One thing I’ve talked about repeatedly is that you need to be a business person first, fashion designer second if you want to launch a line that makes money. As a brand new fashion designer, I made tons of fashion business mistakes. I made one of the biggest when I didn’t trust my gut, and it ended up costing me $25,000 in sales. Here’s what happened:
I get my first big order
I was 25 and barely out of fashion design school when I started selling my designs out of my own women’s clothing boutique. Just two months after I opened, a buyer from a major department store walked in, and soon I shipped my first order to three of their stores. I was thrilled!
I ran into trouble with the second delivery. I had ordered the fabric with plenty of lead time, but when it was two weeks late I finally heard from the fabric supplier. The black fabric I ordered was out of stock, and could they replace it with a “charming forest green?” I had promised the store outfits in two colors — red and black — and I was afraid I’d lose the whole order if I only delivered red. Since there was no time to order this exact fabric in black, I sent a swatch of the green to the department store buyer and to my surprise, she approved it.
I get a sinking feeling in my gut
I was surprised. Because I had a sinking feeling in my gut. There’s a reason why black is so popular. It’s slimming, hides dirt and goes with everything. Women know this, I know this. I should have listened to my gut then, but I really knew things were wrong when I was packing the boxes of red and green — it looked so Christmasy — but after all, the buyer had approved the swatch, so it had to be OK, right?
Well, my gut was right. The green did not sell. It was a disaster. The department store buyer told me I had two options — I could take the green outfits back or I could give “markdown money.”
What is Markdown Money?
I was a new fashion designer and had never heard of markdown money, which is when the designer gives a credit to the store when the designer’s merchandise has to be marked down. I was horrified, but I agreed to it because I was afraid of losing future business. I agreed to give a credit on a future order to the tune of $25,000. My business would take a major hit, and I was scared.
Learning to trust my instincts as a fashion business owner
I was mad at the buyer — why should I give the markdown money when she approved the green fabric swatch? She should have taken it out of her own check.
But then I realized I was equally to blame, and I was just as frustrated with myself. I KNEW that green color was wrong. I literally got a sick feeling in my stomach when I saw it. It just wasn’t right.
The good-news ending: this didn’t put me out of business. I learned from my mistake, and these days I don’t ignore that feeling in the pit of my stomach. My mistake was costly and embarrassing, but I was determined to learn from it.
What was your biggest fashion business mistake? What did you learn from mine?