The career of a fashion designer is often seen as one that is creative, glamorous and fun. Unfortunately, the realities are not like that – those working in any role within the fashion industry will describe it very differently. Most people do not openly talk about what it’s really like to work in fashion design and for those entering it for the first time, the realities can be harsh. The days are long, stressful and relentless. You will need dedication, endurance, and drive. It will consume you and whether you like it or not, it will be on your mind nearly 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
You may imagine that you will be working for a fashion house or even in your own business, being given a beautiful workspace, a design brief and then taking your time to allow creative juices to flow and your creations to slowly evolve.
Unfortunately, this is rarely the case.
Fashion means business
Fashion in general is a highly competitive and cut-throat business and for anyone considering a career in design, they would benefit from doing their research. My advice is to talk to industry experts to find out first-hand what the expectations are and what you will need to know in order to be equipped from a business knowledge perspective.
Once a designer has completed his/her degree or diploma in fashion design, I would highly recommend at least a diploma in business. Most fashion designers are brilliant creatively but unfortunately, they generally lack the skills and knowledge required to run a successful and profitable business. The percentage of designers who survive the first five years is in the single digits.
Running your own business is a very different reality to what you learn at fashion school. You will need to be highly organised and be prepared to work long hours, doing everything from designing to packing boxes.
Before starting your business, you will need to write a business plan and conduct your SWOT analysis. A business plan is the foundation piece of your business and without it, you have no road map. It is quite literally like trying to build a house without laying the foundation. Surprisingly, many fashion designers start their business without a plan. Although the thought of writing one can be overwhelming, but it can provide direction on how to achieve your plan and give you some clarity. A business plan is designed to be reviewed after six months and adjusted to reflect how things are tracking.
If you’re a fashion designer who wants to wholesale, you really need to understand who you’re selling to. A lot of designers are seduced by the idea of a major retailer stocking their collection, only to find that they have lost any profit they thought they would make in doing so. Education is the key and knowing how to be profitable in your business, no matter who your customers are.
Engage with an industry expert, someone who has intimate knowledge of what it takes to run a successful business and someone who can help you nail your presentation and pitch to a buyer. You only get one chance to make an outstanding impression. Learn the lingo, know your retailer’s business as well as they do, be able to pre-empt their questions and have your answers ready.
I would also recommend engaging a mentor. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of a business mentor, someone who can be objective, someone who has industry experience and expertise and who in the long run can save you a lot of money and heartache.
Standing above the rest
Fashion is a very crowded space and cut-through is becoming more challenging with the number of brands playing in this arena. As well as being an expert with fashion design, negotiation, communication, and presentations, you will also need to be a marketing and social media expert. You will need to have a detailed marketing and social media plan. Again, I would recommend educating yourself by undertaking courses or workshops that will provide you with the skills needed to execute this in your business.
Having your own business in fashion design takes a lot of time and money, so unless you are fortunate enough to have come into money by way of a windfall or inheritance, you will need to either borrow or secure investors to get your business off the ground. On the other hand, if you are working for a business as a designer, the pressures will be different, but nonetheless just as challenging.
A career in fashion but can a dream come true, just make sure you are well equipped for its realities.
With close to 30 years’ experience in the local and international fashion industry, Jude Kingston has built a reputation as a formidable and sought-after global fashion expert, She is now the founder and director of JMK Style and Mind Your Fashion, a business that raises awareness around mental health in the industry.