the key to a successful fashion start-up
I was recently interviewed for an article with Eloise Hall who reached out to me online.
Eloise is a third year student studying fashion journalism at London college of fashion where she writes for the online fashion platform Shift London, as well as creating beauty and fashion videos for her YouTube channel.'
We discuss some key topics around setting up your own fashion brand and what to think about to ensure you have a good chance of success!
“With 5.6 million small businesses being founded at the start of 2018 – according to the Federation of Small Businesses – it can be a frightening prospect for anyone trying to start up their own fashion brand.
According to Forbes, this task is especially difficult for women: “While women in the UK outnumber men by around one million, there are twice as many male entrepreneurs as females.”
The Entrepreneurs Network shows that men are 86% more likely than women to secure venture capital funding and 56% more likely to win the backing of an angel investor, which for any young start up brand, can be immediately off-putting.
However, fashion brand expert and consultant Elizabeth Stiles has over 10 years’ experience within the industry, consulting brands such as Miss Selfridge, Next and George at Asda, and thinks the industry is open to everyone with an idea.
Whether you have a degree in fashion or not, Stiles says, “I’ve read hundreds of CVs in my career and what I looked for when hiring was enthusiasm and passion for the job role in hand because that’s the only thing you can’t teach someone…. the same thing goes for setting up a brand.”
Her key guidance when starting a fashion brand is to realise that, “your brand needs to be about something bigger than just selling clothes”. She says, “Figure out why you started your brand. What’s the story that you’re going to tell through selling your clothes? Is it that you’re passionate about supporting women in the manufacturing industry who are underpaid? Or perhaps you saw a gap in the market?”
Jasmine MacPhee, owner and founder of the website, Find Your Intern, the only website to find paid fashion internships, thinks the key steps to success start with, “knowing whether the going it alone, self-employed life is the right route for you”. She adds: “It’s not easy but if you are seriously excited, highly self-motivated and focused you can do it.”
You must then research your business idea, MacPhee recommends. “Do a competitor analysis, and most importantly a survey amongst the audience your business is aimed at. You need to know whether it will work. And ultimately if you can make a living from it.”
With the rise of the online market, it is key to stand out amongst the crowd of online fashion. Fashion designer, Hope Macaulay, advises: “Work hard and don’t give up. It may take a long time and a lot of obstacles will occur, but you have to push yourself. Make sure you have a good quality service that is unique, and promote yourself, especially on social media, as much as you can.”
It is essential to understand that a degree or qualification is not necessary for creating a brand. Stiles says, it is important to know what your skills are and to outsource the rest.
“That doesn’t mean spending lots of money: skill swaps can be mutually beneficial in the fashion industry. Maybe you’ve come from a photography background but you can’t draw? You could collaborate with a designer to help you bring your ideas to life in return for photographing their work. Playing to your strengths and collaborations are the key to success. Don’t try and do everything yourself as it just won’t work!”
MacPhee adds: “It really isn’t down to degrees or qualifications. It’s down to your personal attributes and your core business idea. If you think you are all of the above, with a great USP then you are onto a winner.”
However, starting a business is not easy. But, as MacPhee says: “Nothing ever worth doing was easy. If you want to start a business and for it to be sustainable, you have to be prepared for it to be a stressful, scary, fun and an exhilarating rollercoaster.”
One of those difficult steps for any start-up company is funding. Stiles says there are other ways to raise money for your company without already originating from wealth. “Crowdfunding is an option to get started, or starting the brand with pre-orders or wholesale orders to get the cashflow upfront.”
Macaulay adds: “Apply to competitions, scholarships, research sponsorships, or if you have any family members who have a business to sponsor you, will generate funding. Also having a part time job and saving as much as you can too.”
For start-up companies, some mistakes are avoidable, says Stiles, for instance: “Trying to be too big too soon or pretending that they’re a corporate company when it’s just a one (wo)man brand. If it’s not a corporate brand, don’t try to be one!”
She continues: “If it’s just you working on the brand, say ‘I do …’ rather than, ‘we do’ or ‘about me’ rather than, ‘about us.’ If you’ve started a brand from scratch alone, then own that, and don’t let anyone else take the credit for it.”
Designer Macaulay adds, “rushing into a product that you don’t believe in and that you haven’t spent lots of time on are easy mistakes to make.”
It is also important to consider sustainability as a brand. With fashion being the second largest polluter in the world, environmental damage is increasing as the industry grows, according to sustainyourstyle.org.
Stiles thinks sustainability, “is definitely becoming more and more important as people’s awareness grows in this area. Customers are more savvy than they were five years ago and want to know the origins of where their clothes are being made. So it’s important for you to know the steps taken throughout the manufacturing process.”
She adds: “ It does cost more but if you’re starting out, I truly believe that it’s worth investing in it now rather than trying to work retrospectively which will inevitably cost more in the long run.”