10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting My Fashion Business
I started my first clothing brand, Dynasty By Brittany, as a freshman at the University of Maryland back in 2012. Almost 10 years and 2 businesses later, I have learned so much from the challenges of starting a clothing brand. Keep reading to find out the 10 things I wish I knew before starting my fashion business!
Don't like reading? Check out my youtube video below instead!
I applaud the younger version of myself. I was ambitious, a go getter, and would stop at nothing to pursue my dreams. By senior year of college, I managed to showcase my brand in not one but THREE fashion weeks--- DC Fashion Week, New York Fashion Week, and I co-founded the first UMD Fashion Week! I also started a fashion non-profit to help other like-minded students access the resources needed to pursue a career in the fashion industry.
Even though i had NO IDEA what I was doing, I figured if I just put one foot in front of the other, I would be one step closer to the goal. However, knowing what I know now.... here's a list of 10 things I wish I knew prior to starting my business:
#1 - Burnout is REAL
As a solo-preneur and designer, every product I created, every client order I completed, every collection piece that walked down the runway....I created it myself. Yes by hand, with my sewing machine in my small studio apartment. I have been sewing for almost 15+ years, so I can knock out a dress within less than 24 hours if I wanted to.
I work extremely well under pressure, but over time I leaned into that a little more than what I should have. As a result I crashed and burned in 2020 and have not touched my sewing machine since, leaving my business on hold for over a year. It was then that I learned the importance of creating balance within your life and setting boundaries.
#2 - Hard To Scale (Alone)
When I initially wanted to become a fashion designer and start a clothing brand, I envisioned celebrities wearing my dresses on the red carpet and my brand being sold in department stores across the country. What I didn't realize was that I wasn't going to be able to get there by myself and would need a team of people to help me along the way.
Most fashion designers start off behind the sewing machine producing every garment themselves and I am no different. Up until this point I have been running my brand on my own without a manufacturer or the help of others.
"No matter how confident you are in your own abilities, you can't build and run a business alone. You need your army pulling you ahead, rather than holding you back." - Martin Zwilling
When you operate any business solo you can only grow as far as your capacity. In order to scale your business, take on more orders and therefore make more money, you need more people. Building a team and leveraging the talented network of the individuals around you is extremely important.
#3 - It's Expensive
The marketing method I used heavily when I first started my brand was participating in fashion shows and vendor events. In order to participate in these events, I needed to create a collection (minimum 10-20 pieces) then create inventory of the pieces I wanted to sell during the vendor events.
After reviewing my expenses one year, I realized I spent $5K+ on fabric alone! Not to mention participation fees for these events, packaging materials, maintenance on sewing machines, photo shoots, websites, and general admin expenses.
I did what I thought was right and ended up wasting a lot of money along the way, not realizing that NONE of this was actually necessary to promote and grow my brand....never again.
#4 - Cost-Effective Operations
Is there a proper way to launch a clothing brand?
Yes, there's a formula. The most effective and efficient way to launch a fashion brand is to do so with the least amount of money and inventory possible. Boom!
I know this seems backwards, I thought so at first too. How are you supposed to sell product with no inventory and without spending money?
You need to take advantage of strategies such as drop-shipping and pre-order.
Drop-shipping is a method in which the brand owner doesn't keep any physical inventory of the product they sell on their online store. Instead once a customer has made a purchase, the wholesaler or manufacturer fulfills the order and send the product directly to the customer on your behalf (i.e. no inventory).
Pre-order is a method where you allow customers to purchase an item before it is available or in stock. This is a great way to gauge the demand for a particular item and to use the money collected from the customer orders to pay for production instead of buying/creating inventory first and risking not being able to sell it all. This saves you money, time, and stress!
I will go more into these topics in a future blog post.
#5 - How To Properly Market My Business
I'e launched 10-12 collections over the years and none of them took off the way I had hoped. The primary income driver for my brand was from custom orders not from my collections. My marketing consisted of posting on Instagram and doing events. It wasn't until I became a Digital Marketing Manager that I realized where I went wrong.... I didn't have a marketing strategy.
Launching a brand requires more than just posting on Instagram, especially if you have not curated the right audience. You need a proper 360 Marketing plan to be able to break through the noise to get your product in front of the right people.
#6 - You Don't Need To Follow The Fashion Industry
For years I tried to keep up with the pace of the fashion industry, putting out two collections a year and showcasing in fashion shows with a minimum 20-piece collection. As a small business owner, I had no business trying to replicate these bigger brands. No wonder I was burnt out!
I have always admired designer Anifa Mvuemba, creator of the women's apparel label Hanifa. Since 2012 she has been moving to the beat of her own drum, building her brand at her own pace, and doing things her own way. Now her brand is widely recognized, worn by many celebrities and she is just getting started.
#7 - Fashion Shows Are Overrated
One of the highlights in every designer's career is to showcase their brand in New York Fashion Week. So imagine my excitement when I received the invitation to showcase my brand in the Fall 2017 NYFW show, to only later be disappointed at how bad the production of the show was.
After being in the game for several years, I've learned that many fashion production agencies will prey on "emerging designers" by riding the coattails of New York Fashion Week, claiming increased exposure and brand awareness for participation in their show. They charge huge fees to then cram 100+ emerging designers in a 2-hour showcase.
With that type of operation you can only imagine the lack of communication, punctuality, and even care/respect of the collections that many of these designers worked so hard for. It's not right. Of course not all shows are bad, but if you are thinking about participating in a fashion show, be sure to do your research and even talk to previous participants to make sure it is something you want to align your brand with. Especially if you plan to extend the invitation to friends, family, and supporters.
#8 - How To Find Your Niche
When I first started my clothing brand I was all over the place. I did resort wear, streetwear, business attire, prom gowns, bridal gowns, and everything in between. No wonder it was hard for my to find my audience. Every time I launched a new collection I was technically targeting someone new. Knowing my niche back then would have been SUPER helpful.
#9 - Beware of Custom Orders
One of the biggest revenue streams for fashion designers is custom orders. Creating custom clothing is how most designer start their brand, behind the sewing machine. Over time I realized I hated doing custom for 2 reasons:
I'm a designer not a seamstress. With custom, my clients often came to me with a design in mind and no matter how many sketches I would create of original work, they often wanted me to recreate something they found on the internet with the hopes of it being cheaper. This resulted in me making things I did NOT want to make.
While making items I was not passionate about, I also realized I did not want to be behind a sewing machine for the rest of my life. If I were to continue doing custom, I need to change my operations and build a team that could handle that part of the business.
#10 - How To Properly Price Your Items
One of the reasons why I have not seen the return of investment on the blood, sweat, and tears, that I have put into my business is because I did not price my garments properly in the beginning. Be sure to do you research to find out the right value of your items before you start selling.
Don’t Make The Same Mistakes I Did
If you want to launch a fashion brand and don't know where to start, watch this video to learn how to start a clothing brand in 2022.