Over the past 25 years, I’ve helped dozens of fashion entrepreneurs launch their own lines, many to great success. I’ve also watched many others, not my clients of course, fall flat on their faces. While every case is different, I’ve noticed trends among the winners and the washouts. Often the problems lie in the designer’s inability to sell, to build teams, or just to simply get started. These mishaps aren’t inherent to fashion brands. Failure is a possibility in any industry. But that doesn’t mean it has to happen to you.
Here are five things fashion design can teach you about running your own business.
#1. Have an Elevator Pitch.
The first step of running a successful home-based business is being able to talk about it. More importantly, you need to sell it. Who are you? What do you do? Why should someone work with you? You need to come up with a short sentence that describes you, your business, and what separates you from the rest. Being able to sum up your business quickly and creatively ensures you’ll be ready the next time you meet a potential client or investor.
#2. Get Your Ideas on Paper.
In fashion, the only way to find out if a line will work is to start drawing. As you sketch, you’ll see if the blouses work with the bottoms, or if there’s too much repetition of a particular pattern. You may also get inspiration for something entirely different — and even better than — what you started with originally.
All those business ideas floating around your head sound great. But the only way to see if they’ll actually work is to put them on paper. Once your business ideas are written down, you may find Idea A clashes with Idea B, and that Idea C was the best one all along.
Often, when someone starts a business, they bite off more than they can chew. Trust me on this one. In 2008, I built a social network that wanted to be the Facebook for fashion. We tried to do too much at once and the lack of focus was our demise. I realized that what I ultimately wanted was to help designers sell their wares more easily. A few months later, I launched ShopToko, a B2B marketplace that connected independent designers with brands around the world. The site had great sales from week one. We did one thing and we did it very well.
In the fashion world, many new designers don’t realize they only need 12 to 16 original pieces to start their first line. They end up creating 30 or 40 pieces that wipe out their wallets and their energy. Focus on your strengths and passions. You’ll find your workload is more manageable and your final product is of a much higher quality.
#4. Know When to Outsource and When to be a Micromanager
You may be an expert writer but a terrible accountant. You may be great at cooking, but lousy at web development. Know when to hire others so you can focus on what you do best. But make sure you’re involved where your skills are most needed.
I may encourage a designer to hire someone to do his pattern-making and sample creation so he can spend more time designing and networking. But I also encourage him to stay in close contact with his teams and check in throughout the process. It may be someone else’s job to do the work. But it’s your job to make sure it’s done right.
#5. Talk to People You Admire.
At Fashion Accelerator 360, we connect fashion enthusiasts with experts throughout the industry. The goal isn’t just for the student to learn the ins and outs of the business, but for her to have the opportunity to build lasting relationships that could lead to professional success.
Don’t be afraid to ask people you admire for advice. You may find you not only learn a lesson, you also get a business lead. HBM
Liza Deyrmenjian is the founder of Fashion Accelerator 360, an unparalleled platform for online fashion and lifestyle business education. She’s consulted young designers in creating million dollar fashion businesses, many of which have been featured in Elle, InStyle and WWD and on national shows such as Oprah, Good Morning America, and the Steve Harvey Show. Liza also launched the successful online start-ups, Afingo.com and Shoptoko.com.