plan in place, Gayle, Ann and Virtue can see the potential success this business will have, all they need is a little helping hand to get project off the ground.
You donate, we give you presents!
By donating some your money to this project, you will not only ensure that designers have the chance to achieve the dreams they have always longed for, you will also receive some special gifts as a reward to show you all our appreciation. We know you work exceptionally hard for your money, and we do not want you to think that we take your kindness for granted.
Donations of varying values will receive the following gifts from Gayle, Ann and Virtue:
€10+ : A specially designed thank you card & a specially designed tote bag.
€25+ : A specially designed thank you card & tote bag along with a 10% discount card to use in store.
€50+ : A specially designed thank you card & tote bag, along with a voucher for €20 to use in the store, a front row invitation to our networks bi-annual fashion shows, and a personal invite to the launch of the shop.
€100+ : All of the above, with an increased voucher of €50, along with a token gift and a VIP invite to the launch of the shop.
€250+ : All of the above, with an increased voucher of €75 to use in store along with a hamper of goodies worth €100.
€500+ : A very personal specially designed thank you card, a special mention on our website as a sponsor, VIP membership card which provides VIP invites to all our events, workshops and courses along with the store opening launch event. You will also receive 3 x €100 vouchers to spend on our in-house designers clothing lines.
Let’s make this happen!
If everyone gives, even a little, we can soon make this dream a reality, a dream that not only will benefit the designers involved, but also any potential designers who see that they too can have their individual voices heard and become successful, fulfilled and happy in their work.
What is the benefit? It will always inevitably end up costing more than purchasing from fast fashion or franchised stores. So why is it important?
Small businesses are vital to the success of a community.
By supporting local designers, you are ensuring the longevity of Irish design. They give character to a community. They give Irish design an identity and offer up and coming designers inspiration and a framework to follow.
Supporting local Irish design improves the quality of Irish design.
Yes, every high-street franchise is the same, which makes everyone feel at like they belong, but not everyone wants to or should belong in generic high street stores. Some people want to buy unique to feel unique. Independent designers give people that choice. It is where excitement and innovation happens, where new ideas can grow and trends can be made.
By supporting local design, you can ensure complete transparency.
If you purchase any item of clothing from a high-street brand, more than likely, it has been made in Asia. You do not know its history, who made it, how they made it, what conditions were they working in, were they paid adequate wages etc. Local designers make their merchandise accessible and offer a much needed clarity to a sometimes cloudy industry.
Buying Irish designs fosters a relationship between customer, clothing and designer.
Supporting the endeavours of designers in your area not only creates social capital and mutual goodwill but also strengthens social bonds. It gives personality to the brand and offers you a face to put to a name to ensure your opinions are heard. It offers an invaluable learning opportunity by allowing for curiosity, exploration and the learning of something new. You can identify the designer by name. We all feel like were in this together, on the same fashion journey.
Supporting locally owned businesses supports the the local economy.
The profits of a business are not being siphoned off to a head office somewhere else. Local businesses are more likely to use local suppliers and this in turn supports the local economy. This is a huge benefit to not only the local economy but also the environment by manufacturing locally, reducing their carbon footprint – always an added bonus.
The Galway Designers Network hopes you will try to support our designers and the hundred others like us. We are always looking for new designers who feel they would love to be involved in the Network and make their mark in the local fashion community.
Please leave a comment below as we would love to hear from you, about what you do and where you would like to see your business develop to!