“To work in fashion has become a mega trend. This leads to a huge mass of people working in this industry and so it is hard to stand out, or even survive.”
These are the words of London based menswear designer, Lisa Pek, in a Not Just A Label article. A fashion designer trying to break into the industry would mostly agree with this comment. Starting out in this fast-paced, competitive industry is itself very difficult, and it’s not made easier by the bad rep new designers often get with manufacturers just for being new to the game.
Then again, these misgivings don’t appear out of thin air – there’s no smoke without fire as they say. We have to admit there have been, and will always be a few bad apples that spoil it for everyone else. Often, people jump into business without a clear-cut plan of how to take things forward, and their enthusiasm wanes as the going gets tough. When they fail to deliver on time, change their minds or design sub-standard products, they disappoint their manufacturing partners.
It just takes a few similar experiences and these manufacturers conclude that it isn’t worthwhile investing in fresh talent in the future. But, no fear! Stick with us and we’ll guide you through getting past this misconception and not falling into the newbie trap.
Common Issues Manufacturers Associate With New Designers
Shannon Whitehead of Factory 45, works with aspiring fashion entrepreneurs, and knows how the fashion industry operates. In her blog post, “The Reason New Designers Get A Bad Rep” she mentions that most suppliers, sew shops and factories don’t want to work with new designers. According to her, here are the common mistakes new designers make:
Wasting time on legitimising creative ideas, without knowing whether there is a market for it.
If you haven’t done your market research, then it’s 99% certain that your product won’t sell. When it comes to manufacturing, the general practice is that your manufacturing partner will put together one sample. Then you go away with the sample and use it to get together a healthy number of orders and come back to do your full scale manufacturing. If you haven’t done your research, then you have no idea if your product is priced correctly, who the product is suitable for, the brands your competing against… the list goes on. If you were a manufacturer, would you want to invest your time in creating a sample product that was unlikely to generate you the second, wholesale order? I didn’t think so.
Using vague terms like ‘innovative’ and ‘new’ in proposals.
Suppliers are very wary of designers who are inexperienced and likely to make mistakes. Using terms like “innovative” and “new” is an immediate flag that you have no idea what you’re doing. You don’t have a clear plan of what you’re creating. This could lead to their production being delayed, or even worse, being scrapped. So it’s in their business’ best interest to steer away from red flag proposals. Sending a vague enquiry shows your inexperience. Instead, send razor sharp, specific information like the type of garment, fabric, number of units you’re looking to produce and production timelines.
Expecting the production partner to suggest a course of action, based on the designer’s outline.
Now some companies, like Offset Warehouse, embrace smaller designers and are more than happy to work with startups to guide them on the best course of action. Many businesses, however, do not see the value in this, as there is simply no money in it! Just think, if you’re giving your time to a business, the expectation is that you will come back and place a big order. The reality for startups, however, is that you simply have no money to give. Manufacturing units aren’t consultancies after all, so don’t expect them to be.
Getting hung up on the small stuff.
New designers often worry about getting patents and NDA’s (non disclosure agreements) signed before they even identify the scope for their idea! There are many ways you can get around talking to manufacturers about your ideas without giving away the game – but for goodness sakes, don’t waste their time when you haven’t even got your idea onto paper yet. Manufacturers are too busy to educate designers on why this should be the least of their worries.
What Can You Do About It?
UK based designer, Nadine Peters, says that people who have never been through the stages of developing a product have a lack of understanding about the process and the time it takes to create it. It is this lack of appreciation and understanding that means that many people believe that fashion is an easy job. This may be so, but in my opinion, you have to start somewhere! You have to learn at some point – right?! And don’t you ever let a grouchy manufacturing unit get in the way of reaching your goals and getting your dreams. But you need to be smart.
A successful entrepreneur is self-driven, understands the challenges and always has a plan. You must have a plan of action, research it thoroughly and come up with a systematic step-by-step approach. If you’re not sure – then get networking and ask someone with experience! A production house doesn’t want to educate or assist you, just because you are new. As bad as this customer service may be, they expect you to handle your part yourself, rather than ask them for suggestions on what to do. If you can’t do this, don’t expect to hear from them.
As a new designer who wants to nail it, you should have everything ready before you approach a potential partner. Let’s look at what you will need.
How To Equip Yourself Before You Approach A Manufacturer
Find Your Niche
The first step is to find your niche. You need your own style. Develop a strong sketchbook and portfolio that demonstrates your skills in this area. Your style should be original and instantly recognisable to anyone who looks at your portfolio or collection.
Next, you need an innovative concept. There are waaaay too many competing brands out there for you not to stand out. What is your unique selling point?
Also keep in mind that manufacturers are particularly keen to see products that solve problems or are able to fix a process. For a little inspiration, look beyond products. Like Smashing Magazine website suggests, try looking to successful people for inspiration. Not only might their products or businesses spark an innovative idea, but studying the paths of successful people can provide valuable insight into developing your own successful business.
Once you have your concept and sketches, you need a solid proposal, like a business plan. This involves all the market research you need to ensure your business is a viable one!
Samples & Specs
A good entrepreneur has a thorough idea of the production details for their design. Your spec sheet should be as detailed as possible so the concept is clearly communicated. As Ambra Medda, founder of beautiful design store of L’ArcoBaleno notes in this article, “every small detail is critical”. The designer should work through practical and logistical details to get the product into production. Working out all the possibilities (and things that might go wrong) ahead of time, conveys that you mean serious business.
Finding Your Manufacturing Partner
Now that you have prepared the groundwork, it is time to find a potential partner. It helps to make a personal connection first, before sending your inquiry. Design fairs are great venues to form such connections. There are several events like ICFF Studio, focusing on new designers, so make sure you check out these opportunities to locate and build relationships with people who can take on your ideas.
Last but not least, your communication skills have a crucial role in helping to establish yourself. Everything from your website, to your proposal and email correspondence should clearly communicate your vision and professionalism. If you come across as an interesting, adventurous and motivated person, manufacturers will see that you have potential and will be willing to give you a try – and you won’t seem like an inexperienced newbie!