5 Tools Fashion Brands Need to be Successful from StartUP Fashion

I work with independent and emerging fashion designers every single day. I see the ups and downs, the challenges and victories, and the variety of approaches and strategies that these brands are experiencing and experimenting with regularly.

Because of that, I’ve gotten a pretty good idea of what tools a designer needs to have in hand in order to create a strong blueprint for business success.  These important tools all revolve around the concept of having a “plan” for each of the major components of the business. Business planning is an interesting thing-- not enough planning and lack of direction will cause confusion and overwhelm, while too much planning causes paralysis and avoidance. Here I lay out of the most important plans fashion brands should work on in order to have the tools necessary for business growth and success.


The Business Plan

The fashion business plan is the first tool you want in your toolbox. It’s purpose is not to define every last detail of your business idea, but instead to help you think about and articulate your concept enough to get things rolling.

The plan doesn’t need to be overly detailed or full of financial projections (yet). But instead you should spend time in the idea stage answering, and feeling good about, the following questions:  

  • Why you’re doing it

  • What problem you’re solving

  • Who you want to serve

  • How you will fund it

  • How you will market it

  • How you will make money

The basic fashion business plan outline is that perfect balance between overthinking and going in blind.


The Financial Plan

In the early stages of your business, your financial plan should address how much money you have, how much money you need, and how you plan to make that money. It should also include three basic budgets:

  • Production Budget

    • Use a costing sheet to break down each element of your garment or accessory and determine the cost of creating your products

  • Marketing Budget

    • Think about how you plan to get the word out about your brand and then decide what you need in order to do that--  things like photography, graphic design and branding, website development, fees for shows and events.

  • Operating Budget

    • What do you need to spend on regularly to operate your business? Subscriptions to digital tools, website and shopping cart fees, virtual assistant to help get everything done all come to mind.

One of the biggest mistakes I see emerging brands make is to look at their money purely focused on the production-related needs. Meaning, they spend all their money on making their products and then say: I don’t have money for great photography, a high-quality website, a virtual assistant (something particularly helpful when you’re also working a day job), an email platform subscription, or anything else that is necessary for marketing and operating a new business.

Spend time creating a basic financial plan early on to cover your overall needs (not just your production costs) and get more sophisticated with it as you grow.


The Production Plan
When it comes to producing your pieces, you need to figure out what exactly you want to produce, how you’re going to do it, gain knowledge about how the production process works, and create the necessary documents to get things underway.

Here what you need to think about:

  • Will you produce domestically or overseas?

  • Will you hire a full-service manufacturer or work with a pattern maker and sample maker first, and then a factory for production?

  • Will you source sustainable fabrics and materials? And was does “sustainable” mean to you? It has different meanings based on each designer’s values and belief systems.

  • What your production costs are (see above about the financial plan!) and therefore how many pieces you can afford to make.

  • What will your approach be? A fully merchandised collection, a capsule of 3 to 6 pieces, or maybe a signature piece to launch with and grow upon?

  • Who will make your tech pack or spec sheet? This is an important document that describes in detail how your piece is to be made. You need one for each style you plan to produce. A tech pack is more involved than a spec sheet and each factory is different about which one they require.  

  • What is your timeline? When do you hope to launch and what is the lead time of your chosen factory? Add a minimum of 4 weeks to the lead time quote. I’m serious.

When you have a clear picture of what you’re doing, you work with confidence and authority, and feel less overwhelmed and confused.


The Marketing Plan

Too often designers don’t spend the time early on figuring out how they will get the word out about their business. Responses like “on social media” do not cut it.

Here are some questions you should be able to answer:

  • Which social media platform(s) will you focus on?

  • What is your budget for running digital ads?

  • What content will you be creating?

  • Will you be blogging?

  • What’s your email marketing strategy?

  • Who will create the graphics and brand assets for marketing?

  • What social media scheduling tools with you use to save time?

  • What events will you participate in?

  • Will you run contests, collaborate with other brands, or do something special for launch?

The more detailed you can get with how you’ll market your business the better. The vague approach does not usually work but instead leaves brands feeling anxious and feeling like nothing is going right.


The Sales Plan

You need to know how you plan to sell your collection. And I’m not just talking about “on my website and sell to stores.”  That is not a sales plan. I want you to be able to able answer the following questions:

  • Will you be selling direct to consumer? If so, how?

    • On your website? Trunk shows? Pop-up shops? In-home shows? Pop Up shops?

  • If you are selling D2C, do you have the budget for heavy content creation? It’s key to D2C success.

  • Will you be selling wholesale? If so, how?

    • Tradeshows? Buyer previews? Cold calling?

  • If you are selling wholesale, do you have the budget for things like a line sheet (every buyer asks for one, it lays out each style you offer, the colors and materials available, and other important details), the fees and costs associated with showing at a tradeshow, a lookbook?

When you create your sales plan, you want to end up with a clear picture of how you will be selling, the investment needed for each, and details and specifics like which shows will you attend, how many trunk shows will you put on each year, and which stores you will be pitching.

With all of these plans, try not to get overwhelmed with the “answers”. Remember that plans are meant to give you direction but that sometimes things change. And that’s OK. Use them as blueprints, not roadmaps, because the road for each designer is different.

Create your plans, pay attention to how things are going, make adjustments when necessary, and try your best to enjoy the exciting process!


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Nicole Giordano is the founder of StartUp FASHION, a resource and online community focused on helping overwhelmed fashion designers take action, make progress, and reach their entrepreneurial goals.


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