How to get started – and survive – in the fashion industry: Q&A roundup

Last week a panel of experts answered questions about starting up a fashion business. Here are the highlights

Lisa Keir is brand communications manager at Cruise, a luxury designer clothes retailer

How to get your name out there: Paid advertising and affiliates can be effective but when you are starting off and have a limited budget you need to identify what makes your company stand out. It might be worthwhile identifying relevant, established and influential bloggers, introducing your product to them and building a relationship.

You are best at identifying your target market and engaging with them in the most effective way to make your product stand out from your competitors. Why not send samples of your product to fashion press and stylists to get your product showcased? At Cruise we find that blogs and social media posts that feature celebrities wearing our designer brands receive a fantastic response.

Make the most of the internet: Digital technology has totally revolutionised the retail sector and enhanced customers’ shopping experience. It gives customers instant access to your brand.

We feel that social media is a fantastic tool that allows us to build a personal relationship and engage with our customers. Effective posts should encourage engagement and ask customers to comment and give feedback, as this is crucial to enhancing the customer experience.

Caz Moss is the founder and director at The Style Factory, a social enterprise in Cheshire

Meet your customers: The online market is so huge that it’s easy for a smaller brand to get lost among all the others. I suggest that when you start out it’s great to meet your customers on a personal level so they get to know you and are able to touch, feel and really experience what your products are about. A pop-up shop is a great way to launch a new brand. Most local councils own properties on the high street and if you approach them they will usually grant you a short-term license for a very cheap rate, if not for free. This is a great way to set up a small showroom or a shop space. So perhaps start with a small collection and just start getting your products out there for the world to see.

Helen Davis is the founder of EKO, an ethical fashion company

Five tips for startups:

1. Do your research and know your target market

2. Have a business plan – it may change but it’s crucial to have focus

3. Be prepared to work very long hours

4. Know your cashflow and finance weekly, monthly and yearly

5. Be passionate – it’s what will drive your business forward

Jon Heaton is the technical director and co-founder at Jeanography, a denim retailer providing an at-home fitting service for designer jeans

Make sure you’ve got a market for your product: Get started, test your ideas, get early feedback and iterate quickly. Produce small runs, sell to your friends, via eBay or pop-ups. Validate that your idea has a market first before committing too much of your own capital or expecting anyone else to commit theirs.

Beverley Edmondson is the owner of hat shop Beverley Edmondson Millinery

Meet the market and get feedback: I would suggest getting out and meeting the people you want to sell to. Whether it’s a market stall or at a school fair, it will bring you face-to-face with the buyers and allow you to personally get the feedback and adapt accordingly. Store showrooms are all well and good but you won’t get true feedback from the customers. I started out with a table at every fair, market, and event I could get to in the south-east. You can get a true feel for where your product sits in the market, both style and price-wise. It is also an incredibly cheap way to get out there. Collect email addresses – see it as a promotional cost and if you sell any items that’s your bonus.

Joanna Booth is the founder of

Keeping overheads to a minimum when starting up is key: My suggestion would be to start online. You have lower overheads, it’s easier to promote and once you have buyers you have a stronger hand to play when approaching stores.

Money-wise, try to keep overheads to a minimum. Get a loan only if you need one – Start-Up Loans is a good place to start. Social media really works for retailers and brands, so learn how to use it and use it often and well!

When selling online you need to do your research: In order to know what will sell you need to do a lot of in-depth research. This will help lower the risk and expense. Otherwise, I suggest doing limited edition or taster items and seeing what sells and how fast, so you can replicate them.

Paul Alger is the director of international business development at the UK Fashion and Textile Association (UKFT)

Think about entering awards: A lot of people are talking about how to get their name out there and garner good publicity. One way is to enter industry awards as it often puts your name in front of a lot of influencers and it can be a great place to network. We have recently held our annual awards event, the NatWest UKFT awards, and have a great number of established and many smaller businesses up for awards. Past winners have always said that analysing their business to apply for an award was one of the best things they ever did. Getting a list of awards together that is relevant for your business is always a good discipline to have.

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