Getting up and getting dressed. It’s a chore for some, but it’s the highlight of your day! Snapshots of your best outfits of the day pepper your Instagram account and you spend your weekends rifling the racks of your local boutiques and thrift shops to find unique pieces to fill your closet.
Your love of fashion runs deep — so why not turn it into a business? The difficulty of doing so might deter you, but you’re not entirely on your own. Instead, you can learn from others who have found success by paving their paths into the industry. Their experience and skills will show you just what you need to find your own success.
To make that task simpler, we’ve put our heads together with four women who have thriving fashion businesses. Here are the six steps they say are vital to turning your ideas into your day job.
Obtain Basic Business Skills
Chances are good you haven’t ever run a business. You already know and love fashion, but you’ll need to brush up on your entrepreneurial know-how before diving into the job. Everyone will have a different list of the basics you should know, but communication, planning and sales skills are all vital no matter what.
Anne Harper started her handbag company, OMG! Accessories, from humble beginnings. She waited tables and eventually turned her customers there into investors. Now, her designs fill the shelves in retail stores like Nordstrom, Target and Saks Fifth Avenue.
She had advice for fellow entrepreneurs looking to master their business acumen before actually starting to work. “Master one skill at a time,” Harper said. “Know and understand every aspect of your business. Become aware of your strengths and weaknesses so you can hire the support to maintain balance. The fashion and design aspect is one small part — everything else is equally important. You need it all to attain success!”
Coral Chung is the founder and CEO of SENREVE, a brand of luxury bags that look beautiful while maintaining their utility for women on the go. For Chung, the most vital skill for a new business owner is relationship building — especially with “mentors and advisors who have had a lot of experience in the industry and who can share their wisdom with you,” she said.
As she traversed her entrepreneurial path, these mentors made a huge difference. “I was very lucky to have a group of experienced fashion executives,” Chung said. “I could turn to them as sounding boards for their honest perspectives.”
Anna Miatselitsa, founder of Haute Rogue, could only encourage others to teach themselves as she did. Once she decided to start her own business, she learned to code and design to create a website. Then, she began trading and wholesaling items. Now, she counts well-known retailers like Nordstrom Rack, Urban Outfitters and Neiman Marcus as business associates.
“Don’t be afraid to learn, even if you’ve never done it,” she said. “Start with learning the basics off the internet. Now is such an exciting time to live: we have so much information and educational material on the net, you no longer need to go to college or the library to learn these things. Just do it. We are the only ones that stand in the way of our progress and learning to become a better self.”
With business skills in your arsenal, you’ll undoubtedly start thinking about how you’ll fund all of your ideas. Raising capital for a startup can be a tricky task — you might end up saving your own money until you can afford the supplies to get started. And, once you have the necessary dough, you’ll want to make sure you’re spending it as frugally as possible. For example, even if you want a newer, faster sewing machine, you might have to wait until you bring in more business to upgrade from the model you already have.
As previously mentioned, Harper was able to found OMG! Accessories with the help of her customers-turned-investors. Even with her stroke of luck, she said that aspiring entrepreneurs should “never pass on any advice, meeting, opportunity or connection, because that might just be the person who could change your world. Constantly talking about your vision, passion and business to anyone you encounter puts that energy out there in the world. You never know who is walking through the door.”
Figure Out the Right Platform
Today’s businesses don’t always fill a brick-and-mortar storefront. Instead, you might take your fashion brand online or to local events like flea markets or craft fairs. Either way, you need to figure out what type of operation will suit your intended clients — and you — best.
Before the launch of SENREVE, Chung said they did beta testing, an in-person activation and kick-off events to drum up interest. The brand also relied on word-of-mouth marketing from women in high-powered positions, which brought in social media buzz. Ultimately, their busy working clientele can order products online — a convenience that suits their lifestyles.
For Kacey Royer, the internet has always been the perfect platform for her jewelry business, FoundWanderer. More specifically, she sells her crystal creations through Etsy and said it is the right fit for her artisan baubles. “Etsy has been a great starting platform,” she said. “I think one of the main advantages is that the platform is solely created for individuals looking for handmade and uniquely crafted pieces. It offers an audience that is already interested in your product.”
As Royer said, sites like Etsy are a great place to start. Later on, you can consider investing in your own website and shop, whether it’s a virtual or an in-person location.
Define Your Goals & What’s Important to You
You know you want to helm a fashion business, but what are your specific goals? Why is this your chosen path? You know it’s right, but you should define the reasons why before you get started. Keeping these in mind will help drive you toward the success you envision.
For Chung, starting SENREVE was pretty high-risk: she left a high-paying job to set out on her own. She knew her company had to be big for her career move to be worthwhile. “I tend to be an ambitious person who likes to dream big,” she said. “It was important for me to have a vision for the future where SENREVE becomes the next-generation luxury brand, a household name that speaks to modern women who don’t want to compromise between high quality, unique design, and versatility and functionality.”
“It wouldn’t be worth it unless it could be big and make an impact,” she went on. “What’s surprising though on this journey is that the little daily achievements are often the most rewarding. For example, the first time I saw a stranger with a Maestra bag in New York City — that was an incredible feeling.”
Looser goals can lead you to success, too. Royer, for instance, said she’s simply following her passion in the hope that it’ll allow her to open a brick-and-mortar boutique one day. “I think I am still figuring out my goals,” she said.
“Opening my own shop is a huge passion of mine. I have always had a love for décor and interior design, so being able to open a small boutique that feels warm and magical would be so gratifying. Naturally, I am a goal-oriented person. I love seeing how far I can push myself and what I can achieve. As long as I am growing and supplying individuals with unique pieces that speak to them, I will be happy.”
Find Your Niche
As of the 2014 census, there are nearly six million businesses in the United States. The chances of every single one succeeding are slim.
Take a good, hard look at your business plan and the fashion items you intend to create. Do they fill a niche? Are they different from similar products on the market? If not, you might want to reconsider your strategy, since a niche product or style is one of the keys to your small business’s success.
“It’s important to have an authentic point of view or hypothesis,” Chung said. She said she knew women wanted her style of bag: high-quality, luxurious, beautiful, timeless and functional. “We had a strong ‘gut’ feeling that there was an opportunity in the market,” she added.
But she backed up this instinct with surveys and interviews with women to understand what they wanted from a bag, which allowed Chung and the SENREVE team to hone their hypothesis. “I think it’s critical to balance instinct and data, especially because our brand and products are all about art meets science. Emotional plus rational decision-making allows us to come to the best course of action,” she said.
Another way to uncover your niche? History, said Harper, who said yesterday’s trends guided her to find her niche in the accessories industry. “I always revert back to the response of products and trends from the past to know if it will withstand today,” she said. “Fashion is cyclical and what goes around always comes around. There is always a modern or current spin on the ‘new version,’ but it is essentially the same.”
Of course, your niche will be yours — but strive to find a facet that sets apart your bag, jewelry or piece of clothing. That will be your selling point and the key to your success.
Let Your Passion and Instinct Guide You
Finally, it’s vital that you don’t lose sight of the passion that brought you into the industry in the first place. All of the successful women mentioned previously agree that this drive is the deciding factor in whether or not you’ll achieve your goals.
“I am a firm believer in creating and living in a way that is authentic to you,” Royer said. “In other words, the work I do is inspired and fueled by things that make me feel the closest to my truest self.” Harper agreed that “it starts with passion. When it becomes the only thing you wake up thinking about and the last thing on your mind before bed, it is worth a shot to pursue.”
Chung also cited passion as a must-have, but said it came with a caveat: “It’s absolutely critical to be passionate about what you do, because as an entrepreneur you can’t get around the fact that you have to live and breathe the business if you want to succeed. That said, I have a lot of passions, but not all of them can be turned into a real business. So it’s important to balance that emotional pursuit and the rational analysis.”
As for Miatselitsa, she left fashion-industry hopefuls with one final piece of advice: the only thing left to do is get started. “Good things can happen when we take a leap of faith, breaking a safe routine we’ve built for ourselves,” she said. “You will never be able to start if you procrastinate and not go for it.”
Now, it’s your turn.