01 Jun HOW TO BECOME A SUCCESSFUL FASHION ENTREPRENEUR IN THE APPAREL INDUSTRY
The fashion industry is a huge business but, for someone who is new to this business, you need to be well informed and know all the facts before you take a dive into the unknown. The real secret of a successful fashion design career is all about “Preparation”. Many people assume that the fashion industry is a no-brainer business; however, it is not. One needs to be savvy and master all facets of one’s technical life skills. Every year, there are several thousands of students graduating from all the fashion institutions around the world. Unfortunately, not every fashionista makes it in the business, due to the many factors that can derail a young designer’s career. If you want to stay ahead of the pack, do your research thoroughly, ask the right questions, and talk to professional designers who own their businesses before you jump into the fashion industry.
For instance, the biggest mistake most people seem to make is a lack of research, when it comes to choosing the right school for their fashion training. The second biggest mistake is how people use all their money to invest in their fashion education. As we all know, the bigger and the more famous a school is, the more you pay. Okay, let’s pause right here. Just because a fashion school is prestigious, how is that going to help your career if you have no real technical life skills to obtain employment? In reality, your technical life skills, such as sewing, pattern drafting, French draping and pattern grading, are your trade skills, which are all you really need to create a garment to sell or obtain employment, right? Paying a lot more does not mean that you are guaranteed to be successful in any way. It is far more important to master all of your basic life skills – and fully understand how to connect them together – and, eventually, by the time you find the right opportunity, you will have learned a lot more and gained plenty of experience. Experience is one thing that no school can teach you, no matter how much you pay or how long you study in school. Lastly, textbooks are for learning basic foundation knowledge and guidance, they exist to help you correct your errors and refresh your memory, but they are certainly not “a Bible”. When it comes to fashion design, don’t follow the book or listen to your fashion instructor; you need to think outside of the box if you want to be creative and successful. When it is time for employment, your future employer is solely interested in your skills, not your degree or your diploma. You must always remember that, without your technical life skills, you have no valuable service to offer to your employer and that will make you less desirable for any future employment.
Why pay $45,000, to upwards of $150,000, to fashion design schools, when they can’t even guarantee you a job or help you start your own fashion business? Why would you want to give all your money to a fashion institution and have nothing left to start your own fashion line or business? Hypothetically speaking, if you allocate $45,000 to $150,00 for your education, your best option is to invest 40% of that money into your fashion training and invest the remaining 60% of the funds into your fashion line/business after you have finished school.
BE CAREFUL: Fashion Schools Are Not What They Pretend to Be
Before you jump onto the bandwagon, sign the dotted line on the registration form and pay your first semester fees to enroll in a fashion design school, there are many things you should ask and other things that require written confirmation. Shockingly, not all schools are truthful in their online commercial advertisements or during the school’s Open House. First, you should really check out the school’s program syllabus and find out exactly what you are paying for and will be learning for each “individual class”. If the school cannot provide you with this information, you should consider this to be a big RED FLAG. You should also find out who is teaching in each of the program departments, to find out whether each instructor is competent, knowledgeable, and has an abundance of experience working in an actual garment factory setting or she/he has ever operated a successful fashion business. Many schools tend to bluff and use alternative facts about their programs and instructors during the Orientation and Open House. Unfortunately, no school will tell you, up front, who is teaching because the Human Resource Department will literally hire anybody, whether they have experience or not. There will be many cases where the fashion instructors are themselves fashion school graduates, with no industry experience, coming back to their old school to teach. Just like every corporation in the world, fashion institutions do fall into the same category, which means they are in the business of making big profits from their students, especially international students, where the tuition fees are generally double the amount domestic students would pay. Ouch! Yes, all schools operate as a business and that’s a fact. Once you are in the program, they have taken your money and, when it is too late for you to exit, they no longer care about you. All of this leads to the next question… why do so many students drop out in the first and second year?
At the end of the day, what you should be asking yourself is, what are you really paying for? What exactly are you learning in each lesson? What skills do you really need to acquire and use as a designer in a garment manufacturing setting on a regular basis? Obviously, you won’t be drawing, painting, weaving, dyeing, quilting or writing a fashion history thesis? People should ask themselves really tough questions. Do I really need to take all these courses when all I really need to do is to make a garment from a roll of fabric and sell it to make a profit? Why is the school making me take all of these ‘trash courses’ that have no practical use in real life? Is the school offering any freebies, such as a sewing machine, a serger or a dress form, during my training? Why is the school charging so much in tuition fees? And, why is the school sending their students to do internships without pay?
Let’s talk about the topic of “Internship”. Every fashion institution will tell their students that an internship is good for experience, and a great opportunity to learn and grow, but the reality is you won’t. The first rule of thumb is that you should never do any internship for free under any circumstances. Every employer in the fashion industry knows that every student that comes from a fashion institution will most likely have very little or no skills and experience to perform any highly challenging task. The employer doesn’t want a student to make a mistake at their expense, which means that she/he are most likely to be assigned to perform the most boring job that nobody else in the company wants to do. In the industry, we call it a “jobber”, a person who runs around and does all the miscellaneous duties, such as secretarial work, dusting, washing, cleaning, organizing, delivering, etc. The bottom-line is that these fashion companies really don’t care if you are from Parsons of New York or Central St. Martins School. So why would you want to work for free, unless you are being forced to do so by the school? This is a perfect example of pure labour exploitation and abuse; it is just as bad as working in a sweatshop, even if the school is justifying it as work experience. In South East Asia, there is an old saying among the sewers that belong to their union of workers, “You don’t pay, we go”. An internship should always be paid, no matter what you do. Sadly, the bigger the company is, the worse it gets, which is why all students should support one another. If every student in every fashion institution works together and unite as one, we would not have to have this conversation.
What is with the myth about buyers attending school fashion shows to do their buying OR industry employers coming to schools to do their recruitment? This is another example of fashion institutions providing alternative facts, when it comes to lots of buyers and employers attending their school’s year-end fashion show. The truth is that buyers only attend wholesale tradeshows in big cities like Las Vegas, Boston, New York, Shanghai, etc. Most buyers NEVER attend school year-end fashion shows! Because, in their minds, they know, for a fact, that no students from any fashion institution will have any money left to be able to finance and fill their next season’s order OR the capability OR the experience to produce a quality line. As for the vast majority of employers out there, they are just too busy running their companies, and they already have a Human Resources Department to take care of that work. Therefore, if you want a job, you have to go to them because there is no way that they will be coming to you or any school year-end fashion show.
A Life Recipe for a Successful Career in Fashion Design After School
How do you start a successful fashion career when you are done with school? Dream BIG and aim HIGH, if you want to be rich and successful in this business. There are two alternative paths you can choose from. You can try working for a private label company, but the pay will be quite dreadful. On the other hand, if you didn’t spend all of your money on your fashion skills training and you manage to save 60%-70% of the leftover money from your school tuition, you can definitely create your own successful online fashion business. Did you know that it takes at least one year to establish a successful line from the research stage to sourcing, sampling, production and delivery for your first season? There is a lot of preparation that goes into the first season, such as preparing a budget, getting the advice of an accountant/lawyer about setting up your business and tax issues, creating short and long-term goals for your business, setting a timeline for all your business milestones and deadlines, sourcing all of your suppliers (fabrics, trimmings, and notions) and garment manufacturing, studying and fully understanding your country’s regulations and laws on import/export, retaining a broker for shipping and receiving, setting up meetings with the directors of garment manufacturers overseas to discuss production, creating and expanding your social media followers for your niche, creating your marketing plan and implementing your scheduled plans. Garment production will require you to be extremely organized, punctual and detailed, if you want everything to go according to your plans. You need to have good time management skills. You must also be true to your word. Garment factory owners want things to get done on time, so if you delay production, your goods will not be delivered on time to your buyer, which means you will lose money, as well as get paid late. If you want to build a good rapport with your suppliers and manufacturers, pay on time, present yourself professionally, be truthful, know your product, know exactly what you want, be decisive and assertive, be flexible, meet deadlines, be respectful about their culture, communicate clearly in writing, thoroughly read all the fine print in contracts and ask questions about anything you are unsure of. Make sure your buyers pay you COD (cash on delivery) when you ship your products to them; a net term of 30-60 days is not recommended for any new designer’s start-up business because this will literally drain and kill your cash-flow.
These days you need a bare minimum of $10,000 to $20,000 to start any online fashion e-commerce business. You should always start your business on a small scale, which means you can just create two to four products of different colors and sizes. Never invest all your money in your first season, it is a big “NO, NO!” Furthermore, you are no longer required to design and create a collection for each season. And you should NEVER do fashion shows like Vancouver Fashion Week or Vancouver Eco’s Fashion Week? Why? In the past, fashion shows used to work but, nowadays, fashion shows are more like an entertainment event, where people get together to socialize, party, be entertained and get freebees. A lot of people are using designers’ fashion show events as a platform to network their way into the business. Don’t waste your time and money doing fashion shows. You should use that money to invest in wholesale tradeshows. A tradeshow is where you will make all of your money. Unfortunately, not everybody in the fashion industry is your friend. You need to pick and choose your friends as your allies and contacts, but never let them choose you. You need to surround yourself with successful, professional, trustworthy and reliable people, who support your passion and your business. Be choosy and selective when you work with people you haven’t worked with before and always think and plan ahead in all aspects of your decision-making.
All you need is your strongest, best-seller pieces to be sold online that you can repeat each season to generate unlimited income and profit. If you have a good business plan with a unique product, establish multiple distribution channels, create multiple sources of income from your fashion business, work with reliable garment manufacturer contractors that deliver consistent quality, have fierce determination, possess a strong drive to succeed, and carefully plan your finances and cash-flow, you are guaranteed to have a long and successful fashion career! And, when you do start making huge profits, stop paying rent and invest in purchasing your own commercial property to reduce your overhead costs and build-up your company’s equity.
“Time can either bring you closer or farther from your success”
– Chris Falcon is a Canadian designer and fashion educator with over 30 years of experience in the garment design and manufacturing business.