In a perfect world, all new business owners would have some sort of design degree, MBA, and JD to demonstrate immense expertise about every area of building and operating a new business. The reality is, most of us don’t! At the onset of developing my new women’s activewear line, Will Lane Athletics, I found myself wearing multiple “hats” and diving into an array of different fields: design, business planning, sourcing/production, law, marketing/PR, and website development. While some entrepreneurs may choose to outsource these tasks, I found that investing time early on to self-educate broadened and deepened my business perspective. Though many of us are busy building our brands and can’t go back to school full-time to learn all the tricks of the trade, it’s possible to self-educate yourself in a holistic, realistic, and affordable way.
Read, read, read
It’s important to spend some time absorbing as much information as possible about business fundamentals. When I was first putting together Will Lane’s business plan and legal structure, I had to figure out the exact differences among all the types of legal entities (LLCs, sole proprietorships, S-Corporations, C-Corporations, etc.). I didn’t have the time or resources to sign-up for business classes, so I went straight to the Business section at my nearest Barnes & Noble and browsed the spine titles on the shelves. I picked out books that seemed straight-to-the-point and written for “newbies,” such as “Start Your Own Business,” “How to Write a Business Plan,” and “The Fashion Designer Survival Guide.” I spent a few afternoons just sitting in crowded corners with these books in hand, looking through their Table of Contents in order to quickly identify sections that were relevant and key for me. After I was done taking some notes, I’d gently return the books to their shelves – leaving the store an inch more educated for $0. Referring to online resources, such as Maker’s Row, is also a great way to learn about the industry in a consistent and concise way.
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Talk to people in related industries
There’s nothing like first-hand experience! While it can be incredibly helpful to actually go work in a factory or mill to learn about fabric sourcing and manufacturing, I didn’t have as much time as I would’ve liked, being a new business owner. Instead, I try to find as many ways as possible to meet people who work in related fields. For example, I discovered that a neighbor of mine owns a fabric mill and asked him to share his work and potential insights with me. I spoke with various designers and entrepreneurs who have direct experience with manufacturing and sourcing. Besides building new relationships, there’s tremendous value in learning about people’s different experiences at various stages of production/brand development and how they approach different situations.
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Attend industry events
Even before I had a product, I attended manufacturing and sourcing trade shows to learn more about minimum order quantities, production development processes, and to meet manufacturers face-to-face. Plus, nothing beats being able to touch and feel their products in order to get a better sense of their quality! I signed up for close-to-free workshops and seminars I came across online. I most recently attended a panel discussion on fashion pop-ups at Bene Rialto in NYC for a small ticket price of $15. The knowledge that I gained from the event helped me envision what Will Lane can do 3, 6, 12 months from now with a pop-up strategy. Industry-wide events are also a great way to meet like-minded individuals and possible collaborators.
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask questions, take risks, and make mistakes!
There is no better way to self-educate than trying something for the first time and learning from it directly – whether it’s a “success” or not. Your choices, risks, and mistakes can provide you with priceless first-hand insight and experience. Even in our infancy, Will Lane has already made some mistakes along the way, but I view all of these mistakes as stepping stones towards greater understanding! Remember to take the time to reflect on what you’ve done so far and use it in the best way possible to push forward and make something even better.
Tricks Of The Trade:
- 10 Startup & Manufacturing Horror Stories
- A Designer’s First Season: Apparel Manufacturing & Production Hacks
- Manufacturing 101: How To Get Started
- Sourcing 101: Where Do You Begin?