At the Enterprise Nation’s Fashion Exchange event on Wednesday 16 September 2015, Founder of WGSN and CEO of Stylus, Marc Worth shared his advice with fashion entrepreneurs on running a successful fashion business. It was a day filled with entrepreneurial spirit, and fashion professionals sharing knowledge and experience and making new contacts.
We felt inspired by Marc Worth’s Ten Commandments and wanted to share them with you, along with our advice on how you can apply them to benefit your fashion start-up business.
1. Stick to what you know.
Remember the saying “A Jack of all trades and a master of none,” and grow as a business within the realms of your transferable skills. You should be realistic in your aims for your fashion business, and play to your strengths.
Running a fashion business requires you to be responsible for all areas of that business, and develop your knowledge of things that you didn’t know before. But learn to accept help and advice where you need it, and flourish in the areas that you excel in.
2. Sink yourself into your business wholeheartedly, not just the fun bits!
Marc Worth says that owning a fashion business means that you reap the rewards as much as you bear the brunt of long hours, challenges and stress. It can be tempting to be distracted by the fun parts (yes, there are some!) of being a fashion business owner, such as events.
Networking at events can be vital for your business, as you are able to meet like-minded people and grow your support network; find people that can help you reach your targets; and generally, add to your contact book – which is always a good thing.
But you must also be prepared to be consumed by everything else that comes with the business: accounts, the legal side, maintaining good relationships with your suppliers, and so forth.
3. Do you have a product looking for a market or a market looking for a product?
The latter is a dream because arguably, you will have a whole audience of buyers, retailers and customers hungry for your product. However, if your situation is the former and you have a product but aren’t sure where it will fit in the market, you will need to do a lot of research and have a lot of passion, ambition and drive to sell your product to the people who matter.
Never underestimate the value of market research and focus groups to your fashion business. Maintain this conversation as you grow by seeking customer feedback to keep up with what they want.
4. Ask yourself if you believe strongly enough in your product to risk everything.
You have to do EVERYTHING in your power to make sure that your fashion business succeeds, says Marc Worth. That means time, energy, money, and basically every talent, skill and persuasion technique that you possess, invested and put to work full-time.
This means that relationships, friendships and your bank balance could suffer. So, if you’re about to start your fashion business, you need to consider if you – and the key people in your life – can cope with this pressure. But more importantly, you need to be 100 percent committed to the product that you’re selling and believe that it will succeed. If you don’t, it will make your journey empty, miserable and quite frankly, pointless. Moreover, if you don’t believe in your product, why should anyone else?
5. Never employ family & friends.
Coming from the man that set up the hugely successful WGSN, this may seem a bit contradictory, as he co-founded WGSN with his brother Julian. But it is sage advice as mixing these special relationships with business can be problematic.
Family and friends can be the perfect sounding board when you’re planning your fashion business and need advice. But the situation can change when they are your employees, and you need a certain level of perfection from them. Asking for that or communicating dissatisfaction can be difficult.
Employing family members or friends to work for your fashion business can only be successful if clear strategies, processes and guidelines are communicated to all parties when the employment contracts are drawn up.
6. Understand the customer
This is a mantra that we keep on hearing from fashion business owners. If you don’t know who your customer is, where they can be found and what they want from a product like yours, you’re in trouble.
Not knowing this key information means that you’re not just missing key parts of your business plan and marketing strategy, it means that – essentially – you can’t sell your product.
Going forward, you have to keep on being able to understand your customer. This is why customer feedback – in any form – is so important.
7. Make sure that your product is innovative & has a USP
You will have a vision for your product and a story behind your brand, and it is this that will make your product innovative and give it a unique selling point. You have to believe that your product is absolutely necessary and beautiful, and then translate that through marketing.
Use every opportunity to communicate what your product’s unique selling point is, for maximum effect. That is what can captivate your audience and induce sales and interest in your brand – which is basically your goal!
8. Don’t be afraid to fail
It is one of the design flaws of humankind that the anticipation of failure makes us frightened to take risks and act boldly. But being frightened of failure can limit success. Setting up a new fashion business will be untouched ground for many, but prepare to be a trailblazer rather than worrying about not doing something correctly.
This is not to say that all caution should be thrown to the wind. You have a responsibility to make sure that you can afford to suffer a small failure, especially a financial one, before you embrace your entrepreneurial spirit.
9. Don’t have a one-track mind. Look beyond what your brand does too
Don’t get too distracted by other projects or visions for growth, but do look beyond what your fashion business currently does. Doing so will allow you to see opportunities for growth.
This sort of entrepreneurial thinking is what can save a product, or develop a new product for a demanding market.
10. If raising money from Venture Capitalists, ensure they understand the product & industry
Venture Capitalists can have a little or a lot of involvement in your fashion business, depending on the agreement you reach. Either way, you want any input that they do have to be of value, and nothing is less valuable than irrelevant advice.
So, if you’re a fashion business, find a venture capitalist that has a background in the fashion industry, and/or has a portfolio of successful fashion businesses that they’ve invested in and helped to nurture. They will then be able to offer you a wealth of experience and be able to offer appropriate and helpful guidance.
Related reading: Legally Preparing for Investment
One of the things that we understood from speaking to the plethora of fashion entrepreneurs at the Fashion Exchange, was the natural process of doing “what feels right” to start a fashion business. Relying on your gut feeling, and following that instinct, it is unlikely to disappoint you. And authenticity is really attractive to customers and retailers, so embrace that and build your fashion brand the way that you want.
Do you have a set of commandments that you live by, or run your fashion business by? How did you develop them? We want to know your story! Share with us in the comments below.