Not so long ago, starting a fashion brand wasn’t so easy. Those who were involved in fashion brands often had families already involved in the industry. Many of the designers were employed to design and the few independent brands that existed were the result of many years spent apprenticing at larger brands and learning the ropes, as well as forming industry relationships.
But, this all changed with the onset of the Internet. Today we are lucky to live at a time when the barrier to entry for virtually any industry is non-existent.
The reasons that may have stopped most people from launching their own brands in the past were mostly centred around the difficulty of finding factories. But today there are many online directories and resources to use and find local and offshore manufacturers.
Sourcing of materials is also easy to do. There are big international trade fairs as well as many local smaller sourcing events.
The fear of how to market and sell your product is no longer an issue either. The internet took care of this and made the world a much smaller and easily accessible place.
So while in theory, it may look like the fashion manufacturing industry has never had it better, there are in fact many new problems that make the manufacturers grumble and budding entrepreneurs complain.
In words of manufacturers:
We do not work with just any new businesses
One of the biggest problems in recent times is the influx of “new blood”. The availability of start-up loans to recent graduates or savings used by more mature entrepreneurs means, that many people with next to no fashion knowledge of how the industry works or what the manufacturing process is, contact manufacturers, looking to turn ideas into products.
One would think that factories would be happy and welcome the new business with open arms. Yet that is not the case. Many factories openly chose not to work with startups. Or if they do – the work accepted is not a priority for them, hence perpetuating the problems further.
Why do startups consider themselves at par with established companies?
“Did I tell you about a potential client who approached me, who wanted to make dresses – 5 styles – 500 per style – landed here at $5 per garment?
I have now been contacted by so many people that want to start in the fashion/apparel business.
On the one hand that’s good. The UK clothing industry is thriving, from education (we have the best Universities ) to a mature established infrastructure (designers, pattern cutters, fabric and trim suppliers, manufacturers et al).
However, why do so many startups believe that they can compete with well-established companies from the get-go?
Do they really imagine that their own lack of experience, industry knowledge, business acumen and capital is really an asset? That the apparel business is being run by unskilled workers and that they can do so much better?”
What startups say and how it sounds
- I need your assistance to help me create a new business; “sounds like we will have to be at your beck and call”
- I don’t have very much money and can’t afford to pay a consultant to advise or help me; “We both will agree that we are running a business here.”
- I want to make day dresses – like the ones you see in Top Shop and sell for a similar price, say £40-£50. When the supplier explains that for example, 1.5m of fabric at £5m = £7.50, add some branding trims = £2.50, and a small run manufacture may cost £15 per item, it all adds up to £25+, without overheads, the person enquiring is amazed;
- I only want to make 10-20-30 per style to test the market; “Again. ask her if we do sampling and about our minimums. Don’t assume and quote whatever figure you want.”
- I expect my fabric to be in stock; “Enquire before booking us and let us know in advance.”
- I expect my order to be made within a couple of weeks; “We have several other clients we work with. Ask us and let us know your timeline as well.”
- I only want to make 1 garment per style and I want the factory to make my orders as I need/sell them, on demand, within 2-3 days; “We may or may not be doing this. Enquiring before assuming will go a long way in building that trust.”
- I expect each supplier to give me 30 days credit, so I can sell from my website before I have to pay my bills; “We have to pay our bills too – employees, material = variable plus fixed. Both of us will work with each other for the first time. You can discuss the advance percentage with us.”
- I can only see you/the factory after 6.30pm as I am working at another job during the week; “This doesn’t send the right message across. Are you even serious in producing your goods?“
- I don’t have a business card/ I left them in my other handbag/I have run out. “Doesn’t send the right message. A professional, who is coming to meet someone for the first time will definitely carry at least one card.”
It is this mix of unrealistic expectations, lack of industry knowledge and common sense that puts off many professionals from helping startup brands and their designers.
So many entrepreneurs choose to compete with existing brands expecting to be catapulted into the same working conditions and terms as them and be able to compete on the same level.
Just because large brands are able to retail day dresses at £40 – with all their experience, employees, resources, infrastructure and scale (they must order many thousands per style, from suppliers they have been working with for many years ) what makes someone new into the business think that they are able to manufacture the same type of product at the same prices without offering the same terms?
Not only that, but with most start-up enquiries, a manufacturer also becomes an educator, but the subsequent attitude they have to deal with and unrealistic demands with no clear visibility of any meaningful production plan ahead is what pushes many to close their doors to such enquiries.
Just like in any industry, the fashion industry is a business.
The manufacturers and consultants involved in it do what they do as a paid job. They are professionals who just like any of the professionals in any other industry like to work with other professionals, do a job well and get paid for it. Just like any other business they have people they employ to pay and families to take care of.
Top Tips from Manufacturers to Startups
Attempting to enter the industry with the wrong attitude leaves bad first impressions and communicates the wrong message from the beginning.
Especially in an industry that unlike many others heavily relies on and functions through personal relationships.
So, instead of calling a factory full of expectations and a long list of needs, try researching as much as possible in advance how to go about the realisation of your idea and learning how the industry works.
Have a realistic plan in mind that takes into an account of how this plan will be financed.
And when you do eventually approach people to inquire about working together, do it with respect and knowing that any outcome has to be a win-win for you and the other party and both of you are in it to make money as a final result.
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