In a commencement speech at Harvard, J.K. Rowling said "Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I built my life." She was, of course, referring to being jobless and divorced, after which she realized she had nothing left to lose and got to work on the Harry Potter series. (Famously, not a failure.) The point? Even the most successful people in the world had some catastrophic misses in the past. Style Bible talked to five fashion startups whose first attempt at business floundered, but are now moving forward with the valuable lessons they learned the hard way. Try to learn from their mistakes.
#1: Don't try to do everything on your own.
“At that time, we did things on our own and at some point it just became too much for my partner and I to handle. Looking back, it would've probably helped if we had good advisers or partners who had fashion business experience."
This piece of advice came from a then fledgling designer who opened a multi-brand boutique with a stylist friend. None of them had real retail experience, even though they had fashion experience. (Remember! Those are two different things.) "This is what actually led me to take a short course on retail merchandising and eventually a fashion merchandising degree in Parsons," she added.
#2: The timing and the location need to be right.
“The timing was not right for the location we had. We opened at the time when the area was still under development. It boomed around 3 years later. Retail establishments started opening in the area we used to be in."
This came from the same girl - their boutique was in the Fort, a few years before it really boomed. Strategize and always think long term. Look around you and try to approach the space as a customer would. Is there enough parking? Are there other establishments around that would make it a worthwhile trip? What hours would people typically go here and what's the traffic like around that time? Is my storefront really visible? If you have reservations, chances are your customer will, too.
#3: Beware of doing things "on the side."
“We were so convinced that this street wear line of ours would hit it off. On paper it sounded great: cool casual clothing for the chick that gives zero fvcks. But the reality was we couldn’t take the time out of our busy day jobs to actually even work on it. All that’s left of it now is a bunch of prototype pieces we’ve divided amongst ourselves.”
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be bigger than the Gap, but let’s get real, it takes commitment. From production to warehousing to marketing to shipping (if you're an online brand), you will actually feel like you'll need more than 24 hours in a day to pull it all off. That said, not everyone has the luxury of leaving their day job. Try to figure out if you can limit your line to very few pieces. DKNY wasn't built in a day.
#4: Try not to be too niche.
“I once had this crazy idea that I could make money off selling custom made tutus. Business boomed come Halloween but it was pretty much dead throughout the year. Only my friend supported it since they pretty much had no choice.”
Sometimes your big idea isn’t just going to make the cut. Know how big your potential market is (or if it even exists) before getting started. This may take surveys or just some really honest conversations with a mentor or second-degree friends. (Don't ask your BFFs; they might not want to hurt your feelings.)
#5: Be prepared for overhead.
“My friends and I started a small accessory business right after college and we had to learn the hard way that budget is important. We made sure to allot our startup cash well; we even spared a little extra for ‘emergencies.’ Things were fine at first, but eventually we just got overwhelmed with the unforeseen expenses.”
The reality of owning a business is that the expenses are never ending. Sometimes, overhead can even be as much as your initial projected operating costs. Try to mitigate this by a) Creating a meticulous Excel spreadsheet of every expense you think you'll make in the product cycle. Map out in your head how your raw materials will transform into a product, and be delivered to your client's hands, then budget accordingly. And b) Tack on 25% more to that, because you're still going to probably miss something.
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