In this first series, I take up Clothing & Fashion lines and labels. The reason I chose to start with exploring how to create and launch a clothing line is because over years I have worked with many clothing brands and helped them launch to success. It is an exciting process and my agency has become some what of an expert in this field.
Creating and launching a clothing line can be quite daunting but if it is done right, the potential of success, profits and satisfaction is tremendous. Most entrepreneurs who decide to launch a clothing label have a lot of passion and conviction in the power of good clothing. It goes beyond making money and into the realm of contributing something to this world. This passion attracts me to work with and help launch such brands.
I will not go into the actual process of creating the clothing line itself. I will not and can not talk about fashion design, sourcing raw materials, the actual manufacturing or putting together of the garments etc. Instead I will be talking about the following topics in this and other upcoming articles:
1) Brand Value Proposition
2) Picking a Brand Name
3) Creating a Brand Identity
4) Website & Online Store
5) Social Media Setup & Strategies
6) Promotion & Marketing
7) Pricing & Sales
8) Profits & Expansion
I will try and keep these discussions limited to sharing insights and some actionable suggestions. I have also written a guide to marketing your clothing company which would be a good read after you are done with this article.
When the seed of germination of the idea to launch a clothing line takes hold of your imagination, the first step of the process should be work think about the “Brand Value Proposition“. It would take discipline to not jump ahead. Not having a clear idea of what your Brand Value Proposition is will hugely influence the success of your brand and your bottom line.
The intersection of the garments you plan to offer and the target customer needs is the sweet spot of the value proposition. If you do not clearly define how your proposed clothing line would appeal to the market that you target, then the rest of the process of the launch would be an uphill battle.
You have to ask the question: “what will make your clothing line valuable?”. Your clothing line will not be successful if people do not understand why they should pay attention to your brand. At this point you are probably thinking that this kind of thinking should come at a later stage. Believe me when I say that nothing can be farther from the truth. Understanding what will set your brand and your product/service offering apart from the competition is a crucial step that many startups either ignore or not aware of and end up paying the price later on.
Example: Suppose you want to sell premium hats starting at $120. Your target market can find similar hats in the stores starting at $50. The reason you believe your hats should be priced premium is because of the premium quality material you use and the high quality of your hats. If you simply launch your brand and then expect people to come buying your premium hats, it will not work. You can not simply communicate the high quality of your product because all brands claim the same. You would need to identify a value proposition that goes beyond just the high quality. You would need a story that connects with your target audience that makes your hats appealing and desirable so that they would pay a premium for them.
For some pointers on why the right brand name is important, I would suggesting going through this article. For a clothing company, your brand name is an asset that can really help your brand make an impact. Picking the right name can be tricky but the best advice that I can give at this stage is to put your personal preferences aside and pick a name that matches your core values, your brand value and the world view of your potential customers. Think ahead to how your brand name would be received. Ask yourself these 6 questions. Also, make sure you understand the dos and don’ts of brand naming.
Once you pick a name, make sure it does not infringe on any copyright or trademark both locally and nationally. Check with your local chamber of commerce to make sure you can register it as a company name and that there are no other companies with the same or similar name. Conduct a federal trademark search with the USPTO database too. For more information on trademarking, check out this video that I did a few years back – it is still quite relevant!
Example: Consider the name “Lambeewear”. The client’s second name is Lambert and he decided to call his company Lambeewear which is a stylish word and also ties back to the owner in a very stylish and effective way. The first line of accessories that Lambeewear launched were hats and these were called “Lambeenies”! Now that is good branding!
I will not really talk about this point because there are many other articles on this site about brand identity and the importance of the right kind of branding etc. Read this article to understand the difference between a simple logo design and branding. Also read some basics of branding and some key terminologies related to branding which you help you understand it better.
It is critical that your brand has a logo that matches it’s purpose and message. It is not all about aesthetics. The impact your logo and brand colors have on the target market is vital.
After your have created your brand identity, it is vital to invest in getting a professional website to be the face of your brand. Every day I see companies with websites that are so poorly designed that I wonder what the stake holders were thinking. When your prospects would visit your website make sure you present to them your best face. Design standards are high up in the clouds these days and people are easily turned off by bad design. This is even more true if you are trying to sell your clothing line online.
For a static website where you are not selling cloths and accessories online, the minimum you would need are:
1) An elegant website design that matches your brand. It has to be customized and never ever go for free websites that are available through some hosting companies such as Godaddy.
2) High quality royalty free stock photos should be used in the web design. Do not let your web designer use photos from a Google search since the images may be copyrighted and this could result in a law suit down the line.
3) High quality photos of your products and garments. This single point can make or break your brand value. Unprofessional and low resolution photos of your garments will not create the right kind of impact and your sales will suffer.
4) A CMS (Content Management System) with your hosting so that you can manage and edit your website by yourself. If you want to create new pages or post some content on the website to keep it fresh, it would cost you quite a lot in the long term to keep going back to a design firm. Instead, you should invest a little upfront to get a website that has a CMS.
For an ecommerce website or online store, here are a few items you need to be aware of:
1) Go for a website and online store that you can own outright. There are several online solutions where your online store sits on their proprietary hosting system and links into the various ecommerce modules. If you decide to move your website down the line to a different hosting provider, you will find that you can take the design and the static pages but not the store. Of course you can export all your products and orders and if the new system permits, you can import them back but it is not straight forward.
Ideally, if you budget permits, it is better to have a store that is created for your business and is hosted on an account that you own. This can usually be done with the WordPress platform.
2) Make sure that your ecommerce store provider does not charge percentage of all sales transactions. This could be a killer. Typically such services offer a nice store for a low set up and possibly low monthly fees which makes it very attractive. In the beginning, you may feel that you will have less sales and hence the percentage commission would not be that significant. But you will quickly realize that when sales start picking up, you are paying up to 10% of every sale to the store provider!
3) Sign up for a payment gateway that charges a relatively low percentage per transaction. A good example is PAYPAL which is quite competitive. If you get a PAYPAL business account, your online store developer can hook it up to the website to accept credit card payments seamlessly.
4) Make sure that you online store website has social media integration to ensure people share your products and accessories on Google+, Facebook and Pinterest. This will give more visibility to your clothing line and will help with building brand recall and eventual conversions.
As a clothing and fashion company, social media is your best friend. With out a well thought out social media strategy and implementation, you are literally leaving money on the table. In fact, you will not be able to garner any significant sales with out the power of social media propelling your website. Social media works both directly and indirectly to convert prospects. By generating traffic to your website and by increasing your brand engagement, social media can help you quickly market your brand with relatively low budgets.
For a clothing line, Facebook and Pinterest are the major winners. Here are 5 simple rules for branding on Facebook. Pinterest is fast becoming a very effective sales channel for the fashion industry. At the very least, spend time and effort to set up your brand channels on these social media outlets and make sure that they are branded properly.
Actually this dovetails into the previous point and overlaps quite a lot. As a small clothing brand and with limited budgets, your best bet is to focus on online marketing to get the word out there. At the same time, also think of some unique ideas for offline marketing locally. This could include ideas such as:
1) Participating in local events and giving away t-shirts with your branding
2) Giving away garments or accessories to local celebrities to try out
3) Participate in local charity events and exposing your brand
4) Organizing min fashion shows at your local restaurant or community center to show off your latest line.
5) Tie up with local businesses and offer to give discounts to their customers
However beware of overzealous marketing!
Pricing is the biggest challenge for most small businesses and especially so for a clothing label. There are different methods of setting your prices but I would caution against arbitrarily setting prices. I would also not recommend relying to heavily on taking cue from the competition. If you have established your Brand Value Proposition clearly, you should be able to price your garments and accessories based on the value your clothing brings to the customers. If the story is told right, then you can charge premiums.
As a start up, it is very tempting to price low. When I talk about increasing prices or setting higher prices, many of the clients that I work with balk and shake with fear. That is because they look at pricing as an arbitrary thing. Pricing depends on the value you create for your client. If you do not make your clothing brand appealing or desirable, then you will have to participate in pricing wars with competitors. Instead focus on establishing a story that life your clothing line above the noise and makes it much more appealing.
Your sales don’t necessarily have to be tied to the price. Many business owners believe that lower prices will lead to more sales. This is true when you are dealing with a commodity such as sugar or salt or petrol. But you have to raise your brand above the commodity status. You can not afford to have people think of your brand as just another clothing provider. In fact it has been proven that if done with the right context, raising prices and charging a premium actually increases sales!
Example: A clothing brand that we helped create and launch approached the market by being an exclusive members only club. Even before the launch of the brand, invites were sent to the leading online social media elite and media personalities along with 5 invites to give away. A couple of months before the launch, the invites were at a premium an people were begging to get in. The premise of the club is that fashionable clothes for gentlemen would be created as limited editions and would be only available to members of the club.
This formula was used most effectively by Google when it launched it’s Google+ network.
Finally always be thinking of profit margins. I have worked with more than 200 brands in the past 5 years, helping them create and launch brands and in all this time the single defining thing I have noticed is that business owners are not really clued into how profit works. They tend to always look at the revenues and cash flow and enter a rat race to generate more and more revenue with out proper consideration to the profit margins.
Every business needs profits to sustain and grow. Having large revenues but relatively low profits keep businesses in a vulnerable position. If things go wrong or the economic climate changes, they are in for a shock. With out healthy profits there would be no money invested back into the business to improve the process, quality of the product or even infrastructure. This in turn leads to disaster if there is a decrease in revenue.
With out going overboard, always make sure that every garment or accessory you sell has a healthy profit margin attached to it. But do not consume the profits for personal sustenance and life style.
1) Plough the profits back into the business.
2) Improve your supply chain.
3) Hire better people.
4) Invest in making your website and the buying experience better.
Do not use profits for your personal life style. Have discipline in terms of paying yourself just enough to sustain – at least initially. I have seen many entrepreneurs who have launched clothing brands get some measure of success and then go off spending money on fancy homes, clothes, vacations and other personal expenses only to find that when sales decrease or they target market changes, they are left with an unhealthy brand that then suffers and sometimes simply dies!
Keep tuned for more advice and suggestions in this series. If you would like to talk to me about your brand, call me on 646 568 5583.