Fashion design: It’s glamorous, and you can showcase your own unique language, your unique style. But despite all that, I know many designers with talent who just manage to break even or are often struggling to make ends meet. Simply put, fashion is a very challenging industry, and it’s constantly changing. Yet determined people can, and do, manage to break in and succeed in the field.
Fashion designer Emilia Wickstead’s studio. Photo source: Edd Horder
1. Finding an investor is not (necessarily) the solution: Typically, one of the first things fashion entrepreneurs want to do is find an investor, and this is quite natural, because for many funding is an issue. This may not be a popular opinion, but I am not a big fan of this approach, because I have seen that it curtails creativity. In the beginning, I would advise starting on your own, while being mindful of costs.
2. Make sure to have a truly unique and desirable product: You really need to offer something different, something that consumers will want to buy. The fashion market—from luxury to fast fashion—is an oversaturated market already. There is such a wealth of product in every category imaginable, and you really have to stand out and be desirable. Ultimately, this is what will grab the attention of consumers, and, importantly, the attention of editors, stylists, influencers, vloggers, and the like.
Halpern Spring/Summer 21 collection. Photo source: Halpern
3. Start small: Produce smaller quantities and sell them in a limited number of outlets. You invest less of your money. It will cost you less, and at the same time you will also increase desirability; for example, if a purchaser can’t get the same product in the same colour again that adds an element of exclusivity and desirability. That’s why we see designers launching drop campaigns, where a limited number of items are launched, and a purchaser can only buy them at that time.
Shoe designer Amina Muaddi starting her day at the factory working on her shoe
line Oscar Tiye. Photo source: Amina Muaddi
4. Keep an eye on costs: In the beginning, you will invest a lot, and there will be a lot more money flowing out than coming in. So, you have to reduce costs whenever you can. Can you do your own social media? Have friends help you with photography? Enlist all the help you can get from friends and family, who eventually could be employed in the business as it grows.
5. Take calculated risks: Our biggest distributor in Russia came about unexpectedly, and it didn’t happen overnight. A shop owner walked into our factory in Istanbul, Turkey, and said he had very little money, but loved the product and wanted to sell it back home. We agreed to give it to him right then and there and he was back only few weeks later, having sold every item we had given him. This was in the late 1990s, when the market in Russia was just opening up, post-communism. So, you can take risks, but of course, make sure they are calculated risks.
My advice is to use these tips as a foundation, network like crazy, and approach every aspect of the industry as an opportunity to learn and grow. Launching and thriving as a fashion designer does require an extraordinary level of commitment, drive, creativity, and adaptability. But it’s doable, and for many of us it’s a dream that’s worth pursuing.