Do You Really Want to Start a Fashion Business?

LONDON, United Kingdom — In Part One of Fashion Business Basics, Imran Amed explains what budding fashion entrepreneurs need to know before they start their own label.

KEY LEARNINGS: Deciding whether to start a fashion business requires a lot of upfront thinking. Here are the things you need to know first:

1. Starting a fashion business is an intense, all-encompassing experience:

Running a small fashion business is a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week commitment requiring militant self-discipline. You will need to think of yourself as a CEO first and will likely spend less than 10 percent of your time designing. You will have to oversee all aspects of the business, not just the creative parts. It is an exciting, exhilarating experience, but not a decision that should be taken lightly.

2. There are four key steps in the fashion value chain:

  • Design & Development: This includes designing a collection, making patterns, developing samples and researching textiles and fabrics.
  • Production & Supply Chain: At the early stages of your business, you will probably be able to make the low volumes of your samples and commercial collections in-house. Later, you will need to find production partners to help you produce the quantities demanded. Supply chain, logistics, delivery and quality control are critical parts of growing a business.
  • Marketing & PR: You will not be able to sell your collection unless people know about it. In the digital age we have tools like social media to help people know your brand exists, and most of these tools are free.
  • Sales & Distribution: The last step is to distribute and sell your products. At the early stages of your business, sales will involve wholesale, selling to online or offline retailers. Eventually you may have your own retail through an e-commerce website and physical stores.

3. Focusing on four critical success factors will help to increase your chances of success:

  • Bring something unique to the market: Carefully craft your business concept. It is essential that you have an idea of the person you are designing for. Get inside the mind of your customer to understand how you can meet their needs and how you can connect with them through communication and marketing.
  • Find a business partner or advisor: To help realise the business that you want to build, find someone who can work side by side with you to help manage your business. It is important that you find someone you can trust.
  • Use your network of contacts: Building a fashion business requires access to all kinds of people and resources. Use your network of contacts, from classmates, to friends or family, and trade organisations to help you. Do not be afraid to ask for advice or help.
  • Manage your cash tightly: Too many designers have been in the situation where they have orders to fill, but insufficient cash to buy the raw materials to produce and deliver those orders. To stretch the time you are able to survive with limited cash, ask manufacturers for longer payment terms, and wholesale customers for deposits in advance.

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