There is No Roadmap to Fashion Business Success, So Stop Looking for One

No Roadmap to Fashion Business Success

Emerging designers and independent designers are often asking me,

Can you please tell me what I have to do to create a successful fashion business?

While I understand where this question is coming from — desire, drive, determination — there is so much wrong with this question, it’s unfortunate.

The biggest issue with this is that no one can tell you exactly what you have to do to create a successful business. It’s like someone telling you if/when you should get married- everyone has an opinion but there are never any guarantees.

Just like a marriage commitment, success in fashion business (and a commitment to its growth) is very personal and even those brands that have followed all the “rules” are not necessarily successful.

People love to sell you a “roadmap” for your business, a way of getting where you want to go using the fastest possible route. Roadmaps are often presented as the necessary answer to the question of “What do I do now?”

The thing is…

There is no predefined roadmap for building a successful fashion business. There is a direction, but you choose the paths to take.

A “roadmap” implies a predefined path to the pot of gold… someone’s figured it out and now they’re going to tell you exactly how it’s done. Sorry you guys, this roadmap doesn’t exist.

Success in fashion business involves creativity and a lot of determination, among other things. So I just can’t get behind the whole “roadmap” thing.

Instead of a roadmap, when we help independent designers build and grow their businesses, we prefer to think of what we offer as more fluid, a library to help guide you based on what you have decided you want to build. Something to be referenced often, checklists of things to remember, guidance on what you should be thinking about and when, while still encouraging you to create the best path for your personal goals. We support you, offer feedback, and give advice. But we don’t tell how it has to be done.

What do we mean?

It’s simple. There is a basic flow for building a fashion business. It goes something like this:

  1. Figure Out Your Brand Identity
  2. Do Market Research
  3. Do Fabric and Factory Research
  4. Create Production Materials
  5. Figure Out Financing for Growth
  6. Create Your Pricing Structure
  7. Flesh Out Your Sales Channels
  8. Make Sure all the Legal and Accounting Stuff is Covered
  9. Create Marketing Materials and a Marketing Plan
  10. Actually Sell
  11. Improve Your Brand and Product
  12. Make Sure Your Operation is Running Smoothly

These things are all important to address. But they are not a definitive roadmap to success. They are a direction. In knowing and following them, you are not guaranteed a booming business. Instead, you can look at each step individually and put your own spin on it.

With each one of these steps you get to do things how you want to do them. You get to be creative and think differently and try new things and flip off the conventional “musts” to follow your own path!

Here’s an example:

“Flesh Out Your Sales Channels”

The “roadmap” is going to tell you wholesale and eCommerce are your options; with an occasional trunk show around the holidays.

Sure, that’s fine. But what if you… Ditch wholesale to keep production costs down, sell on your own website and put money into email marketing and social rather than trade shows and printed look books, plan a series of in-home salons, organize studio shopping events once a month, do a week-long pop-in shop, do a summer city tour where you “popup” in various locations, and sign up for several holiday markets.

The “roadmap” option is fine, if not a little boring, but it’s no guarantee. The word roadmap implies an exact path. It makes us think that there is a predefined way to succeed and as long as you know the way, you’re all good. That’s not accurate.

The point here is that no roadmap is going to tell you how to creatively make things happen in your business because your path to success is not predefined. You lay the bricks as you go along. You don’t need to follow the rules of the “right way”. There is no right way.

Is this making you feel discouraged? I hope not because it’s meant to do the exact opposite.

What we’re talking about here is fantastic news! You’ve just learned that the possibilities for creating a business you love are limitless.

When you combine an understanding of the basic flow of a fashion business with a support system, guidance, and encouragement, you are in a much better place than if you were simply handed a roadmap and told, “go ahead, you now know the secret.”

So when someone promises you a roadmap, hand it back and tell them you’re creating your own path.

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. Alesia

    O how this blessed and encouraged me. This article is confirmation to my thoughts, challenges and alternatives that will work for me at this time, in my budget! LOVE, LOVE the flesh out your sales channels example. Thanks for “in-home event” and “popup shop’ ideas.

    The tweet brings me back to what my mother told me last week. I was looking at the fashion and fabric innovation of Nike. Feeling somewhat defeated I told my mother, “mama I can’t compete with Nike.” She said, “you can’t, stay in your lane.” Putting the tweet and my mother’s wisdom on my wall!!

    Thank you for this article and website!!

  2. Leo

    Thanks for the great article, it really opens up my mind and stops me from looking for that formula. I think to any business, there is no certain way or roadmap to success, you just have to have a lot of knowledge and experience and never give up on your dream to get through. It’s challenging but at the same time it’s fulfilling.

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