Retail is an industry driven by results. There isn’t a magic formula, especially since consumer wants and needs change constantly. While buying for a New York City mass retailer and a multi-store boutique, I discovered that both operations capitalize on what sells and quickly move on from what doesn’t–which changes seasonally. With this knowledge in mind, I’ve created a guide on 5 things new designers can do to re-imagine and evaluate their collections to attract retail buyers.
1. Take a look around
Your competitors are your greatest source of information. Whether you’re selling dresses, sportswear, or swimwear, there are several brands in the same market. Even if these brands are household names, their collection has managed to capture the attention of major retailers, discounters, and specialty boutiques. Visit these stores and check out the brand’s line on the racks. You’ll most likely find that one item stocked in several colors or prints. This is because that item’s fabric, silhouette, and fit perform extremely well for the retailer. Some retailers have a fuller fit or run small; construction guidelines vary in the industry. Identifying a best seller is a great starting point for your collection. Using this information to develop a signature brand look shows the buyer that you’re well informed on garment construction types that best fit their customer.
2. Determine your signature style
The most successful brands have items in their collection that are repeated season in and season out because the fit is perfect and the consumer has shown interest in the item every season. Designing the collection basic enough so that it serves enough to serve as blank canvas to dress up with trending prints or simple tweaks can update the look without much added expense. Retailers are looking for this item, because it takes the guesswork out of buying a collection. There needs to be a balance between trendy and tried and true items in every collection, but developing a key item that can be repeated with minor updates each season is what pays the bills. Think the DVF wrap dress, the Ralph Lauren Polo, and the Burberry trench. Every successful commercial brand has one signature item in their product offering.
3. Don’t rely on buzzwords or your press coverage
Creating great product that will sell is the key. I can’t stress this point enough. Although they overlap, retail sales and the “fashion” industry are entirely different. There are many times vendors have shown me their magazine features and press clippings. Though buyers consider the press factor, their job is to select brands that will sell. That way, small brands with less impressive marketing or press coverage, don’t have to worry about this being the deciding factor. Also, be aware of “trends”, they can be great, but they are simply a guide. The DNA of your brand should outshine your ability to capitalize on a trends as they change seasonally. If the current trends do not fit into your design niche, it’s best to ignore them and focus instead on what makes your designs timeless. However, if the current trends do fall perfectly in line with your niche, then use that to your advantage.
4. Retailers are on the constant hunt for newness
Newness is a word that is rarely defined but thrown around a lot in the industry. Newness doesn’t usually mean completely new unless you’ve already been successful with a retailer and they are willing to take a chance on your previous success. Newness refers to updating your signature looks, or using a more upscale fabric or design element that you feel strongly about or one that has yet to catch on in the retail scene. Something to note: If a concept is new for a retailer they will most likely test small quantities until the styles are proven. It will be up to you as the manufacturer to decide whether these tests are worth the initial loss in profit, if there is any to consider, to ultimately lead to future sales.
5. Trust your Strengths
If you specialize in working within a certain silhouette, design, or fabric material, don’t abandon it all in hopes of getting an order from a retailer. Decisions made at the beginning of a vendor-retailer partnership should reflect the sustainable capabilities of each party. Having a strong conviction about the your target audience and your design capabilities, will help retailers understand how you fit into their assortment.
Getting your apparel sold in stores or online starts with creating a great collection with a solid foundation that you can be confident in presenting to buyers and selling to consumers. If you focus on designing and manufacturing quality items that are created with your target retail base in mind, then you will produce a more succinct, saleable assortment of apparel.
Have specific questions about executing this? Drop a comment below!