Have You Really Defined the Kind of Fashion Business You Want?

fashion business advice

Designers are always asking me how they can become successful. That’s such a loaded and complicated question that I often don’t know what to say. It’s like, I have so many things I want to say, not the least of which is “how do you define success for yourself?“, that I stumble over where to start.

But over time, I started to realize something. One thing I see most often missing from a designer’s plan is deciding what kind of fashion business they want to be.

We talk about this a lot, especially in reference to our StartUp FASHION Community; we’re big advocates of taking a different path. But I think before you start picking paths, you need to think about what you want your business to look like.

By that I mean, there are two kinds of fashion business directions you can head in. Of course there are multiple paths that you can go from each direction…but what I’m talking about right now is the big two.

A Lifestyle Fashion Business vs. The Next Big Thing

When you want to build a Lifestyle Fashion Business, it means you want a business that will complement the lifestyle you want, not necessarily something that will make you millions. This direction is one that often doesn’t get the “fashion” cred it deserves, making owners feel that if you’re not in NYC pursuing the runway, you’re not a fashion designer. Not true.

Anyway, here are some signs that you want to build a lifestyle fashion business:

  • you want to make good money that supports your lifestyle
  • you want to have control over the business and the decisions that are made
  • you want to have a small to medium sized team; you outsource things like PR, rather than implementing entire departments and hiring multiple people to run them
  • you want to sell mostly on your own e-commerce and to special boutiques
  • you may or may not want an office space outside of your home
  • you’re doing everything in your power not to raise money from investors; maybe you borrow from friends and family or launch a crowdfunding campaign but you aren’t looking to give away pieces of your company

When you want to be The Next Big Thing, you have visions of runways shows, licensing your brand, and teams of people working for you. If you’re not already, you’re working hard to get yourself to NYC or Paris, and your ultimate goal is to see your work on the cover of Vogue.

Here are some signs that you want your fashion business to be the next big thing:

  • you want to make millions of dollars
  • you’d give your left pinkie toe to find an investor or two who believes in your vision
  • you want to run a company with like 30+ employees
  • you have visions of large white washed offices spanning a floor or two in a Manhattan high rise
  • you have ideas for collabs with Target
  • you will show at NYFW; no doubt about it
  • you want to sell your collections to department stores and have dreams of building your own flagship store one day

Do you see how these two business directions are very different? Yet they are both still “fashion businesses”. Once written on “paper” it’s pretty obvious. But I still meet so many designers who haven’t really thought this out.

Yes, this is really about creating your Vision Statement. But beyond that, it’s an important thing for you think about specifically as a fashion designer because there are pre-defined notions out there of what is a fashion designer.

When you take some time to think about what each direction would mean for you in terms of time, money, geography, control, and commitment, the knowledge of what you want fuels every decision you make within your business. And somehow, things feel a little less crazy.

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!

  1. Antonina Clarke

    Thank you Nicole for another thoughtful article on something I have struggled with this year.

    I felt conflicted reading your lists because I do identify with both? I think there are big questions about whether you want to be a technician vs artist, do manufacturing vs retail, and yes all the points you made about scale and overall end goals absolutely.

    My thoughts on the categories you mentioned were just that if I’m successful in the former, then I would pursue the latter. I’m not dismissing small boutiques because I plan on being in Nordstroms though, and with the changing world of e-commerce and retail, I feel like there are some brands that lead digitally, and also show at NYFW, though no deals with department stores. My perpetual question is over time management (and strategizing) when choosing if I should spend more time cultivating an online presence or introducing myself to brick & mortar buyers, or more complex, both.

    Thanks again for always making me feel less isolated and thinking critically!

    • Nicole Giordano

      I completely understand what you’re saying. And you’re right, you don’t have to decide on one and completely rule out the other. But if you take some time to think about the direction you’d ultimately like to go, your early stage decisions can be made with that in mind.

      The thing to keep in mind about time management, is that even if your long term goals involve department stores and NYFW, you need to have a strong brand in place first. So if you build your brand by putting time into a great ecommerce website and creating relationships with a selection of smaller boutiques, you become even more appealing to the larger stores as well as have a following in place for when you’re ready to do a show.

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