As a fashion business, you know how important visuals are. Often it’s the first impression your customers get of you – and you make a visual impact for your brand every day:
- Instagram posts
- One sheet
- Emails to your customer list
- Kickstarter video
- Hang tags
- Garment tags
- The photo of you or your team on your website
- Heck, all the photos on your website
- The invitations to your launch party
- And even how you’re dressed when you walk into a boutique that sells your garments. (I once heard a woman say she always wears the same striped dress when she gives talks because it helps people remember her.)
As a fashion business, you have a head start in mastering your visual branding. You’re already focused on developing a cohesive collection that fits into your brand’s history and your clothes are always speaking for your brand. But it’s not enough to let it stop there.
“Great!” you say, “But HOW?!”
Figure out who your ideal customer is.
You have probably worked some of this out either in your business plan or something less formal that serves the same purpose. Remember that your visual brand is supposed to attract your customer, not represent you personally. (That’s especially difficult if you’re a one-person show, but even then there’s a difference!)
Here are some questions to ask yourself about your ideal customer:
- The basics: How old are they? What is their gender(s)? What are their life circumstances (married, single, kids, job)?
- Where do they live? In the heart of the city? Far from an urban center? In your city? Farther afield?
- Where else do they shop? At local boutiques? In person? Online?
- What do they want/need from your business? Why would they choose it over a similar business? As you answer this, ask yourself “does that really make my business different?” For instance, you could say that your brand is high quality – but so many brands will say that! Dig deeper by asking why. Why are your jeans high quality? Because you use American-manufactured Cone Mills denim dyed with 100% natural plant indigo.
Narrow your brand down to five adjectives.
I love using this task to help people get to the heart of their business. Choose five adjectives to represent various aspects of your brand. Pick words that are packed with meaning. For instance, “unique” just means “different” – without any context as to what it’s different from. Check out this great big list of adjectives if you need inspiration.
Keep your five adjectives close to you – physically too! write ‘em down and tape them to your computer monitor! – as you continue on to the next step.
Create a moodboard.
This process might be familiar as a way you gather inspiration for each collection. It’s just as helpful for defining your visual branding!
Start by making a Pinterest board for your brand then get pinning! Keep referring back to your customer description and your five adjectives to make sure you’re not just pinning stuff you like. Go wild and fill up that Pinterest board.
Create a blank document to which you can add images (e.g. Photoshop, Illustrator, Canva, or heck, you could even use Word). Narrow it down to nine images. Don’t cheat and do 13 because you just couldn’t choose.
Here are some ideas for how to choose what images make the cut:
- Make sure each of your five adjectives are represented. You want the moodboard to feel like the whole of your brand.
- Choose a consistent color palette. What colors keep showing up on your Pinterest board? You don’t need to narrow it down to an exact color palette just yet (that’s next!) but consider if the colors “go” together.
- Choose a mix of subject matter: typography, interiors, fashion/people, packaging, flowers and plants, illustrations, patterns.
- As you’re choosing images, keep referring back to your customer description. Will your ideal customers be attracted to this?
- Play around with different combinations of images. Maybe you’ll have 15 images in the running for those final nine spots. Find the nine that work the best together and say YOUR BRAND the most.
Once you’re happy with it, print it off or keep a copy somewhere easily accessible.
Pick a color palette.
Stare at your moodboard…keep staring…okay. Now you’re ready to pick a color palette. There’s no hard rule about this, but aim for 1-3 main colors and, if you want, 1-3 supporting colors.
Some brands have one main color (think Twitter blue) and others have a broader palette.
And remember to include neutrals! Will you use stark white or something a little warmer?
Here are some suggestions for picking a color palette:
- You know how your moodboard has a fairly consistent color palette? Start there. What colors are showing up the most?
- Choose one photo from your moodboard and take the colors directly from that! If you don’t have software that lets you do that, you can use websites like this.
- Think about the clothes that you make (and not just for your most recent collection). Do they have anything in common color-wise? Build from there.
- Consider color psychology. Google it. I take it with a pinch of salt: YES colors can draw out different feelings, but there can be good reasons to choose an unexpected main color.
When choosing typography, you don’t need to use exactly the same font as is in your logo, but they should play well together. Going to a free font website and choosing three at random does not a cohesive brand identity make.
Pick one display font – that will be used at large sizes on headers, posters, etc. – and one body font that is easy to read at small sizes (around 8-10pt) for long paragraphs. Your display font can be “fancier” but beware: it always needs to be legible. (Want to see an example of a display font used badly? Check out Upworthy. Don’t be Upworthy.)
Some tips for picking fonts:
- Check out Google Fonts. They have a library of some of the internet’s better free fonts and offer suggestions for pairings.
- Another good resource for free fonts is FontSquirrel. It has fewer fonts than other free font sites, so it isn’t overwhelming and the fonts are generally higher quality.
- Your display font and body font could be from the same family. For instance, you could use Helvetica Regular for your body type and Helvetica Bold Condensed for headers. This way you can be sure that they’ll work well together.
- When in doubt go simple. You’re less likely to fall into any traps if you stick with easy-to-read, unlikely-to-look-dated fonts.
Then use these fonts and only these fonts. On your one sheet. On your Instagram quotes. On your website. On your hang tags. You get the idea.
Let’s talk photography.
Your brand photography likely comes in two forms: casual, phone-snapped images for social media, and professionally shot images of your collections (which you might also share on social media).
Building a visual brand on Instagram:
- Choose your brand filters. Narrowing it down to just a couple of filters (or edit settings) that you use on all your photos will make consistent. For example, I always increase the contrast and saturation on my images.
- You know your moodboard’s color palette? Stick to that (at least somewhat) with your Instagram photos.
- If you like sharing quotes or text posts, create a template that you use every time. (Using the brand fonts you just picked!) This will not only speed things up down the line, but will make your posts more consistent.
- If your business Instagram doubles as your personal account, beware how many and what kind of personal posts you share. Keep your customer in mind. Do they want to see five photos a day from your trip to Hawaii? No they do not – unless you’re wearing garments from your clothing line.
Likely every time you release new clothes you’ll have a formal photoshoot. While each season/collection may have a different theme or feel, there should be some consistency that connects it all and makes it obvious that it’s part of your brand.
Here are some brands that do it well:
Instead of shooting against a white backdrop, sewing pattern company Tilly and the Buttons uses brightly colored backgrounds.
I am always excited to see the incredible handmade sets from Birds of North America. They shoot all of their garments against a white backdrop for the web shop, but take a set of stylized photos as well.
Spring preview!!! We have been in full hibernation here the last six weeks, but the studio has been filling up with beautiful, summery, colourful spring styles ? We’ll be releasing the new collection and starting to ship to stores in February. In the meantime, we’ll start getting some previews up. Have a beautiful weekend! #minivetdress
Christy Dawn has a boho chic vibe and shoots their garments outside.
Don’t forget about packaging.
If you’re doing any selling via a website, packaging matters. After all, it’s the first impression your customers will get of your physical goods! Give them something to unbox for their Instagram stories!
Here are some things to consider:
- Will you get custom-made branded tape? Will you use tape in your brand color?
- Will you get your packaging materials made with your branding on it or will you use a stamp to add it yourself?
- Will you use boxes or envelopes?
- What color will your boxes/envelopes be? Kraft is cool, but not right for every brand!
- When people open up the box/envelope, what will they see? Will their items be wrapped in (branded? colored?) tissue and tied with a ribbon or string? Fastened with washi tape or a branded sticker?
- If environmentalism and sustainability are part of your brand (or even if they aren’t!), look into eco-friendly packing materials.
Defining your complete visual brand is a big job. As you can see, it’s part of every freakin’ thing that you do. But it’s also an opportunity for you to continue to tell your brand story and connect with your customers! Nail it and it gives them yet another reason to come back – and tell their friends all about you too.
Elise Epp is a graphic designer for creative entrepreneurs – especially makers and sellers of clothing and home goods. Her made-to-measure visual branding and websites capture the heart of her clients’ businesses and give them room to grow. She has been pursuing an ethical wardrobe since 2015 and loves cats, feminism, and ice cream.