As an independent or emerging fashion designer, few things are more intimidating than trying to sell yourself, and your designs, to a buyer.
The most important question the buyer will want an answer to is “what’s in it for me?”
- Will your line speak to current customers?
- Will it attract new ones?
- Are you able to provide enough inventory for a large order?
- Will you be able to keep up with demand if your pieces sell out faster than expected?
- Ultimately, how will your line make money for the retailer you’re trying to sell to?
Selling into a boutique or small local retailer is a little more straight forward than jumping hoops and going directly to a department store. Starting small, especially with your first few orders is recommended when you’re just starting out.
Going ahead with a major retailer as a new designer without, perhaps, all of the kinks worked out, puts you at risk of having to provide enough merchandise to fulfill a large order on time. If you miss the deadline, you may lose not only the business but also your credibility with that retailer.
How do you get your foot in the door at a boutique?
- Start by making a list of stores where you feel your merchandise would be a good fit.
- Reach out to them by visiting in person to make an appointment for a later date (before or after regular store hours is usually appreciated as customers should always come first) where you can actually present your line to the store’s owner or buyer (which, more often than not, is probably the same person).
- Make sure you’re not dropping by empty handed. Go dressed in your collection and prepared with a business card, a look book (featuring 5 – 10 of your designs and a line sheet with full details about each piece) and any additional information you think will help you to confirm the appointment.
Once you’ve landed the coveted first meeting, it’s important that you arrive composed and prepared. Be polite and professional. Be persistent, but not pushy. This is a sales meeting, after all.
Here are four things to keep in mind when meeting with a buyer:
- Bringing 6 – 12 pieces from your line is appropriate for a first meeting vs renting a U-Haul and trying to unload and set up every piece you’ve ever made.
- Ensure the samples are of the highest quality possible and a true representation of what the boutique will receive once their order is fulfilled. Saying to a buyer “this color is off on the sample but will look lighter/darker once you receive it” is not the best way to make a first impression.
- When introducing your line, let the clothes speak for themselves. Allow the buyer to look and touch the garments and ask questions as they need to.
- Make sure you’ve done your research before you arrive. Who is the boutique’s target market? What is their average price point? How does their sizing run and how does yours compare? What other lines do they carry? Be prepared to discuss all of these points and reassure the buyer your line is the perfect fit.
At the end of the day, if you’ve made the sale, treat yourself to a celebratory glass of champagne. If not, it’s not the end of the world. Just as not all designer’s clothing is made for every retailer, not all retailers are made for every designer, either. Chances are you will hear a few no’s before you get a yes, but that one yes will make your journey all worthwhile.
Helpful information indeed.
Now I’ve been meaning to ask somebody about my confusion regarding the ways to approach a buyer.
I’m a fashion designer from the northeast of India. I mostly design wedding gowns, mens suits and kidswear (mostly western).
I wanna launch my brand/label through exhibition in few months and then go ahead with opening a small store of my own.. but i wanna expand my label to metropolitan cities.
I do have some lookbook/portfolios with me of the garments I have designed before.
So, ?my question is; is it wise to alongside contact buyers before the exhibition itself or do I wait for the exhibition to be done first and then contact the buyers after opening the small shop?
Please advice as I’m new and young in this field. Thanks for reading and pls advice me.
Additional points will also be highly appreciated. Thanks
Can anyone guide me how to write an impressive letter to buyer – I have written as below
Hope you are well.I would like to take this opportunity to introduce our company Super Fashion which is based in Faridabad (Delhi/Ncr),India across three factories manufacturing
all types of knitted products for men, women and children. Please find attached our company profile for your perusal .
Our diverse product range include embroideries, handwork, bead work, computerized sequence, printing, garment tye dye etc.
We are semi vertical setup running 13 circular knitting machine and 6 jacquard machine for collar and cuff knitting .
For value addition products, we have our own three Multi head computer embroidery machine and one multi head computer sequencing machines as well as beaders for hand work.
Our design team is versatile and we prepare collections and new concepts through the year.
Our customers include-
Europe; River Island, Debenhams, Tesco F&F, Morgan, Pepe Jeans, Elcorte Ingles and many more.
USA- Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters and many more. I would like to inform you that my boss Ms Shree is travelling to UK during second week of Feb and we will be highly thankful
if can give her an appointment on feb 12th.She will be hand-carrying our latest design and development.
Please visit our website http://www.superfashionindia.com.
Please let me know if you would like me to send some pictures of our best sellers
Looking forward to working with you.
Thank you so much for this article! A question about timing… When is the best time to approach a buyer? I am going to have a lookbook and be all prepared to meet buyers right before thanksgiving, which of course is their time to rev up to holiday season. Is it best to wait until the new year?
Yes, if you don’t already have a relationship with the buyer, your best bet is to hold off until after the holidays, as they are probably pretty swamped and you don’t want your line sheets and look book to get lost in the shuffle.
Thank you very much for your useful information. I’m a new reader of your site and a new person in your country ( I’m originally from Ukraine). It was easy to read for me, and I like the funny way of your recommendations. I will use all of your advice. And I will keep reading….
That was very helpful but one other thing I’m concerned about is if they do want to order how is it that you go about that? Do you use an order form? What do most labels do here? If they do use a form how is it set out? Or is it all done online?
Hi, I came across your website, the information is very informative and helpful. Thank you! Hopefully you can answer my question. I’ve been designing women clothing for years, participating in local fashion shows, selling my clothing at events, and on consignments for boutiques. I now want to see my clothing in stores. When is it an appropriate time to introduce my line to a buyer? For example, should I be presenting my spring/summer line 6 months before summer, maybe during the months of August or September? When should I present my fall/winter line?
Just discovered this website, exactly what i need as I just finished my 2nd collection and there are a lot of questions i have about starting up my own label.
The problem I’m facing right now are boutiques where i live don’t like to “buy”, they do consignments only. Any advice on this? I don’t want to do consignments simply because of the money i have to put in to manufacture the garments and there is no guarantee that there will be a sell… then I will be stuck with the stock and no money to produce the next collection… But if I don’t agree… then no one will stock me in their store…
what should i do?
I’m glad you like our site. 🙂
Consignment is a tough one. While I can’t tell you what to do, it’s a decision each designer has to make for themselves, here is an in-depth article I wrote on the topic that shares the pros and cons as well as tips if you decide to go for it:
Hope that helps!
What an amazing Article!! I love it!!
But, what can I do if I am a new Brand and also want to sell overseas, I mean I’m in Mexico and want to sell to USA and Canada Boutiques?
Also, how should I make market research, as startup is it advisable to contract somebody?
Thanks!! Love this site!!
Great article on how to approach the buyers. I have just started a label on occasion wear for women. Am approaching a few boutiques and trying to contact their buyers. I just had a question for you – when a buyer likes a product from my range and would like to buy it for her store, what kind of documentation am I supposed to give to the store/buyer as a proof of purchase? Or does the store give me a purchase order instead? Thanks!
Most stores give a purchase order, you should request it if they don’t. You need proof the the order was placed.
Hi, I’m at the point where I have to contact buyers to introduce my line to them. I want to make the initial contact though e-mail. (when I walked into shopes asking for buyers I got cards with e-mails everywhere so I guess thats the only option). Now in that first introduction e-mail, do I just send a lookbook with a coverletter or do I also send him linesheets with prices etc right away? Thanks!
Thank you for sharing the tips on buyer meeting.It would be a big help for me before I go out there and present myself.
Currently I am running a small furniture shop here in Austria.They are all asian furniture.This is like my day job now,my real passion is fashion.I am currently working with china people for my first bag.My plan is to sell the bag online.My question is how do I decide the price for buyers?
Looking forward for your reply
Thanks for your comment, so glad you found the article helpful. In reference to your question about pricing your product, you need to do market research to see what brands like your are selling for, learn about your customer and find our what they’re willing to pay for a product like yours.
Hope that helps!
I love the good tip. Keep writing, and I will check your articles periodically!
Hello, I know this post is a little older so I hope you’ll be able to answer my question!
I was just curious about how to to go about pricing and costs for each item in your look book. I know some boutiques sell via consignment but but I’m not really sure how that works. Also, I know how much I sell my items for if I’m personally selling to a customer, but say if a hoodie from me costs 70 how much should it costs for a boutique to buy the item in a small quantity?
p.s. I just came across this website and I’m in awe of all of the helpful info! I’m definitely bookmarking it and will visit often!
Pricing is a complicated question. I will start by saying that you need to do your research on what a customer will pay for a particular kind of item in the market and then work your way backwards to figure out the cost to create the item. Not the other way around.
Industry standard for retail mark up is 2.3% to 2.5%.
Consignment means that a retailer will take on your products without paying you up front, then take a percentage of the sale, if and when it sells. The split is usually 60/40 with the greater going to the designer. Although 50/50% is growing in popularity.
Hope this helps!
Good tips! I listened to a very interesting webinar last week w/ Jane H. who covered this & went to a fantastic workshop given by The Fashion Potential over the weekend on the same topic- I lucked out!
Jane H as well as The Fashion Potential are two great sources of information!
Thanks for reading!
I really like your idea of sending a postcard or look book in the mail to get someone’s attention before calling them. A sneak peek of what you have to offer in a visual format may be exactly what you need to break the ice before you give them a call or stop in to introduce yourself in person.
I wouldn’t rely solely on this practice though. Buyers and Retailers are bombarded (just like everyone else!) with all kinds of flyers and information coming at them in the mail. There’s a good chance what you send may get missed.
However, if who you’re trying to reach is located outside of your local area or not easily accessible from where you are then this is a good first step. (You could always send it and then give them a call to say hello and let them know it’s on the way so they keep their eyes open for it)
You have to be a little cautious with sending unsolicited e-mail as well. It’s difficult to have a personal connection through something that may be considered spam.
Also, if sending a large attachment, you run the risk of pushing someone’s inbox over the size limit. If they don’t remember you because of your great designs, they’ll certainly remember the day they missed an important e-mail because their inbox was clogged up!
Hope this helps!
Great points Dominique!
Great overview for contacting buyers. I was wondering if one should first email before calling or send a postcard or a look book to get their attention and then follow up with the phone call for an appointment.
Thank you Nicole. Excellent advice. I especially like the honesty of “what’s in it for me”. As a designer/rep of the line, you must “solve the retailers pain” with items that resonate with their customers.
Know your audience and tailor your pitch to them each time. Thanks.
Thanks for your input, Anthony!
Excellent post. I can see where I’ve done may things incorrectly. One being asking for “impromptu” appointments. Not a good idea.
Any thoughts on leaving behind a gift to say thank you for your time? I try to always do this. No matter how small, it seems to be appreciated.
Thank you for this post.
Thanks for you comment!
We asked our Retail Editor and author of this post, Dominique, her thoughts on gifting.
Here’s what she had to say:
I think it would really depend on the situation (also on the gift). I would leave it to a last minute decision, totally dependent on how the meeting went. You don’t want to have an awkward meeting and end it with ‘here’s a little token of my appreciation’. Also, in an extreme case, if the gift is something perceived expensive, it may come off as some type of bribe.
Personally, I’d say sticking with a hand written thank you note sent immediately after the appointment is the safest route.