5 questions to ask before starting a fashion business

I received a lot of positive feedback for my article on the fashion industry as well as requests for a more detailed post on the topic. So here it is:

Beautiful people and beautiful things. Glitz and glamour. Prestige and parties. Fame, fortune and fun. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of the fashion industry? Sadly, all this is just part of the reality, if at all.

This industry is not for everyone. The glitz and the glamour hide all the hard work and the tears. Insecurity comes easily while success does not. Challenges are aplenty. Finding meaning, purpose and joy eludes even the best.

Here’s a checklist for you to go through before you set up a fashion business.

  1. Do you have something unique to offer?

Ask yourself this – why will people choose your product over someone else’s? Is it the price, the design or the dream that you are selling? This is a hyper competitive industry even at the smallest scale so it is essential to have a Unique Selling Proposition (USP) that sets you apart from your competitors.

  1. Who is your customer?

It’s not enough to answer with – “A rich, stylish man/woman”. You need to understand their lifestyle and their motivations. You need to understand their relationship with fashion. Assessing how your business can blend into their life will ensure that there is a demand for your products.

  1. Are you ready for the grind?

Are you ready to pack boxes at 4 AM? Create invoices and analyse receipts with your accountant? Source raw material and liaise with manufacturers in countries where you may face a language barrier? Find stockists for your product and coordinate with them on a regular basis? Handling all these complexities can prove challenging even for the most organised person. Your success will hinge on your entrepreneurial abilities as well as your commitment to your business.    

  1. Where is the money coming from?

Is it your family and friends? Bank loans? Angel investors? Grants or sponsorships? And how much do you need? It is critical to ensure that your money doesn’t run out half way through. Take the time to create a business plan. It will not only help you get funding but will also refine your vision for your brand and set a roadmap to realizing it.

  1. Who is on your team?

Even if you are the sole founder and only employee of your business, you would still need a team of people to support you in various ways. A graphic designer, photographer, stylist, accountant, lawyer, PR maven, social media manager – depending on your business, you may need one or more of these people. Finding the right people is as important as having a great product.

I hope I haven’t scared you from starting your business. My intention is to make you aware of the challenges and the processes involved and be prepared.

If you have successfully answered all the above questions, you are ready and I wish you all the success in the world.

Note: The above article has also been published on the Expat Fairs website here.

Let’s do away with ‘free’.

Don’t get me wrong.

I am not immune to the allure of the ‘free’. That sign draws me like a magnet just like anybody else.

However, when I am buying a commodity, I know it is not really free. I have paid for object A to get object B for free. Object B is probably free because it isn’t selling anyway. Or if I am offered a free service say at a spa, they will collect my contact details – phone number and email – which in today’s world, you can’t really put a price on. They will also feel entitled to bludgeon me with their marketing pitch and I will feel obliged to listen to them because I got something for free.

Now that I have begun my journey as an entrepreneur, in an industry that anyway pays less than most others, some people – well – wishers, acquaintances and prospective clients – have suggested (subtly, of course) that I should work for free. They also say it’s not really free. I gain experience, I add a brand to my portfolio.

Once upon a time, I would have accepted such an exchange as fair but not anymore. I am at a stage in my career and personal life where that’s not enough value for the time and effort I put into my work.

If you want to read more on why communication and content especially is not free and shouldn’t be given for free, do read this article by Deborah Tan of Material World.

I don’t get angry when people say this. I get disappointed sometimes but not angry and I understand as well. To expand my business, I need services from other people but I can’t afford them right now. I could use some free stuff too. And there are many businesses which are in my situation. So this is what I propose:

Let’s bring back the barter system among startups. I tell you what I need and you tell me what you need and if there’s a match, we can help each other grow together with zero money involved. If you like this idea, do check out The Platform Collective, an organisation in Singapore which has formalised this very concept.

This system will solve some of our problems, not all. The critical issue – getting paying customers, who pay on time – remains.