The 11 things you absolutely must know if you want to create a fashion start-up

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Corrado Manenti
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A woman is sitting at a desk with 'Perla La UA', a fashion start-up, written on it.

The other day on Facebook, an article caught my attention. The title sounded promising, the image appealing, and the topic was right up my alley.

I immediately rushed to read it, as it seemed to be just right for me and came from an authoritative source for us in the industry, namely WGSN, one of the largest consulting groups that together with Pecler share hegemony on future fashion trends. 

Nothing could be further from the truth! I started reading a few lines, got lost among the unnecessarily nice gifs and was shocked by the total absence of content and, indeed, the presence of too many clichés. When I then read the advice to enlist friends and collaborators by 'paying them in pizza', I literally had a meltdown!

I can understand that for those who are not in the trade ?the Devil Wears Prada? is the perfect cross-section of how a fashion magazine works (even if it is not really like that), but those who want to work in the industry, and perhaps plan to build their own brand in the future, need applicable concepts and above all as few clichés as possible.

So I decided to write this article, which I hope will be useful to you. I will reveal:

1) FIRST THINK... THEN CREATE  

This is the first thing I tell fashion designers or aspiring fashion designers when they contact me to build their own brand and confront the market. Before you start creating a Fashion Startup you need to have a few basic concepts in mind:

  1. Why do I want to do it?

  2. How I want to do it

  3. Is there a market to sell it?

  4. How much should it cost me to realise my idea?

As you can see, it is a complex job of strategy, positioning, marketing, fabric development and cost analysis. So much study and planning and so little creativity. But the more you can answer these questions in detail, the easier the process of creating and realising your idea will be. In the following points I will give you hints for finding the answers.

2) CREATE SOMETHING UNIQUE

Knowing how to propose something unique is a key point for proposing one's own idea and being successful in the market. Uniqueness is an attribute that should distinguish you in everything you do. Not only in the product, but in the whole process that takes you from idea to creation. You should always ask yourself: if your dress/accessory was displayed in a very large multi-brand shop, would you be able to recognise it at a glance compared to others in the same category? 

3) STAY FOCUSED

This is usually the most difficult point for novice designers and others. 

Focus is the key to success for your fashion start-up. You have to start by convincing yourself that you can't do everything for everyone, not so much for reasons of cost and sustainability (I would give the same advice even to those who have no investment and liquidity problems), but for a matter of marketing and absolutely perception. If you have read any of my previous articles or studied a bit of marketing, the concept will not sound new to you. I will still try to summarise the basic points for you.

  1. The market is saturated with generalists.

  2. People's minds think in categories, so if you do more things or your product is spread out over too many categories, it is harder to remember.

  3. While it used to be possible to communicate many messages for a single brand, this is no longer possible.

?The battle for the market is fought in the mind of our potential customer?

? AL. RIES

To enter and above all stay in our customer's mind, focus is everything! Although the practice in fashion is to think in terms of a total look, to be as focused as possible you should try to follow this principle:

EVERY BRAND YOU CREATE SHOULD FOCUS ON ONE TYPE OF PRODUCT TO BEST POSITION ITSELF IN THE CUSTOMER'S MIND

I admit that sometimes it can be difficult and that not everyone feels like doing a brand, for example, only of jackets, only of sweatshirts only of swimming costumes and so on. That would absolutely be the choice I would recommend, but if you can't do that you can go with the second principle:

IF YOU CANNOT APPLY THE PRINCIPLE 'FOR EACH BRAND A TYPE OF PRODUCT', YOU MUST ENSURE THAT EACH BRAND CORRESPONDS TO ONE PRODUCT LINE

You can diversify products according to different customer types and price ranges, but you cannot make men's, women's, children's, accessories and furniture collections under the same brand.

This is common practice in the big fashion business, but line extensions are not sustainable in the long run, neither for them nor for you. The more you do, the more the customer will struggle to understand what you are unique in and why they should buy from you:

Don't over design, keep it simple and clean?

4) YOU KNOW YOUR ? (YOUR CUSTOMERS)

You cannot create something and simply hope that, as if by magic, it will 'sell itself'. Regardless of which channel you decide to rely on, be it traditional, through retailers and shops, or online, you need to know your potential customers.

Depending on the age group, you will be able to identify buying habits and spending values and better organise both the sales channels and the best pricing and communication strategies to reach them.

5) DEVELOP YOUR PRODUCTS ON THREE LEVELS

It is not enough to have a single product line (NO, we are not talking about extending the line in the classical sense), we are talking about subdividing the products in the same line according to the impact they can have on the market. 

You should therefore from the outset think about how to divide your brand's products into three macro categories, which I usually subdivide:

1) ASPIRATIONALwhich can be trivially translated into a 'I'd like to but I can't' garment, usually the showcase garment that catches our eye but which we most often do not buy on an emotional basis. It should represent the quintessence of our brand, but realistically we will sell very few of them. They usually lend themselves well as gifts to influencers.

2) MASSIVE IMPACT:  This is where most of our profits and production will take place.

3) LOW BUDGET: It is important to take into account all those who follow our brand but who perhaps for reasons of price (and a substantial mistrust of a brand they are not yet familiar with) are not yet willing to buy a more expensive product. Since, as you will see in point 10, discounting is NEVER a viable strategy,  it is better to study an entry-level product type.

A diagram of a pyramid representing different levels of impact in the creation of a fashion start-up.

Above you can see the pyramid I use in brand development. In this specific case, it is a streetwear brand.

6) TAKE ART... AND PUT IT ASIDE

If you have decided to start a fashion start-up, one of the first things you need to do is abandon the artist mentality. Unfortunately, most designers, especially those who approach the market, prefer to think of themselves as artists rather than salesmen, but the reality is quite the opposite.

A fashion start-up showing a jacket in a museum.

In the modern world of business it is useless to be a creative, original thinker unless you can also sell what you create?

? DAVID OGILVY

As from this quote by one of the fathers of modern advertising, there is no point in being original and creative at all costs if there is no one willing to buy what you create.

The world of French Haute Couture has long since faded away, and although fashion academies try to pass it off as a Fashion Startup, it is not a sustainable business model (in fact, it is estimated that there are only 6000 potential customers for Haute Couture maisons worldwide in a year, and the figure seems to be steadily decreasing). 

The recognition of being innovators and of the goodness of ?our? creations comes from others, from our customers, from those who appreciate our philosophy of life and creation, and buy and wear one of our garments precisely because they ?feel part of it?

This is only possible if we have been able to confront our idea with people, in the real world, we have been able to satisfy a need for exclusivity, belonging and so on.  

7) TO EACH HIS OWN

You may have an incredible idea that is really good, but sooner or later you will realise that you can't do it all by yourself and you will have to start welcoming professionals into your team to complement your skills. What are the core competences you might need?

  1. Fashion Designer

  2. Graphic Designer

  3. A Modeller

  4. Social Media Manager

  5. Marketing Strategist

  6. Sales Management

  7. Web Master

In our team everyone has their own specific skills, which allow us to have a complete vision and to create a fashion line from an idea to taking it to the shop. I, for example, deal exclusively with Brand Design, which is the discipline that starts from an idea to the development of a fashion brand that makes sense from a marketing and positioning point of view.

My colleague Riccardo Rovi is a fashion designer,  and takes care of the Garment Design part, i.e. transforming and building the Concept from the point above into something real. 

There are countless professionals working with us depending on the type of project, you need to start building a network of knowledge that will allow you to rely on those skills you lack, or if you have an idea and want to develop a brand and don't know where to start you can contact us we can help you develop it.

8) THINK IN SERIES

It is important that you start thinking in series. Start with one article, and think how you could carry the concept forward into the next collection. What is most rewarding in the mind of the potential customer is stylistic consistency. This can be divided into two macro areas:

  1. STYLISTIC CODE: The conceptual red thread that holds all the garments of a distinct collection together. We could speak for simplicity's sake of 'Stylistic Coherence', which over time collection after collection helps to create your Brand Legacy (or Heritage).

  2. VISUAL HAMMER: The so-called 'Visual Hammer' is a concept introduced by branding expert Laura Ries. It is the visual detail that immediately identifies our brand in our customer's mind and differentiates it from all others.. I will put some photos below without writing the brand name, you will see that it will be easy for you to identify it.

Tiffany & Co. women's gift ideas

In case you couldn't identify them all, from left to right: The blue outline of the accessories PiquadroThe iconic packaging of Tiffany with the characteristic colour, the three stripes of Adidasthe psychedelic motifs of Desigual.

9) EXPERIENCE LUXURY

Have you ever walked into a luxury brand boutique? Or simply into a Nespresso boutique to stock up on (original) pods for your coffee machine? 

A collage of different images showing a fashion start-up.

They may seem like two very different contexts but in many ways they are similar.  

They are both environments that have been designed down to the last detail to guarantee you a privileged shopping experience. Of course, you won't (any time soon) have your own boutique on Via Monte Napoleone in Milan, you may not even have a 'physical' shop and, to be honest, you may not even need one.

If you can get your customers to experience luxury, you will create a very strong bond with them that will lead them to tell everyone about you and your brand. You don't necessarily need a physical environment. 

The best advertising you can have is a Loyal customer spreading the world about how incredible your business is?
? SHEP HYKEN

The interesting thing is that no matter what product you have created, or the price range or market you are selling it at, with a few adjustments it always works! I will list a few tips below, but there are far too many:

  1. Make buying/receiving/unpacking a rewarding experience

  2. Personalise where you can with the customer's name, give a cut bespoken (tailor-made) making him feel at the centre of attention

  3. Don't leave out the details, the more the better

  4. Contrary to the common saying, "the book is judged by its cover": the better your packaging, the more valuable the content will be perceived to be

  5. Create a sense of belonging to your brand, communicate and stay in touch with your customers

10) DO NOT GIVE DISCOUNTS

Many times, it is thought that price is the deciding factor in favour of buying rather than leaving the desired garment in the shop. In reality, price is only a marginal aspect.

People will be willing to pay you as much as they perceive the value in your proposal, which is not just the object itself, but the story of its creation that you were able to tell. ?
? CORRADO MANENTI

Therefore, do not confuse price with value. 

To give you an example, all the clothes of the brands we are used to buying in shops in Italy have a price coefficient of 2/3: what does that mean? Let me tell you: when a shop buys something to resell to the end customer, it multiplies the value by about 2/3 times. 

An example: The shop buys a pair of trousers for $18/20 (the production price of a normal Levi's/Replay Jeans) and multiplies it by two or three times depending on the line and market segment. You will see displayed for that pair of trousers an average price of 65/75 euros.

So when you have to choose the price of what you sell, the advice is to keep the price high (not absolutely, but higher than your direct competitors) and NEVER discount. Having a price with a good margin will allow you both to sell through traditional channels, to shops and distributors, and for other channels such as online and direct sales.

11) TREASURE CRITICISM AND COLLECT FEEDBACK

Learn from mistakes and always try to improve in what you do and how you do it. Collect criticism and all the insights that come from collaborators, professionals and customers, and use them as a basis for reflection on your next actions/strategies.

Don't fall in love with your products: no matter how intimately they are linked to you in a 'work of art/artist' relationship, things will not always turn out the way you thought they would, you will have to compromise and always be ready to put yourself back in the game.

Stay humble, don't play the "Rockstar", it takes time to become authoritative and recognised, and stereotyping controversial characters from the fashion world will only make you look ridiculous and, even worse, lose focus on what is really important.

It's a long, uphill road, and beyond the countless frustrations and disappointments, being part of a fashion start-up will always be fun and challenging. Never stop learning, and you will see that the results will eventually come! 

A man walking on a catwalk with striped lines.

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Corrado Manenti, the designer of designers, showcases his work in Elementor Single Article #3277.
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