Brands don’t just happen overnight. They’re made with grit and a lot of hard lessons. Some people view these hard lessons as failures, and frankly that attitude is a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you start your brand, you’ll likely have a vision or some sort of plan, but in order to succeed, you should assume that the plan will change. If you don’t, each twist, turn, and pivot will feel like a failure and that mentality can exhaust you.

 

Sounds grim, doesn’t it? Not quite. You see, a lot of designers start out strong when piloting a brand, but may lack the specific tools, context, or knowledge that is needed to shape the brand into a successful business. Trust me, I’ve seen it happen many times. So, what are the common pitfalls that ensnare designers (or anyone for that matter) when starting a brand? Let’s see.

 

Myth – “If I design it, people will buy it.”

Most people assume that if they create beautiful and unique clothes, people will buy them. But uniqueness often isn’t a selling factor. Sure, uniqueness can have a “wow” impact on the runway and even on the street, but the average everyday consumer doesn’t need or want a closet full of statement pieces. 

 

Designers should think about clothing the way that any product developers think about any other product on the market. Most products don’t sell just because they are “cool.” Products sell because they solve a problem and serve a purpose for a specific market. Clothing is no different.

 

Think about it. If you are a woman looking for suiting basics, you aren’t going to flip through a Duluth Trading Co. magazine to find a work appropriate blazer. That’s not what they make and you aren’t their target market. Instead, you may look at a brand like MM LaFleur to find chic suiting and elevated casual basics.

 

Every brand has a target customer and your designs should meet the needs and wants of that particular group. As a designer, you need to think about the lifestyle that your target customer lives. Are they busy? Do they spend a lot of time at home or most of their time in business settings? Do they move a lot? Where do they live, what do they do for work? All of these things should influence your designs. From the cut to the durability of the fabrics you choose.

 

After you have identified your target market, begin building your business model, product offering, and marketing efforts around your customers needs. We hate to say it, but the customer is always right. And if they are “wrong,” well, they may not fit your target market, and that’s okay.

 

Establish your brand first

Okay, we get it, this one sounds a bit hand-wavy. You may be thinking, “isn’t this whole article about what people get wrong when establishing their brand?” The answer is yes, that is what it’s about, but this particular tip is more specific.

 

After you’ve identified your market and know what type of products to offer, you need to refine your brand. I’m talking about your logo, colors, fonts, labels…all of those details that people will use to identify your brand. These details aren’t just visual, they are also ingrained in the tone of voice you use in written and oral publications and how you communicate with your customers.

 

When you establish your brand guidelines and collateral before going to market, you look more put-together to customers, and your internal team will have a better understanding of who the brand is. An educated internal team is a great spokesperson for your brand.

 

Here are some questions that I often use when assisting designers with brand development:

  1. Tell me who your customer is, how they consume information/media, and how they like to be talked to.
  2. How do you want people to feel when they interact with your brand? Does this feeling resonate with your target audience, or is it disjointed?
  3. What colors invoke the feeling that you want people to have when they interact with your brand? Here is a basic introduction to color theory and branding.
  4. How will your logo look on a clothing label? Does your logo mimic the look and feel of the clothing you will make? For example, a quirky logo will look out of place if your clothing is elegant and timeless.

 

When establishing your brand, it all comes back to your target customer. If you’ve done your research and know what they want and need, you can more confidently establish and stick to your brand guidelines.

 

Too many or the wrong products

Many designers often get excited and design multiple products that are too similar or design the wrong product altogether. Again, this pitfall goes back to product-market fit (aka “what do your customers want?”).

 

When starting your brand, your initial offerings need to be carefully thought out. Instead of trying to offer everything at once, start with a capsule collection. You don’t need to design two blouses that look very similar. Instead, create several different items that can each be worn together. Developing a cohesive capsule can help you establish brand rapport and can quickly signal to your potential customers where you sit in the market. Think of it as a first impression. Down the line, you can always add to the brand, but you need to start with the essential elements of who the brand is.

 

When you offer too many options, customers can feel confused and overwhelmed. When that happens, they are less likely to purchase your product and you’ve just lost a sale. No one wants that.

 

Everyone wants to be sustainable

In today’s world, the term “sustainability” is thrown around more than a football on Sunday in America. Everyone wants to be sustainable, but few people know what that means. 

 

In the last decade, fashion has come under a lot of criticism for different environmental and ethical reasons. Every industry has its problems and fashion is no exception. However, to properly respond to these problems, we need to be thoughtful and not brash.

 

Starting a sustainable brand or a “made in the USA” brand is an incredible thing to do if you are doing it for the right reasons. Some brands want to pursue these routes because they’ve been told that it is the “right” thing to do without researching the topic further. Many brands want to be “made in the USA” because they are unfamiliar with or have misguided conceptions about production practices in other countries versus in the US.

 

It is possible to build a truly sustainable brand, but this takes arduous time, commitment, and a dedicated focus on sourcing sustainable, natural materials. Similarly, building a “made in the USA” brand is possible, but you will need to account for higher costs in production and materials. In both cases, these initiatives should align with your brand goals and mission. Maybe they aren’t possible now, but they can be a goal for the future.

 

You have to budget, or hire someone to do it

When starting a brand, you basically have two budgeting constraints. If you aren’t careful, you can quickly burn through your cash before you even launch. There are two ways that brands commonly lose money.

 

FIRST – Failing to budget for the details. I’ve seen it happen many times – designers get excited about an idea and immediately move forward with development, selecting fabrics and trims, looking to build samples, etc. But, in all the excitement, they fail to cost things out in detail. You need to figure out how much it will cost to make what you want to make. Then, you need to figure out at what price point you need to sell your item to make a profit. Once you determine this price point, you need to ask yourself “will my customers actually pay this price?” Your customers need to value your product enough to spend money on it. Once you’ve determined that they’re willing to spend money, you have to ensure that the product is in their price range. Even if your customers love the design, they won’t buy it if they can’t afford it.

 

You should not continue product development if you haven’t answered these key questions.

 

SECOND – Forgetting to account for those “miscellaneous” costs. We’d like to think that everyone remembers to account for the costs of production, shipping, and everything else that accompanies the actual design component of fashion design, but we know that people forget. 

 

This step isn’t just about including these costs, but about including the right costs. When budgeting, you need to look at who is handling your product development and shipping. Are they the right individual for the job? If not, you could be in for a big surprise down the road. It’s best to set expectations up front so that you are confident that your vendors can handle the work.

 

Further, even with a great team and the right budget, if you fail to consider your timeline, you can slow down the process because of poor coordination. Or, worse yet, you can miss the opportunity for a successful launch because of timing issues. Don’t do that.

 

To avoid problems like this, be clear on your goals and directly communicate what you need. Sometimes, other experts will explain that elements of your vision aren’t possible or need to be tweaked. Use this information to adjust your plan.

 

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Starting any business is a huge endeavor, and launching a fashion brand is no different. At Modern Brands, we always say that fashion isn’t sexy. Sure, on the covers of glossy magazines and under the bright lights of the runway it all looks glamorous. But behind those shiny images and coiffed outfits, there are hundreds (even thousands) of hours of work, a multitude of hands bustling every which way, and lots of back-and-forth with different professionals.

 

At the same time, we also believe that anyone can build a brand. Building a brand takes deliberate business planning with special attention to marketing and sales. You need to know your customer and know your brand. When those two things are known, you need to identify what the relationship between your brand and your customers will look like. With this key knowledge, you are positioned to launch a successful fashion brand.

 

Where to go from here

Maybe you’ve already designed a few pieces, or maybe you just decided two days ago that you want to start a fashion brand. Wherever you are in your brand building journey, we can help.

 

If you need help defining and refining your brand, we recommend starting with our Launch Program. Through our Launch Program, we will personally consult you through the process of building your brand. With us, you will define your mission, identify the look and feel of your brand, design brand collateral and product briefs, and refine additional details that will give your brand that well-rounded look that you need to professionally launch your brand. 

 

In addition to brand consulting, our Launch Program also gives you access to our complete Design Studio and Style Blocks. The Style Blocks are downloadable production-ready tech packs and patterns that you can use with existing designs that you may have. Our Design Studio takes it one step further and allows you to customize one of our Style Blocks . Each Style Block is customizable within the studio and can be sent to production after you are finished with your design.

 

If you already have a defined brand, and are looking to improve your production process, you can still access some of our Style Blocks or the complete Design Studio

 

If you have questions and would like more details, schedule a time to talk with a team member.