Want to set up your own fashion business? Read this first.

If you are sitting on a sun-lounger contemplating leaving your city job to set up a fashion brand here are five fundamental questions that will help you ALIGN your strategy before you take that plunge.

Digital imagery of fashion seems ubiquitous. Did you know as much as 97% of images on Instagram (during the show weeks) are fashion related? It’s no wonder you might think that with this sort of enormous appetite, starting a fashion brand must be easy.

You would be quite mistaken.

In the past, the big players ruled the fashion business. Predictable iconic fashion houses, catwalks, finely tuned business and production systems, PR and marketing machines all whirring as they have for decades. These mechanisms were hard to compete with and left little room for new brands to be seen or heard. Then suddenly digital arrived, and it’s shaken the business to its foundations and unravelled every aspect of the industry.

A new era of digital

There is no doubt this is an exciting time for new brands as social media and e-commerce have seemingly created a level playing field. A field where all creatives can carve out their own space.

However, this new democratised marketplace brings a new problem. It’s so ‘noisy’ with products and images all competing for attention and customers that it’s increasingly hard to be visible and stand out.

Many fashion businesses are not agile enough to survive the pace of this new 4th Industrial revolution. They will lose their business if they don’t address the change head-on. With over 7 billion of us predicted to be online by 2025 we have entered a new era where the customer is firmly in the driver’s seat. To move with these times and harness its power, you have to have the right mindset.

The new rules of the fashion business

This shift or switch, is why I created my five-step ALIGN principle and wrote my book The Fashion Switch ‘the new rules of the fashion business’ This moment of change has created real opportunity for owner led firms to take ownership of a niche market and succeed.

Here are the five steps I use when working with the established, and up and coming, stand out brands of the future. It’s a valuable framework even if you are starting in the business.

A – AUTHENTIC BRAND MESSAGE

“There is a general sense of disillusionment and distrust, and customers today are looking for transparency and honesty. They are inundated with so many products while the time for decision-making continues to decrease, so clarity of message is paramount. You must have a purpose and key principles to build the story of that message. If you look at the fashion businesses that are thriving, they’re the ones with authenticity shining through”

Question 1 – Do you have an authentic and unique story to tell?

Fashion is all about communication. More than ever before in this age of digital it the importance of meaning and soul behind the brand that’s becoming important. What makes you exciting and why are you, uniquely positioned to deliver an extraordinary product?

Tip – Be clear and confident with your purpose and message

If you are the shy retiring type who is reluctant to put yourself out there, then think hard. To have the authority that creates that connection between brand message and product takes skill and time.

L- (VISUAL) LANGUAGE

“Taking the time to create clear visual references and touch points that match and deliver according to the principles and purpose of your business is a massively rewarding process. This means pulling together references and creating a set of ‘brand boards’ – everything visual that you would like to show up when someone searches for your brand name.”

Question 2 – Do you have the skills to set up a fashion business?

There is a saying that ‘everyone has a book in them’. Similarly with fashion, as everyone wears clothes, everyone has an opinion and believes they have an eye. Great taste and a sense of style are just not enough. You need the knowledge of how to make three-dimensional garments, which not only look brilliant but also fit an actual human being.

You need technical expertise, and a personal understanding of the development process so that you can bring your ideas to life knowing the possibilities and limitations from design to sampling and production. It takes time and research to develop expertise and master the hundreds of elements that go into a presenting a professional fashion brand.

Tip – Be realistic about your skillset. If you don’t have the creative or technical expertise, you will either have to hire that knowledge into your business or learn along the way, which can be a painfully slow and costly process.

I- INNOVATION

“Work out clearly what single aspect of it is unique to you. Define your USP and own it. It might be a core product or the way you deliver it, or perhaps it’s an original way in which you engage the customer.

Being able to innovate in your niche means you need to understand the market, constantly researching and challenging the space in which you are working. Successful fashion businesses are always on the lookout for new angles and opportunities.”

Question 3 – Do you have a curious mind?

Fashion is moving at such a pace standing still is not an option. In my experience, fashion start-ups can begin their brand journey without even looking at the current market competition. Successful fashion businesses are crystal clear on their USP and exactly where they sit against their competitors, especially regarding price, perception and position.

Tip- Get reading and do your research before you begin. Even disruptors to the industry have to start by understanding every process in order to find a way to innovate. Thirst for knowledge and curiosity is intrinsic to business success and defines your unique proposition. It enables owners to strive for the best, and never be complacent.

G- GAIN TRUST

“In the past, it was possible, to begin with, an idea or point of view. Now you have to find a niche in the market and create a solution for your customer. Aligning what you stand for with an exceptional product (or service or experience) that the customer wants, is the key to your brand’s growth.”

Question 4 – Are you willing to put the customer first?

Pre-digital, designers or creative would have baulked at the idea of putting the customer first when creating and designing. Today, as the market has completely fragmented, understanding your target market and how to best serve them is crucial. Contrary to the idea that this approach can curb the creative process, it’s far more challenging and satisfying when you get it just right. I believe there is power at the intersection of beautiful design and entrepreneurship. Getting this right again requires investment and expertise.

Tip – Be willing to create an open conversation with your customer right from the outset. Starting and growing a fashion business slowly and organically is possible if you build momentum through satisfied customers.

N – NUMBERS

“Aligning your goals with a route to finance to support the delivery of a great product is what allows the business to grow. There are so many pay-offs when you align this final part of the puzzle. Structuring the team to work more efficiently, putting in systems and processes that save both time and money, is hard work, but I guarantee that the effort does pay off.”

Question 5 – Are you passionate about running a fashion business?

Many fashion start-ups believe they can run a fashion business without really understanding the finance. They think that they will launch a fantastic product to a delighted, generous audience and kick back and worry about the numbers later. While most fashion entrepreneurs have some an outline of a business plan, they can be very unsure about financial projections. Only when they start, do they suddenly begin to understand the upfront investment needed to get the business started.

Tip – Be passionate about business. Delivering a great product with consistency means being very organised and understanding all the cost implications. If you find it a bore and can’t stand structure or numbers, then you are in for a short and costly journey.

How did you do? If you scored full marks then, by all means, start writing that letter to your boss. If it’s less than full marks, take note of the weak spots and make tracks to get them ALIGNED before you hand in your notice.

Joanne Yulan Jong is the founder of Yulan Creative and author of bestselling book The Fashion Switch “The new rules of the fashion business.”

Joanne has 25 years of experience developing fashion brands in the UK and Internationally, 12 years of these working with luxury brands such as Giorgio Armani in Milan. Her winning combination of high-level creative vision and entrepreneurship has resulted in a proven track record of creating breakthrough business for clients.