Fact – the majority of fashion startups will never turn a profit .
After working with more than 50 fashion startups before retiring in 2015, when our company was acquired, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes for a fashion startup to thrive. I’ve worked with notable brands and celebrity lines. A few have succeeded; most disappeared.
Starting any business is difficult. Individuals are trying to build companies that benefit themselves and the economy. Many entrepreneurs have very little or no experience in the business world and failure takes a toll in many ways.
Here are 10 of the most common mistakes I have watched fashion entrepreneurs make again and again.
1. Thinking it is easy
There is a common misconception that starting a clothing company is easy. And the starting may be, but maintaining even a year and turning a profit is anything but that. According to the Wall Street Journal, 3 out of 4 startups fail and fashion is one of the most difficult industries.
In my experience, I have noticed that the overwhelming majority of fashion entrepreneurs are severely unprepared and have little to no idea about design, distribution, how to make sales or how much capital and manpower it actually takes to build a clothing brand and make any money from it.
They just know they want a clothing company and get in over their heads from the get go. If you’re going to succeed, you need to be fully committed and willing to research and sacrifice.
2. Thinking you know it all
I have noticed far too many entrepreneurs behave like they know everything. They believe in their talent and product, which is good, however when that affects their willingness to listen to advice, it can be fatal to a startup.
Ego combined with an overall lack of industry knowledge, and business in general, is a recipe for failure. If you’re too stubborn to listen, you’ll have a hard time creating products people want or having retailers and manufacturers give you a chance to build the relationships you need. Don’t expect things handed to you and don’t be afraid to learn.
3. Borrowing money from family
Too often, I have seen entrepreneurs borrow money from family members only to lose it. It may be hard, but you need to understand that there is a reason that professional investors often run from fashion startups.
The reality is that you are likely to lose money at some point and if it is borrowed from family, it can cause awkward and strained relationships with your loved ones. Save yourself the trouble and stress. Find ways to fund it yourself and always build a backup plan.
4. Ignoring the value of a website
A constant mistake is not investing in a website. Launching a brand with a “free” website makes you look unprofessional and it doesn’t instill a sense of safety for a consumer to spend their money. Consider this: if you can’t even buy a domain name why should people buy anything from you?
If you don’t have a brick and mortar location, a website is all you’ve got. A professional website says you believe in yourself enough to spend your own money on it.
5. Believing ideas always translate into a good product
There are unlimited great ideas, but being able to actually make a vision a reality and understanding how to get there is a totally different story.
Imagining something in your head and having your friends and social media followers hype you up doesn’t necessarily mean you can execute it. Do not make the mistake of assuming you’ll succeed just because you’re creative. An idea on its own does not make or guarantee a viable business.
6. Going broke trying to look rich
Rented cars and a millionaire attitude don’t necessarily mean you’re actually a millionaire. And if you are using your (limited) money to only bolster a false brand image, you may make the mistake of going broke trying to look rich.
This is a mistake that actually happens all of the time, largely because the social media generation is more concerned with looking wealthy rather than actually building wealth. Successful entrepreneurs need to take the steps necessary to succeed and understand nothing comes easy.
7. Moving too slowly
I have seen more than a few entrepreneurs miss out on opportunities, seasons because they have very poor time management and can’t meet deadlines or make swift business decisions. Being slow to recognize and act on opportunities will kill your business fast.
8. Trying to do too much
I’ll often notice entrepreneurs trying to do way too much and introduce too many product lines. While you need more than a couple of items for customers to choose from, you need to find something people want and focus on perfecting it and being known for a particular product. You’ll save a lot of time and resources narrowing in on a few items until you can afford to expand your business.
9. Going in alone or choosing friends as partners
There are not enough hours in the day to build a brand by yourself. Surrounding yourself with people who have the same goals as you is crucial to the success of a fashion startup. You are trying to compete with established and fully staffed brands that have more experience and cash than you.
I have seen more friendships and partnerships end than I can count and it is usually because one person takes things more seriously than the others. Don’t get into business with someone just because they are your friend. Make sure you and any co-founders are all in it for shared and agreed upon reasons and that roles and responsibilities are understood.
10. Underestimating the value of design
I often see entrepreneurs that have ideas but absolutely no understanding of design. I guarantee you – entrepreneurs with absolutely no knowledge or care to understand materials, manufacturing processes and technical design will fail.
Design is an investment. It’s the face of your product. If the design isn’t there, it’s not going to work out for you. Hire a professional designer to bring your vision to life if you can’t do it yourself. This doesn’t mean you are giving up control of your dream. It means you are bringing in the skills to give your dream a chance to be viable.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Liam Massaubi is a serial entrepreneur, investor and Aboriginal business consultant. He is also a public speaker and design engineer. He is a proud Mohawk and a very busy father. Connect with @OldmanLM on Twitter.
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