Young Fashion Designers: How to start your fashion business
Perhaps the question that most fashion consultants are asked is sort of an embellished big elephant in the room: “After all, how do I create my own business and become a world renowned fashion designer”?
That question may seem to be a fairly easy question to answer based on so many sources that are available nowadays through social media, educational institutions and experts on the field. However, there are so many layers to be dug, that in the end all that is left is the bedrock reflecting your own guts. Do you have what it takes to become a fashion designer? That’s the correct question that should be asked in the first place.
If launching a business, especially in the fashion industry, was so easy, Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, Barneys and so many other acclaimed department stores and boutique aisles would be filled with new and upcoming talent.
Talent and creativity can be compared to different seasonings that chefs experiment with on the same dish. One can try to make the same crème brulee, but it takes an extraordinary master to create the experience of savoring the dish to deserve a three-star Michelin rating.
According to the dictionary, extraordinary can be defined as:
a : going beyond what is usual, regular, or customary <extraordinary powers>
b : exceptional to a very marked extent <extraordinary beauty>
With such a clear vision of what one needs to possess to become extraordinary in his/her art, this very accomplishment will only be achieved by a very small percentage of individuals.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the United States Department of Labor, the market for fashion designers has declined over the years by -700 in numeric placements for acquiring a job and a decrease of -3% in the last 10 years of companies that will still be in business, by the time of providing employment.
If these negative statistics haven’t disappointed or discouraged you yet, then you might just be one of many who are participating in this marathon towards the finish line.
During my 16 years working for other designers, designing my own pieces, working as a textile engineer for big corporations, and understanding how the mills work from the ground up, there are some golden and precious lessons that are worth passing along to my fellow peers.
I could write on and on about the details of how to actually build a business. However, I encourage reading and owning your own copy of, The Fashion Designer Survival Guide, by Mary Gehlhar, which in my humble opinion consists of practical and realistic approaches and situations that occur on a daily basis in the fashion industry. It also contains testimonies from many faces of the industry and success stories from respected names in ready-to-wear and haute couture companies.
Here are Renata Grilo’s (a.k.a myself) Golden Rules for becoming and remaining a successful, renowned fashion designer:
Know your craft
Study at a certified college that provides a respected B.A. in Fashion Design/Fashion Merchandising and be at the top of your class. Sign up for extracurricular classes, even if it means learning an art that you may not be so found of, such as photography, editorial, or sitting through hours of endless lectures on journalism. You will need it later. Being a designer who is an expert in other disciplines, e.g. Tom Ford, provides more control over your own business instead of depending on others. In summary, that means saving time and money.
Start from the bottom – Be Humble
There is nothing wrong with starting from the very foundation of a cotton/denim/silk mill and understanding how all the machinery works – how yarns are woven or knitted into fabric or dyed, etc.
Once you begin traveling to overseas mills for work, or for your own business, to guarantee product quality, the ability to negotiate pricing will be at the tip of your tongue. In the beginning, you will be seen as fresh meat, therefore do not expect to be treated with ultimate exclusivity. That will come with time. Therefore, be patient, your time will come. The more knowledge you demonstrate, the more attention you will receive.
Network – No Excuses!
It doesn’t matter if it means talking to a professor, a fellow student, your supervisor or a complete stranger who might happen to be working in another area of the art field, networking is paramount.
Painters, singers, writers, poets, dancers and photographers share one thing in common: Creativity. The more creative people you surround yourself with, the vaster your ideas will become and the more likely you will be able to elaborate your collection or inspiration.
Always work with excellence
As you will see, the fashion industry may appear to be large. However, it is actually quite the opposite. It is a business in which many professionals tend to know one another. Chances are you will mess up somewhere along the line. After all, you are only human and will make mistakes, and sometimes might even lack responsibility. However, with age brings maturity. Just keep in mind that future investors who are looking at your line will most definitely seek those “old ghosts” by asking for references. Do not fool yourself believing they won’t. When money is the currency, your character will mean everything at this stage in the game.
Never burn bridges
The last piece of advice, and in this case the most important one, is related to work relations. You may be thinking whether you should accept all kinds of behavior, good and bad, from coworkers, supervisors, editors, and investors. The answer is simple: Have good sense. Of course, no one should be treated disrespectfully. However, you should learn to grow a very thick skin when entering this industry. Egos are challenged and emotions are in full blast, but let’s face it, many people can become very futile and vain in the process of becoming well known figures. Your job is to overcome all of these factors and become a better, more evolved human being. Bridges connect us, from neighborhoods to continents. Never underestimate the power of the bridge.