Running and growing a fashion business is really hard. You’re taking the challenges associated with entrepreneurship in general and then adding a layer of difficulty that only the fashion industry brings about- short run production, limited exposure to financial education, and market saturation being big fat ones.
In my years working with emerging and independent fashion brands, I’ve seen a lot of practices, habits, and mindsets that contributed to the success or failure of emerging fashion brands.
Regardless of how you define success, there are some things that you simply can’t do if you want to reach the goals you create for yourself and your fashion business.
Think they know it all.
If there’s one thing that will send your business spiraling downward, it is the belief that you know best, always. Listen, there are times when you have to trust your instincts and make moves based on what you know about your business, your customer, and your industry. But, the most successful designers I know are the ones who understand that more often than not, there is someone in the room who knows more about a topic than they do. They listen to them. They befriend them. They learn from them. And, they are constantly finding ways to expand their knowledge and skills.
Think their brand is what they say it is.
Your brand is defined by how others perceive it. You may have brand values, a brand voice, and a brand bible for your business, but ultimately the way others see your brand, is what actually shapes it. The most successful designers pay attention to what others are saying about their brand; they talk their customers often, learn from them, and make brand adjustments when necessary.
Put financial literacy on the backburner.
This is a big one with fashion designers. A lot of creatives don’t have a background in finance and many don’t care for trying to learn it. While it’s important to not focus too much energy on things you’re not good at, the most successful designers have an understanding of financial basics, create budgets and stick to them, and use financial literacy to make decisions and drive their business forward.
Dwell in constant comparison.
Comparison is a business killer. Instagram makes it so easy to look at what your competitors or complementary brands are doing and wonder why you’re not there yet. The most successful designers realize how dangerous this is and instead focus on what their brand is doing to create real value for their community.
Think marketing is the same as social media.
I’m not going to say that social media is important because you already know this. But what successful brands understand is that marketing your fashion business goes far beyond posting on social media platforms.
Become nervous to pick up the phone.
This is a big one. For whatever reason, a lot of designers are nervous to sell. Maybe it’s something that simply doesn’t come easy to you, you’d rather be designing, but whatever the reason, it doesn’t matter. Successful designers spend time on creating their sales plan; they prep with a professional website, a beautiful look book, informative line sheets, and an understanding of the outlet their selling to. They don’t rely solely on email pitches and they certainly don’t allow the butterflies in their bellies to stop them from picking up the phone and/or walking into the stores they want to pitch.
Think they want a “successful” fashion business.
A vague understanding of what you want for your fashion business is not going to cut it. The word successful means absolutely nothing when it comes to you describing your business. Success is relative and the most successful designers have defined what that means to them.
Spend a little time on a lot of things.
No one is arguing that there isn’t a never-ending list of things to do on a daily basis for your business. The list can be all consuming and overwhelming. The most successful designers know that the task list will never disappear but it’s their job to focus on the things that matter most to growth. Choose a few things and do them well, rather than trying to do it all.
Do it alone.
I’m just going to say it. You can’t do this alone. I don’t care if you think you can, you’re wrong. We all need support, guidance, education, and help. And the most successful brands recognize that and are not afraid to ask for what they need.
Forget to support others.
And to build on the above point, it’s also incredibly important to support others. It can seem like you have enough to do on your own without trying to help others figure out what they’re doing but the most successful brands know that helping others is one of the major factors in accomplishing your own goals.
Assume they have a good idea of who their customer is.
The belief that we as business owners “know” our customer simply because we have one or two sentences in our vision statement about them is outdated. The most successful designers start with a basic understanding of their customer and constantly work to improve it with as much detail as possible. They record every bit of feedback they receive to better grasp their needs and wants, they spend time on the social profiles of their followers to learn about their lives and how they spend their time, they do pop ups and trunk shows and meet their customers face to face to get the full picture. And they understand that this is an on-going process- always evaluated and always updated.
Treat their business as if it were a hobby.
It’s very easy to tell ourselves we have a business just because we make product and have a website but that’s not always the case. A business requires planning, goal setting, revenue generation, and follow through. The most successful designers see that just because they love to design, doesn’t mean that they can have a business doing it.
Put all their faith in one revenue stream.
Sales are necessary to grow a business. But there isn’t just one way to make sales. When it comes to building revenue in a fashion business, the most successful designers think about what sales channels they’re going to focus on (direct to consumer, wholesale, markets/popups, in home salons, etc) and mix it up, rather than putting all their hope and trust into just one. In addition to that, they aren’t scared to get creative. They add styling services, custom work, closet audits, or other things like enjoy doing in order to keep the revenue flowing. They hustle.
Spend all their time in the studio/office.
Sketching, patternmaking, sewing, email replying, social media updating, packaging…there’s so much to do in the studio and the office that the thought of leaving it for even a little while is out of the question. The problem with that is the fact that you’re not meeting people, you’re not expanding your community, and you’re not getting to know those already in your community. The most successful designers know that closing the computer and getting out there to talk to people needs to be a priority.
Think they need to follow the rules.
If there’s anything I don’t like about the fashion industry, it’s the inherently exclusive nature of it and the rules that go along with that. For so long having a fashion business meant following a certain path, doing things the way they’re “supposed” to be done. The most successful fashion brands out there know that they don’t have to play by the rules. They push boundaries, do things differently, and don’t judge their own worth by the level of acceptance they feel from the old-school industry darlings.