From the outside, the fashion industry can seem like a world of glamour, with glitzy runway shows, stunning showstopper designs and days spent in search of inspiration. I wish! After being in the fashion industry for over a decade, I can tell you that in reality it’s a lot less glamour and a lot more number crunching. People who join the fashion industry and start their own labels often face a pretty serious reality check. Here are my top 5 misconceptions about working in fashion, so new fashion designers like you know what to expect.
5 Misconceptions About Working in Fashion
I’ll Attend Lots of Runway Shows
Sadly not, and in honesty, you might not even have one for your brand. Shows cost tens of thousands to produce and therefore brands want to maximize the return on that investment. That means that show tickets are reserved for people who will either raise the brand profile or spend a lot of cash – think the fashion media and buyers. For anyone outside that circle, tickets are usually a no-go.
The Most Creative Designs Will be the Most Successful
I know that designers often express themselves like artists and go into detail on their inspiration for their range and how they came up with the showstopper that everyone is talking about. But the truth is, these are rarely bestsellers and cannot be relied upon to build a successful business. In the industry, we call them ‘press pieces,’ designed to create a buzz, get media coverage and elevate the brand.
Many designers then leverage that attention to sell their other products, whether it’s more commercial fashion items, accessories or beauty products. The designs for these additional products are usually driven by data. Retailers use previous sales history to develop a plan for what products they’ll offer next season. Data is like gold dust and really important to pay attention to if you want to grow your brand.
I Can Create New Designs Every Month, Just Like Zara, H&M….
It’s true that big brands have been able to achieve fast turnaround times on their designs, but at what cost? Do you ever find that sometimes you buy one size and next time you’re in the same store, you buy a totally different one? Speed has created a problem of lower quality, which not only affects things like sewing and appearance, but also fit.
These brands have huge infrastructure and influence over their suppliers. They can get things made quickly, but as a startup, slow is better. For new brands I allow 6 months as an absolute minimum from start to finished product and up to 18 months for some. Don’t rush. I know it’s hard and you’re probably excited to get your designs out there. However, a little patience can go a long way and create a much better product.
I’ll Spend All of my Time Designing Beautiful Clothing
When you have your own brand, there’s little time for actually designing. Most people start on a budget and will have to do all of the business tasks themselves. To run a fashion business you’ll need to take care of things like production management, fittings, logistics, accounting, tax payments, marketing, sales, website management, order fulfillment and customer service, as well as designing.
Before going into business, it’s worth thinking about these other roles and whether you’ll enjoy them. Sure, there’s compromise in any job and chances are that you’re not going to be excited about your tax return, but to be successful you’ll want to make sure that you’re happy to do the majority of those jobs, or that you have the budget to outsource it.
I’ll Travel Regularly in Search of Inspiration
The notion of traveling in search of inspiration is something that draws people to the fashion industry and the concept of ‘competitive shopping’ sounds like a dream come true to many, but it’s not as exciting as it seems. In this business, we’re always up against the clock, so inspiration or buying trips are usually kept short. Buyers will often travel long distances and immediately start working on arrival. They work 12+ hour days visiting suppliers, competitor stores, fabric mills, whoever it may be, and then jump straight back on a plane – not exactly a vacation.
But, despite all this, I wouldn’t change it. There’s no other industry I’d want to work in! It’s tough, but it’s a really rewarding career in many ways too. I didn’t write this article to scare you. It’s better to be prepared and really ask yourself if you love the idea of the industry enough to commit to it before you take the leap and make a start.
Vicki Wallis specializes in helping small and startup fashion labels understand the fashion industry and succeed in their business, offering design services, coaching and courses. You can learn more at 29 and September Studio.