Starting your own fashion business involves many steps, and you as the founder have to make the decisions to move your business towards your goals. But even before you start working through the spreadsheets, sticky notes, voice memos, or whichever method you use to track your to-dos, there are some questions you need to be prepared to answer first.
Who is your target customer?
This one is, I think, the most important. A clear picture of your customer helps you stay focused in your designs, fit and sizes, marketing, and more. Your understanding of your customer will grow and evolve over time as your business grows, but if you don’t know who you’re making clothes for, it will be very hard to give your customers the feeling that your designs and brand are made for them. You want to know as much about your average customer as possible, and I recommend even finding a real person who represents your customer so you can keep them specifically in mind as you make decisions about your brand. Almost everything in your brand hinges on your customer, so the more you know about them early on, the better.
What is your price point?
Pricing can be a tricky thing to navigate as a new business owner. The pricing sweet spot is a price that is lower than what your customer thinks your products are worth to them (so they are happy to spend money buying it) and higher than your costs + desired profit margin (so your business is profitable). When you are first starting out, you won’t probably know your costs yet, but you’ll want to know about what your target customer would pay for your type of product based on market research and then work backwards from there to know what your target cost needs to be. With this number, your factory or patternmaker will be able to recommend materials and finishes that fit within that price point. Doing your research on price points at the beginning will help ensure that your business will be profitable and your products will be in your customer’s price range.
How are you selling?
How you sell affects your pricing, development timeline, and even your design. If you are selling wholesale (or intend to in the future), you need to include room for a wholesale and retail price into your cost and profit calculations. You’ll also need to work farther ahead of season so you have samples ready in time for wholesale markets where boutiques and retailers can place orders for your products. Even your designs and how you market them can be impacted by how you sell. Selling in-person versus online may require different types of photography or a certain feature of your design may be better appreciated in-person. How you are going to sell is an important decision to make before you start designing and developing your products.
What are your estimated production quantities?
This is important to know on both the production and pricing side of things. Generally, the higher quantity you produce, the cheaper per unit the garments are. Most factories have minimum order quantities or at least tiered pricing depending on the number of units ordered. You’ll want to have a general idea of how many units of each style you want to produce in your first order so that you can find a factory that works with those quantities. Then you’ll want to set your pricing accordingly. Fabrics and trims work the same way; there are minimum order quantities to take into account as well as differences in pricing depending on the quantity ordered. Estimating your production order quantities early on will help you find the right suppliers and factory as well as give you realistic pricing expectations.
When do you plan to launch?
Again, timelines are important! This is an area where I see expectations often far from reality for business owners new to the fashion industry. It takes time to go from design to a finished product you’re proud of, and you’ll want to make sure you work backwards from your desired launch date and give yourself (and everyone else in the process) enough time to get it done well and on time. If you’re curious about what a realistic timeline is for launching your first collection, check out this post.
How are you funding development and production?
This question is more for yourself as the owner than one that others will ask you, but it is still an important one. Launching a business and developing new products are expensive. In order to have a profitable business, you need to know what financial resources you have. Knowing your funding and cash-flow situation allows you better decision making when it comes to where to spend money and when. You might want to start slowly with one or two products so you can start selling and earning from those to fund the rest of your collection. Or you may need to invest your own money to get samples and photography done in order to crowd fund for production costs. Even if design is the fun part, making smart decisions about numbers and the financial side of the business are what will make your business sustainable in the long run.
There are many more questions to work through when starting a fashion business, but these six questions are important ones to answer early on in order to set your brand up for success.