How to Launch Your Own Fashion Label - Part I

Thursday, 07 May 2015

When it comes to starting your own fashion label there is plenty of advice and information to find online. A simply search in google will reveal the steps needed to launch your own brand, and a four-part guide in Wikihow even illustrates the process. But if only it were so easy.

 Market guides, online tutorials, university courses and all the money in the world can't guarantee success in the fashion industry. A sound idea for a brand that can differentiate itself in a crowded marketplace is a difficult task, as is finding a balance between commerce and creativity, but more on that later.

Having a strong identity and knowing who your customer is, is vital in the early stages of setting up. Ask yourself 'what is my brand's usp (unique selling point)?' and what would you like to achieve? Where does the brand sit in relation to other brands in stores?

A strong concept is key to success

The idea for my brand came whilst on holiday on a beach in Mexico, and the vision was very clear; to create an everyday wardrobe of luxury streetwear. Having a strong concept that can be seen in the product, translated via marketing and sold to buyers is a winning formula, but one that many startups struggle to achieve.

If we deconstruct a few current independent yet highly successful brands, such as Acne, Marcelo Burlon's County of Milan or James Perse, we can deduce that having a go-to product is essential for consumers to understand the brand. Acne was all about jeans when they first started, and the first 100 pairs they produced were given to friends and key influencers. Marcelo Burlon is known for his illustrative streetwear and now has an entire tribe of followers. James Perse offers surf-inspired t-shirts in neutral colours and his tees are a global success story. What these brands have in common is an instantly recognisable product which started with a simple formula of a few key styles with a unique selling point. Having one main product category makes it easier for you, the creator; for the buyers to understand the brand in order to sell it in their stores; for the media to communicate who you are; and ultimately for the customer to buy into it.

In the digital age brand identity is almost as important as the product itself. Consumers have too much choice - the high street is saturated with fashion brands - people need a reason to buy your clothes, whether that is based on what they see in the media, what celebrities they identify with, what their peers wear, or what they can afford. With the power of social media there is every opportunity to get your message out, but the message must be strong, it must resonate and make an impact and most of all it must be clear.

Finite resources would make launching your label easier, but for the majority is unrealistic. What is realistic is to budget for the first four seasons, or two years, that you will not be drawing a salary, and every penny will be going back into the business. As your brand grows, so will your costs, and in addition to your initial set-up costs you will need to finance your sampling and production.

Fashion is a volatile industry. One of the reasons many brands fail in the first three years is that there are so many facets involved and you will come to understand very quickly that it is impossible to do everything on your own. Many run out of resources or struggle with the very demanding fashion calendar. Aside from having the creative and commercial acumen, you will be relying on fabric suppliers, factories, seamstresses, pattern makers, shipping companies, trim suppliers and that is just to get your first samples made.

With so many influencers a million things can go wrong, and they always do. An example: in my second menswear season my factory used the wrong thread type on my sample collection (polyester thread instead of cotton thread). Polyester thread doesn't dye, but who knew to check? When the samples returned from the dye house two days before London Fashion Week all the coloured garments had white threading as it hadn't taken the colour. Needless to say the pieces looked dreadful. With LFW just days away you have no choice but to show your collection as is.

As a designer, you are constantly relying on others to assist in having your collections produced. Knowing there are so many intricate facets and anticipating where things can go wrong, will put you one step ahead. What you must do from day one is build key relationships with your suppliers and factories as this will be instrumental to your initial success.

Next up: Part II - how to set up your business