The difference between an established fashion designer and a novice is often the difference between somebody who has created a collection and somebody who has defined a brand.
A brand is an identity that really stands for something – whether that’s the “classic, cool American values” of Tommy Hilfiger or the “designer approach to high street dressing” of Karen Millen. Brands generally have four key elements that deliver genuine brand values, which in turn transcend a clothing collection and become brand personality. These key elements are: statement, aspiration, lifestyle and value.
Making a statement is not about creating a splash. It means that you define an identity and head in that direction. Know who you are designing for and focus on them, but with your specific identity in mind. Remember your statement is partly about you, and partly about your customers, so you want to be portraying something that they can buy into about themselves – a deeper, broader, richer, grittier or more polished version of the self that they wish to be.
Obviously your statement has to be something that a large enough audience can associate with, but not so anodyne that anybody could feel comfortable with it – this is where the input of experienced mentors can help hone a brand so that it finds the most important place of all – its niche.
Aspiration is all about how your chosen customers can become more themselves through your brand – and aspiration is vital because it’s something that can be possessed by many people who are not yet your customers but who have the desire to access something that your brand epitomises. So, for example, many women of a certain generation defined ‘becoming a grown up’ by the ownership of a Playtex bra – the brand values of maturity, femininity and dressing in a sophisticated fashion were all aspirational for little girls, so they invested in the brand, via its advertising, long before they were able to become customers.
Aspiration allows you to reach a far wider audience than your product sales from your first collection and launches you into a future in which your potential customers actively seek out ways to become actual buyers.
Customers want to know a lot about brands these days, they want to hear your story. But they also want to be telling stories, through their own choices, and lifestyle is the twin balance of bringing your values, decisions and statement into the lives of your customers so that they can buy into a lifestyle choice that is enhanced and deepened by your brand identity.
More than ever before, people are able to recognise not just brands but lifestyle choices, and the role of brands in lifestyles is a large area of academic research. There is no doubt that as customers state their own identity to the world through their brand choices, they also seek to expand their personal identity and self-expression, so brand and lifestyle must converge for lifestyle to become ‘real’ in the customer’s eyes.
When your product, style or brand is perceived to be worth the price you are asking for ownership of that product or brand, it has achieved its aim. Perceived value is sometimes simply measured by purchase activity but may also be measured in terms of brand loyalty, brand awareness and positive associations between brand and lifestyle that have been created in the target market.
Going back to our Playtex example, the positive associations between a brassiere and being a grown up were often established for little girls through TV and magazine advertising and the value of the brand was immensely more than the simple price of an undergarment, it was the gateway to adulthood itself. It’s important not to over-inflate the perceived value of your products so that they disappoint the customer. Consistency is the key characteristic of value – a jacket must always be more expensive than a T-shirt, which allows for pegging of relative items in a collection or over a series of collections.