Being a fashion entrepreneur for over a decade I am always amazed by the capacity of the fashion industry to embrace the change and integrate the new trends and technologies in the development of the business. The changes have accelerated at a mindblowing speed in the last six years and 2017 is probably a major turning point in the fashion industry. What about 2018?
As an emerging designer, do you know how to play your cards to grasp the opportunities in 2018? Here are a few areas you need to focus on if you want your brand to thrive next year:
Cultivate the art of being a startup
As an emerging fashion designer, by definition, you are a startup. I have good news: this is an excellent position at a time when the fashion industry is going through drastic transformations. Even strongly established fashion companies are trying to instill startup mindset in their teams.
Operating your fashion company in a startup mode have many benefits that contribute to building a competitive edge over larger and more established brands. Out of the many characteristics of a startup, I would like to highlight INNOVATION and AGILITY.
Being a new player provides you with a powerful advantage as you are inspired to create from scratch everything around your brand. Every day you need to question and try new things in your products development, the communication channels, your marketing, sales strategies…etc. Because startups do not have an unlimited budget, you are forced to play it smart and try new strategies, new processes, experience new materials, designs, launch new products, explore new markets…etc. This attitude forms an excellent basis to foster innovation: the more you try out new things and tactics, the higher are your chances of getting the innovation that will enable your brand to have a breakthrough in the fashion industry.
The other advantage of a smaller team lays in the speed of the decision-making process that could be faster and more participative. Working with a relatively new and small team enables your company to rapidly execute new plans and adapt to market changes. The chain of command finds a shorter path from the decision to its implementation. The various processes of the business operation are also more flexible and easier to adapt. Your company or business is by nature much more agile than your competitors.
The attitude and the mindset of all your team members can make all the difference. Does everybody understand the rules of the game? Are they willing to ask questions and accept changes? Is everyone hungry for experiencing new ways of approaching an old problem?
Establish direct communication lines with your customers
Customers want to know who they buy from and what are the values of the brand. In addition to moral values, customers also want to understand the aspiration of a brand, its uniqueness, the reason that your brand is different from its peers…etc. Posts and photos are shared and information can get viral. Establishing a direct communication line with your customers is particularly important if you want to maintain the quality of your relationship.
It is also a powerful marketing tool to test promotions, product launches and even sell your products. You do not necessarily need to own an e-shop because today there are many e-commerce platforms available: you can just plug your descriptions, photos and inventory, and start selling. But the key to success is your ability to drive the traffic to the platform and to enroll your customers in your brand vision.
You might be tempted to outsource the communication part, many designers do so. But don’t forget that only you can speak with the most authentic voice and this is what creates a deep connection with your customers. This is what makes a difference from a more established brand.
As a brand owner, do you focus on keeping the conversation going between you and your customers? In addition to social media platforms, what are the other channels? do you have newsletters? are you personally involved in sales events such as pop-up stores and trunk shows? Don’t forget: show up often, share your vision, reveal your brand personality.
Be connected as consumers are highly digitalized
Consumers have access to a plethora of information, deals and shopping platforms to choose from when purchasing a product online. Statistics of e-commerce are growing in most markets. More remarkably, transactions on smartphones have skyrocketed in Asia, particularly in China with 90% of the products purchased from a mobile device (smartphone and tablet) during the Alibaba Single Day Shopping Festival. More and more chat apps and social media platforms have integrated shopping features (WeChat, FB Messenger…etc).
On what platforms and which channels you could sell your products? When you partner with a marketplace, e-shop, how active are they on these channels? Be curious. Stay abreast of the retail technologies, at least curious about the topic so you can be where your customers are.
Get ready to export
The demand for fashion has shifted from the West to the East. The middle-class has grown in such a scale in Asia and South America that BoF and McKinsey have predicted in their yearly report that ”in 2018, an important tipping point will be reached when for the first time, more than half of apparel and footwear sales will originate outside of Europe and North America”.
It is a good strategy to start selling in your neighborhood and in your home country, but your real growth potential is beyond your borders. The old saying “the world is your oyster” has never been more relevant than today in the fashion industry, particularly as an emerging designer. Go get it!
Your distribution strategy should include export and you need to start answering the following questions: What are the channels? How to communicate? What is the pricing strategy? Shipping? Customs? Payments?
Transcend sustainability, seek to be as transparent as possible
Consumers are more and more demanding. They want a unique design, good quality and also positive moral value attached to the pieces they buy. In 2017, sustainability has become an integrative part of the fashion ecosystem. Brands face the obligation to observe the sustainable development principles in all steps of its operation. However since the principles of sustainable development could be interpreted and implemented in various ways, I would suggest you to first define what sustainability means to you and to your brand, in your own environment, then to be as transparent as possible and to let your customer appreciate your effort to achieve sustainability. Your customers are intelligent. Don’t just tell them you care about sustainability. Show them how you care.
How is my sourcing? production? working conditions? waste management?…etc. What is the impact of my business on the environment? on the people? These are the many questions you need to answer as a brand owner.
Beyond sustainability, “don’t do evil” could be a good motto to follow in 2018. (Google’s original motto).
Know your worth: being small is a big asset
As an emerging designer, you most likely produce in small quantities and do not cover every market. This is precisely an excellent asset for 2018! In this day and age when established brands have aggressive distribution strategy with global distribution tactics, the market is easily flooded with the same “it” product, may it be a bag or a pair of shoes. Fashion lovers do not enjoy meeting someone else wearing the same piece, they want difference! they want exclusivity! they want to feel special! As the global fashion sphere has become a small village, producing in small quantity is a strong selling point.
Stay different. Be unique. Become the most authentic version of yourself.