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Tope Williams-Adewunmi: How Exactly Do I Start My Fashion Business?

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Great!  Glad you’ve taken the first step and decided to take your love for fashion more seriously. But you have no clue how to go about it.  So, we’ll start from the very beginning… hopefully these steps will help shape that vision and move you from concept to reality.

Oh…P.S… It will not happen in one day, or a week, or even a month!  If you want to do it properly, it will take a while. So remember these words… baby steps.

First Step? Making the decision!
You need to decide what exactly what you want to do in the industry and stick to it! This really is the hardest part because you might not even have a clue. And even if you do, people will advise you to go down a different route. So please make that decision before you start off or else you will be miserable – or worse, act on that advice and end up wasting a lot of money in the process. But the money isn’t really the issue here. The issue is you waking up one morning 10 years from now wondering how exactly you got there.

So if, for example, all you always wanted to do was design wedding gowns, find a way to make this work even if there is a lot of money to be made from sewing uniforms – EXCEPT you are doing it just to gather enough funds to start off. In which case, give yourself a time limit and stick to it as best as you can.

Next Thing? Writing a life plan for your fashion idea!
No no… don’t roll your eyes yet… I am not talking about a business plan here. Yes many of us tune off when we hear the term “business plan” (including me).  Don’t worry, the business plan will come later and you can always outsource that.  For now, get a notepad and a pen and begin to write – in clear terms what you want to do. If 5 years you have deviated from this plan, you can find your way back.

For example, you can start off with… (let’s pretend I’m the voice in your head in brackets guiding you along OR you can do this with a friend):

  • I know I like fashion: Ok… yes we have established that. What aspect of fashion do you like?
  • Ladies wear: Oh nice! Why ladies wear?
  • I don’t know… I just love clothes and dressing ladies up: Ok… so why do you need to become a fashion designer to do this?  You don’t have to be a fashion designer to dress people up. Perhaps all you really want to be is a stylist. Or do you want to do this because being a fashion designer sounds cool?

Hmmmnnn…. Well… At this point, you need to know who a fashion designer really is. So conduct some research and be sure this is what you really want to do. Convince yourself of why you want to be the person designing the clothes the ladies will wear… while I move on from this point…

Ok great! So ladieswear! What aspect of ladies wear? Everything! I would like to design everything a woman can wear!  Errrr… Seriously?  How is that even possible? Even if you can, let’s take one idea at a time.

Let’s get down to specifics. What do you want to start off with?

  • I think I’d like to design ladies casual wear: You think? You’re not sure?! Let’s try again. What is the first thing you sketch when you put pencil to paper? [Now would be a good time to quickly sketch something.  Even if you are not great at sketching.  You can also explain your design in words.  That will determine who exactly you are as a fashion designer.] You might think you want to design casual wear but find yourself designing  evening wear.
  • Okay…. Done! I know I want to design casual wear: Oh-kay! Nice! What type of casual wear?
  • Maybe t-shirts: Maybe? Or certainly?! [Try your hand at another sketch]
  • Actually I’ve always wanted to have my own T-Shirt line: Ok great! T-Shirts then! What type of T-Shirts?
  • Printed Tees with an interesting twist: Ok… now I’m rolling my eyes. Please narrow it down.
  • Okay, I’ve always wondered what it would be like to draw faces on t-shirts with safety pins and sea shells for example: This is the point where I tell you it does sound bizarre but hey… stranger things have happened in fashion. So who knows… it can work.

And that’s it! You go on and on until you begin to narrow it down or till you hit a road block. If you do hit a block… take a breather and start over from where you left off.

When you are done with soul-searching…

It’s time for Research! Research!! Research!!!
Oh this part is vital! Many of us hate doing research but it is key! Obviously, the Internet Institute is your first point of call! Many consume themselves with just the production aspect of design but I believe it is important to start from scratch.

Find out everything you need to know about making T-Shirts, right down to the history of t-shirts, how they evolved over time, who buys t-shirts, who wears the most t-shirts, how much do T-shirts costs, where are t-shirts produced e.t.c. Why? You might think ladies wear t-shirts but find out during your research that the type of t-shirts you want to design might actually appeal to teenagers. The question is, do you want to design for teenagers? It’s all up to you. Talk to people, ask questions, meet with t-shirt designers, etc. The research never ends – even when you start off.  And whatever decision you make based on that research goes into that notepad as well.

After research (which is on-going by the way), the next step is to:

Get the Relevant Knowledge to Excel in That Field
Now is the time to get the skills – either through some form of formal education or through work experience.  If you cannot sketch learn how to sketch. If you feel you want to learn how to sew, then learn how to sew – though it is not mandatory for fashion designers to know how to sew. However, with the horror stories I have heard from fashion designers about their tailors and machinists, you might be better off learning – no matter how little if you want to live longer.

SO!  You can choose to go to a fashion school, be self taught (there are enough resources online if you do the research) or get some form of work experience – either paid or unpaid.  That knowledge is necessary to guide your production team – regardless of whether you are producing the T-shirts in-house or outsourcing production. I tell you, it will save you a lot of headache in the long run!

Next up?!

Testing the Market!
You need to know if people will buy your designs before you take off!  Ask people what they don’t like about your work – that way they give you proper constructive criticism. It helps you improve your product and also builds you a thick skin.

Testing the market also helps you know if what you believe was the greatest invention since… errr… cellphones is really that fab.  You just might find out that the “oh-so-brilliant” idea you had of designing t-shirts with seashells and safety pins was a pretty dumb idea after all.  Should you dump that idea?! Nope. You might choose to go ahead and take the chance or go back to the drawing board and restrategize by replacing the safety pins with bugle beads.

And just when you are about to launch out:

Pray! Pray!! And PRAY!!!
You really need that divine intervention. Only that inner peace can trump the fear that you are bound to feel deep down.  And you will feel that initial fear but just go ahead and launch – no matter how small.

Launching does not necessarily mean having a fashion show. It could mean uploading your items or sketches on your site or online platforms, selling to your friends and colleagues, or just simply showing people your designs and taking their orders whilst working with your tailor.  In my opinion, as long as you are ready to start accepting cash for your creative ideas, you have launched out.

Truth be told, it really is not that hard to become a fashion designer. The difficulty lies in being a successful one and I doubt anyone has the perfect recipe for success. But what I always say is what’s the worst that could happen right?You fall flat on your face or get some mean comments from people who hate your work. What do you do? You pick yourself up after crying for days and try again! Someone out there is bound to like your work and you will eventually carve out your own niche market! 😀

Great! Those are my tips. I do have more but I’ll stop here.  I’m sure there are a while lot more out there as well so if you also have tips and pointers for us, do share them as well so we can learn from you!

Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Monkey Business Images

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. Really Nice

    July 17, 2015 at 12:43 pm

    Very constructive and good information.

  2. tinu bello

    July 17, 2015 at 1:29 pm

    WoW, really nice I intend to be fashion designer

  3. mimi

    July 17, 2015 at 1:35 pm

    Amuche The Business Tycoon The fashion stylist.

    #Urudia

    Don’t tonk it????????

  4. danflowfashion

    July 17, 2015 at 1:42 pm

    nice tips ,
    i will say staying focus is very important and setting up platform for your business will help you grown as a business owners

  5. Daphne

    July 17, 2015 at 3:16 pm

    This has been a problem but I think I av a clue now..m a mua most times I get confused especially when we v over a 1001 Muas in Lagos…glad I read this..n hope to get more ideas

  6. OmogeNaija

    July 17, 2015 at 6:12 pm

    Hi,

    You have decided you want to do fashion design but don’t know if you want to focus on trad, casual or official apparel, I advice try your hands on the 2, 3 or 4 options; after a few weeks you will discover where your greatest strength lie, when you decide please stick to it.

    Please note that people will give you uncountable suggestions, suggestions that if you follow will make you jack of all trades, master of none. After you have decided, they will go like, why don’t you consider adding trad, casual, official, teeshirt, jeans, even bed spread!
    Once you pick that option, focus on it and master it then you can one more.

    God help you as we together take #MadeInNigeria to the global market place.

    • Que

      July 17, 2015 at 7:00 pm

      #currentsituation… focus is everything!

  7. ejiro

    July 17, 2015 at 9:30 pm

    My problem is getting a good fashion school i can attend around ikeja.

    • EbonyDuchess

      July 24, 2015 at 10:57 pm

      Hi, try Foundation for skills development, located at Opebi. If you google them, you will definitely “see” them. Cheers.

  8. Maki

    July 17, 2015 at 10:09 pm

    Very Sound … Nice one..

  9. Ade

    July 18, 2015 at 5:49 am

    Hello Ejiro,
    I know what you mean about getting a fashion school around Ikeja, they are either too expensive or have little to offer. I used to stay around Ikeja but I attended Martwayne at Surulere . I have never seen someone teach fashion in such a detailed and constructive way.

  10. Oyaluna Odufa

    July 19, 2015 at 4:29 pm

    This is exactly what I have been looking for, just encouragement I’m happy I read this post.

  11. Christianisse

    July 19, 2015 at 9:44 pm

    Great information thank you.

  12. Oluwabee

    July 21, 2015 at 12:47 pm

    Thank you @bellanaija & @topewilliams for this

  13. Tope Williams-Adewunmi

    July 21, 2015 at 4:13 pm

    😀 Thank you so much Ade! Much appreciated! 😀 😀 😀

  14. informationAge

    September 14, 2016 at 10:22 am

    An Informative write up . Good job @bellanaija Good job @topewilliams

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