For many new brands, it’s not about 10 ways to stay alive as a fashion business start up, it’s more like 10 ways to cut and stick bits of fuzzy felt, or 10 ways to crayon in pictures with your tongue poking out the side of your mouth. That’s all rather marvelous, but to stay alive in the notoriously impossible world of the fashion business, is another matter.
Here are a few tips for a fashion business start up that might help, you never know.
1) Write a proper business plan. YAWN! Yes we know, writing a business plan is almost as boring as Downton Abbey. This is the fashion business, and it should be more fun! We agree, and although it was thirty years ago, our under parts still twist and shrink at the very memory of writing our business plan. And then it transpires of course that reality bears no resemblance to what you’ve written – how the hell do we know how much money we’ll make in the third quarter of year two? It forces us to consider the main issues however, and that’s the key. What are all our overheads, what might our margins be, who are our customers, what is our marketing strategy, who are our rivals, and might there be enough money left over to eat? It is incredible how many new fashion brands don’t write a proper business plan. Don’t join them.
2) Look carefully at your competition. This does not mean go shopping, and be fascinated that your 10 favourite brands have all released a new vest. Common phrases in our industry when referring to other brands are, ‘They’re smashing it’, and ‘They’re having it away’. Our usual answer to this is, ‘Have you seen their accounts’? And the standard answer is ‘Well, no.’ Many fashion brands are limited companies, whose accounts are available to view at Companies House, online. You won’t get a full picture, but it will give you an idea. If the brand you would most like to be is showing net assets that amount to a conker and some fluff, stop chasing their failed dream, and do it differently. Conversely, if they are ‘Smashing it’ why are they? Figure that out, and follow their lead. Please do this thing, and try not to be arrogant, imagining others can’t do it but you can. If a bunch of people have tried it one way, done a decent job and failed miserably, maybe choose not to go over the same cliff.
3) Range plan. We might be a fashion business start up, but we want to look like a proper brand, so we need a full range of product, which costs money. Where else but here do you get such amazing insight? Ok, but it’s surprising how many new brands don’t plan a range out across the seasons in advance. Get a wish list of product mapped out month by month across the year. We may need to stagger how we buy this to be able to afford it, but the key is, momentum. Don’t release a small run of T shirts until the range and all its costs has been budgeted for in an achievable way, as the year unfolds. Or we will lose momentum = death.
4) Talk to your girlfriend, boyfriend, wife, husband and cat. Have we seen a fashion business start up lead to flying saucepans, divorce, and a small war in Tunbridge Wells? Yes. Look your girlfriend in the eye, hold your boyfriend’s hand, talk seriously to your wife or husband, and have a strong word with the cat. This fashion brand may mean that in month 11, we have planned to release a new polo shirt. It’s lovely, with a high definition woven badge, gorgeous labelling, packaging, and a scented tissue paper insert. But it means we can’t have that sofa, the new car is on hold, the trip to the beach hut in Mustique is delayed, and the cat’s new flea collar will have to wait. Will our significant others truly understand. Will the cat bugger off? It’s a really big thing the fashion business. Talk it through.
5) Collaborate. Make Friends. Follow your instincts. The fashion business you may be amazed to hear, contains a few self-obsessed knob ends who wouldn’t help an old lady across the street (unless it was a good photo opportunity). Give these clowns a big swerve – no matter how influential they might be, they’ll shaft you in the end. Instead, follow your instincts, and if you see a chance to make friends, wade in, go to each other’s house for a barbecue, get drunk. If we collaborate with one other label, then we are twice as strong. Share each other’s social media posts, tell each other which trade shows work, and where to find a nice fabric, or a good manufacturer. Do we really think that if we collaborate it will dilute our brand’s impact? There are a million brands out there, and it doesn’t matter a monkey’s chuff if we work with a few of them. Feel the love, work together, hold hands and take over the world – peace.
6) Never give up. We mean it. Never. Don’t be a fashion business start up, be a fashion business keep going! That doesn’t mean flog a dead horse. If it turns out that the Eskimos are not buying your lightweight summer G-strings, fair dos, try something different and more thermal. But never give up. Always keep a couple of quid set aside for plan B, and you’ll live to fight another day. Which leads us to the main reason why people often do give up.
7) Unreasonable expectations, and time. A recent study at the University of Somewhere or Other, concluded that the secret of happiness lies in having reasonable expectations. Hope for too much, and you’ll be sadly disappointed. Balancing this with ambition is a tricky thing, and one for a therapist rather than an old screen printer. But give it thought. Many a brand gives up because they haven’t bought a Bentley in their first year. It won’t happen, it takes time, but one day it can.
8) The Holy Trinity for the fashion business start up. God, the Holy Spirit and Jesus? Brian Clough Robin Hood and Nottingham? No. In fashion terms it is story, customer, and an affordable marketing channel between the two. Have a story you believe in, a focused group of people who will want to hear it, and an affordable way to bring these two together, and you’re in with a chance. If any one of these members of the Holy Trinity are missing, we will never make it to the Promised Land.
9) Listen to old people. It can take a lifetime to build a fashion brand, and unless you’re James Bond, you only get one. Why waste yours when there are those who’ve trodden the path before you, fallen down a few holes and know where they still are. The best advice we ever had was not from a ‘How to run a business’ book or some fashion buyer in a big fur hat. It was from Harry Harris on Berwick Street, at the back of Fabric Tony’s lock up, and from Henry Posner, who could cut your braces and sell you a belt before your trousers hit the floor. We are invisible in the bright light of their genius, and can only hope we picked up a few tips from them along the way. Stay humble, keep learning. Listen to old people.