Over the past 10 years, I’ve had dozens of designers and startups ask me for advice on building their apparel brands. Looking back, I have given many different answers, but all of them seem to revolve around 3 general ideas that helped me in getting my brand off the ground:
1. Go with what you know.
Designers and startups are usually inspired to get into the apparel industry by having some type of interaction, or personal experience with an item of clothing (or accessory) that resonated with them. They put on a shirt, or a pair of pants, or even a necklace, and experience “a moment”. A moment where the product speaks to them. It could have been the way a button down shirt fit, the fabric on a dress, or simply walking into a store and seeing a product assortment that finally “connected all the dots” and allowed them to finally understand and define their own unique point of view.
An experience like this is deeply personal. It should be used to inform your approach to design, marketing, and even sales. Take what inspired you and make it your own. Try to avoid designing for what some imagined target customer would want. If you don’t truly know that customer, then you don’t truly know what they will want and respond to. Instead, go with what you know.
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2. Walk a trade show.
One of the most eye opening things you can do early on is to walk a trade show. Go to a show with your brand in mind. Walk in and ask yourself: “What makes my brand better than the competition here?” “Why would a buyer or customer choose my brand over the next?” “What makes my brand memorable?” Take a good look at who you are up against in the market. How does your design compare? How does your price point fit in? Is the market already saturated with what you are trying to do?
It’s really important that you are honest with yourself here. This is the first true test of how you feel about your concept and your chances for success. About half the startups I talk to decide not to go further after visiting the trade show.
3. Make some friends.
At first, working with pattern makers, fabric mills, and factories can be a lot like taking a car in to get an oil change. You have no idea who is working on your car. What do they know? Are they any good? Are they flat out lying to me just to make a buck? I know this can be intimidating. I went through half a dozen factories in my first few years, but then I started making friends in the industry.
To be honest, there are some not-so-great people in the apparel industry. They lie, fail to deliver, and can sometimes pose a serious threat to your business. However, there are also some truly amazing people out there who truly want to help you. Today, I am proud to call almost everyone I work with a friend. This sense of community in an industry is something that I care deeply about and want to preserve, (which is why I created my factory).
I hope that you find my insight helpful and give it a try because I know it has helped me get where I am today. I wish you all the best of luck and please feel free to ask me any questions in the comments below!