5 Reasons Fashion Brands Fail Within Their First Year
by Nicole Giordano, Founder of StartUp Fashion
Starting and growing a fashion business is not easy. As a new brand, in particular a brand in its first year of business, you’re often overwhelmed and may need help taking meaningful action and making real progress towards your goals.
In my years working with emerging and independent fashion brands, I’ve seen a lot of practices that have contributed to the success or failure of fashion businesses. And no matter how you have decided to define success for yourself, there are some common themes I’ve seen with brands that haven’t made it past their first year. Below I share these themes and how to overcome them.
I’m not a fan of overly detailed business plans full of projections and estimates and possibilities. Unless you’re going after investors (a particularly challenging thing to do as a fashion brand), the traditional business plan is often an exercise in procrastination.
Instead, I always advise my designers to create a basic outline of what kind of fashion business they want to build. When you’re in this idea stage, you should know the following about your business idea:
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 (wholesale, eCommerce, popups, markets, etc.)
The basic fashion business plan outline is that perfect balance between overthinking and going in blind.
For a long time, I’ve been completely over the idea that you need a boat-load of money to launch a fashion brand. That’s a very old-school mindset, in my opinion.
With that said, this does not mean that you don’t need any money. You need to have two things when it comes to the money portion of your business:
Money to develop prototypes as well as start marketing your idea (yes, even though you haven’t launched yet!)
Money to live off of while you get this thing off the ground.
Most experts say that as a young fashion brand, you shouldn’t anticipate profitability until you’re three years into the business. Yep.
Way too often, I see brands incredibly stressed out about how to pay their personal bills when their business isn’t making money yet.
So this means you need to be open to having a “day job,” or you need to find friends and family willing to invest, or you need a savings account ample enough to live off of for a few years. For most, the day job is the only option. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Use that job as a way of removing added stress and keeping you motivated to build something of your very own!
Poor mindset will kill your business faster than no money, no plan, or no team ever will. For many, many new business owners getting past the idea that they’re not worthy, or not good enough, smart enough, or tough enough is a real challenge.
It’s hard to believe in ourselves when we’re doing something so new and so challenging. We will hit roadblocks every single day and it’s up to us to think of them as learning opportunities rather than allow them to chip away at our confidence.
Here are some things to try if lack of confidence is a barrier you need to get past:
Create a mantra for yourself (I am good enough, I can do this)
Get good at breaking down big goals into small tasks to remind yourself that you’re making real progress
Celebrate all the wins, even the ones that seem unimportant
Use a journal to reflect on how far you’ve come
No Brand Personality
Too often we hear about the importance of “brand identity”. But before you can create a real identity for your business, you need to understand the personality of your brand.
The reason for this is because the personality that you convey as a brand is how you will connect with your customer. And your brand personality is the only way you will really distinguish yourself among the sea of sameness.
New fashion brands pop up constantly, so developing and using your brand personality is a must. You should know:
Your tone and voice as a brand
10 adjectives to describe your brand
What you stand for as a brand- your values
Words and phrases your brand uses
Words and phrases your brand never uses
Once you have these things figured out, you have to have the courage to use them in all your communication.
Your website copy
Your social media captions
It can be scary to do this because the fear of losing customers or turning people off is a common one. But honestly, if you’re turning some people off, then you’re doing something right. It means you are creating a personality for your brand that some will be loyally tied to, while others will realize is not for them. And it's always better to have 500 people who really get you, than 1500 people who don’t quite know who you are.
No Idea Who Their Customer Really Is
If you describe your customer in one vague sentence, you’ve got some work to do.
“My customer is a 25-34, lives in a big city, and values quality.” This is not a customer profile.
Nor is: “I create handbags for the modern woman.”
I say this because this is a very common mistake that I see brands make early on. They spend almost no time getting to know who their customer is.
Now, I want to pause here and say that I realise in the first year of your business, you're still trying to figure that out. I get that. And that’s totally fine.
The mistake comes into play when you’re not actually doing the things you need to do to learn who she is.
You should be able to discuss how she spends a Saturday, a Sunday, and a Monday, in detail. These are three very distinct days in our lives and the closer you can get to having a picture of these days for your customer, the closer you get to being able to communicate with her in a way that matters.
Use social media to check out the followers of aligned brands and competitors
Do as many live events as you can in order to meet and talk to the people who are purchasing your products
Use things like Instagram Stories to ask questions and take polls.
Remember, nothing is ever set in stone, and as your business grows so will your understanding of your customer. But make it a habit to do real research and adjust your marketing as you learn more.
Bonus Reason! No Community
As the founder of a business community for fashion designers, I’m admittedly a little biased here. But I honestly would not have founded the community if I didn’t know how powerful it can be for a business owner.
When you find your people, you are giving yourself one of the most powerful tools for reaching entrepreneurial success.
A community of people who know exactly what you’re going through brings with it support in the form of:
Feedback on ideas and techniques
Emotional backing. The highs and lows can be so difficult to tackle alone
Information and resources that you wouldn’t be able to find on your own
Tough love and accountability
A community of fellow fashion entrepreneurs offers something that your best friend, mom, and industry experts can never offer: complete and total understanding.
Work through these six points in your business and you’ll avoid some of the biggest mistakes young brands make in the first year of their businesses.