Guest Contributor – Evelyn Bandoh: So You Want to Be a Fashion Entrepreneur? Gentle Words of Advice for Indie Designers
ATFDC would like to introduce you to our newest guest contributor Evelyn Bandoh MPA, MST, RFC. Evelyn will be providing an exclusive series for All Things Fashion DC called “So You Want to Be a Fashion Entrepreneur?” The series takes a closer look at the Entrepreneurial Mindset needed to create a successful business. This is her first piece for ATFDC - “Gentle Words of Advice for Indie Designers.”
by ATFDC Guest Contributor Evelyn Bandoh
How many of us out here can sew or make jewelry? How many of us have received numerous compliments on our work and have decided we want to take a foray in starting our own lines, collections and hopefully, successfully businesses?
As the creator and previous force behind DC Fashion Foundation’s Fashionably Business program, I had the privilege of working with so many talented existing and emerging indie designers, vintage resellers and others who are trying to launch their fashion dreams. I most enjoyed guiding folks during our one-on-one conversations and really hearing about what makes their dreams tick.
In this first post, I want to share some overarching insight about things to consider as you take (or perhaps have already taken) the leap into entrepreneurship. Keep in mind that my insight does not come from years of working in the fashion industry- it comes from years of working with hundreds of creative people and businesses, teaching in a college fashion program, directly helping indie retailers, my experience as a freelance makeup artist working with a well known global beauty brand and being a jewelry crafter in my own right.
Here we go!
(1) Stop making excuses & just do it already: It’s not easy. If your serious know that you will be in it for the long haul. Make your DREAM a priority and stop making excuses as to why you are not doing it.
(2) Get your money straight: Don’t let the lack of money stop you from your dream, but DO get your money straight. Know how much the initial aspects of your line are going to cost. Get your own personal finances in order- take stock of what you do and don’t have. Need to use other people’s money? Make sure you are able to pay them back whether it’s from your own pockets or through business sales.
(3) Trend and Market Research: Pay attention to what’s going on around you. Know your market and learn how to forecast trends. Track them & take them into consideration. Great websites include SpringWise and TrendWatching.com. You can also check out what young trendsetters are wearing. Maybe YOU are the trendsetter. Be bold and set your own trends.
4) A small start is not a bad thing: I have been seeing a lot of emerging designers take their wares directly to the consumer via trunk shows and pop-up boutiques. If the long-term goal is to become a mass-retail brand, this approach may not be a bad idea as long as you are being strategic about HOW you are using these opportunities. Are you inviting bloggers and other press people to your events so you can get critical exposure? Are you reaching out to buyers and boutique owners in your area? Have you reached out to the local trendsetters and decision makes in your community? It’s as much about the exposure as it is about the sales.
(5) Industry Terminology: wholesale, retail, supply chain, production, private label, types of retailers, fashion cycle, manufacturing, distribution, factoring, markup, net/30…these are all key important terms that all indie designers must know and understand. Take a class or get a fashion dictionary.
(6) Sales Channel: In line with creating a viable business model (see number 7), success comes from building a very robust wholesale business and/or an equally robust retail business. Do you want to wholesale your pieces to other retailers? Do you want to retail your own pieces in your own store or via trunk shows and pop-up events? What do you want? What works best for YOUR PRODUCT? Educate yourself, decide how you want to approach your business and then create your game plan for success. As an aside- selling pieces on consignment is a cash-flow killer for an emerging designer. It may be necessary to gain visibility, but I do not suggest on using this method as your primary sales channel (speaking from personal experience).
(7) Business Model: Once you figure out you desired sales channel, start building a SIMPLE business model that works. If you are creating your line as a part-time side business that is one thing; a smaller scale will work to your advantage. If you are looking to create a sustainable business on a full time basis, build a business that supports that desire. Making and selling one-off pieces is not going to allow you to quit your day job. Early on, you will have to decide where you want your merchandise to be. Wholesale, retail and hybrid business models all require something a little different. They also all require having access to money (which we will talk about in a different post).
(8) Embrace the Business Side: the fun part is creating; the hard part is selling. Understand that fashion is just as much creativity as it is the “art of the effective sell”. You can make the best pieces in the world, but if you don’t know how to get it to the consumer, your pretty much up a creek. The nexus between the two is embracing the “business side” of your brand and working the hell out of it so that you will make money and survive longer than 13 episodes in Project Runway.
(9) Supply Chain & Production: Is crucial to the indie designer. HOW are the pieces going to be made? When YOU the designer are the maker- how will you meet demand? Can you afford to outsource? Do you even know where to start? Before pitching your merchandise to stores, make sure you know HOW you are going to be able to fill those orders.
(10) Pricing Strategy: What’s your pricing strategy? Pricing and setting the best markup is a fine art. You have to take factors into consideration such as the market, the economy, your target customer, competitors and your cost to produce each piece. What happens if you sell both wholesale and retail? How do you set your prices so that you are not undercutting yourself and undercutting a retailer who is carrying your line? As an indie designer, your ability to generate revenue AND make a profit (two different things) lies in your ability to (1) set prices (2) sell your merchandise (3) collect the money from the merchandise sales and (4) repeat steps 1-3.
(11) Strong Visual Presence: This could be in the form of a well designed, simple to navigate website (crucial), physical and/or digital look books (critical), professional business cards etc. It’s only to your benefit if it is easy for people to find you. Make your visuals great. Make them easy to find. Remember this: “Tacky is Not Your Friend”.
(12) Get Help: work with experts in the industry. Attend different workshops and training programs. If you can, sit down with a product development expert and let them help you refine your creation process. Great resources that you can tap right now: Fashion Designers Survival Guide, and Bits of Thread Sewing Studio (skill refinement) and All Things Fashion DC Directory.
(13) Read: Its fundamental. You learn and you find out stuff that will help your business if you let it? In addition to industry trade magazines (like WWD), read Entrepreneur, Inc and Fast Company and any other publication that takes you out of our comfort zone and revs up your creative genius.
(14) Have Faith: In you, in what you are doing and that what you are doing will work. If you don’t have faith, take a seat until you do.
Throughout the series, I will go into deeper details about each of these tips. Make sure to bookmark this page and visit it on a monthly basis. In the next post I’m tackling the age-old question of “how and where do I start?” as it relates to starting a fashion business. Questions or thoughts? Drop a line in the comment section below.
Evelyn is an SBA award winning writer, speaker, trainer, creative business coach and founder of EAB Creative Planning Services. She uses her real world skills in financial and business planning along with her intuitive talents to help artist, crafters, designers, and creative professionals. Evelyn currently writes the blogs Fiscally Fit Fashionista and Artist as Entrepreneur and also makes healing jewelry. Follow her at @F3Fashionista
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