Being a fashion designer is like being a circus plate spinner; you need to be skilled in multiple areas like business and art at the same time.
Your Very Own Brand
Creating your own business is difficult enough, but becoming a fashion designer is a whole other animal. There are other creative and ethical challenges that you will contend with and important decisions that will have to be made.
The Beginnings of Your Clothing Line
The first step is to write a business plan. It will be a roadmap and guide for your business. Business plans are not mandatory, but it’s strongly advised to make one. It doesn’t mean that you can’t change or modify it later on. Improvements and updates are welcome.
You will have to adapt your business to your local market if you plan on selling locally. Your advertising campaigns will also need to be tailored to the groups you’re looking to sell to. Business is a game of adaptation and evolution.
It’s important to know what you’re good at and to find a gap in the market that isn’t being filled by another company or brand. Finding your niche starts with identifying your audience first and then developing products for that market.
There are several things that go into understanding and catering to any particular market. Figure out what types of materials they are interested in, sourcing, and aesthetics. Then, do some research on your competitors and what they’re doing.
Knowing what your competition isn’t fulfilling for your target demographic is half the battle. The upside to this part is that researching doesn’t require special techniques or skills. Your competition has advertising and social networks to draw data from.
The next step is to register your business with the state and file the appropriate paperwork. Depending on where you live and want the business to be, you’ll probably need to get a business license and maybe even permits. Lastly, you’ll need to apply for an EIN to pay business taxes to the IRS.
Then Comes the Designing
Now comes the time to actually start designing your clothing line. Depending on what you want your clothing to cost, you’ll have to figure out what type of material to design with. This is a critically important part of the designing process because your budget is dependent on it.
Unless you have manufacturing equipment at your disposal, you’re going to need to partner with a manufacturer. Most designers have overseas contracts but if you plan on having a brand associated with ethics and environmentalism, try to work with a domestic manufacturer.
Later Stages of a New Clothing Line
Pricing is difficult because you want to make a profit, but you also don’t want to make your clothing so expensive that your target audience can’t afford your products. This is a balancing act, and it’s entirely up to you to figure out what your market is willing to pay.
Where Will You Sell?
Next is to decide where to sell your line. There are a handful of options; brick and mortar, established online retailers, your own online storefront, or any combination of these options. Opening your own physical store with your brand is a monumentally difficult task.
Most designers sell to established stores and boutiques. Some of the most successful brands start on websites like Etsy and do very well. Amazon is certainly an option, but the margins are not very good on that storefront.
Your market research will come in handy when it comes to marketing. Luckily, the internet provides a flurry of free methods and platforms to advertise your product—namely, Instagram and Facebook. These are truly useful for marketing to particular groups.
In order to succeed and not hit too many bumps on the road, surround yourself with experts. Hiring a consultant can give you a major head start. Be very careful who you hire, and be sure to run a background check on the previous work they claim to have done.
The financing aspect can get a little complicated, but there are some basics to keep in mind. Open a business account with your bank. Keeping your personal and professional finances separate can save a lot of trouble with bookkeeping in the long run.
While you’re at it, apply for a line of credit for your business. It’s a great way to help finance the business and build your own credit at the same time. If you already have a good credit history, you can even apply for a business loan to get the company off the ground.
The best way to source materials is through eCommerce sites, where you can buy large quantities for wholesale prices. Try to work out a deal with the manufacturer to get the best deal possible.
Types of Fashion Design
The world of fashion is vast. There is so much history, culture, and economics at play with every area of it. However, modern fashion design can be broken down into three basic areas; fast fashion, ethical fashion, and haute couture.
Designing fashion that is cheap and trendy is profitable and tempting to pursue. After all, it’s a lot easier to find overseas material suppliers and manufacturers that are cheap, regardless of their methods.
However, you get what you pay for, and that philosophy and cost-cutting will reflect in your product quality. Polyester is used in over 50% of clothing, and it is terrible for the environment. And it gets worse; it’s not biodegradable.
Fast fashion companies have intensely large marketing budgets that attempt to constantly convince people to upgrade and change their wardrobes.
Fast fashion is likely not worth designing, considering the eco-friendly push and demand for ethical working conditions that we’re seeing today.
Fashion and sustainability have never really gone hand in hand. The fashion industry, as a whole, has been getting better about environmentalism and conservation over recent years, though. Many companies have been adapting to carbon-neutral sourcing.
If you’re looking into fashion design with an emphasis on sustainability, you need to define what you believe is ethical. Your focus could be on a number of issues, like working conditions at the manufacturer’s workshops, organic material sourcing, and more.
Eco-friendly materials are not only good for the planet, but they can also be a marketing bonus for your brand.
For example, Allbirds is a shoe company that has recently been branching into clothing and are known for their ethical supply chains. The company claims to be carbon neutral, and their eco-friendly marketing has worked well in garnering them positive reviews. Most of their product line includes materials like ethically sourced wool, tree material, and even sugar.
When pursuing ethical design concepts, the first step is understanding where your materials come from and what exactly they are made of. If you don’t know what materials you’ll be working with, you can’t make the designs.
Haute couture is the highest level of fashion possible in terms of style, construction, and materials. Pricing your garments at extremely high points is not enough to consider your clothing couture. There are rigid standards required to be met.
In France, there is a trade federation called Federation De La Haute Couture Et De La Mode. The organization sets dates for Paris Fashion Week and is also responsible for setting industry standards. There are three separate bodies within the federation; couture, men’s fashion, and women’s fashion.
There are specific qualifications to be considered an official couture house: a minimum of two collections per year and 35 pieces per collection. The pieces must be made to order for mostly private clients and usually involve three or more fitting sessions per piece.
Your workshop must employ at least 15 full-time employees and at least 20 technical workers. The federation does have a famous school that teaches all facets of fashion and the skills required to make them. Studying at this school is not a requirement to work at a couture house, though.
Each couture house piece takes hundreds of hours to create and must abide by the federation’s strict standards. Pieces from these designers average between roughly $40,000 to $80,000, but they can be less or more expensive depending on the piece.
Couture clothing itself is not particularly profitable in and of itself. What really makes money is marketing accessorization around the clothing that is shown off in magazines and runways.
If you’re interested in designing couture, moving to France and designing is your best route. You will likely have to work and design for years before a couture house is willing to hire you. It will also take knowing the right people.
Getting a degree from a respected fashion school is helpful, but by no means does it guarantee you a position. Showing your experience and skills is what will get you into a couture house.
The Last Thread
Becoming a fashion designer requires a lot of knowledge, experience, and creativity. With the right vision and passion in your heart, your dreams of becoming a successful designer can come true with the right path.
Write your business plan | U.S. Small Business Administration
French Fashion Federation changes name | Fashion Network
Sustainability in fashion | CNBC