There's several things that set me apart from other fashion business consultants, one of which is the theory behind your budget. You've probably heard people say that you need £20k to start a fashion business + the truth is, you really don't have to spend tens of thousands. How can I be so sure? Because I didn't. Sure, I didn't experience massive sales at the start, or overnight success, but I did create a business that could eventually support me full time, with happy customers + stockists worldwide. And I achieved it with just £150 (around $190US) from my part time job.
Now, at this point you're probably thinking, 'but you have a fashion industry background, so you could probably do loads of it yourself without spending any money' + while yes, that is true, there's still ways to make a start with a minimal budget + no experience. Also, everyone has different strengths + weaknesses. Yes, I could make samples myself, but I didn't know the first thing about social media strategy or writing product descriptions, which many others can do themselves. This post explores some of the ways you can make a start on your business without having a lot of money in the bank.
How I started my business + how you can too
If you're on a small budget, your strategy is of course very different to those with more cash. Any ideas of factory production, glossy lookbooks or fashion shows have to go on hold for now. By starting small, you can minimise the financial risk (which is of course great), but do keep in mind that it will require a lot more effort on your part (+ starting a business is already hard) + progress will be much slower in general, so don't have any ideas of quitting your day job anytime soon.
Here's some of the methods that I used to start my fashion business with very little cash, which you can use too;
- Have a pre-sale business model (so you don't have to buy stock in advance)
- Learn as much as you can, particularly about free types of advertising (including social media), website building + sewing/fabrics - there's a lot you can learn online for free + by observation
- Don't be tempted to spend a fortune on a website, fancy computer or software, to begin with you can get by with the basics if you have to
- Start small, with a limited number of options; I started with 2 styles
- Enlist the help of willing friends + family; more often than not they want to see you succeed + are more than happy to help. For example, I borrowed a camera from my Dad (in the days when camera phones were awful - nowadays a smartphone can do the job + chances are you have one already!), a friend helped me with writing descriptions (not my strong suit) + a group of friends helped me to refine design ideas
- Collaborate, this one was especially helpful; I worked with other people who also wanted to start a business + had a similar style to me, but a different offering. For example, I worked with models, photographers + make up artists - we all worked for free, but in exchange were getting professional quality work (I provided the products for the photoshoot) that we could use on our social media + websites. Also, we linked to each other online, to get exposure to a new audience, that had similar interests to our businesses.
The importance of planning
As with all types of business, planning is key + in this case it's especially important to make sure you know where you want to take the business + what you want to achieve so that you don't waste money on things that aren't essential. It'll also help you to reinvest wisely, so that you can grow your business effectively. Key things you'll want to decide on in advance are;
- How do I want to grow my brand? For example, will you spend your time growing your Instagram following, working on getting press features, or perhaps paid advertising would be a good use of the money you do have
- Do I want to have exclusive designs, or would I be happy customising existing styles with my own prints (this is an especially good option for anyone wanting to start with t-shirts, but it can work for other products too)
- Do you specifically want to start with clothing? Accessories can often be a much easier way of starting, as you don't have to consider the fit + one size fits all, so you don't have to worry about picking a size range. The number of returns are often less as well, because people won't return due to the item not fitting, or not suiting them.
- I recommend being specific with your offering to any startup, but especially to ones with a limited budget. Don't try to offer lots of options on everything, as you'll need at the very least a photography sample made for everything + buying fabrics/trims in smaller quantities is more expensive - price wise it's best to order 10 of something in black, rather than 10 different colours if you're having it custom made.
- Really analyse what it will take to get from your idea, to product ready to sell, or at least pre sell. If you can do things for free (eg your own logo, website, etc) that's great, but still make a note of everything you'll need. Aside from the obvious things like the materials + labour for the product itself, think about often forgotten components, like shipping envelopes, labels (care label are a legal requirement), insurance, taxes, phone/internet bill, sample costs + sales fees.
When you've made your first few sales, either with the ready to ship model or pre-sale strategy, you can then look at reinvesting the money you've made on that. Ideally, if you're able to support yourself with a full or part time job, it's best to invest most of the money you make, so that you can speed up your growth (keep some in the bank for any unexpected expenses though). Listening to customer feedback is really important + this can cover everything from actual comments that you've received, but also things like social media comments or, the most important one of all, the sales data. Look at what your most popular size, colour, style, etc have been + use this when making choices for new products.
Also refer back to your business plan + see where is the best place to reinvest. If you have enough, it may be worth paying for some advertising (FB can work well if you're willing to put time into learning about it + tweaking it) + of course investing in more product. As before, keep the range small while you're budget is small, but use your customer/sales data to make more informed choices about what to sell, to minimise the number of items that you have to discount, or not sell at all.
I hope this post has been able to reassure you that anyone can start a fashion label, no matter what your budget is, as long as you're willing to put in the work! If you found this helpful, keep an eye out for the upcoming post, 'Spend vs Save', which uncovers what you should invest in from the start + what isn't so important at the beginning - it'll help you to make sure that any cash you do have is spent wisely. You can sign up for the mailing list below, to receive a monthly round up of helpful fashion industry tips + also get access to my free resource library, which has downloads to help your business get off to a good start. Your details are safe with me + won't be shared with anyone else!