- Leveraging business partnerships are a necessity for any successful fashion design brand. Enlisting a MBA graduate to launch a brand can be mutually beneficial.
- Business partnerships are needed to grow a brand, but the designer should also develop basic business skills to keep production running smoothly.
- The average cost to launch a new fashion design brand is a minimum of $50,000, but less for smaller or home operations.
If you've got a passion for fashion but you're lacking a knack for business, don't worry, you can still turn your creative flair into a successful entrepreneurial endeavor. What you need to make it work is a savvy business partner.
"It is very rare to be a creative and a business person contemporarily," said Alessandra Basso, London Business School graduate and co-author of "Commercializing Creativity," a report offering advice for up-and-coming fashion designers.
"That is why many designers look for a trusted business partner, initially someone from the designer's inner circle, who can focus on the day-to-day operations of the business, allowing the designer to concentrate on the products and creation process," Basso added.
How to start a fashion design business
The first phase of launching any type of business, including in fashion design, is creating a business plan. A business plan provides a clear vision for the company and can be referenced throughout the startup process. Within the plan, core values should be highlighted. One example of a core value for a fashion design business is gaining credibility by delivering exceptional products.
Market research is another part of starting a fashion design business. Find out what trends are popular and whether your designs are marketable. Another part of research is gaining a clear understanding of the manufacturing process. Designers need to develop solid partnerships with manufacturers for production to go smoothly.
Network with established fashion designers to learn more about the trade. Attend fashion shows, seminars, and workshops to connect with those in the business and expand your network. These outings are the perfect place to gain insights on what is needed to build a fashion design business.
Keep in mind that having a formal education in fashion design is an important component for your success. Fashion design is one avenue to pursue, but having a background in fashion merchandising and the business of fashion is also vital.
Six principles of a successful fashion design business
In the report, Basso and her co-worker, Alejandra Caro, outline the six principles that fashion designers need in order to run successful businesses. Designers need to have a strategy and a business plan, understand the importance of product development, have a clear and unique brand proposition and marketing plan, be realistic about their production needs, have a solid sales and distribution plan and understand their options for financing and funding.
These six principles, Basso said, are all interconnected and equally relevant, and need to be used together to create a successful business. At the beginning, an entrepreneurial spirit is needed, but that’s not enough to find success in the industry. The designer must embrace his or her creativity and pair that asset with business sense. Delivering a good product is only half the battle. Building a brand is necessary for success in the competitive industry.
"For example, having a clear understanding of how to develop a product is necessary but not sufficient per se to successfully market fashion products if there is not an equal understanding of production or financing," Basso explained.
This is where having a business partner comes in handy. Being a designer is time-consuming enough, and even for those who are business-minded, running it all can be difficult. So how does a budding designer find the perfect business partner?
A good option, Basso said, is working with a Master of Business Administration student.
"MBAs have a global business perspective, skills and competencies to support young designers' creativity while keeping a business orientation to a fashion brand," Basso said. "MBAs can contribute to a fashion business by enabling an environment where creativity is rewarded and where designers are encouraged to take risks, while providing the proper business boundaries to monetize creativity and ensure commercial success to it."
The report also notes that many of the most well-known designers, like Giorgio Armani, Calvin Klein and Alexander McQueen all had business partners who helped them achieve their fashion fame.
Business partners are also key for assistance with sales and distribution. A strategy is needed to confirm that buyers and retailers will be interested in your brand. Contracts are needed between designers, manufacturers and retailers. Business partners help navigate contractual obligations for all parties.
Creativity and money matters
At the end of the day, however, making it in the fashion design industry is all about having confidence and understanding what you want out of your business.
"Designers need to know who they want to be and what they want their brand to be; otherwise, it's very difficult to emerge from such a competitive industry," Basso said.