How To Become A Fashion Designer: 10 Steps To Success
You see me, I wanted to be fashion designer. I became fashion designer. So I think that everything is possible.”
This post is the first of a series of in-depth articles, each dedicated to one step to success for any new fashion business today.
No time to read all these articles now? No problem. There is a mini-guide listing them all and giving you all the basics.
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If you haven’t done it yet, we recommend that you also read the first essential guide of our series, listing the 7 fashion myths that make you waste time and money for nothing.
Let’s start now the real work you need to do as an aspiring fashion talent. You can do everything your way, but there are a few important decisions to get right.
These 10 steps are actionable because you can start each of them today. It’s just work, like any other business.
1. Business Purpose
Why… do you want to become a fashion designer?
This is the most important question to answer. But why is it so important?
Because why we do things is the profound reason for our existence. Answering “why” means knowing the purpose of the life you want to live, that unique life and not any other one.
As an aspiring fashion designer, you have a passion for fashion. This is the first step and a prerequisite to starting any business. Your passion is the driving force behind your emotions, dreams, and motivation to work hard enough to become a successful fashion designer.
If you don’t enjoy what you do, starting a fashion business will be a painful experience. It is not only very demanding regarding work and energy, like any business, but it is also a longevity game. This is the reason why the dropout rate of the fashion industry is pretty high.
Being passionate is vital and being motivated is crucial to making your fashion startup successful, but it’s not enough.
You can be passionate about different things in life, other than fashion, but you will not want to do business out of all those things. There is only one passion you are motivated enough to do business out of and this is the one with a purpose behind. However, the way you do business out of it may have a different scale.
- Let’s say that you would like to start your own fashion label and make it grow. This will be your main activity, your job, your business.
- Let’s say now that you are not ready for that as a full-time job and that you would prefer to work for other brands first before starting your own. You can still do it at a very small scale in parallel. This will be a side job, but you can still be proud of your business.
- Let’s say that you just want to give it a try. You only want to test your designs first before taking any decision. You can do it online at no risk.
2. Valuable Ideas
Do you think that it takes a lot of new and creative design ideas to be successful in the fashion business?
Many people do think so, but this is a big misconception.
Fashion design, like any design, is all about ideas. Ideas make products. But, that is just the tip of the iceberg.
The fashion business is not only about designing fashions for customers. The design part is just a piece of your fashion business puzzle. Your fashion startup needs ideas that work at any stage and any area. Ideas don’t need to be exceptionally “creative.” They need to be “relevant” to your business.
A fashion label selling simple tee-shirts in just a few basic colors with no logo or pattern can be much more successful than a very creative fashion brand if they provide more value to the customer. You can be innovative and creative also by offering fast lightning shipping, cost transparency, highest quality of material at a reasonable price, unique size chart, etc.
This is where you can provide additional value to customers. Too many young fashion designers focus only on the design area, where the competition is definitely the strongest and where the value for the customer may also be the most subjective.
Fashion customers want clothes that make them look good, but they also want you to make the process easy for them: the process of finding the right clothes at the right price and the right moment.
In 2016, Christopher Bailey, the chief creative of Burberry, had an innovative idea that was not at all about fashion design. Yet, his concept increased the revenue of the fashion brand significantly. He just changed the moment he would make clothes available for customers, and he called it: “See Now, Buy Now.”
Before him, the fashion calendar did fit the fashion industry’s constraints but was entirely wrong for fashion customers’ desires. Christopher Bailey was innovative in the way he provided clothes to customers at the right moment for them, which is apparently as soon as they see them in the media and want them.
Do you think that any new fashion designer must follow the fashion trends, just like the whole fashion industry does?
For a fashion startup, it’s irrelevant.
First, it’s waste of money. As an aspiring fashion designer:
- Do you want to compete directly with established fashion brands?
- Do you think you can outsmart these brands, selling similar products to the same fashion customers?
- Do you think this is the right strategy for your new fashion business to grow?
Second, it’s a waste of time because it doesn’t serve your purpose. As an aspiring fashion designer, you are in the fashion business to make your ideas become products, not to follow everyone else’s ideas. If you are just starting out in fashion and doing the same thing as every other fashion designer, what is the value of buying from you for any fashion customer?
Do you think that fashion designers must adjust to what sells and what does not?
The report called “The State of Fashion 2017” from the collaboration of McKinsey and The Business of Fashion clearly stated that in 2016, there was a creativity crisis coming from:
Fashion designers are being encouraged to take more input from the buying and merchandising teams to react to what is selling rather than defining what will sell through forward-looking design risks.”
Fashion is about newness. Often, fashion customers don’t know what they want. They know when they see it. Fashion designers must keep coming with new ideas to keep fashion customers surprised and interested.
Does that mean that a fashion business shouldn’t listen to customers? Of course not.
Metrics are useful pieces of information for any business and should be looked at often and carefully. However, a clear rule in business is that if you stop innovating, you die because the competition will overtake you.
What’s in the head of successful fashion designers? Ideas about everything related to their business and this goes far beyond fashion design.
We have ideas about how to develop a fashion marketplace, one where you can test your designs and your market and react very quickly when you land upon a successful idea. But it’s in your hands to create the value for your customers.
3. Lean Startup
What are chameleons best at?
Business environments are continually changing and evolving, too. Business people also need to adjust their colors, behavior, diets like chameleons and many other animals… to face risks and adapt in a very competitive sector.
The fashion industry has been changing at an unprecedented pace and continues to fuel the dreams of many aspiring fashion designers. But do they adjust to the new environment?
Not really, and not many are that successful either.
The truth is that fashion designers are still trying today to start a fashion business the way others did in the past. Those strategies, like business plans, market research, full collections, and runways cost a lot of time and money. While they can be needed at some point, they are killing for a fashion startup and will likely get you closer to failure than to success.
So, what is the solution today’s business environment offers to aspiring fashion designers ready to start their own label easier, faster, and cheaper?
Chameleons adjust to their environment.
New fashion designers should adapt to their new fashion environment, too.
The fashion marketplace we envision ticks all the boxes for your new business. You can start fast with one single product, sell it easier online to test the market, and promote it through social media at no cost. Then you can adjust when needed and do it all over again with a second product. Your success, step by step.
4. Flexible Production
Do you do it yourself at first or do you need little helpers? And what type of little helpers, from friends to seamstresses or manufacturers?
This is an important question for any fashion startup because each solution involves different timing and costs.
As you can guess, the best option is the one not making you waste time and money according to the situation of your business.
So let’s review them all and find out what would be the best for you.
It’s famously known that Bill Gates and his friends started in a garage. See where they are now.
You can start your fashion startup with a few friends who can help you occasionally with the skills you don’t have, and you can reward them with fashion pieces at first. Later you can pay them as contractors when the business kicks in.
Or you can start as a team, and everyone is working without being paid as long as the business doesn’t make any money.
This solution involves little time and no money. You can be very reactive according to the number of orders, but it is not sustainable if your business grows fast.
When your sales grow, even just a little, you will likely not be able to produce fast enough yourself and with friends because you also need to work on many other areas than the production. But the good news is that you are making business and that you can pay people.
There are seamstresses everywhere in the world. Many do that as a main job or a side job to fit their family life. You can definitely find the right person(s) in your city. Zara started out like that with one store and a few seamstresses.
This solution involves little time and little money, and you can be very reactive too.
The fashion industry uses factories to produce the greatest majority of fashion products as they can deal with big volumes.
Factories are not a bad solution in principle, but they are not a fast, easy, and cheap solution. This is why they may not be the right option for aspiring fashion designers who are just launching their own label.
Start small and cheap with what you have quickly and easily available to you. Using the “DIY” technique as much as possible is never wrong.
You don’t need a lot of products anyway to start selling, so why getting involved too soon with sourcing factories around the world and manufacturing contracts? “Too soon” means when you don’t even know if your fashion design items can sell. That would only lead you to deal with more problems and would reduce your time dedicated to new business ideas and better serving your customers.
5. Fair Price
What is the “right” price for fashion designer’s products? And how do you know your price is right for the customer? Many studies have been done, and many theories have been developed, but still, now no one found no recipe for success. So what’s the solution? Put yourself in the shoes and brain of the customer, and you will start from the right angle. Your customers will need to perceive that your price is fair to consider buying. How do they judge the value of your products for them? By comparison. And what are the criteria?
The customer may:
- Start to guess the cost of production based on the size and material of the product
- Try to understand the quality of the materials and the making
- Sense the exclusivity of the design and the offering
- Feel the impact of the brand image
- Have a certain level of trust in the label
- Value the availability and presentation of the product
All this thinking in the customer’s brain often unfolds spontaneous, quick and unconscious, but it does end up with the decision to buy or not.
What the business world calls benchmarking is precisely what we encourage you to do. Check the offer of your competitors and put yourself in the shoes and brain of customers.
That is not an easy task, especially the first times, but the value of the experience is priceless, and you will soon sharpen your take on the market and on where you want to position yourself.
Where to start? We recommend to start at the higher end of your realistic price range, and then adjust lower if need.
A right price is fair and realistic at the same time.
And, what about pricing transparency?
Being transparent on prices is quite unusual in the fashion industry. But why not?
It would be difficult to justify for the greatest majority of fashion brands to break up their prices for their customers, explaining the cost structure of their extensive organization. That is why fashion companies, especially in the luxury sector, stay very unclear on how their products are made and how they come up with their prices. Margins that would look unjustified to the customer would feel very irritating and would damage the brand’s image and sales.
What fashion customers don’t understand though, is why they should buy higher prices to pay for the logo, the flagship store, the middlemen all taking their commission along the way, the advertising campaign, the PR events, etc., just to give a few examples.
We entered a new fashion world with the internet bringing transparency. All of a sudden, every customer has access to much more information than ever before. It is becoming more and more difficult for brands in any sector to hide anything and some costs like marketing, branding, advertising, and middlemen become questionable for more and more customers.
Some fashion brands have already opted for pricing transparency. Let’s look at how it could look like for the customer:
What would be the best combination for you and your customers?
As an emerging fashion designer, this is your chance if you opt for transparency in pricing. You can show your customers what they are really paying for. This would be a very powerful and unique selling proposition and this way you can build trust. Customers love to know that they are paying for the right value. Not only fashion customers. Every customer!
Our fashion marketplace takes transparency on pricing serious because customers can compare everything directly. Your fashion business will be flexible an lean, with no overhead costs, unlike many other established brands. Your fair prices will make you very competitive, help you to stay in business, and ensure that you earn money with every one of your sales.
6. Online Sales
Online sales are the fastest growing sales channel in the fashion business.
Selling directly and online has a benefit in the margins. But not only that… Let’s see the differences between the fashion system before and after the Internet.
The old fashion model: You design and produce. Retails sells.
Given the power position of the retail business, it is not only challenging for you to be recognized and accepted by the fashion retailers but they also often dictate what you get. The cost of running physical stores and all the related overhead cost lead to markups of 2,5 and sometimes up to 4 of what they pay you. The way your product is presented to the customers and the transactional part of the process is taken over by the retailer, who then pays you between 20% and 40% of the retail price.
You not only run a real risk of not even covering your cost with what is left for you, but you are also entirely at the mercy of the retailer, who in the first place might even reject your products entirely.
In the end, you have no control over pricing and demand, promotion and presentation of your product you have spent so many hours and passion on. Is it worth it?
We feel this old fashion business model is due to be revisited:
- Take the business into your hands
- Select the right sales channel
The new fashion model: You design – produce – sell.
As an aspiring fashion designer and a brand new fashion label, you have to clean out the whole distribution chain to minimize your cost and maximize your margin.
It’s up to the customer to decide if your fashion products are valuable, not to the retailer.
It’s up to the designers to own the whole value chain and make their business grow, not to the retailer.
Instead of looking sadly at your stock of unsold pieces in your studio, you can happily see your business growing piece by piece sold. Healthy for you and your bank account.
Looking at all the aspects regarding financials, speed, transparency, fairness, customer ownership and experience, and at the end looking a who has the power over your business, direct selling through an internet fashion marketplace sticks out as the clear favorite.
No need to invest any money in starting your online store in our fashion marketplace and you capture the entire margin between the cost and the retail price of each product sold, bypassing wholesalers and retailers.
The commission fee for the service is small, and you benefit from the traffic coming from all the other sellers, which is crucial when very few people know you at first.
You not only control the experience of your customer but also the environment you work in.
A fashion marketplace is a powerful marketing tool for fashion designers because it’s a pure brand experience for fashion customers.
7. Virtuous Transparency
How to adjust your new fashion startup to customers who are better informed, more conscious, and more volatile?
The answer: Transparency.
How transparent your fashion business should be? And in which areas?
A majority of brands in the fashion industry are not transparent though.
- How can you be transparent if your costs are pretty low and your margins pretty high?
- How can you be transparent if you use cheap labor, but sell expensive products?
- How can you be transparent when middlemen take commissions on your products all along the way from your factory to your customer?
Is that to the benefit of the customer? No.
Which value does it bring to the customer? None.
You can be transparent everywhere it adds value to the customers:
Everything you do for transparency builds confidence, trust, and reputation for your business. Transparency and reputation work together. The more transparent you are, the greater reputation you will get from your customers.
In our fashion marketplace, transparency goes two ways: between fashion designers and customers and between fashion designers themselves. The more you put yourself in the shoes of your customers, the more you will get it right and offer them the best solutions, even when compared to other sellers. It’s a virtuous circle. Transparency helps everyone get better, and this is where you add value, beyond any product itself. Customers will love your business for that.
8. Inbound Marketing
How do you get people to know the products of your fashion startup?
Traditional marketing is over because it’s not applicable anymore. The new method of marketing is called “Inbound Marketing.”
What is that?
Good news! Inbound Marketing is all in one. You don’t need to plan advertising, communication or PR besides.
On the one hand, this type of marketing simplifies things for businesses that were before working in silos before. Now, everything is connected. Your online store, website, blog, social media pages are all linked to each other.
On the other hand, it can be overwhelming. Each social media platform works a bit different. You need to learn how to use them well to get the most of it.
Today, a blog is an essential branding and marketing tool for any fashion label. This is where you establish the image of your company in people’s eyes; where you get in contact with your visitors, leads, customers, promoters; and where you can deliver information and help to them.
A blog brings a lot of other benefits:
- It provides highly shareable content for social media sites
- It helps you capture feedback about your products
- It’s a great way to network and build relationships
As the best solution for a fashion startup is always the fastest, easiest and cheapest one, if a blog is too much work and/or too expensive for you at first, you can leave that for a bit later and only start with social media pages. They are free of charge and quick and easy to set up in a day.
Apart from your blog, social media is the other online place where you can easily reach your future customers.
That is where you can talk to your visitors, customers, and evangelists to bond with them and get to know them better while they get to know you better too.
There are thousands of fashion brands and labels existing in the cyberspace, but many do things wrong either because they don’t know how to do social marketing right or because they don’t want to spend enough time on it. This is your chance!
And when you are ready, through linking your blog with your social media pages and your online store, you will drive your customers back and forth from your content to your store in a virtuous circle.
The blog pages and social media pages will provide value to customers through your content, and the online store will provide value to them through your products.
Inbound marketing is part of our fashion marketplace to support you and help you get the attention you deserve. A platform amplifies that virtuous circle about you through its own blog and social media pages too. Your new fashion label and designs need to stand out and get promoted the right way to the right people. Having an inbound marketing strategy will help you build a successful fashion business.
9. Law Compliance
After testing the market with your products, you may want to get bigger and start a fashion business. You will then have to make your fashion business comply with the regulations of your own country.
Just do some research, online or/and offline to find out the right information but to grow your fashion startup into a company, you only have a few administrative tasks to do.
- Business Registration You will need to determine what type of business structure suits you best. In many countries, you will get a VAT number that enables you to make invoices and get invoiced too.
- Name Registration
If you will not be using your own name as your business name and instead using a fictitious name, you will need to register a business name. This will ensure that no one else can legally use your business name in the sector of activity you have selected.
- Business Bank Account
This is not mandatory, but it’s highly recommended that you get a bank account that you will use for business purposes only. Most banks will require that you have a registered business name before they allow you to open an account under that name. The advantage of having a separate bank account for your business is that you know exactly how much you are making and how much you are spending on your business. You can easily pay yourself wages to your personal account. It makes things easier at tax time because every money movement is documented.
No need to go into a heavy or costly process. Many countries do support small businesses, and you can set it up quite light until your business is robust enough. When the time comes, you may need to get external support on a regular basis, like an accountant and/or a lawyer, to ensure your business stays compliant.
At first, you can go through the legal set up yourself as many things can now be done online. If you feel more comfortable doing so, you can get some legal help on how to set up your business, which may be more useful for some countries than others, depending on their regulations.
In our fashion marketplace, you can start your fashion store right away in just a few minutes. When creating a fashion business, make sure that you comply with the business regulations of your country.
10. Your Fashion Future
- Think big but start small
Start with just a few fashion designs instead of a whole collection. Your goal is to sell, not to waste your time and money.
- Market one product at a time
Make sure you sell your first design before working on new ones. Your goal is to sell, not to clutter your shop.
- Stay close to your customers
Online business today succeeds through social media and inbound marketing. Your goal is to offer real value to your customers and communicate it to them.
- Use metrics
Business metrics are very useful to look at before deciding on any business change. Your goal is to take the right decision, not the opposite of what your start-up needs.
- Do not grow too fast
Do not grow at a pace you cannot manage. Your goal is to keep your customers happy and not lose them on your way to the top.
A happy customer is a returning customer.
The cherry on the cake?
When you grow your own fashion business, what do you do at the same time?
You show the world, and the fashion industry, that your designs sell and that you are a professional fashion designer with proven results.
How incredibly valuable is that for your future!
If you plan in your career to be the head of the design studio in a fashion house, you are more likely to make it that way. Marc Jacobs did it just like that. He started his own label in 1986 and became successful with it. As you may know, ten years later, in 1997, he became in parallel the most famous creative director of Louis Vuitton.
Your next steps…
If you have made it so far, congratulations!
The good news is that it can be much easier, faster, and cheaper to start a fashion business and you can start today!
The Fashion Talents Marketplace provides the right tool for you to start, and the Fashion Talents Blog offers actionable guidance and the right support to grow your business from scratch!
When do you start?
(Photos from Unsplash: Alexander Andrews, Charisse Kenion, Averie Woodard, Kris Atomic, Joanna Kosinska).
P.S. Fashion Talents is an open marketplace where you create your fashion eBusiness in minutes.
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Fanny is the CEO + Co-founder of Fashion Talents, and a passionate and tireless promoter of new fashion eBusiness. She’s on a mission to open fashion business to all talents around the world and drive shoppers, sales, and success to them.