With all the coverage of bloggers and social media influencers it seems like everyone is trying to make a space for themselves within the fashion industry. And if you’re a part of the fashion flock, chances are you’ve also dreamed of making it as a fashion designer, model or photographer. From the outside, it seems like a glittery world of style, glamour and beauty, and while it is, in part, there’s also a lot of work, planning and business savvy that goes into making it big as a designer. But for those who have considered starting their own small label or even being the next Ralph Lauren, you’ll need more than a large capital and an idea.
While investing in your own dreams and talent is never a bad idea, most players new to the game don’t realize exactly how much it’ll cost to get a label off the ground. Whether you fund your new business with your savings, credit card, loans, investors, crowdfunding or help from family and friends, experts suggest that launching a line could take two to three million in capital. These funds need to go toward renting a workspace, hiring a support staff, producing a collection, advertising, travel and everyday expenses. Those who chose to attend a fashion school to formally educate themselves on the ins and outs of the industry, can also add tuition to that bottom line. Which, depending on the school, can cost anywhere from $4,000 to $28,000 a semester.
Of course, it can be done for less; not every designer who has successfully made a name for themselves has had millions in funding and a formal education to fall back on. Many designers have financed everything on their own, often working and learning under other houses while they slowly build their business. Before starting their eponymous labels Yves Saint Laurent worked for Christian Dior, Oscar de la Renta designed for Lanvin, and even Stella McCartney, who had more than enough capital and press to launch her own line, spent time at Chloé and Christian Lacroix. On the opposite side of the spectrum there are designers that finish school, work out of their basements from season to season and still turn a profit as they grown their line. It depends largely on the route you want to take, your investment opportunities and skill sets.
After grasping an idea of design, either through formal education, apprenticeship or even online tutorials (it is 2016), it’s important to have a concept of what you want to create and develop a foundation for your brand. Diane von Furstenberg has her wrap dresses, Chanel is known for their tweed suits—find your niche and develop your design. Be specific about who you’re designing for and why. Research the market and have a grasp of the mindset of your potential customer and what motivates them to shop. Young street stylers that are snapping up quirky, off-the-runway Moschino are not buying Armani blazers. Where will your customers be spending most of their time, and what kind of occasions do they need to dress for? Deciding early on not just the aesthetic of your designs, but what function they’ll serve, will help you have a clear objective when creating your inaugural collection.
Pre-production, hire designers and a support staff that can help you expand your idea into a full-fledged collection. Most early labels do their design work in-house rather than outsourcing to experienced pros. Whether you’re hiring a full-time staff or working with a few fashion-savvy friends and part time employees, be sure to create a well-rounded group who can help bring your vision to life. Until you start creating, having a clear-cut idea of what kind of materials and production will be needed will be virtually impossible. During development, start looking for factories to produce your collection and places to source materials. Keep in mind that depending on the type of textiles you choose to use, fabric samples can cost upward of $100,000 a season. Every designer is looking to make a great initial impression, but be sure that you’re considering costs carefully and that designs are not too expensive or complicated for a first run production.
That being said, a large portion of your initial capital will need to be allocated for production. Designers lucky enough to be picked up by a department store or boutique should note that most stores rarely offer a deposit, which means it’s up to the designer to cover the costs for production until the order is delivered. Finding a manufacturer that offers the type of experience, turnaround and quality that you’re looking for can be difficult, but finding the right one is essential. If possible try to find something local or one that is easy to frequent to personally oversee quality and progress from time to time. Having a great relationship with your manufacturer is essential as the quality, and essentially the outcome of your work, is in their hands. Find a manufacturer that also allows for flexibility, and can work with you from creating your early prototypes to minimal lead time runs to large scale productions.
To have a line picked up by Barneys or covered in the pages of Vogue, you’ll need to advertise. People need to be aware of your brand and what you offer—be specific about your core designs. Are you known for your jeans or bridal wear? Showcase what makes you so influential in that market and what sets you apart. With the rise of social media, it’s become easier to self-promote which can help you stretch your marketing budget, but keep in mind that more traditional avenues such as ads and PR will help you reach a larger audience faster. Print campaigns and even promotional imagery needed for your site and media coverage will incur costs for photographers, models, stylists, etc., but has the potential to push your brand forward. PR can help you build a rapport with the media and can bring you good relationships with the press.
Now you just need your line to sell, sell, sell. Early on you’ll want to decide upon an e-commerce, direct-to-consumer, wholesale or brick-and-mortar platform. Keep in mind that your revenue numbers will also be affected depending on which route you take. Those who opt for wholesale should note that department stores and boutiques take a portion of the profits, giving you a smaller return. This could be beneficial in the launch of your brand, by getting your name out there and into the hands of major department store shoppers. Selling direct-to-consumer allows you to pocket 100 percent of the profit, but requires more marketing and promotion on your behalf as the buyers need to come directly to you for product. This also means the funds for a store or web space, warehouse and salaries will come directly from your pocket. There are pros and cons to each scenario, and each should be carefully considered depending on your line and brand needs.
It’s never easy starting a new business and there’s never a clear-cut outline for launching a new label. Depending on your location, products, capital, experience and talent, no two businesses will be exactly the same. To be frank, most new designers trying to launch their own brand eventually fail. Even if you are successful at starting your line, most fashion companies are not profitable until they’ve reached five to 10 million in annual sales, which can take years to accomplish. If you want to make some fun clothes for you and your friends, it might be better just to hire a designer to create a couple one-off pieces. If you’re looking to start a business and make a name for yourself in the fashion industry then it’s time to sit down and write out your mission statement.