The fashion industry is like no other. To those on the outside – it is a glamorous and glitzy industry that looks fun and promises fame and riches. The truth is far from it. Yet there is no shortage of career changers willing and wanting to try their luck in it.
Where those who hadn’t studied fashion in the past may have felt excluded and unable to “just” become designers, the age of internet has removed this obstacle. Everyone and anyone can become a fashion designer and turn their ideas into products and launch a fashion brand.
What is interesting to note here is, a large amount of mature professionals making a career change and choosing to enter the fashion industry as career changer. The mistakes career changers make, can be very fatal for mid-career changers.
Many may have years of corporate experience under their belt and a long list of higher education accomplishments, while others may have spent years at home looking after the family….
Either way, it comes a time when so many older frustrated creatives want to create a product they feel the market needs or is missing or simply feel it’s time to launch the fashion brand they have always dreamt about.
While these career changers come to the industry with previous valid experience that no doubt should/could come in handy, they also face numerous challenges because of that past business experience.
It is almost a case of making wrong assumptions based on another industry experience.
Soon they learn that in order to survive and flourish, they must unlearn all they know and become “students” of fashion.
Here are the most common mistakes career changers make when they try to break into the fashion industry.
1. They assume they know how the industry works
Many “would be” fashion entrepreneurs come to fashion after having spent years in the legal, finance or another industry. Having worked hard for years and secured a financial safety net, many feel the need to break away from the long hours and overload of their chosen professions and give a chance to a more liberating and stimulating creative endeavour.
They almost immediately make the logical assumption that being such a large industry, global, in the limelight and worth buzzilions, that it will be much like most other industries – regulated.
Sadly, they soon find out that it is not. There are no rules to be broken. There are no rules of any kind. The fashion industry is a law unto itself.
The truth is, the fashion industry is largely unregulated and very fragmented. The smoke and mirrors effect permeates the business of fashion. What may well work in other industries and is considered to be an established practise, in fashion most likely will not even exist.
There are common practises, there’s a lot of ego and the law of “supply and demand” rules.
Learning by trial and error is the most common, albeit costly, learning method for most “new fashion entrepreneurs”.
2. They assume their working knowledge is enough to guarantee success
Those who come from strong professional backgrounds with extensive business know-how and successful past track record soon learn that in fashion – this counts for nothing.
It does not guarantee new success. Perhaps, the opposite in fact.
Knowing how to raise finance and run a business, manage teams, procure projects and be tech savvy are great skills to have. But when it comes to fashion, though useful, they often create a blinding effect. It stops the career changers from realising a simple truth – namely that money and great ideas alone are not enough to make it in fashion.
All brands – new and old – need strong positioning and marketing. This is usually achieved simply by good publicity, clever collaborations with celebrities and influencers, and strategic brand exposure and product placement.
Great skills in other industries that may have underpinned great success in fashion are relegated to the back.
First impressions in fashion count and making the right associations in the customer mind is what creates impact and drives sales.
3. They skip vital steps early on
Many older entrepreneurs seem to enter the fashion industry with the false assumption that they know more and as such do not have to start from the beginning.
They skip steps.
Vital steps required as part of longer-term sustainable success.
For example, many career changers, excited by the possibility of launching their own brand and turning ideas into products (finally!) conveniently forget to do the initial research into their ideal customer and market.
They think they know who their product will be perfect for.
They think they know and understand the market because…. they worked in that market segment, they know many people who need this product, they just know it will work…!
They hurry straight into creation mode – making samples, looking for factories and marketing, only to launch to crickets.
Only to wonder who to blame for the lacklustre results to their great efforts.
There are no shortcuts in business. Creating a solid foundation and knowing who your ideal or perfect customer is before anything else is of utmost importance.
4. They assume they can delegate their way to success
Those coming from corporate jobs find it hard to transition to entrepreneurship.
When you first start there are many 10 dollar jobs that under normal circumstances one would delegate immediately.
But in fashion, delegating too soon means not learning how to run the business first-hand, not learning how the industry works inside out and how to turn ideas into products. This leads to either not being in full control of your business from the outset or leaving it to faith.
Being new to fashion is exciting and full of business lessons. Learning how the industry works first-hand means that when you delegate later on you know what your expectations are and what a job well-done looks like.
Reputation is hard to make and easy to break. Delegate only when you know the process yourself and can teach another to do it better or at least just as well as you.
5. They underestimate the time it will take
Another misunderstanding entrepreneurs make is to assume that once another professional is briefed on their project, everything will go on time.
Wrong! Much like other industries, making products takes time. Lack of knowledge on the part of many designers who are not technically trained means that long periods of time and many financial resources are often wasted on the development process.
Launching a brand takes a long time.
Research and development time is the most time-consuming.
Then there is the time it takes to establish a reputation and loyal client base. All the while you need to keep the business moving by creating and launching new products and collections and showing that you are in for the long term.
All the while you must continue to finance the business. Unlike other startup businesses in other industries, in fashion perhaps it takes longer and it is slower to create and grow revenue and turnover, let alone break even.
6. Launch it & they’ll buy
Launching a business is not easy in any industry. In fashion particularly.
Launching a brand is very financially draining at the start and has large upfront costs.
Related reading: What Should be Your First Step to Start Your Fashion Brand?
The launch of a website, e-commerce store or bricks and mortar shop is often incorrectly assumed as the end point of the brand launch project.
Instead, those who have been there and done that would tell you – it’s only the beginning. Just because you launched a website or opened the doors to a shop doesn’t mean anyone will come and buy. Looking for ways to bring in traffic becomes the “new name of the game”
Career changers underestimate the time it will take them to create a “know, like, trust” factor with their future customers. Without it, they stand little chance to compete with larger and better-established brands.
7. They don’t ask for help
Many professionals coming into fashion forget to ask for help, falsely ensconced in the knowledge of how much they already know and can do.
But in fashion, you can do it lone and slowly or with some help – faster and better. Not recognising in time the need to ask for help and indeed asking the help is a mistake many make.
A professional consultant, mentor or coach – whatever you may call it – is someone who knows how the industry works and can help you fast track your development.
Another advantage would be the contacts they will have and introductions they can make.
Fashion is extremely personal. Successful relationships are created on trust, respect and like. Being able to find these connections and work with the right people – fast – is what will underpin your business success.
You don’t know what you don’t know. But taking onboard someone who does, is a wise move experienced professionals know the value of.
Hope you found some valuable insights on mistakes career changers make. If you agree/disagree with a point or have a point of your own, we’d love to know them in the comments below.