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Tope Williams-Adewunmi: 5 Myths About Starting a Fashion Business

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Or perhaps I should call them “myths” or misconceptions.  I have heard all sorts of reasons from people on why they are a bit hesitant about starting their fashion business.  Some even feel they will crash even before their businesses take off, based on assumptions they have made or discussions they have had with people.  The following are just a few examples of real concerns people have expressed to me in the past and here I am debunking some of these myths and allaying these fears.

You Must Be Able to Sew to be a Successful Fashion Designer
This is always top of the list. The general idea around here is that to be taken seriously as a fashion designer you must be able to sew, you must run a production unit, you must sew for people, you must sew the clothes yourself, you must feature in fashion show… and the list goes on and on! NO YOU DO NOT!

Fashion Designers develop the concept and put a team together to bring their creative ideas to reality! They do not have to physically sew or even have a production unit! I remember Folake Folarin-Coker of Tiffany Amber disclosing at a seminar a while back that she cannot sew. But does she have a successful label?! Yes she sure does!

So please don’t listen to anyone who tells you this. It is just the mindset around here. Being able to sew does not guarantee that you will run a successful fashion business. Same way being able to sketch fabulous designs does not guarantee that as well. There are soooo many other things involved in running a fashion business and sewing is just an aspect of it. If you choose to learn, that’s great! The knowledge is useful to understand the process and guide your production team.

You Must Be a “Fashionista” To Be A Good Designer
I heard this recently from a lady who had concerns about starting off. She did not think she would be a good designer since she did not consider herself to be a “fashionista” …whatever that means. Apparently a good designer must be dressed to the hilt all the time in the latest trends and fashions OR must dress a certain way with some crazy hair and the most outrageous clothes. If anyone told you that, that’s bull!

Designing great clothes doesn’t mean you have to wear them. Ever noticed what fashion designers wear when taking a bow on the runway?! Many are dressed in a t-shirt and a pair of jeans…obviously because many of them are too busy even to think! Yes, you have to dress well to gain the confidence of your customer but you don’t have to be in the latest clothes or dress all crazy to prove a point. Your product will speak for you.

That said, if you choose to be a fashionista, that’s great! But if you are a simple person by nature, that should not deter you from becoming a fashion designer. After all, Alexander Mcqueen looked like a simple person and dressed in a simple manner but we all know how amazing he was as a designer.

You Must Be “Creative” to Run a Fashion Business
HA! Someone who was about to take the plunge a while back spoke to me about this particular fear. She was worried she might not do well because she did not consider herself a creative person… neither could she draw very well… and her designs were very simple. I told her not to even give it a second thought.

To me, creativity is relative and everyone has their own design philosophy.  As far as I am concerned everyone has some form of creative ability. As long as you can put pencil to paper or explain what you want to your tailor and she churns it out, then you have what it takes.  I know people only tend to consider those who design “never before seen, over-the-top” high fashion clothing as fashion designers. But guess what?  Everyone has at least one pair of jeans in their wardrobe and a t-shirt and those were created by designers! And they are making a lot of money from it as well!

Besides, if you feel you are not creative, you can either learn how to be creative or hire someone to be creative for you. There are illustrators out there who can work with you to build on your seemingly “simple” ideas.  That is why fashion companies have design teams. The burden should not only be on the owner to churn out the designs, market the designs, search for customers, buy the fabric, deliver to the customer…and all the other tasks we take up over here. There is a whole lot more to a successful fashion business that being creative and being able to draw. You are now an entrepreneur so you need to step into those shoes. Don’t consume yourself with only the creative sides of running a fashion business.

You Must Mingle with the “Right” People
I know for many people, the typical definitions of the “right” people are the celebrities and socialites. I have heard that a lot! Well… if that is your target market, then by all means, please go for it! But it is not mandatory you mix with them if you do not plan to design for them. If your target market is the average Joe, then please those are the “right” people for you. Concern yourself with trying to find these people.

PLUS! I notice many also focus on just making the money and often neglect to watch their costs. The “right people” must include the fabric suppliers, those who supply and fix our machines, those who provide our zips, etc. These are the people who can make or break our businesses. Why pay N10,000 for a yard of fabric when you can pay N4,500 for the exact same fabric? And no matter how good you are as a designer, if the zips you use keep breaking, then your reputation can go down the drain at the snap of your fingers. So please, concern yourself with not only increasing sales but also reducing your costs!

You Need a Lot of Money to Start Your Fashion Business!
NOT TRUE! It all depends on the type of fashion business you want to run.  Besides, when you ask those dishing out advice why they feel you need a lot of money, they often focus on stuff like PR, getting a fab website, coming up with fancy logos and business cards….and all what not. If you do not have a lot of money to start off, then start small!  A fashion business is, in fact, one of the easiest to start off with zero naira!   All you have to do is be the middleman between your customer and your tailor. Sketch your designs, take a deposit from the customer (which should be way more than your costs of production), get a tailor to churn out the clothes, deliver it to the customer and get your balance. It is as simple as that!

Well to be honest, we know it’s not thaaaat simple… but it’s not that difficult when you have a process in place.  I bet many are already doing this.  All you need to do is continue and save up till you have the funds to start your own production unit.  So really, lack of funds should not be a deterrent.  I can safely tell you that as long as there are weddings…and there always will be weddings…, or birthdays and even funerals, you will be in business!

Great!  These are just some of the ones I have heard. What else have they told you that is giving you cold feet about starting off?! Share these myths with us and let’s discuss them.  Or better still… tell us which advice or myth you ignored and how ignoring it was the best decision you ever made!

Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Photographerlondon 

Temitope Williams-Adewunmi  is a fashion entrepreneur well versed in various areas of the fashion industry, its relationship with the business community and the business of fashion. She runs Martwayne (www.martwayne.com), a company devoted to giving people “Power Through Fashion” and helps fashion enthusiasts ‘turn their love for fashion into a viable business’.

16 Comments

  1. lizzy

    July 24, 2015 at 3:05 pm

    very helpful tips

  2. FIFI

    July 24, 2015 at 3:08 pm

    RUBBISH

  3. Spiff

    July 24, 2015 at 4:01 pm

    Thanks Tope Williams-Adewunmi, this article was all the motivation i needed to start:

    While brainstorming on how to start my own fashion design, I have always been limited by those myths you discussed except the first., but right after reading your article i decided to start with getting an unbranded (yes, there are unbraded clothes) from a boutique, imagined a new design on the clothe and then took it to my tailor to customize it my own design, afterwhich i put my label (Samuel spiff) on it. Isn’t that a nice idea Tope?

    Thanks..again.

  4. oy

    July 24, 2015 at 4:44 pm

    i agree with all except the creativity part. it’s true that its relative but if u wanna be making clothes for other people and not just yourself, you have to think outside the box, go out of your comfort zone and think …maybe crazy,simple,big…things. but think creatively sha.in fact in any business, in life generally creativity is required

  5. exinne

    July 24, 2015 at 4:45 pm

    woow!! thanks for this article. i ♥

  6. Kemz

    July 24, 2015 at 10:53 pm

    Motivated, thanks .

  7. oba

    July 25, 2015 at 12:25 am

    Nice piece sis…though some of these sound easy but not as they are,anyway all are also possible with determination. Everybody is creative in his her own way,it’s always good to get the basics rigth from start bcos it pays…Godluck!

  8. IjawGeh

    July 25, 2015 at 5:48 am

    Thank You. Not just for speaking on how to start a Fashion business, But also pointing out the booboos a lot of people harbour. I for one, canNOT draw. I wake up and an idea flashes, I write it down, no matter how hard it is. If your mind is bent on doing sth, then frfr You’ll take a step. It was hard enough trying to find out what all these side designs, their names and all. I started from “Girly’m” to get pictures and it helped. If I saw someone in some nice dress, My mind just speaks to me : If this was adde and a little of this was carefully removed, the outfit would make a lot of sense with the style”. And I pick that up!

  9. IjawGeh

    July 25, 2015 at 5:50 am

    And again, You have to think widely. Not focus on just maybe three to four style points. WIDELY!

  10. Cynthia

    July 25, 2015 at 10:10 am

    This article is great. However if you want to run a basic business then of course. But if you want to stand out and make a name for yourself then please and please build your skills, Learn the process, mingle with the right pple, invest in good fabrics, think outside the box. But yet again not everyone is meant to be unique. This is not discourage anyone but to push you to work harder. Good luck to everyone

  11. Tope Williams-Adewunmi

    July 25, 2015 at 8:38 pm

    Thank you so much. I’m glad the article helped and I agree with a lot of the comments.

    @ Spiff, Well… I think what will be even better is coming up with an item of your own from scratch. There is always this sense of fulfilment knowing you did it all by yourself. Yes you can do research or get inspired by clothes which you buy (as part of your research) but that should not be the norm or the way you plan to structure your operations. You will find that you will always be one step behind since you will be waiting for someone to develop an idea before you can make your own move. It is better to be ahead of everyone else and set the pace.

  12. Que

    July 26, 2015 at 6:02 pm

    Love your articles, we need more of them…well done.

    I will like to point out though that while encouraging people, it’s important not to oversimplify the consequences of chosing this path… Creativity IS important, even if your focus is more business than design, you will need to be creative in your processes and strategies to attract and sustain your target market….. Building from the ground up is difficult enough, especially cos most start ups are run on a shoestring budget, unless of course you have good financial backing, and even then you must still be wise…

    In essence, it makes good business sense to learn and master at the very least the core skills that will differentiate you from your competitor… imagine not knowing squat and you depend on a tailor who is only mediocre at cutting, or even bad with time management and disappoints you, then what? Are you happy churning out mediocre clothes, why will people pick your mediocre products over ones that are probably cheaper in the market?….. In Nigeria every tailor you ask will tell you ‘Yes I can sew’ or they will even tell you certain things are impossible, and if you have no way of proving them wrong, then you are stuck with their level of creativity…. which is often less than basic! Even established designers still struggle with some technical people, so help your self, infact SAVE YOURSELF some headache by knowing as much as you can, so that way, the arguements are less, cos you can SHOW people how to get things done…… you dont need to DIY cos you cant do everything anyways, but you should know how to save yourself a lot of time and headache, and also to manage the quality of your products…. If you have to outsource every task at the beginning (on a tight budget), your business will never get off the ground.

  13. Joaz

    July 26, 2015 at 9:57 pm

    Thank you so much for this. You just liberated me.

  14. Tope Williams-Adewunmi

    July 27, 2015 at 12:00 am

    Great points made @Que but I feel the need to address some of the points you made.

    Re the creativity, I was referring to the actual designs created not the business processes. Many I have spoken to have this fear of not being creative enough in their designs and that, in my opinion, should not be a deterrent to starting off. I believe everyone is creative in their own way and people should not be under pressure to go into avant garde designs if it is not who they are as designers. Re the strategies and processes, of course you have to think of ways to ensure your business is ahead of others but that is more business-oriented than design-oriented. Which was why I stated that once you become an entrepreneur, step into those shoes and don’t be overly consumed by only the design aspect. You will find that many creatives need business minds to work with. Those business minds set up the strategies and processes.

    Re the mastering core skills, of course. I totally agree. I train designers and I emphasise the need for them to learn the skill and the processes involved so they can guide their production team and not because I expect them to sew when they start off. I still maintain that you do not have to sew to run a fashion business, neither do you have to go down the bespoke route. There are so many other areas in the fashion industry people can plug into other than production. Not sewing does not make you any less of a designer which was why I gave the example of Tiffany Amber. A banker I know, who started a sewing class, realised that she hated sewing and probably will never sew. I told her she did not have to if she did not want to. She now has her own fashion label and she does not sew. She outsources production and it works for her. A fashion designer is not a “tailor” and does not have to sew or even run a production unit to be a successful one.

    Re outsourcing, my view is different. Many of us are too busy chasing the pennies that we end up losing out on the pounds. Time is everyone’s greatest asset and as we know, time is money. Opportunity costs are the REAL costs of running a business and though they cannot readily be quantified in monetary terms, they do a lot more damage to businesses. Why spend 5 hours producing something if you can outsource it and use the 5 hours on something more productive? You just might find out it is even cheaper to outsource when you weigh the costs vs the benefits. But perhaps that is the way I think. Besides, outsourcing does not necessarily mean money has to exchange hands. There could be some form of trade by barter which works out well for both parties. It all depends on what works for you and how you want to run your business.

    And I guess my last point is… this post is by no trying to suggest that running a fashion business is a piece of cake; neither am I trying to “simplify” the idea. I chat to people everyday with these concerns, some who have remained stagnant for some of the reasons I stated. Some ask if people will regard them as fashion designers if they do not sew the clothes themselves and mindsets like these are those I am trying to address. Challenges should not be seen as limitations. At the end of the day, no business is easy – that’s why it’s called “work”. Everyone learns on the job no matter the knowledge gained. People need the encouragement to start off and these concerns to me should not be excuses for not making the move.

  15. Temitope

    August 7, 2015 at 10:40 am

    Thanks a lot. This article has helped dispell some of my fears. Even though I’ve learnt to sew, I still feel unqualified to be a designer cos honestly I do not enjoy sitting at the sewing machine and I avoid sewing for people even though everyone thinks I ought to be doing that now. I even thought @ some point that I’m just being plain lazy.

    Thanks.

  16. Tricia

    February 25, 2016 at 3:55 pm

    Great post! But I want to emphasize that creativity is KEY! If your creative juice ain’t flowing, you had better do something to make it flow, else you will be like everyone else or a copycat which is worse. There are several ways of becoming creative or unlocking that aspect of your mind. Watch or attend fashion shows, visit places that inspire you, read fashion magazines and articles. No human has been created without the creative juice; no one. Some have just been able to tap into theirs earlier than others while some don’t have an inkling as to what it means to be creative. But if you are going to stand out, your creativity is one of the ingredients to help you do that. Creativity & sketching or drawing are linked in that, if a design or style occurs to you, you will need to draw it out for anyone who sees it to be able to comprehend what you alone can see in your mind. Your sketches or drawings help to communicate what resides only in your mind. Even if you employ people to do all of these for you, how do you communicate your designs? Remember, no one can read your mind & not all of your customers will choose their desired style from a magazine. Fashion designing is very visual; Its a ‘seeing to believing’ kind of product especially with so many insatiable customers out there. My point is, @Tope, please encourage your clients with these fears to learn all they can to get to the top of their game. There are no shortcuts when it comes to business; if you boycott a particular learning stage, that stage will come back to haunt you.

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