This is your one-stop-shop guide for breaking into the world of men's fashion with your own brand in 2020.
Before we get into detail, let us address why we focused particularly on men’s fashion in this guide. Firstly, our range is made by men for men. Secondly and most importantly, with the co-founders being young men, we don’t have the first clue as to what works for women’s fashion. It is a whole different kettle of fish when it comes to sizing, branding and marketing practices. So please don’t take offense to the distinction, but a guide like this becomes more valuable when it is focused on a particular demographic.
If you have clicked into this blog post, you probably fall into one of two categories:
1. You have a great product idea and you are unsure of how to execute it.
2. You simply love the fashion scene and would like to own your own range, without necessarily having an idea straight off the bat.
In both instances, your first port of call is going to be market research. But with number 2, you are going to have a little more work to do. To stimulate the creative juices, it is always a good idea to spend your time looking at other brands, particularly the successful ones across multiple areas of the men’s fashion industry. Is there something they are doing well, which you can adopt for your own situation? Is there an idea in one side of the fashion industry, which you could apply to another area?
This is exactly what we did with Signature. We knew we wanted to start an online clothing business, but did not know what route we would go down. We didn’t want to be yet another streetwear or activewear brand, at a time where both markets were beginning to get saturated. So instead we looked at how we could apply some of the things they were doing well but in a new area.
Both were beginning to use lycra/cotton and lycra/polyester fabric compositions to provide stretch garments with superior fit and stretch. The concept we first came up with was “UnderArmor” for the office, whereby we would take the fit and performance of activewear, and apply it to smart casual and formal clothing.
1. Market Research
Once you have an idea for your product, you are going to have to know who your customer is, and if they would buy your product by conducting market research. This should ideally be a combination of:
- Desk research - online and
- Field research - actually getting out there and talking to as many potential customers as you can through surveys and focus groups.
The audience of your surveys and focus groups will largely come from your underlying assumption about who your customer is, but supported by your desk research.
When we conducted market research for Signature, we started with the underlying assumption that our target market was the 18-35-year-old male who goes to the gym and buys activewear online. Our desk research indicated a massive upward trend in activewear purchases among this age range. Our conversations with this demographic discovered that the most important purchasing considerations for them when it comes to attire are comfort and fit. This confirmed our starting assumption that the 18-35-year-old man, who is interested in the gym, would purchase a tailored shirt, which has the same comfort and performance of activewear.
Creating Your Business Plan
A business plan will not only be required for any conversations you have with potential investors, but it will also help steer your direction because it should take into account the problems you solve for your customer, how you plan to produce your range, deliver it, your social media strategy and financial projections. It is important to note that your business plan is simply a projection and not intended to be an exact science, and it will change a lot over time. Therefore it is best not to put it off, but to just get something on paper. To start, perhaps include:
- An Introduction to Your Business
- The problem(s) you solve. i.e. Customer Value Proposition
- Market Research conducted to date.
- Successful Business Models that you seek to imitate.
- A Competitor Analysis.
- Your Supply Chain – i.e. how you will get the product from idea to your customer.
- Financial Projections for the first three years.
A 10-page document will be loads to start with and will force you to think of the many gaps you need to fill before you can get selling. A shorter pitch deck created in a tool like Microsoft Powerpoint or Adobe Illustrator is also advisable so that you can communicate your idea in a concise way, or hide sensitive information contained in your business plan.
2. Business Plans
Business planning is an important exercise for any business, and of course, there are certain areas of the plan which will be specific to creating your own men’s fashion brand.
Before delving into the specifics of how to write a business plan, let’s first examine why it is important to write one:
- Sets your direction – I am sure you can think of a trip abroad you have taken where you wished you had spent a little more time planning ahead. The same is true for your business. You get more out of the experience with at least some level of planning, which makes for better execution.
- Funding Your Business – Garments produced in high volume cost money and lots of it. Therefore you will probably be looking at raising capital whether it be through an angel investor, family, government grants, crowdfunding or through loans. Each one of these options will require some level of a business plan. Even before lodging your own hard-earned savings in a business account, it makes sense to go through the exercise of putting pen to paper, because very quickly you will realize how committed you are.
- De-Cluttering Your Mind – If you are an entrepreneur at heart, chances are that your mind is one very cluttered place. With inspirational spurts coming at the most inconvenient of times, and ideas popping into your head round the clock, it will be hard to keep the road ahead clear and to prioritize the tasks at hand. Only the ideas worth thinking about will end up making their way onto your plan, with less feasible ones becoming more obvious when you are forced to actually write them down.
- Forces you to Solve Problems – Sometimes it is easy to take the beginning steps in a new project or initiative, but not so easy to keep consistent with knocking through problems. A detailed business plan will actually force you to solve problems prior to ever actually having to face them. For example, you will need to know where your product will be made, how much it will cost, how it will be delivered, how you will sell it, etc.
So now that we have covered why you would write a business plan, let’s discuss how. I have said it before and I will say it again, that your business plan should be the bare minimum depending on the stage that you are at. Meaning that if you are just trying to set your own direction and self-funding, a 10-page document will be fine. If, on the other hand, you are approaching a seasoned investor for several thousand in seed funding, you will need to be more thorough. Planning should be an activity, but not the primary activity you carry out in getting off the ground. Trust me it is extremely easy to fall into this trap.
The saying "less is more" is true and most definitely true when it comes to getting your business plan in the hands of someone who is most likely a very busy decision-maker. That is why I would strongly advocate for an approach where you have an Overview Deck for quick viewing in addition to your more detailed plan. We had an inhouse graphic designer and photographer, with this going through several iterations. However, in the beginning, you shouldn’t go out spending money on this kind of material, but the content is what is most important. Excepting applying for investment. This is a time where proper branding and professional content will go a long way to showing you mean business. But in terms of the content, here are the topics which I believe are key to address:
- An Introduction to Your Business – Why did you start this business? Are you one brand, or a reseller of multiple brands? Do you design your own garments, or are you dropshipping someone else’s stuff? Or maybe you are positioning yourself as a lifestyle brand that sells clothes right now, with the potential to become any number of indefinite possibilities.
- Customer Value Proposition – What problems does your customer face right now, and how do you solve them?
- Buyer Personas – A semi-fictional representation of people who you believe are the most likely to buy your products.
- Market Research – By what methods did you create your buyer personas and what evidence do you have that they will purchase your products?
- Your Product – Details of your product with some initial designs and details around branding, trimmings, fabric and unique aspects.
- A Competitor Analysis – Who is out there right now and how do you differ from them? Be completely open and honest with both yourself and the reader here because you are doing no one any favors by ignoring the competition. Competitors can actually help confirm that you are going down the right path.
- Your Supply Chain– How you will get the product from idea to your customer. Are you going to entrust your warehousing, logistics, and delivery completely to an e-fulfillment company? There are plenty of them out there and this could make sense if you are dealing with a very high margin product.
- Cost Base and Margin – This will be the area of most interest to any potential sources of finance and should be the most important piece to you because cash flow is the highest priority on your business’s hierarchy of needs.
As mentioned you can go into more detail depending on your audience, but the truth is that cash flow projections and market strategy are largely hypothetical until you start executing. They certainly help but will in no way be accurate, nor should they consume too much of your time in the beginning. Take it from someone who spends too could do with spending less time planning and more time executing.
Branding is probably one of the most important things you will do when starting a men’s fashion brand, arguably even more so than for a brand aimed at women. Why? In general terms, women tend to be a little more practical and shop by recommendation, whereas we guys tend to be suckers for the bells and whistles which come with a strong brand. The brand is so crucial because as consumer tastes change over time, the real value in a long-term business actually lies in the brand. You could, for example, shift from clothing to whiskey in the next decade as long as you have established trust in your brand.
In terms of coming up with your own brand, you can outsource the task entirely to a branding or marketing agency, but where is the fun in that? For Signature, we kept all of our branding and content creation inhouse, as we have two multimedia professionals who are not happy unless they are being creative on a consistent basis. So I will come at this from the perspective of going DYI on your branding. Here is what I believe to be your ideal roadmap:
- Buyer Personas
- Building a Creative Team
- Research Brands you want to Emulate
- Create a Brandbook Messaging Document
- Involve Your Audience
- Create a Brandbook
1. Buyer Personas
Buyer personas will be the main thing to dictate how you come up with a successful brand and identifying your target customer who will find some form of connection with your brand. A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of people who you believe are the most likely to buy your products.
For example, Paul A is a 24-year-old young man living in Cork. His main interests are going to the gym, traveling, and fashion. He watches youtube bloggers in his spare time, as well as going out socializing at the weekend. His main challenges lie in trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle, keeping up appearances on Instagram, funding his travels and his fashion sense, but all the while not having much disposable income.
For more information on creating buyer personas, I recommend checking out this video from Hubspot’s Inbound Marketing Certification.
2. Building a Creative Team
As mentioned our team consists of professionals who work in graphic design, photography, video, and animation. I did this by making them co-founders and giving them equity in my business. Is this necessary? No. This is just the approach I took among the many ways you could skin that cat.
What you could do is hire someone if you have the money, or even outsource the nuts and bolts through a freelance service like Upwork or Fiverr, but all the while managing the people working on your brand and keeping tight control over your vision. Oftentimes your brand will be a combination of the ideas in your head which you can’t quite describe and the experience and expertise of someone who creates brands for a living.
3. Research Successful Brands Which you would Like to Emulate
We researched brands that were successful and also very similar to what we were trying to do with Signature. Brands that also target your buyer personas are ideal. For example, we were going for a premium, clean look which targets millennials and Gen Zs. For us, brands like MVMT, Truff, and Gymshark provided inspiration for different reasons.
4. Brandbook Messaging Document
This is a document essentially capturing the requirements from you to find out more about your vision and your customer. It should largely be based around your buyer persona. If your creative person does not ask you to get this down on paper then this would raise a red flag for me. It might be a little extra work in the beginning but it is your insurance that you and your creative are on the same page coming into the exercise. Here is an example of the finished document which we created for Signature.
You won’t get everything right the first time and you will need to be timely with revising and providing feedback. Your sense of urgency will direct how quickly this gets completed.
6. Involve Your Audience
Involve the target customers who have been assisting with your market research. After all, they will be the ones who will need to buy into your brand and trust it.
7. Create a Brandbook
The output should not just be a logo, but a brand book which has several variations of your logos, themes for pitch decks, fonts, primary and alternative colors, as well as some general direction around content going forward and how it complements the brand.
To sum up, the most important aspects to consider with branding is that you are appealing to your buyer persona, creating trust and making sure that you have plenty of direction to continue the brand through a variety of different types of content.
4. Product Development
Product development is no easy feat in any space, particularly if you are creating something from scratch. In this post, we will break down the steps you need to go through to bring your product from idea to creation. Luckily garments can be much less complex than any gadget related product, or something which is very difficult to place within a traditional category e.g. those scooter type devices you can kneel on when your leg is in a cast. Once dubbed the “kneel chair” by a close friend of mine. But anyway I digress.
Here are the steps I suggest in creating your product range as part of your men’s fashion range:
- Source a reputable Fashion Designer
- Create a Tech Pack
- Source a Supplier
1. Source a reputable Fashion Designer
In order to convey your range to any potential suppliers, investors or new employees, you are going to need a way to visually communicate your product range. To do this you will need to enlist a fashion designer who not only knows how to sketch your product but also knows what is and is not feasible when it comes to garment design. Despite what you might think they are actually not that expensive. In total at the time, we paid in and around €40 for our initial designs. Again, Fiverr and Upwork are good places to source a fashion designer, but you could also use an agency like Image Coming Soon, or Morris Fashion Consultancy.
As with the branding covered in our previous blog post, the end result is always much better when requirements are clearly specified upfront to your designer.
2. Create a Tech Pack
A tech pack is the industry standard in specifying every measurement, and the detail of every last button and thread. These are usually a little more costly than the design. The timing of this one is also tricky because it can be a bit of a chicken and egg situation as to whether you will do a sample before your tech pack, or do a tech pack first, and then sample. The main thing is that your designer is flexible enough to work revisions into your pricing so that either way you can come back and get the tech pack right, regardless of whether you sample first or afterward.
3. Source a Supplier
This is certainly not easy and has been an outright nightmare for us considering that our garment has 27 panels, and we are very much ahead of the curve when it comes to applying activewear clothing to traditional buttoned garments. Usually, factories do one or the other. I have no doubt that the industry will catch up with consumer preferences for fitted and comfortable clothing and in a decade it will be easier to source this kind of garment.
Another issue is quantity and cost. We were once in discussions with the owner of an ISO approved 600 staff factory in India, which could manufacture our shirts for between $2 and $5 per garment, and even pay their staff to continue education. A dream come true, right? The only problem is that they wanted a Minimum Order Quantity (MOQ) of 30,000 garments
I would suggest working with a sourcing agent or one of the aforementioned fashion agencies who also work this into their service offering. It is not an easy task and if you are not well versed in the industry, you may waste an enormous amount of time on this stumbling block.
If you are determined though on building up your own contact base and finding them yourself, then I would recommend getting yourself to Munich every February for ISPO. This is a trade show where you have 16 massive exhibition halls filled with suppliers in the sports industry, including factories that work with stretch fabrics. If it is outside of the scope of activewear, then you need to get to PremiereVision in Paris.
As I mentioned we had 27 panels making up our garment, which is a lot! That is 27 unique pieces to the garment and patterns to draft. When you make a sample with your supplier, they will need to make these patterns, which are essentially outlined on paper. Make sure that you own the Intellectual Property, and can take these samples with you, in the event that you switch suppliers. Ideally, these would be a Computer-Aided Design (CAD) drawing which can be sent digitally to any other supplier.
Now by this point, you will be absolutely bursting to get to market, but before moving into production you will need to sample your garments. Trust me the chances that your supplier will get your product perfect first time around are slim to none, so make sure you are open to the possibility that you will have to iterate on your garment.
This is a challenging area to try and navigate yourself, with packaging in small quantities being very costly. Fancy boxes you see on Instagram? Forget about it, at least in the beginning. Ideally, your factory can handle your packaging, but again this could be a job for your agency. Work with your graphic designer to mock up a wishlist of packaging options like these, but resign yourself to the fact that you will more than likely be sending your initial orders in plain polybags.
This is the moment you have been working towards the entire time but your work is not finished yet. You will need to negotiate the terms of production with your supplier. Do you pay for the delivery or do they? Are your branded packaging and labels included? There are all kinds of industry lingo and acronyms at this point in the form of International Commercial Terms or Incoterms for short. These are universally recognized trade terms which actually become really useful in protecting both parties, once of course, you know what they mean! It is also important to know what these mean because you don’t want to come off as a newbie in the industry, whilst also trying to establish a position of power, from which you can negotiate.
You can download the full list of incoterms from the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), but that would cost you an overpriced subscription to the ICC website. Instead here is a run-down of the ones we have seen thus far:
- EXW – Avoid this one if you can. It makes it the buyer's responsibility to organize delivery. This can present significant challenges if you are procuring your stock from the other side of the world. All the seller has to do is make the stock available for collection in the necessary packaging. After that, it is entirely up to you.
- FAS –Free Alongside Shipping. The seller only has to deliver the stock to the port next to the vessel, after which the responsibility shifts to the buyer.
- FOB– Free on Board Shipping. Here, the seller is responsible for all costs involved in the process up until the goods are on a vessel at the designated port. Anything after that is up to you. This is a good way of maintaining full control of your shipping costs.
- CIF – Cost, Insurance and Freight which is an expense incurred by a seller to cover the cost of insuring until the goods are on a freight ship from an export port. Much like FIB except for the insurance.
The full list of these can be found at a website called IncotermsExplained.
5. Sales and Logistics
I think it is fairly obvious at this point that the most attractive option at the moment is the online retail game, where you sell directly to the consumer, and for good reason. You get to maintain full control of your catalog and you keep a much higher portion of the profit. Online advertising and influencers are not quite as cheap as they used to be but are still a really good deal in relative terms when you compare it to traditional advertising which is extremely difficult to measure. With online sales, you can direct your customer down a funnel through a number of different touchpoints and Call to Actions (CTAs), all of which you have full control over.
However, you should not completely close yourself off to other sales channels, which could be just as lucrative. Personally, I am a firm believer in never saying never. Right now we are focused on crushing the online game and building our brand, but if an attractive offer to sell to some large retailer came along, I certainly would not be saying no. Some of the channels at your disposal include:
- Online direct to consumer.
- Online through large retailers e.g. Boohoo.
- Online through Dropshippers
- Traditional Retail.
- Business to Business Wholesale. E.g. providing branded swag for a large business.
Here is an excerpt from our Business Plan, which describes our sales channels, as well as our logistics process.
Up at the top, we have all of our potential customers identified and everything feeds up to meet the customer. Illustrating your steps in this manner is actually extremely helpful to help make the journey clearer in your own head. In this diagram, this is our ideal scenario which we will work towards. Worth noting that until we are in a position to scale, there is no way we will be able to use an e-fulfillment service because it works out much too expensive.
Essentially this is a company that handles the warehousing, picking your order once it is placed online, and then ships it to your customer without you ever having to touch it. They also take care of any returns on your behalf. A solid option if you if are already established and have a very high margin product, leaving you to focus on what you do best. For us, that would be product design, marketing, and content creation.
I strongly recommend an out of the box e-commerce platform which allows you to build and manage your website like any other Content Management System (CMS) but is specifically for selling products online. Shopify and Squarespace are the best-known examples and in my opinion, there are several advantages to this approach:
- Upfront Cost –At $30 per month, Shopify is definitely a very cost-effective way of getting a site up to sell your products without having to pay large sums of money to get a developer to build out a site, and every time they touch your product thereafter.
- They Make Money When You Make Money –They charge a commission on every sale you make, which would scare a lot of people off, but for me this means that they are invested in supporting their users through a very lucrative incentive for them. This means that there are a plethora of plug-ins from email marketing to page builders that integrate directly with these platforms.
- Digital Marketing – You have a drastically simpler time getting your digital foundation set up with one of these platforms which assist with SEO, Facebook Pixel and Google Analytics.
- CrowdSource Solutions –These platforms have an extremely large userbase, meaning that if you encounter issues, you are only ever a YouTube video away from finding a solution.
If you, like us, don’t yet have the capability to pay for an e-fulfillment service, or you could never see yourself justifying that cost, you will need to partner up with some form of courier service. Some of the ones available to us here in Cork include DHL, DPD, and GLS. We went with GLS because their rates are pretty cost-effective and the most important element for us starting out is that we received the human experience of one of their account managers making two separate trips to our office to meet with us and get us set up. For anyone getting started, this step is an intimidating one and the extra bit of hand-holding made all the difference for us in choosing a provider.
Most providers will be pretty much on par when it comes to domestic shipping rates and will also offer an online service where you can organize for your orders to be collected from their own web portal. Most of these companies will also provide fulfillment services like warehousing, pick and ship, etc. Just be conscious that these costs can add up, so go with the bare minimum you need until your product is in high demand and you are in a position to scale.
I am a firm believer that marketing a men’s brand is drastically different from marketing a brand aimed primarily at women. I have stated this previously, but here it goes again. In general terms (necessary disclaimer for the gender police) women respond better to recommendation-based marketing i.e. word of mouth, lifestyle bloggers and fly on the wall type marketing.
Whereas men are suckers for the bells and whistles of high production quality content and tattooed muscular men who they aspire to look like. The reason being is that they are typically less comfortable in openly discussing fashion preferences so are more susceptible to their information coming from a brand or a large influencer, rather than a real person. Now, this is certainly changing, but more slowly than we are led to believe. For example, Youtube is a male-dominated channel in terms of viewer stats, which provides an insight into their psyche. They search for answers, rather than discussing them with their peers.
Hubspot Inbound Marketing
Before going any further on the topic of marketing, it would be remiss of me to not give a shout out to Hubspot’s Inbound Marketing certification, which I would recommend any of you to complete if you are even thinking of operating in the digital sphere. Hubspot is a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Marketing Automation software provider, but more importantly, they are the knowledge leaders in all things digital marketing and inbound sales.
Assuming that you have other things going on, you can complete this in a week if you really apply yourself and by the end of it you will understand:
- Buyer Personas.
- The buyers’ journey.
- The Inbound Marketing Funnel.
- Search Engine Optimization.
- Creating blog posts and pillar pages.
- Content Marketing.
- The differences between various social media platforms.
- How to audit and plan your content in a structured, interconnected fashion.
I had been working on our marketing strategy for some time but never felt fully confident in my abilities for whenever we would actually get up and selling. I didn’t understand the hows and whys of planning content. I thought I did, but I didn’t until I took this course which I can’t recommend enough. It is free and there is the option to do follow up courses in content marketing, Facebook ads, video marketing, etc.
Even if you are not going to be a marketer for your brand, I would still strongly recommend that you do this course. You will be in a much better position to hire for and outsource marketing activities, whilst also fully understanding the reasoning behind marketing activities. If you are the person behind the marketing for your brand, it is also worth getting other team members to take this course so that they will buy into your initiatives and you won’t have to waste unnecessary time trying to convince other people of the need to invest in your marketing.
Do Your Research
I already discussed the importance of market research, but this time when it comes to research I mean looking at successful brands who you would like to emulate, whether they sell to your target market, or they simply create amazing content which inspires you. What I like to do is take snippets from each. For example:
- MVMT– Do an amazing job of taking stunning photographs of picturesque landscapes around the world that associate their product with a limitless lifestyle which is so appealing to millennials.
- SISU– Originating in Cork, they did a great job of their launch campaign and creating regional hype, which they are now replicating as they scale and expand to other cities around the UK and Europe.
- Truff– Created a premium brand right off the bat, with one product, which allowed them to sell hot sauce for $15 a bottle.
- Lululemon– Created a lifestyle, community brand around yoga. It is so central to their brand, that they regularly host free yoga classes in their stores across the US.
In 1996 Bill Gates wrote an essay entitled “Content is King” in which he hypothesized that the majority of money made on the internet would be in content. He certainly wasn’t wrong. Content is not only a great opportunity to tell the story of your brand but also a necessity for a fashion brand, particularly a men’s fashion brand. Men respond really well to online photos and videos that depict a lifestyle that they aspire to. Men’s fitness bloggers and the influence they possess over their audience is a prime example. To really kill it with your content, I advise treating your business as if it were a digital marketing agency and that your brand is the client. Your objective is to build trust with your audience around the brand, because this secures the longevity of the brand, regardless of whatever direction it takes in the future. It definitely helps if you have at least one creative person in-house, but the ideal dream team to help get the most mileage from your content is:
- A Graphics person (Ciarán)
- A multimedia person for photos and video. (Jordan)
- Someone strong in the written word. (Yours truly)
- A numbers person who knows analytics and ads. (Paul)
When it comes to shooting content for your brand there are some elements that are ideal to have inhouse, and some which are not so essential. Nowadays with the need for endless amounts of content, it may make sense to have a photographer who owns a high-spec professional camera, but you may decide to rent a studio by the day when doing e-commerce shots for your website which requires a proper backdrop and timed lighting.
Make sure to treat shoots like a project in themselves and not just something you wing on the day, especially if models are involved, whether they be professional or not. Your models will be potential champions of your brand having worked with you and feeling some sense of ownership over your success. Don’t take that likely and make sure to write up a plan like this as well as having a member of your team on hand to entertain them for want of a better term. Chatting to models who are not currently posing, and running around making sure everyone is appropriately fed and watered.
I strongly advocate for shooting large volumes of content over a short period of time with the view of it lasting you at least a business quarter. This helps you to plan out your content appropriately and you can work your shoots into times where you are not as busy with the day to day of sales and logistics. You can also line up your photo and video content with relevant themes that come from a well-planned out content compass which is described in more detail in the Hubspot Inbound Marketing certification.
Document, but Don’t Publish Until You’re Ready
We made the mistake at the beginning of trying to document and publish everything in the beginning. The problem with this is that you will struggle with consistency, you will run out of things to say and your content will look disjointed and not all that put together. You are better placed to document your journey at the beginning and save the content for a time where you are running something like a crowdfunding campaign or are absolutely sure that you are launching your range. This content is invaluable in creating a human experience and building trust with your customers. You just need to be sure that you don’t squander it.
Getting the Best Bang for Your Buck with Content Marketing
In the beginning, we thought that shooting shit hot content was enough and that social media would simply take care of itself so long as we were consistent with posting. Boy, were we wrong. The way to ensure that you get the best return on the time and money invested in shooting your content is to become well-versed or outsource to someone who is well-versed in social media and digital advertising.
Through the wonder that is Facebook ads, you can run campaigns through Instagram and Facebook which target the exact audience that you've already identified through creating your buyer personas. Fortunately, advertising works better when you spend smaller with a targeted audience, focusing on a specific location, meaning that you now have the ability to reuse your precious content an infinite number of times without the same people seeing it. You can even run ads that don’t appear permanently on your Facebook profile or Instagram wall. If the content is your currency (which it is), then think of ads as setting up a well-diversified investment portfolio on the stock market where you have multiple, separate shots at making a solid return.
Facebook Blueprint is Facebook’s free learning center, which also allows you to take exams and become certified at a cost of approx. $150 per exam.
At this stage, we all know how they work and why it is that they are singing the praises of such and such a brand. However, just because someone profits off something, does not inherently make them disingenuous. We also knew how radio and TV advertising worked for several decades and it didn’t stop it working to build brand awareness, though much less efficiently than online advertising.
To suss out if an influencer is worth your time, or money, here are some ways you might evaluate their worth to your brand:
- SocialBlade is an analytics site where you can check the historical following of anyone on any social platform. If your 50,000 follower shows a 5,000 follower spike over one day back in July 2017, then you know some external forces have been at play. SocialBlade will also give their account a score based on multiple factors, the most important of which is engagement. For Instagram for example, anything over 6% is considered a very respectful engagement level.
- You could agree to an influencer's rate on the basis of certain key metrics to be met. For example a swipe up link, where if they bring you €600 in sales, it justifies the €200 you paid them for example. You could pay them €50 upfront and the remainder upon showing their worth. Once the value and relationship have been established, you may not need to do this for every time you work with them.
It is easy to get starstruck by someone who is “instafamous” but make sure to see this as a business transaction in which you do your due diligence. Not all accounts were built organically so it pays to do your homework. Getting in touch with an influencer is as simple as hitting the email button which most of them will have on their Instagram account. There are agencies but I’d rather cut out the middleman and build a direct relationship.
I could honestly go on for days about marketing and the many things I have researched and considered for Signature, but at the end of the day, you are best off to keep things simple, plan accordingly but not to the point where it hinders your execution. Much of your lessons will come through trial and error.
Funding is a tricky one because there is no best way. Some entrepreneurs will go down the route of raising venture capital from investors in exchange for giving away a percentage of their business, while others may bootstrap i.e. self-funding and using any returns to fund your next move. In this guide to funding your men’s fashion brand, I won’t claim to know all the answers but will discuss the various funding options available to you, as well as the pros and cons.
When using the term venture capital, I am referring to any kind of funding which comes from an angel investor, a venture capital agency or a family member who chooses to invest. In plain English someone who gives you money to get off the ground, in return for something, which is in most cases is equity i.e. a percentage of the ownership in the business. Now at the beginning of our quest for funding, this is one of the areas we were heavily focused on but from personal experience, I would not recommend this route, at least in the beginning anyway. But nevertheless here are the various pros and cons of this route:
- Unless you are drop shipping or doing pre-sales, fashion typically requires a large financial outlay at the beginning on stock and meeting Minimum Order Quantities (MOQs) with suppliers. Venture capital can help front the money.
- An investor who is experienced in the industry will have a wealth of experience in addition to the financial wealth they bring to the table. They can help open doors with their partners in the supply chain and mentor you.
- Raising venture capital is very tough in the fashion industry and really requires some proof that you are already in demand and selling. The time taken to raise the money can be lengthy, not to mention the cost. You will have to pay solicitors (lawyers) to execute this and you may have a significant amount of back and forth between your potential investors, you and legal. We raised €12,000 in seed funding and this cost us €2,000 with a law firm which was just getting off the ground and the most reasonably priced that we could find.
- The obvious one is that you are giving up a percentage of your business, as well as your future profits, but it is not just about the money. You also give up a certain element of control which can be so beautiful about starting up your own business. That uninhibited feeling of being in the drivers’ seat is hard to beat.
- If you don’t know who Gary Vaynerchuck is, well you should. He goes to the extreme of saying that the day you raise money, is the saddest day of your life because you are now indebted. As is usually the case, he makes a lot of sense.
Pre-sales are where you make your product available online without having your stock to hand, but with the caveat that your product will arrive perhaps within 30 days or something to that effect. If you are familiar with the streetwear brand, 11Degrees, this is actually how they first got off the ground.
- You don’t have the same financial risk, as you have the money already in your account before the product is ordered.
- If you have placed an order with a supplier, you can sell the product before it arrives so that at least you are cashflow positive and not losing precious time which could be spent selling, whilst waiting for your order. This will also allow for quicker order cycles so that the next wave of the stock is made available quicker to your eagerly awaiting customers.
- Whilst you mitigate the financial risk, you increase the reputational risk with this option. What if your stock arrives from your supplier with a defect throughout the entire order, after your customer has already been waiting several weeks for their order? A poorly executed presales campaign could destroy your brand before it even begins.
This involves raising money from the public by involving them in the journey of your business and offering them some form of a perk for backing you, which could be some merchandise or a pre-ordered product. You can actually run a crowdfunding campaign yourself through Shopify, but for the purposes of this post, I will discuss this through the lens of using a crowdfunding platform like Kickstarter.
- This is a relatively safe way of testing out your idea and soft launching to see if it gains any traction without taking on debt. Everyone who backs a Kickstarter agrees to the provision that Kickstarter essentially holds all funds in escrow until you hit your funding goal. If you don’t reach your target the customer gets their money back. It lowers the risk for both parties.
- There is an established Kickstarter userbase of people who regularly back good ideas.
- A Kickstarter campaign is a great excuse to focus your efforts around SMART goals and to push your marketing efforts extremely hard over a specified timeframe.
- Kickstarter takes a commission of the funds raised. 5% + the payment gateway’s processing fee.
- If you are targeting your end customer, they may not actually want to wait for your product, where you might miss the opportunity to sell to them directly.
- Throughout your campaign, you are driving customer data to Kickstarter, rather than your own website. While you still gain in brand awareness over the course of your campaign, if you put the same time and money into pushing your site, you walk away with all of the mailing list subscribers and useful metrics like conversion rate, clickthrough rate, etc.
This will be highly variable depending on where you are located but in Ireland at least there are several government-backed initiatives to assist with start-up businesses including Enterprise Ireland (EI), the Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) and schemes like the Innovation Voucher and New Frontiers program. Your local enterprise office will be able to point you in the right direction and if you do want to pursue government grants further. The obvious pro here is that it is essentially free money, but you should know by now that there really is no such thing as a free lunch. So I am actually going to come at this more from the perspective of the cons alone because I am so far jaded at this point that it is very difficult to turn me.
Some of these agencies are a bit long in the tooth. We applied for funding at a time where we actually could have struck while the iron was hot and online advertising was much cheaper than it is right now. We made what is, in my opinion, a really strong research-backed case, supported by a long list of potential customers who wanted our product. The problem is that we were pitching to people who were clipping me over the ear for not listing Business Insurance on the financial projections section on my business plan.
To be candid my several experiences with applying to incubators, and government-backed bodies were nothing short of amateur hour, where you have people who are paid “experts” in the theory of entrepreneurship but have never been behind any business venture, let alone a successful one. Unless you are pitching an app or some other ridiculously slow burning technology idea, don’t even bother. It might be worth revisiting when you have already established sales, but don’t count on these supports to help get your start. You will waste a lot of valuable time and energy trying to convince the wrong people that you have the right idea. I remember back in 2014 pitching the idea for a restaurant aimed at young people which centered around healthy eating and gym culture. Essentially Roosters Piri Piri prior to its existence, which now has three very successful locations. I will not name the government-backed incubator I pitched to, but alas, I was informed that I should focus on sports nutrition, rather than gym culture and that no one will pay to eat healthy food in a restaurant.
Einstein’s definition of insanity is doing the same thing twice and expecting a different result, yet I did just that with Signature. We were met with claims of the enormous amount of money it takes to build a brand. Eh yeah, no shit sherlock but it is remarkably cheaper now with social media and it was even cheaper nearly two years ago when we were pitching. With these bodies, by the time they catch up with where the opportunity is, the market is already saturated. Don’t waste your time while getting started. By the time you are successful, they will want to back you to associate their brand with yours.
Thanks for taking the time to stick it out this long and hopefully this guide has provided some value to you. Whilst not our core business offering, we can certainly assist with consultancy services to help build your brand, so don’t hesitate to get in touch with us by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org. This in addition to our Kickstarter campaign is how we are providing value in exchange for your support in helping us get off the ground with our range.
To summarize, my key takeaways from this guide are as follows:
- Plan everything but the plan shouldn’t be so detailed that it hinders your execution.
- The Hubspot Inbound Marketing Certification is a must-have, regardless of whether or not you are a marketer.
- The ideal mix of team members is a combination of 1. Maths 2. Artistic 3. Multimedia and 4. Written Word.
- Depending on your budget you can outsource varying amounts of your clothing business including fashion design, sourcing suppliers, warehousing and fulfillment.
- All investment comes at a cost. Stick it out as long as you can without taking on investment or taking on debt.
- Do your homework on influencers before spending money.
- Don’t suffer from post vomit. Amass an arsenal of beautiful content and publish it when the time is right.
Thanks for reading, and we wish you all the best in launching your own men's fashion brand in 2020.