Becoming a creative entrepreneur has definitely been a journey; one with lots of ups and downs and a few defining moments. With no prior experience in fashion, design, or owning a business there was plenty of trial and error (and still is) but there were a few things that set my brand on a different trajectory. So here's some of the key changes I made that took my business up a notch:
1. Stories sell
When I first started out I followed the adage "fake it till you make it", especially when it came to social media. I thought it was better to pretend that I was already a big brand and in doing so I wasn't sharing any of the real story. I eventually realized that the story of how each piece is hand made, by me usually, with a lot of love and attention was exactly what made my products so special! Don't be afraid to show the real story, authenticity is in.
2. Free shipping
I used to charge exactly what shipping cost for each product - why wouldn't I? Until I realized that even that small amount deterred people from clicking submit order at checkout. So I decided to include the cost of domestic shipping - which for my product is just under $4 including envelope and packaging - in each product so I could offer free shipping across canada. I immediately saw sales growth.
3. Fewer freebies
I know we'd all love to think that giving free product to bloggers is going to give us more exposure and sales, but for the most part...it doesn't. When I first started out I would give away 4 pieces every season, and sure I gained some social media exposure from doing so, but at the end of the year I looked back and realized they weren't translating to sales. So really, I was in the red the for the cost of 16 free items. My advice is, if you're going to collaborate with bloggers make sure you pick them carefully and they aren't just there for the free clothes.
4. If you're not proud of your product, don't offer it
I started out selling handbags and everyone LOVED them. They appealed to a wide demographic, they were affordable, the perfect present but - I wasn't proud of the product. They took so long to make and I still wasn't ever happy with the end result. I felt that they could be improved and I wasn't capable so... I stopped making them and continued with my less popular product, bralettes. There was a definite lull at first but over time and with my increased confidence in the product I found a new audience.
5. Learn to say no and delegate
When you're starting out it's easy to say yes to everything - to opportunities, to customers, and to collaborations. Ultimately not all of these are going to be good for you or your business but we feel obligated to say yes. It goes hand in hand with trying to do everything yourself. You have to sell your strengths and buy your weaknesses (still working on this one), but if you can decide where you want to focus your energy you'll notice a difference right away. The minute you start saying no to things that aren't going to help you, you can start putting that energy into things that will and your business will flourish.
6. No fear
Last but not least, don't be afraid. Life is all about moving forward and there are no wrong moves.
The following is an article originally published by Mandisa Morgan, an independent designer based in Toronto, Canada. Original here.
As many of you know, I have a clothing brand by the name of SASHAY. The brand is a huge part of my life because I do everything from designing and sewing to marketing and accounting all on my own, with the exception of production; which I'll get into later. I thought it would be good for me to share the process I go through while creating a new collection, specifically for those who are curious or are thinking about becoming an independent designer.
I launched my first collection in the summer of 2015, but SASHAY had been a work in progress for approximately two years prior. When I launched my first collection, I had no formal training whatsoever; everything I had learned up until that point was either self-taught, seen on YouTube or experienced through my two internships. That being said, if you are passionate about designing and put in the work everything will fall in place and all of your hard work will pay off, but it won't be easy!
When designing a collection, I usually take inspiration from everything; nature, streetstyle, magazines, and architecture to name a few.
Before starting to draw my designs, I usually have an idea of the direction I'd like to go in with the collection. I do a ton of very rough sketches, done in a little notebook I always have with me to get my ideas on paper. Most of these rough sketches do not make the final cut for different reasons. However, I do keep all of my designs handy for future collections.
When finalizing my designs, I print out faint croquis and draw each design on its own croquis. I don't usually colour them in because by this point I still have not solidified the colour palette for the collection. Also, on the paper of my 1/4 scales, I make note of the details associated with each style (for example: center back seam, 9" invisible zipper, etc.). This stage in the process is always tricky for me. I really have to fight myself to make up my mind and stick to what I've chosen to be in the collection. It always happens that I'll have 5 piece, for instance, that make the cut, but then a couple days later I add something and/or eliminate another. I'm getting better at making cut off deadlines for myself, so I know there is no going back once the deadline comes.
After my designs are complete and the collection has been finalized, I move on to doing 1/4 scale drafts of each style. The 1/4 scale draft usually fits on an 8.5" x 11" piece of paper. I like to do 1/4 scale drafts before full scale ones because it's easier to work out on a smaller scale. Also, I can carry and work on my 1/4 scales wherever I go, as opposed to the full scales where I'd need lots of table or floor space (yes, sometimes I do my pattern making on the floor). Once the 1/4 scale drafts are complete, I move onto full scale. Basically I duplicate everything I did from the 1/4 scales to the full scale, including all notches, drill holes and seam allowances.
Once I've drafted the patterns for each style, I test the patterns by construction the fist sample from muslin. It is at this stage where all of my drafting errors will show. If there are any errors which need to be corrected, I am able to fix the pattern before moving forward with constructing the actual sample using the fabric chosen for the collection. Although doing a first sample can seem like extra unnecessary work, but let me tell you that in the end I am so glad that I take the time to complete this step. I mean, it would really suck if you skipped this step and used your actual fabric, only to find out that there is an issue with your pattern...you won't be happy at the fact that you just wasted some of your fabric. So take my ("stupid") advice and do this step!
Colour Palette & Source Fabric
Okay, so designs are now complete and finalized. Next on the agenda is to determine what the colour palette will be and source fabric. I actually source fabric and choose out of the available colours offered in the fabric... I'm a rebel, I know. No, but this is just what makes the most sense to me. Because my brand is not trend based, I'd rather have the fabric I want rather than the colours. Almost every fabric comes in black; I always offer garments in black (I mean come on, who doesn't wear black, right?... Confession: it's all I've been wearing lately). Back on topic. As I was saying, finding the fabric (to me) is more important because not all fabrics will be suitable for my designs. I have a vision and I must see that vision come to reality. I get my fabric from a wholesaler, so I buy bolts of fabric at a much cheaper price than what any fabric store at Queen & Spadina has to offer...let me tell you! Once I've placed my order, the fabric will be shipped to me and that's when I get started on the actual samples.
Actual Garment Samples
So once I've completed the muslin garment and make the necessary corrections to my patterns, I'm ready to construct the actual samples. This is one of my favourite parts because this is when my initial garment illustration comes to life. Now, if you're wondering why you'd need samples, the answer is to do a photoshoot in order to create a lookbook/catalog of all of your garments for the collection, and also to have something tangible to take with you to buying meetings. This way potential buyers can see, feel and know exactly what to expect before placing an order.
Once I've completed the actual samples, I make a cost sheet for each style. The cost sheet includes all expenses that pertain to a specific style, and also includes labour and MU% (mark up). It will tell you exactly how much it cost to make each style, and given your MU% it will advice a SRP (suggested retail price).
Photoshoot & Lookbook
After I've constructed all of my actual garment samples, I'm am ready to book a photoshoot. Photoshoots are always fun, especially when I get to work with people I know personally. Once the photoshoot is complete and the edited photos have been sent to me, I proceed to make my lookbook and line sheets. The purpose of the lookbook is to get potential buyers excited about the collection and interested in buying. The line sheets include flats of each style (front and back), cost, SRP, fiber content and give or take a few other things.
When I comes to production, everything is made to order. If an order is 5 pieces or less, I will make the 5 pieces. But because I am also a full time student from September to April, if any orders are placed that is more than 5 pieces, I have those orders made by my seamstress.
Overall, I'd say it takes anywhere from 6 to 7 months for me to start and complete a collection. I won't lie, there is a lot of procrastination that goes one over here, but I always give myself enough extra time to get things done. I hope this was somewhat helpful for those of you who are thinking about this career path. It is a fun, tiring, stressful, but rewarding one and I wouldn't trade it for any other career.
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