When I first started my womenswear business, I wanted to do it all. I was young and excited and my energy seemed limitless.
I opened up a boutique in Chicago when I was 25 and every single piece of clothing in that shop was designed by me and produced locally. Sounds like a cool business, right? It was.
I started wholesaling my line and 6 months after I opened my boutique I was already shipping out my first order to a major department store. It was a small order by their standards, but for me it was huge (4 stores across the country). I was thrilled.
All of a sudden the idea of needing to do EVERYTHING for my shop didn’t seem so important. I was crazy busy – OK, crazy busier – so I wondered if my customers would really care if I bought some layering pieces from other vendors. As long as 60 – 70% of the pieces were the Jane Hamill brand, would my customers mind?
Turns out they didn’t mind at all – especially since the pieces from other vendors were generally less expensive than they would have been if I had manufactured them myself. Not to mention I could purchase someone else’s tank top in 2 minutes instead of spending 2 months on product development.
This was a huge breakthrough for me. I learned it was OK to focus on what I did best and not try to do everything.
These days I work with a lot of new designers who are ready to take on the world with their designs, just like I was. They do it all – pants, dresses, tops, accessories, online sales, fashion shows, wholesale – you name it. They seem up for any challenge (sounds like a good thing) but in turn, they can lack direction and any sort of concrete goals for their business (not so good). As a result, this creates a lot of stress and confusion for these designers.
Here are some tips for fashion designers to help you get more focused in your business that will make life a little easier:
1) Get clear on how you want to sell your product
Fashion designers have a million options when it comes to selling your line: home parties, trunk shows, wholesale to boutiques, wholesale to department stores, online, craft shows, street fairs, etc. Where you plan to sell your line impacts what and how you design.
2) Keep your product assortment narrow.
You don’t have to start out designing a whole collection. You don’t need to launch a line that includes dresses, pants, tops, jackets, and skirts. Instead, feel free to start with just one thing – just do dresses, or just do men’s shirting, for instance. Get really good at your one thing and get known for it. Once you master a certain product category then you can add more.
3) Don’t try to do too much too soon.
If you’re just a starting a clothing line, aim for no more than 8 – 12 pieces in your line. When starting out, it’s better to do a few things well than to try to do too much too soon. If you’re worried you won’t have enough to seem “in business,” I understand your fear. But honestly, it’s more likely you’ll be perceived as a brand that “gets it” and sticks to what they do best rather than a brand that is trying to be something for everyone.
4) When you choose your product niche, consider doing it “backwards.”
Most of us decide what we want to design and then go out and look for someone to buy it. Instead, research like crazy to find an unmet need in the market and design your line to fill it. Do some real research with stores and prospects to see what they’d like to buy but cannot find. Then ask yourself if it’s something you can design.
5) You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to be successful.
Your product can be similar to your competitors in many ways but have ONE GREAT THING that makes yours better. As a small company, you can’t often compete on price. So what’s going to be the thing that’s truly unique about your brand? I encourage you to ask yourself the tough question:
“What’s going to make someone buy from YOU and not from THEM?”
Staying focused is one of the hardest things for a creative entrepreneur to do. Our heads are always spinning with ideas – and that’s OK. Having all these ideas is fine, but the key is not to ACT on every idea. If you can do that, you’ll be ahead of the game.
So tell me this…
Which one of these 5 points hits home for you? Are you currently struggling with any of them? If so, give me an example of what you’re going through in the comments and I’ll comment back. I’d love to help if I can!