Dear StartUp FASHION: How Do Emerging Designers Stand Out in a Crowded Marketplace?

startup fashion

The “Dear StartUp FASHION” Column is a monthly column we’re introducing. We asked some of our Community members for their most pressing marketing questions and we received great responses!

Here’s this month’s question:

Dear StartUp FASHION,

How do Anonymous Emerging Designer (AEDs) compete with celebrity designers?

Looking at some of  today’s emerging designers, we see a surprising array of original, exciting, and relevant offerings. The ‘Anonymous Emerging Designers’ (AEDs) are fighting to stay fresh and interesting despite the uphill battle they are facing, which is getting steeper and steeper, in part due to the emergence of a fairly new phenomenon – the CD – ‘The Celebrity Designer.’

These CDs come to the fashion stage with the cache of their celebrity tucked neatly under their belts. Their name – already a “brand” – lets them present their eponymous lines of cosmetics, clothing, shoes, and accessories in a worldwide arena filled with avid fans. They are predestined, by the grace of their celebrity, to succeed. They hardly need PR because magazines, TV interviewers, bloggers, and paparazzi run after them, and not the other way around.

And, of course, with their minions of followers, they overshadow AEDs on social media platforms. We won’t even mention the disproportional financial realities. The celebrity has no problem with pouring tons of money into their product development, manufacturing, or marketing, while the AED is usually underfunded and struggling to make ends meet, which hardly leaves them enough for effective PR.

Given all this, how do AEDs forge a path on that hill to fame and fortune?


Given the opportunity, after the final question we would have asked – how do you define fame and fortune–i.e. what are your goals? And what audience are you looking to serve? For example, do you want to be a huge, mainstream company like some of the celebrity brands?

If so, do you understand what kind of trade-offs you will need to make? For example, if you want to be a huge mainstream brand, your designs may be affected as this demo will be different than that of a smaller, niche label.

There are many different paths a designer can take in order to be successful and competition from celebrity designers may or may not directly impact your business–at which point this question becomes moot.

Despite lacking some details, we’re going to take a stab at answering this anyway, mostly because we think we can identify the real problems embedded in the explanation, and the fact that many can probably relate to the sentiment (seemingly, one of frustration), expressed throughout the question.

This question is not really about celebrities. At the heart of it, it is about competition and differentiating yourself from a crowded market.

Celebrity fashion lines have existed for quite a while in many different forms and channels. Sean John, by P-Diddy has existed since 1998 (there may be older brands too). They have existed in the form of partnerships with mainstream brands, lines created for direct shopping networks like QVC/HSN, and licensing deals. Sometimes, the celebrity may only serve as the face of the company with the design, brand, and business actually run by a larger fashion conglomerate, or the celebrity may actually own the brand.

Besides celebrities – what about those who come into the fashion field with major resources and support, either through family wealth or other means? They start with a large advantage as well.

The point is, competition has always been present – and it always will be. Celebrities or not, there will always be people who start businesses with major advantages and privileges. It may sound unfair, but that’s the way it is.

It is best to identify your specific goals and the obstacles in reaching them.  Then, find ways to solve problems rather than focus on things you cannot change. Going back to the question – it appears that the issues this designer is facing actually include the following:

  1. A competitive market
  2. Lack of resources and the ability to scale quickly
  3. Marketing (including social media, PR, etc).


If you do not offer something with a unique point of view, you might as well not be in this business. Harsh, but at least “point of view” can actually be a lot of different things. It can be:

  1. A Vision and Distinct Aesthetic: Ex. Alexander McQueen has a very identifiable look
  2. Price: Ex. Zara makes lower-priced lookalike products of higher-end clothing
  3. Quality: Darn Tough Socks makes socks that may be more expensive than the average pair – but they have a life-time guarantee
  4. A Strong Brand Personality

There are additional points of differentiation  – it’s your job to do competitor research and find out what you offer that is different or better than what is currently out there, then emphasize that over and over through all your consumer touch points, including marketing.


There is no way around it, starting a business requires resources. Luckily, we are living in a time where it is easier to start a business than ever before. Building a website, taking orders and capturing payment, and even marketing has become accessible.

Despite that, it can be extremely challenging to come up with the funds you need for the type of growth you are seeking. If that is the case, you need to look at all your options, and spend time prioritizing which ones work the best. Pick one or two, instead of trying to do 5.

Do you need to be in more stores? Increase your direct to consumer eCommerce site with marketing? Look for investment? Keep in mind that for most investing, you most likely will need to have a radically different product or business framework that is an extraordinary opportunity with a huge untapped market. Otherwise, you will have to rely on proof of sales and projections – and this brings us back to prioritizing channels that work.


Similar to increasingly sales (and the two are related), you need to evaluate which marketing channels are good for your brand, and do a few really well rather than scatter efforts across several.

This could be PR, digital advertising, events (attending trade shows), hosting events, etc.

Define your target audience and figure out how they like to be communicated with, and what types of messages appeal to them.

There are many different tactics. Do things that your competitors can’t. Maybe that’s personally emailing customers, or even crafting marketing messages that are more risky.


As mentioned, fashion is a crowded space and extremely competitive, regardless of celebrity entrants into the field or not. If they weren’t there, it would just be another brand. What you need to focus on is figuring out what sets your brand apart, and communicating that to specific target audience.

An extremely basic cheat sheet:

  1. Have a very distinct aesthetic and product.
  2. Get a very clear grasp on who your target market is.
  3. Answer this: Is your target market large enough, and is demand strong enough to support your product?
  4. In addition to expertise in design; develop a deep understanding of business, marketing, and finance–or at least find a partner(s) who does.
  5. Using the knowledge above – establish goals and develop a business and growth plan.
    1. Define what “fame and fortune,” i.e. success, means to you.
  6. Differentiate yourself from competitors through a strong brand personality  in your space and emphasize these positive points of differentiation consistently through different marketing channels.
Evelyn Frison

Evelyn is the co-founder of Pivotte – Low Maintenance Clothing for High-Performing Women, and an Integrated Marketing Strategist that specializes in startups. She is motivated by the energetic atmosphere, creative thinking, and dynamic personalities found within the startup space. Check them out at