10 Things Every Fashion Entrepreneur Should Know

Guest post by Julia Elliott Brown, Co-Founder, Upper Street, for our Fashion & Retail Theme.

Starting your own fashion business can be a daunting prospect, especially in these economically challenging times. Upper Street, the design your own shoes label is making waves in the industry despite launching at one of the worst times in British retail history. Julia Elliott Brown CEO, shares some worthy advice for any would be fashion entrepreneur:  

1. Be unique. Fashion is a really competitive industry. Whilst you may be passionate about your idea you need to be sure it’s going to get noticed by consumers. Stand out in the market; make sure your product or service fills a real need and is different from the competition through its design, function or the way you sell it.  

2. Know your numbers – You’ve got the great idea, but you’ll need to figure out how to make the numbers work to create a viable business. Understand your product margin, adding in packaging costs, shipping and taxes then make sure you’re generating enough cash to keep the business running. If that means getting investment to make it work, then be open to that.

Fashion is a creative business so you may not be that analytical by nature. Enlist outside help if the idea of financial management brings you out in a cold sweat.

3. Create a business plan – This will be essential if you’re looking for investment or plan to borrow from the bank to get your idea off the ground. Do your research and build a good understanding of who your customers will be and who you will be competing against for their attention.

After describing the market, the business plan should cover the operational side of the business; everything from how you will manage production and order fulfillment, stock management, to the staff you’ll need to execute the plan. Your backers are going to want to see how their money will be spent and at what point it’s going to make them some money back.

Even if you’re not looking for investment, mapping out your plans will really help you stay focused. Allow yourself some flexibility to test things out.

Changes happen quickly in the fashion industry, especially online. We are constantly learning what works best for our business and regularly revisit our plans.

4. Building a fashion brand doesn't happen overnight. Most brands we’re familiar with today have taken years to become household names. We’ve been running for three years now and the most common reaction we get from women is “Why on earth didn’t I hear about Upper Street before, this is a brilliant idea! “We’ve still got a lot of work to do to raise awareness. 

5. Keep abreast of industry trends and news. Understanding the outside forces that will shape your business will help you make informed decisions. Granted, finding the time is not always easy when you have so many other things on your plate. Subscribe to daily industry email alerts and then set aside 15 minutes over a morning coffee to flick the headlines, taking a deeper dive into the most relevant stories. My personal favourites are www.businessoffashion.com  and www.theindustrylondon.com.

6. PR is invaluable

Endorsement from the fashion press helps give your brand credibility and gets your message out to consumers. Expect to spend a lot of time on this activity.

I’d suggest you engage the help of a PR agency or freelancer if you’ve got the budget. We’ve worked with a couple of different agencies and they’ve been fantastic.  Their experience and contacts help us to execute our plans much more efficiently than we’d be able to do in-house. Set yourself a realistic monthly PR budget and work closely with the agency to create a plan that sticks to it. Easier said than done when there are always so many good ideas!  

Bloggers can be massively influential and it’s definitely worth nurturing personal relations with the important ones. Let them experience your product/service first hand and really engage them in what you are doing. 

7. Show your product in the best light. You may have the most fantastic product but customers won’t have confidence to buy if they can’t see it properly, or it’s not desirably presented. Investment in decent product photography will be money well spent.  If you’re selling online, multi angle shots and zoom functionality both really help to make the sale.   

8. The customer experience is everything. Your customers are your most important assets and your best allies. Look after them. Make sure your product quality is excellent and your service stands up to the “Would it delight me?” test. Give your customers an amazing experience and they’ll be sure to come back and also tell their friends. One in four of our customers come to Upper Street because a friend has recommended our service. That’s powerful marketing! 

9. Cultivate a strong personal network.

The fashion industry can seem pretty intimidating from the outside. We’ve learnt that it’s far from that once you get stuck in.

There are so many wonderful characters who have plenty of great advice and stories to share.  Building and nurturing relationships can open many interesting and often unexpected doors. This can really help you get ahead, especially when it comes to securing creative partnerships. But as much as others can help you, there are always plenty of ways that you can be a useful contact. I’m a true believer that you reap what you sew in this life.

10. Believe in yourself. Finally, don’t let the naysayers derail you. Whilst it’s important to stay open to constructive criticism, you’ll find yourself tugged in all kinds of directions if you let yourself always be influenced by outside opinion. Have a clear vision, trust your instinct and determinedly pursue that dream.

If you have a strong idea, with an excellent people behind you, then you can make your business succeed even in a difficult climate.

Julia Elliott Brown is the Co-founder of Upper Street, the made-to-order luxury shoe label where you can design your own shoes in sizes 33 - 43 and have them delivered right to your door.

Click here to read our September 2012 interview with Julia.

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