A Digital Lookbook Guide for Fashion Startups

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If you want to know when the fashion industry first became digitalized, think Donna Karan. In early 2007 fashion editors around the world received a small package from her in the mail. Inside was a shiny black USB drive, emblazoned “Donna Karan Collection: Spring 2008.” The decline of the print lookbook had begun.

And while the USB delivery method may now be dated (more on that later), the concept isn’t. If you’re reading this while standing in line at FedEx Office, or if this blog is your way of putting off that decision on paper stock (100-pound gloss or book matte?), then we might have a solution for your fashion design startup: the digital lookbook, arriving just in time for fall.

Why You Need a Fall Lookbook…Now

Like any other entrepreneur, fashion designers depend on getting the word out about their point of view. And while getting that message across to clients is important, it’s even more critical—for long-term growth of your business—to get your ideas in front of influential fashion editors, too.

Not only that, you need to time the arrival of your lookbook so that it gets in front of editors’ eyes at the right planning stage for their long lead publications. Long lead publications have extended editorial calendars, which may reach more than six months into the future. In other words, delivering your fall lookbook in June is a hopeless enterprise.

There’s no time to waste. So where do you start?

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How to Create a Fashion Lookbook

If you’re just starting out, you probably have some questions about lookbooks. The aptly named lookbook is simply a collection of your best fashion “looks” that present a definitive and cohesive vision of your brand. This means that you’ll want to do more than just piece together a scattered array of one-off designs. You need to tell editors and potential consumers the story of your brand—your fashion narrative.

Want to get the attention of fashion’s key players? Follow these four guidelines for your fashion lookbook:

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Make it visually stunning

The most obvious advice to create a great lookbook is to include compelling, professional-quality photographs. Remember, though, that the purpose of the lookbook is to show off your exquisite design work, so make sure the focus on visual appeal doesn’t detract from your product. Staging and lighting should serve the key features of your fashion designs, not the other way around.

If you’re doing the photography yourself, this is an easy rule to follow. But be aware that a third-party photographer, especially one with limited experience in fashion, may not intuitively frame the photographs with the same care, or simply may not know which elements of the dress or pants or shoes are the trademark innovations of your design. Take the time to have a pre-shoot conversation with the photographer about mission-critical design details.

Your photographs will define the narrative of your lookbook. As you craft that narrative, think about the broader values that unite your collection. Are you committed to environmental sustainability? If so, an outdoor photo-shoot is a must. Are you offering avant-garde evening wear? A modern, urban setting will help reinforce your futuristic vision.

Make it yours

Tying your lookbook to your brand and offering an original vision doesn’t necessarily start with introspection. Take a look around the Web to find other fashion lookbooks that inspire you. While you want to craft a unique take on fashion for your lookbook, you can still borrow layouts or themes from other successful brands, past or present. If you have an even bolder vision, you can consciously work against trending lookbook design concepts.

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Keeping close contact with your own brand means creating a logo (if you don’t have one already) and placing it throughout your lookbook. Build further brand awareness with a consistent color palette throughout, which underscores the sense of a continuous narrative from photo to photo.

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Of course, as your fashion business grows, you may find that it makes sense to release several lookbooks, one for each collection. Just as you seek to tie together the images within each lookbook, use your logo and other branding elements to provide a connection across lookbooks. This doesn’t need to be an airtight link, but you want editors to recognize a few consistent elements that help them mentally gather all of your collections under a single brand umbrella.

Make it simple

Don’t forget that the purpose of your lookbook is to showcase your fashion designs, not your (or someone else’s) graphic design skills. After all, what color are the plates in high-end restaurants? White. A blank canvas is what gives artfully prepared food the best chance to sing.

While there’s no need to be that draconian about the design process for your lookbook, it’s an important reminder. Any and every design element you add to your lookbook should help your fashion design stand out. If it doesn’t, get rid of it.

Make it informative

While the focus of your lookbook, undoubtedly, is the visual spectacle of your design, remember that editors (and buyers) will have questions as they click through your masterpiece. Include your contact information as well as locations where your products are available for purchase (and prices, if possible). Add names for each product and style, too.

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How to Deliver Your Fashion Lookbook

All of the above steps are sound advice for a lookbook in this era, or any previous one. But for startups, printing and mailing lookbooks can quickly burden your marketing budget. And that’s exactly how a digital lookbook can level the playing field—emails are free for everyone, and an extra copy doesn’t cost a thing.

For your loyal fashion followers, a digital lookbook is a fantastic asset for your email marketing campaign. You can embed teaser photos in your email with a sitelink to the complete lookbook, or offer the full contents as an attachment. Including your lookbook on your website as a PDF download can further its reach beyond your email list. (Make your lookbook a lead-generating machine by offering it in exchange for an email address or email list signup.)

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That said, the USB drive, while no longer a technological necessity, may still be a viable alternative to get your lookbook in front of fashion’s leading editors. Sending an email and hoping for a reply is not a strategy of high returns. Mailing a USB drive to a hand-picked list of editors closest to your niche, while not a cost-free option, may help your lookbook stand out from the crowd when it arrives in the mail.

If you’ve scheduled face-to-face meetings, a few copies of the print version are still a good idea.

When Necessary, Get Help!

If you’re really looking to amaze your viewers and get your fashion lookbook in front of all the right eyes, professional guidance may be the answer. Some public relations firms specialize in fashion PR and can offer industry insights, from the right fashion shows to attend to the right editors to track down.

If Donna Karan’s environmental consciousness inspired your switch to digital, that’s just fine. (And it’s a great tie-in for fashion designers focused on sustainability.) But even if that doesn’t fit neatly into the narrative of your fashion design startup, there are still plenty of reasons to ditch the print and go digital.

For inspiration on designing your brand’s lookbook, check out this example of a brand that showcased their American Made heritage in their look book.

That’s our lookbook story. What’s yours?

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