Designing and making clothes is a creative process, the result often reflecting a little about the designer and how they see the world. But no matter how innovative and creative the design, if the clothes don't sell, the designer will struggle to stay in business.
Selling clothes is the key to survival. And designers can approach sales in many different ways. A designer may adopt a single sales strategy or a multilayered one. Whatever path is chosen, branding is an essential consideration of the mix. No one strategy is right.
Choose a name early
When a designer is setting up a business, thought needs to be given to how the overall business strategy will align with the branding strategy. Often designers give too little thought during the start-up phase of their business to the brand name, the store name or their online name. Taking steps early may save future heartache and expense.
Selling through others
New designers often start out by approaching existing retail outlets to stock their collections. This is often not easy in the highly commoditised fashion industry. Having a distinctive brand can help. But selecting a distinctive brand can take time and effort. And often the first brand selected is not available - someone else may have secured it first.
If the brand (and this includes words, logos, colours, and slogans etc) is available after making a search of the official records and the marketplace, then the brand should be registered. Registration gives the designer a monopoly right to use the name as a brand for all the goods and services it covers. This is likely to include at least clothing, accessories, wholesale and retail services.
Because a designer can be unknown when they first enter the retail market, the more memorable their brand is, the easier it is for the retailer to promote it and for customers to remember it. After all, that is one of the key roles a brand plays - ensuring customers who like your products can find them again. Customers are able to do this by asking for the specific brand they like.
Have your own retail chain
An alternative is for the designer to set up their own store. Again the store name will need to be made early on in the planning. Having the store name the same as the designer's brand will help reinforce and promote the clothing brand in the minds of customers. WORLD and ZAMBESI are examples of this.
Setting up multiple stores is a time-consuming exercise. Spending time developing a retail base can distract a designer from their passion and the core of their business - designing and manufacturing gorgeous clothes - but sales are essential.
One way a designer can grow their retail base is to franchise their business. Again, having a strong brand, which is not only distinctive but well protected, is critical to the success of a franchise. After all, it is the profile and reputation of the designer's brand in the market that the franchise promotes.
An online presence?
But new channels of selling have emerged. Brick and mortar stores are still important but increasingly customers are going online. Studies show that clothes are one of the most popular items bought online. This trend is likely to continue.
Setting up an online presence involves many decisions but one of the most important decisions to make early on is the name the designer will use in cyberspace. Before creating a website, a domain name must be registered. It makes sense for this to be the same as the designer's brand and store name. Customers familiar with a designer's brand and wishing to find that designer online will intuitively search for the designer's brand. That is what they know and recognise.
But the ease and relative low cost of registering domain names means that it is not always easy to register the domain name you want. As domain names are registered on a 'first-come, first-served' basis, a designer intending to trade online needs to act quickly to register their brand as a domain name.
The brand a designer chooses is important. It stands alongside the designs created by the designer and is a part of a designer's public face. Develop a sales strategy that is aligned with your business and your brand strategy. Making sure the brand chosen is available for you to use and register can impact on the growth of a business. Don't let this be a negative impact. Plan ahead and protect your precious brand.
An edited version of this column appeared in the March 2014 issue of Apparel Magazine.