Running and growing a fashion business is really hard. Especially if you’re self-made, in the midst of building an independent startup fashion brand. You’re juggling a lot of daily tasks, trying to learn the business side of things, all while setting aggressive goals and thinking long term.
In my years working with startup fashion designers, I’ve seen a lot of practices, habits, and mindsets that contributed to the success or failure of independent 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.
Thinking they have all the answers.
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.
The extra point I want to make about this one is that often designers don’t think they’re falling to prey to this issue. They claim to actively seek out knowledge and listen when someone offer advice but they don’t act on what they learn. I think this is such a shame.
I recently had someone tell me that she has access to an online library of business advice and training but never uses it. In the same email (a few paragraphs down) she told me her business is floundering and she’s broke. Yet, somehow, she didn’t put these two things together in mind. See the problem?
Successful designers seek out education and use what they learn.
Thinking brand development is a one and done.
Your brand will grow and evolve and you learn more about what your company stands for and what matters to your customers. While your values may not change (or maybe they do), how you communicate these values through your voice, your points of view, your photography, and other visuals, will change.
This is not about changing for the sake of change or compromising what you believe in, it’s about understanding that, just like people, your brand has a personality, and with growth comes learning more about yourself and becoming more of who you want to be.
The most successful designers understand this about their brand and their business and therefore they pay attention to shifts and changes and embrace this as a good thing.
Thinking they can wing it with the money stuff.
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.
They also understand that it can take years (often 3 to 5) to see any real profit in a fashion startup, and therefore they have a plan on how they will not only fund the business but support themselves throughout this time.
I can’t tell you how many emails I’ve received that have said something along the lines “I want to start a fashion brand but I have no money. What do I do?” The answer: Make a plan for how you’re gonna get the money. There’s no magic answer, and successful fashion brands knew that from the start.
Thinking “positive mindset” is not a real factor in success.
Lack of confidence, a fear of not being good enough, constant comparison…these are things that will crush a business well before lack of money will. Working a building a positive mindset is something that every business owner should actively do.
The most successful designers don’t let themselves off the hook with working on their mindset– they make it a habit to build their confidence muscle on a daily basis, and because of that, they see real growth.
Thinking they don’t need to get vulnerable.
Vulnerability in business is must. Letting someone see that you’re not perfect, sharing your ‘regular’ life with them, showing more of who you are as a person– these are all acts of getting vulnerable. And vulnerability is how relationships are started and nurtured.
The most successful designers know that vulnerability leads to relationships, relationships lead to community, and community leads to sales.
Thinking marketing is the same as posting some pics on 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.
Participating in events, getting really serious about the power of email marketing and how to best do it for their brand, and trying out things like snail mail — these are things that successful brands are not afraid to do. they prioritize these things, even if it makes them nervous.
Thinking they are not a salesperson.
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 create 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. They practice in-person selling for events and do whatever they can to get comfortable with the idea that they need to sell they’re product in order to grow their business.
Marketing and sales can both feel incredibly overwhelming as a new business owner. We help you tackle your obstacles in theses areas through our online resource center and community– The Designer Membership. >> It’s open now for a short time. Learn more about it here. <<
Thinking 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.
Thinking goals and tasks are the same thing.
One of the biggest issues I see with new business owners is their lack of distinction between goals and tasks. Too often big goals are added to a task list as if they could be checked off easily. Things like “launch the website, find a factory, get into magazines, and be more active on Instagram are goals, not tasks. But to achieve those goals, they need to be turned into tasks. The most successful designer know that.
They create goals around their idea of success, break those goals down into projects, and create actionable tasks that support those projects. Then little by little they chip away at those tasks, which in turn completes the projects, which ultimately achieves the goals.
Thinking they should 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 reach growth. Choose a few things and do them well, rather than trying to do it all.
Thinking they have to 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 Designer 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.
Thinking giving is not as important as getting.
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.
Giving as much as you’re taking, offering insight and share experiences, this is what connects you to a community. And having a community of support will be one of your greatest assets as a fashion business.
Thinking they know 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 get a better grasp on 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.
Thinking of their business as more of 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.
They approach the business is a sense of responsibility. They push themselves to work when they don’t feel like it. They know that what they put into it will reflect what they get out of it.
Thinking one revenue stream is enough.
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. If in the early days (years!) of the business they need to make money, they add things like styling services, custom work, closet audits, or other offerings they enjoy doing in order to keep the revenue flowing.
Thinking their time is best spent 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.
Thinking they need to follow the fashion business 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.
Launching and growing a successful fashion business will be one of the most exciting things you do in your life. There will be ups and downs and celebrations and disappointments. And they’ll all be worth it. As long as you understand the fundamental truths I’ve discussed above, you have every reason to believe that you can and will do this.