Fashion design is not an easy career to embark upon. In my first year of fashion design, a third of the pretty little faces that enrolled had dropped out by the end of the year.
At some point I think they realised that this was not the glamorous silver-spoon life that they had signed up for, and that they were actually going to have to work to realise their dream of owning a designer boutique or showing at Paris Fashion Week. So, unless you were born silver spoon in hand, chances are you are going to have to put in some elbow grease when it comes to starting your own business.
Our current economic reality is bleak, let's be honest. Millions of people have lost their jobs since the start of the global financial crisis in 2008. Worldwide, companies are folding and people are having to find alternative means of putting food on the table at the end of the day. South Africa, although buoyed by the 2010 FIFA World Cup, is by no means immune to the ripple effect of the global recession. Clothing is a necessity, but fashion is not, and we have seen a fundamental turning point in the way people buy and what supports their decision to buy it. Issues like sustainability and ethical treatment of factory workers are becoming top of mind when it comes to the mature middle class shopper. Furthermore, as modern consumers we are faced with a multitude of mixed messages from every angle which stifle our ability to make decisions in a kind of "choice paralysis".
So, what is any fashion graduate worth their tape measure to do? Many are entering a job market which is all but unstitched, stripped away slowly by unbeatable global outsourcing prices and big brand names that make competition virtually impossible. In South Africa, we also are left with a once booming textile sector that is now in tatters and has resulted in an inevitable loss of valuable skills and knowledge within the trade. A bleached picture, certainly, but not one without hope. Yes, our once booming local industry is in need of governmental support and a huge amount of rebuilding, but this is possible. Perhaps we can consider ourselves lucky in that we have the opportunity now to re-create a solid and indestructible local industry - and the signs are there that this is already beginning to take place.
Our flailing global economy relies on the growth of small and micro-businesses, which provide jobs. Think of it as the socially responsible thing to do, in fact. All the trends point in the same direction, more and more people are going freelance and starting their own businesses in light of the harsh economic reality and also with the desire for more freedom, autonomy and happiness.
See, modern technology extends to us an olive branch. Like-minded individuals are coming together every day, connected by social platforms such as Facebook which are moving speedily into the realm of business. Angie has already put together a great article on exactly how to use Facebook to your advantage as a small business, and I will outline how this is all part of a bigger strategy to get your company off the ground..
Make a Fan Page
In terms of starting your business on a shoestring budget, Facebook is an excellent way of testing the success of your idea without any real risk. By creating a Fan Page for your brand and suggesting it to your friends, you can immediately gauge what the level of interest in your idea is. Also, you are able to see how quickly the interest grows and who likes your brand - especially people who have not been directly invited to "Like" your page, and "Like" it of their own accord. By tracking the type of people that your brand is attracting, you can start up a conversation between your brand and your fans.
Everything in marketing is about conversation these days, almost as if conversations have been hijacked by that industry, however I propose real and authentic chatter around your brand which carries a very particular and very unique tone. Speak directly to the kind of people who are now listening to you and make your information valuable to them. Most importantly, keep your page updated with any new links and ideas that you would like to share with your community and do not let it get stale. Make sure the information is relevant to the people looking at your page and be very sure that the content is in line with your brand persona.
Design an ID
On the subject of personae, it is important to formulate and identity for your new venture. I would start by using an image which is relevant and carries the essence of your brand, but which is at the same time free to use. When your brand idea begins to gain momentum, then it is time to take the next step, which includes logo design. At this stage, friends come in handy. Being involved in a creative field probably means that you have at least one friend who is a graphic designer, if not, find one. Design work can come with a hefty price tag when you're counting your pennies, so I would suggest some kind of a skills exchange. Find out what it is that your graphic designer friend needs that you would be able to make for them (remember, fashion design is a skill too!). The aim is to market your skills in exchange for what you need done, in a kind of barter deal. So, you made a stonewash denim jacket in your final range, and winter is coming up - suggest to you graphic designer friend that you can make him a jacket in exchange for work done. He is warm and you have your logo. Sorted.
Modern technology allows us to build our own webpage in a few short hours. Websites like Tank and Yola offer the free tools to get you started. You don't need to have any previous website experience to create your website, but my advice is to spend a little extra time making sure that your colour palette is in line with your logo colours. The look and feel of the end product should have a harmonious feel - a shocking website will make your fans turn away and never come back again. Remember, you have a split second to create the right impression and losing fans to an ugly website will mean that all your hard work would have been wasted. There are a couple of sites that offer professional colour matching services for free. Kuler is a great resource for any web designer which allows users to vote colour schemes up and down, so you can really get a good idea of what is popular and what is not.
Now that you have your website in order, you need to start filling it with excellent content. One suggestion would be to do a professional shoot. In my next article I will talk more about planning the perfect photoshoot, on a shoestring budget.