Fashion Startup Advice You Didn't Know You Needed
Are you thinking about starting a brand but are having some doubts? These are the most commonly asked fashion startup questions I get emailed.
Believe me - whatever barrier you think is preventing you from starting your clothing brand, other people have been there before. And, here's the good news - I can show you how you are not only alone in your self-doubts but also how I have helped people work past them to launch their dream businesses.
That's why today I am going over the 13 most common questions I get asked from soon-to-be entrepreneurs who are on the fence about starting a fashion startup business.
But, before we get started
Have you heard about the super secret document that everyone in the fashion industry uses, but no one is talking about? Probably not. That is because you can't find it on Google or Instagram (believe me, I've tried).
It's a form I have used for over 13 years at every job I have ever had. Literally everyone from brands to fabric suppliers use it, but you can't find it anywhere publicly.
The best part? It can cut your sourcing time in half, and save you tons of money in product development! This is the kind of info consultants charge the big bucks for. And, I'm giving it away for free until the end of the month.
So, get ready to make fashion startup life a whole lot easier, and GRAB YOUR FREE DOWNLOAD OF THE NOT-SO-SECRET SOURCING DOC HERE
Let's get the money questions out of the way first. Because for most of us, that is one of the scariest parts.
I Have A Great Idea; How Do I Find Investors?
Wow. Slow down!
I was chatting with a friend who works for a VC firm. And I asked her, what should my LMCL students be doing to get pitch ready? And, what she said kind of shocked me.
"Tell them not even to bother reaching out until they have proof of concept, meaning at least 1 season of sales that prove their idea is profitable."
What she basically said was, no one is going to invest in just an idea.
The movies make it all look so easy. The main character has an idea, no one believes in them, but they believe in themselves. Then, suddenly, boom - there is a chance encounter with a rich stranger who falls in love with their blind passion. And ends up taking a chance on a quirky idea… the screen fades to black as they both become rich and famous beyond their wildest dreams.
Here is the tough love you might need - I need you to wake up. This story isn't real life.
Yea, I guess in some world, that could happen to you. But the reality is, it probably won't. Finding an investor is hard work. And, when you finally find someone interested in what you do, charming them won't be enough.
You need to show them the numbers. And, this is precisely where most founders end up going wrong.
They think that if they have a compelling and unique enough story, that's all they need to get people on board and giving them money.
You need data to prove you have a plan to make money – and not only pay that investor back but also make them even more money in profits in the long run.
And, to do this, you do need some initial money to get started. The good news? You don't need a lot, and if your product is really good, I've got a trick to raise funds for your line before you ever even place your production order.
How Much Money Do I Need To Get My Fashion Company Started? I Am Worried That Because I Don't Have $50,000 Or More To Invest, I Will Not Be Able To Launch My Company.
No! You don't need a lot of money to get started. I was actually able to help one of my LMCL students launch with only $2500.
Now, let me be clear, that was no easy feat. We strategized, bootstrapped, and were super careful about spending. But we got it done!
Can you launch a 30 piece custom capsule collection for $2500? No. But, you can launch one well research product that sells out instantly. And then, use those profits to reinvest into a bigger collection for season two and keep growing from there.
For some reason, new founders get it stuck in their heads that they need to launch these extensive collections to be taken seriously. And, this is so, so wrong. All you need is one perfect product.
Think about brands like Spanx, Crocs, Moleskin, and Hunter Boot. They all launched with just one excellent product, grew a loyal following, and expanded their brand from there.
Remember how I was talking about those unrealistic movie plot dreams a few minutes ago? Too many founders believe that success looks like a massive company with 50+ employees in a high-rise building - with a Devil Wears Prada meets Project Runway vibe. Please, toss that thought away because I know lots of founded solopreneurs that make more than enough money to support them and their families. And remember, growth happens slowly. Starting a brand is a marathon, not a sprint.
Do I Need To Know How To Draw Or Sew?
No. And, I am literally living proof of that! Let me tell you a quick story…
When I worked in fast fashion, one person from each department was supposed to travel overseas to factories. I lead the product development and sourcing team, so for my department, that person was me. Now, a designer, and also a tech person (people who write specs and draft paper patterns) were also supposed to join me. The problem was, all of the top management had "deathly fears of flying," and my boss didn't trust the more junior members of the team to go.
So, basically, overnight, I had to become a designer and pattern maker. Both of which I had exactly zero skills for.
But, I am a pretty resourceful gal. I would learn as much as I could from the designers and tech team while I was in NY, and when I got on the plane, I learned everything else on the spot. By the end of my four years, I got pretty dam good at doing jobs I initially knew nothing about.
In LMCL, I teach the methods and skill sets I developed to produce 1000's of styles a season without any design experience.
The method is a little complex and too much to get into now. But, I can promise you this. It requires absolutely no drawing, sewing, or design experience whatsoever. So, if not knowing how to do these things has prevented you from starting a clothing company. Don't let it. You can do this (and do it really well) without any type of formal training!
I Don't Believe You. All The Successful Brands I Look At Have Full Collections. No One Is Going To Take Me Seriously If I only Sell A Few Pieces.
Like I said earlier, you definitely do not need a completely ready for fashion week runway collection to launch a successful brand! But let's dive in a bit more.
Most new brands want to launch a 30 piece collection because, for some reason, they think they need to provide an entire outfit for their customer. Jeans, a t-shirt, a jacket, maybe a cami to go under the top - and all in multiple colors.
New brands feel like they need to sell an entire look - but the reality is, customers just don't shop that way.
You don't need to offer every wardrobe solution to your customer. Because, today, most of us mix and match from tons of different stores. We don't buy a complete outfit from one brand.
Still don't believe me?
I dare you to look down at the outfit you are wearing right now. I am willing to bet you are wearing more than one brand. And, I doubt you said to yourself, I can't buy this top from this brand if I don't also buy underwear, pants, socks, and a hat.
I need you to make a mindset shift right now.
Instead of creating all these different components for one outfit, think more about price points. It's not about giving someone a complete outfit to wear out of the house. It's about giving them different spending options.
The point is, more isn't always better. What's important is good merchandising—knowing the exact right mix of products to market. Most fashion retailers have entire merchandising teams. They are responsible for analyzing data, including past sales and current fashion trends, and then telling the designers exactly what they should be designing more of.
Curious about what I mean? Check out this blog post on how to merchandise your sustainable fashion line like a pro.
How Do I Find Supply Chain Partners?
The advice I am about to give you is going to require a leap of faith. But, I need you to trust me.
Interestingly, there are a few other women who do what I do - help startup fashion brands. While we don't always agree on everything, we all do agree on this…
Our supplier lists will do you absolutely no good if you don't understand how this industry actually works. And, no - having a tech pack is not all you need.
Some (read, many) of my suppliers have requested that I not refer fashion startup businesses to them. And that is because they just don't have the time to teach you how this industry works. They only want to take on serious clients who have taken LMCL and understand the ins and outs of the fashion industry.
I have an LMCL graduate who really wanted to work with this factory where her competitor was working. But basically, when she approached them, they were like; sorry, not sorry, we are not interested.
So, she took LMCL with the sole purpose of access to my list. What she learned along the way was that she was completely and totally unprepared.
About three months into the course, she approached the factory again after getting organized and doing the work the right way. This time they were so impressed with how professional she had become that they agreed to take a risk helping her small brand (which, by the way, her orders were way below their standard MOQ).
That's what I call a fashion startup success!
I know in many businesses, it's all about the list (especially email marketing). But, for sourcing and manufacturing, I can promise you this - you could have every single one of your competitor's contacts. But if you don't know the rules of the fashion game, you will be sent back to go without collecting $200 (actually, you might have even wasted thousands).
Now, you are probably thinking, but Melanie, you never answered my question. How do I find suppliers? And to answer that, I am going to say, when you have done all the research and all the fashion startup work correctly - this is no longer a question. If you think you are totally ready and are asking for supplier lists, take a pause. That is a red flag that you are doing something wrong.
I Think I Have A Good Idea, But So Many Brands Fail, How Do I "Make It"?
Starting a brand usually begins like this - we see a new brand that we like, or maybe an old Facebook friend just started a company, and we think - if they can do it, why can't I?
But then, somewhere along the fashion startup journey, our mindset shifts, and we start to think - omg, I can't do this, why did I ever think I could?
And that is the moment that separates brands that make it, and brands that don't.
The trick here is to go back to your brand's core—that very micro reason for why you are doing this.
Here is the best advice I can give you. If you take anything away from this article, please let it be this.
You and your brand don't have to be for everyone. So, when you are building your brand, really focus is on one type of person you want to attract, their specific struggles, and their needs. So often, fashion startup brands want to be everything to everyone because they want to get every possible sale possible.
And, this is a terrible mistake.
I had a student who wanted to make dresses for women. Ok, cool. But when I started asking her about who would be buying the dresses, she didn't know. She was like, well, I want them to appeal to 30 somethings, but also 60 somethings because sometimes my mom wears my clothes, but also high schoolers, because sometimes I notice that my style is on trend with younger people.
This type of multiple personality branding is a fashion startup recipe for disaster. Because think about it, the way you speak to a 16-year-old, 30-year-old, and 60 year old is totally different. And here is what ends up happening.
The 16-year-old thinks the brand is for oldies; the older person thinks the brand is too young and hip; and the 30 something is like, what is this even?
Focusing on one person and dedicating your entire brand experience to that person will create a brand that will succeed because your customer will think that you literally made it just for them.
Doing this target customer work correctly is the equivalent of becoming one of those people who walk into a room, and everyone notices them because they are so confident. They don't even have to say anything; you can just feel it. And that's exactly what a brand hat "makes it" does.
I Thought I Designed The Perfect Collection Until Someone Said "This Isn't My Style" Now I Am Rethinking Everything
Somewhere along the way, someone is going to be like, "it's just not my style."
And your first reaction is going to be to panic.
Don't panic. That's ok.
Remember what I just said a few minutes ago. You aren't for everyone. If that person is not your target customer, it doesn't matter. Some of my best-selling styles some of my friends were like, I would never wear that… you should design this instead. And I was like, great, thank you for your input.
But, I never took their advice.
Because I knew they were not the people buying my clothes, so it didn't matter if they liked them or not.
It's important to listen to what others think about your brand and to be able to get constructive criticism to make it better. Because we can and should always be working on becoming the best version of ourselves. But it's also important to know the difference between who you should be listening to and who you should be ignoring.
Please don't waste your time trying to convince people who will never buy your clothes why they are so great. Instead, spend your time talking to your target customers.
How Much Time Do I Need To Launch A Brand?
Here is where I need to give you a bit of bad news. It's going to take longer than you think. The biggest complaint I get during registration for LMCL is that the course is too long, and they want to launch in a shorter amount of time. To date, the fasted LMCL student launch I have had has been four months (and she was an influencer and had a head start building an engaged audience).
Now, get this.
When I talk to students after they graduate LMCL, many of them wish the course was even longer.
Do. Not. Rush. This. Process.
There are very few things guaranteed in life, but I can promise you this. If you rush the fashion startup process, you will ultimately end up wasting time and money. Go slow.
The realistic minimum to launch is six months. And, many of my students end up taking even longer because they want to make sure they get everything right and don't end up wasting their hard-earned money on mistakes.
Should I Get A Fashion Startup Business Partner?
Many fashion startup founders want to get a business partner because they want that support system. They don't want to feel like they are plunging into the unknown world of fashion startups alone.
But, if you are scared of flying solo – that is not a reason to get a business partner. Business partners can become tricky. It's not just you making decisions; now you have someone else that needs to agree with you too.
If you have been thinking about bringing on a partner, maybe instead, you should think about joining a support group.
In LMCL, I have quite a few different groups. First, we have the cohort group chat. Everyone that is taking the course at the same time is in this group. Second, we have the graduates group, which is everyone that has graduated from the LMCL. The last group we have is the optional accountability groups. Groups of 4-5 people that meet independently and help motivate one another to meet deadlines in a safe and intimate space for sharing ideas, venting, asking for help, or basically anything.
When you have groups like that, you don't need a business partner anymore.
Can You Sign My NDA?
Would you please stop this nonsense? No, no one in this industry will sign your NDA as you attempt to knock of Zara samples.
Asking for this shows how green you are. And when you show you're green, you get taken advantage of (read higher prices).
Now, this is not legal advice. But here is what I recommend.
If you really think you have a super unique idea, go out and get a patent. The patent will then help to protect you from others stealing your idea.
If you are making custom prints – get a copyright for them.
Do the paperwork (and pay the fees) to protect your original work legally.
And, I can tell you this. Every single person who has asked me to sign their NDA, nothing they were sharing with me was original – it was all stuff I had seen 20 times before. This then led me to conclude that they had no idea what they were really doing. And, more often than not, I ended up passing on working with them.
A copy and paste, downloaded from the internet NDA, is usually a huge red flag for suppliers.
How Do I Find Customers When Influencers and Facebook Are Too Expensive?
SEO! SEO! One more time for the people in the back... SEO!
Your marketing plan should include a many prong approach. But, I can not say enough how blogging is forever helpful to getting organic traffic to your website.
What Are The Steps To Starting A Clothing Line?
That is an entire post on its own. Check out this article about all the steps in starting your brand. Then take a look at the LMCL course to see if you want added support. LMCL is like a fashion career crash course mixed with a mentorship.
Speaking Of LMCL, How Many Of Your Students Are Successful?
I will be honest, not everyone makes it to the end and launches their line by the end of the six months. Life happens, and sometimes plans get put on hold. No one know's what life is going to bring our way.
But, there is one metric that stands out to me.
The students that take the time to show up to office hours every week and clear their calendars to watch the lessons and do the homework; are the ones that always end up launching the quickest.
So, don't worry about what other people are doing. Worry about yourself. If you decide to take LMCL, make sure you can dedicate at the very bare minimum at least 3 hours a week to your brand. One hour for watching the lesson and doing the homework, one hour for office hours, and one hour for independent work getting everything else done. While 3 hours is the minimum commitment to get you going, I would say 5-8 hours per week is a good average of the time students spend on their brands.