Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, Dior, Kangol: what do all of these…
Think back through some of your memories of important “firsts”:
- Your first day of middle school.
- Your first date.
- Your first concert.
- Your first job interview.
- Your first day on the job.
Now go back over that list and try to remember what you were wearing and how long you spent trying to find the perfect outfit for each occasion. I distinctly remember picking out sky blue, bell-bottom pants, a sky blue patterned button-up shirt, and sky blue eye shadow for my first day of seventh grade all those years ago. As outdated as that outfit seems now, I agonized over it as the first day of school drew near because I wanted to make a dazzling first impression.
Clothes, whether you like it or not, say a lot about a person, and people tend to buy clothes that are an outward projection of their inner thoughts and feelings. It goes further than a rock and roll lover wearing a black KISS t-shirt – people look for a brand that speaks to them and often don’t stray far from it.
If you’re looking to break into the fashion design world, you have a lot of competition. It seems like more and more brands hit the market every day, but you shouldn’t let that deter you. Just think: Ralph Lauren started out selling ties, and Giorgio Armani initially wanted to be a doctor!
Being successful in the fashion world is more than loving clothing and design. If you want to succeed in making a fashion brand, you need to follow these important tips:
1. Develop an Identity
Developing your brand’s identity should be one of the first things you do. Ask yourself the tough questions: What do I believe in? What do I want my customers to feel? Who do I want wearing my designs?
Once you’ve decided on your brand’s identity, keep everything standard across your marketing campaign: the website, colors, logos, and voice of your content. Find ways to get your branding out there through everything from your website to social media channels to branded apparel (customized headwear, T-shirts, stickers, etc.)
2. Make a Great Product (and Use Great Packaging)
It should go without saying that to be successful, you need to have a great product, but you may not know that the packaging is almost as important. Your designs may bring people into your brand initially, but the quality of the product and how it arrives at their door will keep them coming back for more.
3. Surround Yourself With the Right People (And Keep Them Happy!)
As you set up your fashion brand, you need to surround yourself with the right people—and give them reasons to stick around. Bill Gates’ hiring policy was to employ the best and brightest and expend resources and energy to keep them happy in their jobs. We all know how well that turned out for him!
Hiring can be tricky, but you should put extra effort into finding people who pump you up and do their jobs well. Find people who have caught the vision of your brand and want to make it the best they can. Keep them around by treating them well and making them feel appreciated. A little bit of recognition goes a long way.
4. Remember: It’s a Business First
Your fashion brand may be your dream, but you need to treat it like a business first and foremost. Accept that this is going to be more than a 9-to-5 job – at least in the beginning. The fashion industry is constantly changing, so you need to make product development a top priority. Keep the quality in line with your business ideals, but add fresh ideas to your inventory often. If you can’t spare the resources to make more product at the moment, take the time to update photos and product descriptions to help your customers make informed decisions about the products you already have.
5. Put Yourself Out There
The chances are pretty good that you’re not going to start out with a brick-and-mortar storefront for your fashion brand. Instead, you’ll most likely start with an online store and expand from there. Use the internet to your advantage, and put yourself out there. Start up a social media account for your brand, and use the same voice as the rest of your brand when you post. Allow customers to post their own pictures with your merchandise – it may be a little nerve-wracking to let go of some control, but social media is almost free advertising if you do it right.
On your website, make sure that your speeds are fast. Use your site to sell your brand, tell your story, and connect with your customers. If you decide to have a blog, remember that great content is your key to success. You may want to try to promote your product from the very first blog post, but try to resist the urge. Your blog is a prime opportunity for you to develop relationships with your customers in an informative and low-key environment.
As far as your products go, the best thing you can do is sell them through the quality of your photos. Take close-ups of the detailing, fabrics, and stitches. Have actual people wear your designs instead of posing them on a hanger or mannequin. Using real people who look like they are enjoying your brand can be the final push to turn a prospective buyer into an actual customer.
6. Get Comfortable with the Business Aspect
Having a dream is one thing, but owning a business is another. Research shows that around 50% of small businesses close within their first five years, so if you want to make the cut, you’re going to have to put your nose to the grindstone. Be sure to research the different types of businesses and set yours up according to what fits best. Develop a business plan and run it by your investors. Find a mentor and ask lots of questions.
You should also set an informed budget. I say informed because if you haven’t owned a business before, you may not know about the additional overage costs that accompany making a product. Talk to your mentor or research other businesses in your same niche so that you can be as prepared as possible for the expenditures ahead.
7. Develop Relationships
Like I mentioned earlier, you need to work extra hard on developing relationships with your customers if you only have an online store because you don’t get a chance to make a face-to-face first impression. Make sure that your packaging and delivery are up-to-snuff and that your customers feel cared about. Develop a return policy that makes returns easy, but try to avoid returns by using great pictures and descriptions of each product. You should also make it easy for people to leave reviews of your products. This can seem a little scary, but having both positive and negative reviews available for potential customers can actually lower the number of returns because customers will understand the pros and cons before making their purchase.
Encourage loyalty among your customers by asking them to subscribe to your email list. Send coupons and abandoned cart reminders as well as just general information about your company. Give rewards for referrals, and host promotions and giveaways through your social media account for special events. Use communication to reach out and respond to customer praise and complaints. These are the best ways to develop those relationships that translate into repeat customers.
Creating a brand is more than having a great product. The business aspect, packaging, relationship building, and hard work can all give your brand the traction it needs to succeed.