The Top Fashion Business Advice From Your Favorite Designers & Entrepreneurs
When it comes to being a success in the fashion industry, there seems to be some key concepts that many fashion designers advise no matter their actual market category.
So whether you’re a high-end designer or a more street focused brand, these pieces of advice come from a variety of designers and entrepreneurs that have one main thing in common...they have built a business and understand what it takes to get there.
As constant students in business, one thing we’ve learned in our own experiences is that you have to be open-minded when it comes to growing your business.
By learning from others who have already accomplished what you yourself would like to achieve is one great way of continuing to grow and evolve.
One important factor we’ve noticed in not only researching this article but within entrepreneurship overall, is that there are two components when it comes to success
→ Mindset advice + actionable strategies.
Whether you are a fashion, product-based, or even sales rep/consultant, there are key mindset qualities that all successful entrepreneurs possess.
We’ve compiled a list of four mindset tips and four action steps you can take into consideration and also follow through on.
With that in mind, read on to see what some of the most successful fashion entrepreneurs have to say about growing your business whether it’s through mindset or actionable tips and strategies.
BE BOTH PASSIONATE AND DETERMINED
This quality seems like a given, but being passionate and determined are two qualities we read about time and time again. You obviously have to be passionate about what you’re doing, but in our opinion, being determined is just as important.
Take in mind this statement made by the president of Saks Fifth Avenue about young designer Christopher Kane’s success:
“When I first met Christopher, he had borrowed £300 from his grandmother to buy the fabric for his collection from a Glasgow street market. In his year at Central St. Martins, there was also a very wealthy student who spent a substantial amount of money on his collection. Christopher has gone on to become successful. The other hasn’t. Christopher had hunger and passion and the other designer didn’t.” - Marigay Mckee
Being a fashion entrepreneur is tough. No one talks about the ups and downs of this industry. Therefore to stay positive when everything seems to be going wrong is one of the hardest things to overcome.
Even the most successful designers like Tom Ford have a hard time with this:
"Try to remain positive. I struggle with this one too. When our job is to constantly scrutinize things for what’s wrong with them and to correct them and to remake them into our vision, it’s easy to see the glass as half-empty. Think about it: All day long we say, “No, no, no—it’s wrong!” It kind of a negative process. Our brain becomes critical. We have to always try to see the glass as half-full.” - Tom Ford
We are a society obsessed with everything fast.
Being patient and taking the time to fully understand what it takes to grow your business can be a blessing in disguise according to Erdem Moralioglu.
“I think an important lesson is patience and understanding that growing at a slower pace is good — not to get too big too quickly. I think patience is important because you can control things. You can control how your product is made, you can control how what you do is sold. I think all of those things that are so important to get right from the beginning require patience. Understanding that controlled growth is a good thing." — Erdem Moralıoğlu
PERCEPTION IS KEY
Most designers don’t even realize that you don’t need to be a Calvin Klein in order to be considered successful. At the end of the day, YOU determine and define what success is. If you want to make a lot of money, that’s great! But this doesn’t necessarily mean you will be successful. Making a substantial profit and living a life you truly want to live on your own terms can be a quality that some would consider just as successful.
Take it from Nicole Giordano founder of Startup Fashion who helps re-define what success means for small brands and indie designers:
“Success in the fashion industry is whatever you want it to be. Yes, the fashion industry is tough. And yes, just like anything else worth pursuing it takes a lot of hard work to build a business and become profitable. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. And it surely doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go after what you want. When I hear people talk about being successful, so many concentrate on making exorbitant amounts of money. Don’t get me wrong, this can obviously count as success. But so can making a living spending your days doing exactly what you love.” - Nicole Giordano, founder of Startup Fashion
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KNOW YOUR NUMBERS
This is something we teach within The Sales Concept all day long. You cannot grow a profitable business without knowing your numbers. This piece of advice from street designer Jeff Staple is such a great example of not only perception, but why it’s important to “look under the hood”.
Person A has a clothing line that generates $10 million a year in gross sales. But after he factors in losses/expenses, the 'net income' of that clothing Line is actually –$100,000. (Note the negative sign!)Person B has a clothing that generates only $800,000 a year in gross sales. After he factors in his losses/expenses, his "net income" is +$100,000. Person B runs a tighter ship.
Many people would rather choose to be Person A because they can walk around and say 'I have a $10 million dollar company!' But look under the hood. The smart money is on Person B. It doesn't matter how hot your brand might be. The math doesn't lie." - Jeff Staple
LEARN ABOUT THE BUSINESS SIDE
Designers are creative beings. This is a true statement that many would agree with, correct? This is by far the most important piece of advice we ourselves would offer up to small businesses.
Here's what Donna Karan, Rebecca Minkoff, and Philip Lim all have to say on this topic:
"Many designers are beyond talented and hope that their voice and vision will skyrocket their career alone, and don’t really realize that it takes so much more than that. As entrepreneurs, it’s crucial to understand the business part of fashion. Every single successful designer will tell you this. If you want to just design, you may want to consider starting your own brand because you could be in for a rude awakening called “wearing multiple hats”. And Anne Klein taught me to care about each and every detail. She was the name designer of her company, yet she didn’t miss a trick when it came to presentation and sales strategy. I saw that for your clothes to succeed, you had to be as much a businesswoman as you were a designer.” - Donna Karan
“[My advice for young women is] to get as much of a well-rounded training as possible and don't focus your abilities just on, "I'm gonna be the best sketcher!" - Rebecca Minkoff
“Here’s the biggest lesson I’ve come to realise. Creativity is not sequestered to artistic ventures. You actually use the energy and the power of creativity to create business — to think about what you’re making. You try and communicate with what you create, right? So imagine if you didn’t just put it in a creative box — take that energy of creativity and create a business dialogue. Creativity creates business, but business affords creativity. That’s my simple philosophy: you have to have both.”
— Phillip Lim
FIND THE KEY TO SALES AND DISTRIBUTION
Let’s face it, when it comes to growing your business, sales is the most important aspect. No sales, no company. If you’re planning on growing the wholesale side of the business, getting the buyer’s attention is the first step.
Anne Pitcher, the managing director of British department store Selfridges says it best:
“To be successful, you’ll need to get the attention of buyers. They’ll want to know what’s unique about your product, how it fits with their other brands, whether it’s at the right price point, and whether your business is well-structured. I think what could be improved is the designers’ sense of place.” They need to know how they compare to the competition. Who is going to buy the product? Where you would like to be sold, realistically? Will it be the right price? These questions have to be answered before picking up a pen to design.” - Anne Pitcher
HAVE A PLAN
Whether you are just starting out or have been in business for a while, it’s important that you have a plan. Start with at least a five-year plan to begin setting some goals to actually get to that plan. This is also something that goes back to a point that Nicole [from Startup Fashion] makes about determining your overall plan. If your ultimate goal is to sell the company to a larger fashion house, your goals and how you get there are going to be a lot different than someone who hopes to build more of a lifestyle company with more creative control and flexibility.
“Have a five-year plan, a 10-year plan, even a 20-year plan. And possibly an exit strategy. You can always change that, but start with a vision. Where do you want to be, how big do you want to be, what context are you planning on designing in? I’ve personally always liked the idea of global domination. I never understood anyone who thought, “You know, I’m going to work really, really hard and I’m gonna be second best!” - Tom Ford
At the end of the day, you have to remember that each entrepreneur has their own path. Each journey is different and one doesn't make the other better than the other. The main thing to remember is to always strive for what you want, and be a student of the world.