Why Fashion Designers Choose To Have A Business Mentor

Becoming a designer brand is not just about designing. Even an excellent training and great degree are usually not enough to make it. Nor is having the best graduate show. It comes down to just one thing – getting your designs to market. This actually requires that quite allot of things are made to fall into place.

It sounds exciting and dynamic. Getting your image out there. Attracting an audience. Building a fan base and giving them what they want. But that’s just the gilt on the gingerbread.

What underpins the perceived glitz and glamour of the fashion industry is a hard-nosed approach that requires a good business sense so that you can:

• develop and make your designs
• ship and deliver finished garments
• make decisions on how and where to sell
• build and run a viable business

And if that does not sound as enticing as the purely creative aspects of fashion design or if this strikes you as a challenge you could not complete, it’s possibly because you don’t have a Fashion Business Mentor…

The whole point of mentoring for designers is the that your creativity is mixed with the experience needed to give the almost uncanny ability to predict what’s going to happen and give certainty of what is expected. These two key skills allow a fashion designer to see what they need to see, and make decisions based on that accurate vision, so that business success is the outcome.


See how the FASHIONbasecamp Mentoring Programme helps starting and growing fashion entrepreneurs in this short video.

The fashion industry is harsh. Talent is rarely enough. What the biographies of all great fashion designers reveal is a combination of idiosyncratic fashion design talent along with a steely determination to run a successful fashion operation. Controlling fixed costs, maintaining brand integrity, developing new markets, presenting a coherent message to the market, meeting deadlines and ensuring quality control are all variables that a fashion designer needs to master. At the point where design becomes business, this list of responsibilities can become too demanding for many, leading to one of two responses:

• Minimisation – failure to grow a potentially flourishing fashion business because of fears that all the elements of business management will be too much for the founder
• Lack of focus – sacrificing design talent to day-to-day running of a business can kill the business just as fast as not expanding when possible.

So what does a successful fashion business require?

Scope, experience and clear vision are all essential parts of business growth, and they aren’t easy to come by, especially if all your skills and abilities, thus far, have been about designing, not about running organisations. But there is scope to develop the necessary skills without putting your business on the line as you experiment. Fashion business mentoring removes much of the risk, whilst bringing sage advice that helps you explore the possible without losing sight of the long-term aim. Industry specific mentoring is vital to many entrepreneurs, but to those in a high speed and ever changing business like fashion it is crucial. A miss-step can throw out 12 to 18 months of success quite easily.

A fashion mentor gives clients a chance to explore the aspects of running a business that they may never have encountered. He or she ensures that they are equipped to handle a sales department and manage staff so that they don’t lose their creative edge but neither do they have to abdicate business decisions to people who may not share, or even understand, their vision. The whole point about designing what you believe in is that these designs get the chance to be admired and bought. Fashion business mentoring offers scope to develop, explore and hone skills that will make your fashion enterprise successful in the marketplace.

What can you expect from Mentoring for a Fashion Business?

• Access to an invaluable resource – fashion business experience that is relevant to your situation
• Immediate experience – advice drawn on active experience of running fashion enterprises so that you can be exposed to fashion focused thinking that helps you make decisions
• Vision based discussion – knowing which new ideas are viable can be essential to developing your business, so an impartial exploration of your ideas can help you sort out the less than ideal from the viable
• Motivation and support – fashion design is stressful, exciting and often demanding. Being able to speak to somebody who shares your experience, brings calm and perspective to difficult decisions and is on your side can be vital to your own resilience.

For many small to medium sized business owners, mentoring can make the difference between being a start-up that fails and growing a business to become a sustainable enterprise. There’s no way of knowing what topics a mentoring session will cover. For some designers it might be ways to establish the right margin calculations or how to work with factories in remote locations – the nuts and bolts of garment industry negotiations. For others it could be a personality conflict with a member of staff – the unexpected problems of having personnel and needing them to buy into the vision of success that the designer has established. It might be the challenges of success – the need to rapidly increase production, get more funding or supply markets that weren’t in the original plan. Distribution, sales agents and licensing can be daunting, and not only to those who have moved beyond a local distribution structure to something more global.

Whatever the questions, a skilled mentor can ensure that decisions are made based on the long-term success of the enterprise and in line with the vision of the founder. Above all, mentoring for designers brings a clear focus on brand decisions, stripping away the inessential to help you to ensure that each process, decision or commitment moves the brand towards overall success, rather than succumbing to the many pitfalls that take small fashion businesses out of the game before they can make their mark in the long term.

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