When asked this question, many will come up with a predictable answer. They’ll say that successful fashion entrepreneurs need creativity, passion, or perhaps simply great designs. But the trait they may not put at the top of the list – where it should be – is a good business mind.
While the other traits are essential parts of making it in the industry, the number one thing you need is an entrepreneurial spirit. The term ‘fashion entrepreneur’ is much more about the ‘entrepreneur’ than it is ‘fashion’. The attributes listed here can be useful no matter what industry you operate in.
Understand that it’s a business first
This is a story we’ve all heard before. An entrepreneur starts a business in an industry they’re passionate about, only to be hit with a reality check when they realise passion alone doesn’t pay for overheads. And this isn’t a tale unique to fashion.
Enthusiasm is important, of course. But it’s not the be all and end all. Truly great fashion entrepreneurs become successful because they have the right mix of business acumen and fashion know-how. It’s how brands like Jimmy Choo became so successful. Co-founder Tamara Mellon would run all of the operations, while Jimmy himself handled design.
Plenty of big brands had humble beginnings. Louis Vuitton, for example, moved to Paris when he was just 16, performing odd jobs before becoming an apprentice luggage maker. He eventually found himself working for Napoleon III and founded one of the world’s most famous luxury brands.
Don’t get caught up in the glamorous aspects of the fashion industry. You have to understand that fashion isn’t all catwalks, parties and awards ceremonies. It will be years of blood, sweat and tears, packing boxes and managing your company’s logistics.
Your time will be spent more on the business side of things than it will be surrounded by glitz and glamour. A great fashion entrepreneur thinks about the bottom line before anything else – even the clothes they design.
Collaboration is key
It can be tempting to go it alone in business. That way, you can keep true to your vision and do things your way. However, we have increasingly seen large fashion houses collaborating with other brands in recent years. It’s something every entrepreneur could learn from.
Tom Chapman, founder of Matchesfashion, when talking about working with emerging fashion designers, said “the success of the business wouldn’t have been possible without them”. While you may not be on the level of Supreme collaborating with Louis Vuitton or H&M with Karl Lagerfeld, there are definite benefits as a smaller brand. You can’t be afraid to trade ideas in today’s share-happy social media landscape.
Entrepreneurs need to take risks, and fashion is no exception. But that doesn’t just mean fresh, interesting, designs. Ralph Lauren said, “personal style is about taking a risk”, and those hoping to get into the industry will be no stranger to taking risks in their self-styling. But it can be hard to convince yourself to take risks in business.
Think of it like this. When you take a risk with what you wear, it gets you noticed. It shows that you are an individual, with a unique sense of style. It teaches you not to be afraid of throwing something on and hoping it works, which leads to personal growth.
Similarly, taking risks with your business is the same. Going against the grain shows you are different to consumers. Calvin Klein took a risk by borrowing $10,000 to start his company, and less than 10 years later it had earned $30 million.
It can be hard to stand out, especially in today’s fast-fashion market. In an oversaturated market, a fashion house without a USP won’t last long. You have to be disruptive and challenge the way the industry operates to grow, and you can’t do so without taking risks.
Know your audience
Nowhere is it more important to know your audience than in fashion, and today’s consumer is more fickle than ever. Fads used to take time to develop, spread, and eventually die out. Now it seems like fashion trends spring up and disappear overnight.
That’s why you have to be be agile. You need to be able to spot trends before they happen, or better yet – create them. This isn’t like other businesses where you develop a product and perfect it over years. You need to create something perfect for that moment and then move on to something new. You simply can’t rest on your laurels and keep finding success.
If you have a good mind for business, a willingness to collaborate and take risks, as well as understand your customers, then there is nothing stopping you from becoming the next great fashion entrepreneur.