15 Things Successful Fashion Designers Don’t Do

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 they’re 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.

That’s why we launched the StartUp FASHION Membership — to connect you to a network of fellow designers who know exactly what you’re going through and can offer feedback, guidance, and lessons learned. Join the Community. 

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 they 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.

Would you like step-by-step guidance on how you can build your fashion business, detailed and specific resources for making things happen, and a support system of fellow designers who get it because they’re doing it too?

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Nicole Giordano
Nicole Giordano

Nicole is the founder of StartUp FASHION, an online resource and community supporting for independent designers around the world with building their businesses. A deep love for the craft of fashion paired with an adamant belief that success is defined by the individual, led her to found StartUp FASHION, where she helps independent designers and makers screw the traditional fashion business rules, create their own paths, and build businesses they truly love. More than anything else, she’s in the business of encouragement and works every day to remind makers and designers that they have something special to offer the world and that they can, in fact, do this thing!

31 comments
  1. Avatar
    Chibuzo stella

    Hi, Casey. Thanks for those encouraging words. I am a young entrepreneur in the fashion business. As a way of showing appreciation, I’d have loved to make you a lovely dress but distance would not permit . looking forward to reading more of those,casey.

    Reply
    • Casey Cline
      Casey Cline

      That’s so nice of you, Chibuzo. Have a great week!

      Reply
  2. Avatar
    Favour

    Am about to start fashion and design I know with all this tip I will Know more about becoming a successful fashion and design
    Thanks alot am Greatfull to this tip it will help me alot

    Reply
    • Casey Cline
      Casey Cline

      That’s great to hear, Favour. Best of luck and thanks for checking out our blog. 🙂

      Reply
  3. Avatar
    Ahmed

    This is encouraging. I’m a start-up and I’ve been trying to create a design which would reach a large audience. It’s a little difficult to start as capital has been a major challenge and methods to sell to the right market.

    NB: I’m a bit shy to go to organizations to sell!

    Reply
    • Casey Cline
      Casey Cline

      I’m glad you found this post encouraging, Ahmed. Being brave about approaching potential partners is always a good idea!

      Reply
  4. Avatar
  5. Avatar
    Aima

    Hi… My name is Aima, I am a dress maker and I’m looking to start my own business, it’s so important to me, I don’t have the start up capital, I don’t know people in fact I have social anxiety so getting out there is hard for me, I don’t even have any social media accounts. But this business is my life, I’m willing to put in the effort and required sacrifices. I would appreciate any tips or advice to point me in the right direction. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Casey Cline
      Casey Cline

      Hi Aima,

      Definitely check out our other blog posts. We have a ton of recent marketing advice for emerging designers and most do not require a ton of socializing. Creating social media accounts for your brand will be important though and providing great customer service will be too. Best of luck!

      Casey

      Reply
  6. Avatar
    Evelina JONAH

    I’m really glad to had logged on Pinterest to see you post, I’m an existing fashion entrepreneur ,I will really love to join the community to improve my abilities and business at large.

    Reply
    • Casey Cline
      Casey Cline

      Hi Evelina,

      Be sure to join our waitlist here. We are excited to see you in the community!

      Thanks,
      Casey

      Reply
  7. Avatar
    clinton chukwu

    I like your educative tips; they’re helpful to me. thanks

    Reply
    • Casey Cline
      • Avatar
        Ogri Moses oleyi

        What a way to start my day. I’m already into fashion and designing business. My brand name is OLEYI FASHION AND DESIGN

        Reply
        • Casey Cline
          Casey Cline

          That’s great, Ogri. I hope the other posts on our blog are helpful to you as well. 🙂

          Reply
  8. Avatar
    Pablo

    Nicole, how did you get so wise beyond your years? I’ve designed for 31 years for big name brands, had my own brand for 8 years and recently was the design director for the U.S. Army. Even though I am aware of most that you write, it’s nice to see it all in one spot. Something I’ve never done, is write it as definitively as you have.
    To the other readers, pay attention. She’s a smart cookie!

    Reply
  9. Avatar
    sepide

    Hey.I”m 14 and I live in Iran.
    I want to be a fashion designer in future.
    What can I do for my target?
    It:s so important for me

    thank you

    Reply
    • Nicole Giordano
      Nicole Giordano

      Hey! My best suggestion for you is to start a blog. That way you can create a community of people who will be engaged in the future when you’re ready to launch your business.

      Reply
  10. Avatar
    innocent jan

    i will love to join the community becous i went throug your page and it was educative

    Reply
    • Nicole Giordano
      Nicole Giordano

      Great to hear, Jan! Membership will open up again later this year. We’ll be sending out emails when we’re open. 🙂

      Reply
  11. Avatar
    • Casey Cline
      Casey Cline

      Thank you, Var-Shi- we’re glad you found it helpful!

      Reply
  12. Avatar
    myphamso1

    Love your post!. I think branding is the most important for fashion designers and they learn from customer, and make brand adjustments when necessary

    Reply
  13. Avatar
    Erika

    Love this post!!! I need to go out in the community more, especially now that it’s getting nicer outside! That one is so true and I don’t do it enough. Thanks for the post!

    Reply
  14. Avatar
    Shannon Tennyson

    Excellent and helpful points – not all action or habits are as valuable to a business and this helps remind of critical ones not to lose site of.

    Reply
    • Nicole Giordano
      Nicole Giordano

      Thanks Shannon! I’m glad you liked the post. And you’re right, it’s very easy to spend time on things that don’t matter in the long run. 🙂

      Reply
  15. Avatar
  16. Avatar
    Dinorah

    Your resources, articles and knowledge are amazing. Love everything about it.Thanks very much.

    Reply
  17. Avatar

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