For the past five years, I’ve been in the business of working with new designers. And one of the questions I hear most often is this: “I really want to start a clothing brand, but I don’t have a fashion background.” And every time, my answer is… “Who cares?!” (Okay, that’s not my actual answer but it’s always something along those lines.)
Going to fashion school, or having worked in the fashion industry, has very little to do with how successful you’ll be at launching your own apparel brand. And I’ve witnessed how true that is -- over and over again. Some of the most successful entrepreneurs I’ve worked with through my online accelerator program, Factory45, couldn’t have told you the difference between a serger and a die-cutter.
What did they have on their sides instead? They understood the value of hard work, grit, creativity and resilience. And believe me, those skills are far more valuable in starting your own brand than knowing how to draft a pattern or sew a garment. I’ve worked with massage therapists, Wall Street bankers, stay-at-home moms, humanitarian workers, executive assistants, advertising execs, and the like, none of whom had any real knowledge of manufacturing or running a fashion brand.
That’s all to say, anyone can learn new tricks as long as they seek out the education and are willing to learn. So, with that said, if you want to launch a fashion brand but don’t have any experience, then here are the first three things you need to start:
1 | Research, research, research
There is a treasure trove of free resources available to you with just a simple Google search - so begin there.
2 | Find a mentor
Back in 2010 when I was launching a sustainable fashion brand (with zero experience), one of the best things my co-founder and I did was seek out the mentorship of someone who had experience launching their own apparel company.
Years later, this was the main reason I launched Factory45 -- I wanted to make it easier for new entrepreneurs to get started in the fashion industry, without wasting time and money.
Whether you find a mentor through your local fashion school, an online community, a consultant or a structured program, you will get so much farther under the guidance of someone who has done it before.
3 | Start small and simplify
The biggest mistake I see startup brands make is trying to do too much. When you’re first starting out it is an asset to simplify your product offering. Instead of setting out to create a 12-piece collection, launch your brand with just 3-5 pieces. I’ve seen many companies successfully launch with just one!
You will be able to go to market much quicker and save so much more money by keeping your first production run small and simple. This includes avoiding complicated supply chain components like embroidery or bead work until you’re experienced with the process of basic cut and sew.
Having spent years observing fashion brands that “make it” and others that don’t, I can tell you that talent and experience will only get you so far.
When it comes to success, the biggest danger isn’t failure -- it’s doubt.
And you can eliminate that doubt by doing your research, finding a mentor and starting small.
Shannon Lohr is the founder of Factory45, an online accelerator program that takes sustainable apparel companies from idea to launch. On Sept. 13th, enrollment to Factory45 Global opens for international entrepreneurs (based outside of the U.S. and Canada). To learn more about how Factory45 Global can help you start your fashion brand, with no experience, go here.
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