Build Your Brand In An Online Retail Environment

Brand building online is a complex but rewarding task. New designers ask a range of questions from ‘where do I start?” through to “who is best to work with?” but rarely do they ask the really useful questions like “what went wrong for those who failed?”

A few fashion startups every year succeed magnificently. Many others make do and get by, but many many more fail because they failed to build brand identity whilst taking care of business.

Where to start
Create your own site or sell your creations via a site that also sells other designers? What about crowd selling sites? There are many ways to begin the brand building via an online retail platform, but picking what’s right for you can be a business minefield.

Building your own retail site
If you’re going to have your own retail site, plan for it to be professional. One of the main reasons for failure is that potential customers don’t like to pay substantial amounts of money to a site that anybody could build in ten minutes. Such approaches don’t only fail to build a brand, they actually tear it down, because whatever brand identity you’re aiming for, you want it to be a trusted brand and yet you’re selling through a mechanism that is regularly used by counterfeiters and scamsters.

If you’re willing and able to put in the time and money to build your own site, you do have the advantage of getting it to look just as you wish … defining your brand without competition from others can be a good choice.

Retail sites that offer a range of designers
Websites that aggregate independent designers can be a great option, although there are both costs and benefits. On the downside, you will be expected to pay a merchant’s fee to the site for every sale, also on the downside, potential customers are likely to get into comparison shopping which can lead to them hunting for the cheapest deal rather than the garment they really love. Merchant sites like Etsy make this a specific benefit of their offering, allowing customers to shortlist and compare similar items before choosing just one.

The upside is that if such a site is well curated it will represent brands like yours, which means that the target audience are likely to be receptive to what they see. Places to consider include Farfetch which has recently received massive investor funding from investors like Condé Nast International. An alternative approach might be a site like Girl Meets Dress which offers customers the chance to rent high end clothing for as long as they wish. Girl Meets Dress claims that 98% of its customers try clothing brands completely new to them because rental is lower risk – this could be make or break for new brands trying to gain traction.

Blended approach
Some brands deliberately define their approach as starting with a site that carries many brands and move forward into a individual site. One example is Finchittida Finch – the brainchild of twin designers Lisa and Tida Finch who began their process with online marketplaces like ASOS and Etsy to gather customer feedback and get experience in online retailing but then moved to a solo site with the support of their business mentors.

Crowd selling fashion brands
Crowdfunding has its good and bad points too. Everybody dreams of the kind of success story experienced by Barbell Denim – which met its $15,000 goal in just 45 minutes and went on to over-raise to a total of nearly half a million dollars. But what’s the reality? In part Kickstarter and Indiegogo work well for businesses that already have a target, captive, audience. For Barbell Denim that was the weightlifting/body-building/CrossFit community – a significant sector of the population of the USA (and small but high spending in the UK) that automatically buys and makes choices based on being an ‘alternative lifestyle’. As a result, their offering was eagerly awaited. Other things they got right were having models who looked like the target audience (building identification and aspiration), offering a great reward for early investors (jeans that would accommodate big quads small waists for $99) and getting their product out quickly enough to keep the buzz going.

Whichever route you take, being able to test your ideas on skilled mentors and access the experience of others will enable you to avoid the pitfalls of building a brand online whilst selling your designs.

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