“I have a great idea for a fashion product – how do I start?”
I get asked this question pretty much every week. While there are lots of different ways entrepreneurs have used to go from idea to market, I’m going to tell you what I think works best.
The first 3 steps to get your fashion product to market:
1) Buy a good book
Seems obvious, right? And yet I get daily calls asking for Private Consulting when the caller has yet to even read a little bit about the process of launching a product.
There are plenty of good books out there and if you’re looking for a recommendation, I would start with Mary Gehlhar’s, The Fashion Designer Survival Guide. You can find it on Amazon here. If you are really serious about your business, you can also consider my course for start-ups.
2) Go shopping
You need to make sure there’s a true market for what you want to design. I see way too many entrepreneurs design a product because it fills a very specific need they have in their lives.
Of course, most of us go into business because we have an itch we need to scratch, and that’s OK. The problem becomes when you design something for an itch that very few people have – like a baby product for a problem that only lasts for 6 months of a child’s life. And even then, maybe it’s only for some kids. You need to know if what you plan to make is something people will really buy.
My advice is to go shopping. Visit stores where you think you would like to sell your product once you have one. Talk to the salespeople. Ask to speak to the owner or buyer if it’s a smaller store. Then ask them this question, “What is it you would love to buy for your store but you cannot find it in the marketplace?” See what they say and keep good notes. You can pitch them your idea as well and see if they will give you honest feedback.
You can also do a Google search for the “problem” your product solves. See if other people are searching for the same thing.
Compare these 2 Google searches.
A) “clothing for curvy women” turns up 12,900,000 results.
B) “clothing for pear shaped women” gets just 587,000 results.
If I were going into business, I would pick “A” and then perhaps narrow it down to an even tighter niche within the curvy clothing arena.
3) Make a sample (prototype)
If you feel there’s a market out there for your product, it’s time to get a sample made. There are many, many different ways to do this but I’ll stick with the cheapest, easiest way for now.
Assume you only want a working prototype so you can show other people your idea in the flesh. First, you need a good sketch of what you want to make – starting with one item only. If you cannot sketch at all, call a local college and find a fashion design student who can do it for you.
After you have a good rendering, you can take this to get a pattern and a sample made. You can start with a local dressmaker or expert tailor. Show them your sketch (one item only) and ask if they can help you get a sample made and what the cost will be.
Huge disclaimer here: this advice is ONLY for the first sample, OK? After you get ONE made it will be time to move on to a more professional way of doing things.
You will need an industry pattern maker and sample maker who knows how to make prototypes that can be used for production, not just one-off samples. They are very different and if you spend too much time on the “local seamstress” method I can virtually guarantee that your patterns and samples will have to be re-done.
Following these 3 steps will help you to know if a full product launch is a good idea.
If you need help finding out if your idea makes financial sense – will you have the margins to make money, what are common pitfalls in your niche, how much will this business cost you to start – then you should consider consulting a professional.
There are terrific free mentoring services all over the country through SCORE (http://www.score.org/) or you can book a one-time Strategy Session with a Fashion Brain coach. And if you want to learn the process of starting a clothing line, step-by-step, we offer an intensive online (do at your own pace) course for Startups. Click here to see a sample video and check it out.
What do YOU think?
Now I would love to hear from you in the comments below!
If you’re already in business, what worked for YOU in the early stages?
Can you tell us the ONE thing we should look out for when launching a product?
Thanks in advance,