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Top Tips for Starting Your Own Fashion Brand

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3rd April 2017

Many of our students dream of starting their own fashion businesses, but it can be tough to know where to start. We spoke to Rob Williams, Managing Director of Hawthorn, to find out his top tips for fashion startups.

Hawthorn is one of the UK’s leading clothing manufacturers, producing and distributing garments of the highest quality to fashion brands of all sizes. They're proud to support small businesses and emerging designers, with the lowest minimum order quantity in the industry.

If you’d love to start your own fashion brand but don't know your MOQs from your CADs, our BA (Hons) Business Management for Fashion undergraduate degree is perfect for you. We’ll teach you the creative and entrepreneurial skills you need to lead a fashion business, and many of our graduates have gone on to start their own companies.

From a manufacturer's point of view, what's your top advice for a new fashion brand?

One mistake we see time and time again is brands using budget photography and not showing the products in their best light. Some brands go so far that they use their phone to photograph their items on a coat hanger against a white wall. This is leagues apart from the service a professional photographer could give!

One of the best investments for a new brand is a fantastic photographer. Images are the main part of your brand and usually your first impression, so don't scrimp on photography. The cost doesn’t have to break the bank if you shop around.

Tell us about the garment design process. What stages does a product have to go through to get to the shop floor?

The process actually isn't very complicated.

It starts with an initial idea. For some people, this might be a simple hand-drawn sketch, or for others, it can be a highly-detailed CAD or a full technical specification. We can work from most concepts, but as a manufacturer, it's always better to have as much information as possible.

Once a design has been presented, there’s usually a little back and forth where we clarify or amend requirements. Sometimes technical limitations do come into play. For example, embroidery can be limited by the complexity of the design.

When the design is finalised, we create patterns and order all the necessary materials like fabrics, custom hardware etc. Once this is done, samples are produced and sent to the customer. When they’re approved, we start the bulk manufacture.

how to start your own fashion brand

How would you advise a brand to check on their product's quality?

With the quality of a product, there are two main areas to look at: the quality of the fabrics and the quality of the construction.

Quality of fabrics is the difference between being able to buy a 100% cotton t-shirt for £5 or £50 from different brands. There are many different grades and extra washes that can be added to a fabric to improve softness or hand-feel etc. Fabrics that have these treatments and are from a premium source will be of higher quality.

When it comes to construction, handmade is always best. This is because you can rely on the person actually stitching your product together to have the experience and skill to be very accurate. At Hawthorn, one of our quality checks is that every item is checked by the person stitching it together. 

What are your top tips for running a successful fashion brand?

There are many things to consider, but the top 5 things we would suggest would be:

1. Invest in photography

Like I said before, photography is such a huge part of a business. Don’t underestimate its power in conveying your brand and your message.

2. Build a professional website

Customers are very good at spotting an amateur, whether it's because you're using a free website template, or a mobile number and a @gmail email! Start as you mean to go on with your professionalism. This will give you a great chance of success.

3. Develop a healthy range

Some brands start with just a couple of items, but you should actually avoid this as much as possible. Customers love to see brands that are unique and dynamic, and a brand that only has a couple of items for sale could be seen as limited and amateur.

4. Focus on quality

In everything that you do, quality should be your focus. This includes everything from your products to your website to your social media. Look at your idols in the industry and how they present themselves and their products. Before you make any decisions, think ‘would be competitor be doing this?’

5. Take inspiration, but don’t plagiarise

You want to take inspiration from other brands, but remember, there's a big difference between taking inspiration and just copying what they do. If you plagiarise other brands, it’s sure to be spotted by someone! At best, some of your customers will be put off your brand and your products. At worst, it could leave you in a lot of legal trouble…

What is the biggest mistake people make when starting a fashion business?

The biggest mistake we see new brands make is the underestimating of the time, money and commitment it can take. This is usually people who see it as a bit of a "get rich quick" type of business. When starting any company, especially fashion, take your original estimates for the time and finance you’ll need and at least double them.

Unless you have started a successful business before, then it’ll no doubt be a learning curve! It will take longer and cost more than you originally anticipated, but with commitment, it's a fantastic industry to get into.

When you study a BA (Hons) Business Management for Fashion undergraduate degree with us, you’ll complete six weeks of industry placement as part of your course. This will give you real insight into how a fashion brand is run behind the scenes. If you like the sound of fashion production and manufacturing, you might like our Level 4 Garment Technology course

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