Building a Sustainable Fashion Business

This article was first published in the Stabroek News Business Section on July 7th 2017.

A young designer reached out to me this week to ask some advice on starting a clothing line here in Guyana. Based off of the questions they asked me, I understood that they were lost as to how to begin and were a bit overwhelmed by it all. I empathized with them because I’m seven months past the launch of my own collection and I still feel overwhelmed by it.

Because of this I thought it necessary to talk about a few things a new designer should look at and plan when they decide to launch their own business. It would be wise to note that these are not principles strictly for fashion companies, but can be and have been applied to any business.

According to an article on Business of Fashion about building a fashion business, you only spend about 10% on design. The other 90% is taken up with design & development, production & supply chain, marketing and PR and finally, sales and distribution. Even if you are a company of one, to build a sustainable fashion business you have to think about all of these things from the start.

Design & Development

From my own experience, the first thing I learned on this path is the value of data research and understanding who you are selling to and their mindset. Narrowing down your target demographic is a crucial part of planning your product offering. Your collection, the fabrics and designs you’re selling tell a story, your target market is the broad profile of whom you are telling that story to.

For example, the Brooke target market is a contemporary, professional women living in tropical regions, between the ages of 25-65, who are looking for well-made & versatile work-wear. The fact that we are designing for tropical regions impacts a lot, the designs need to be heat friendly and the fabrics chosen have to be cooling. Also our age range is quite large, but it is based off of the fact that the retirement age across the Caribbean is 65, and that these women still want to look fashionable at work.

Developing your idea, pre-launch includes talking about it. Guyana is fraught with idea theft, but letting people know that you’re working on something already makes it known that it’s your idea. So get it out there, create an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) and post it on Facebook and Instagram, or physically get out and speak to people who fall into your target market, this will be critical to any costly decision making down the line.


Image via  ConversionXL .

Image via ConversionXL.


Supply Chain & Production

 Your supply chain consists of all the sources of your raw materials; fabric, thread, buttons, lining—all the things required to make your product. Beyond this being a huge factor in your costs, supply chain management has also become the subject of many lawsuits for fast fashion companies because of questions of their ethics and sustainability.

In the same breath you need to consider production, will you be making every garment you’re selling? How long can you sustain that along with every other thing you’re in charge of as the business owner? You have to consider early on, whether you need to outsource and whom you need to outsource to. Remember making one dress is easy, having to scale that to 10 or even 100 dresses that takes skill. Reach out to garment manufacturers or seamstresses that you can pay to produce your garment at cost.

If you are just starting out with your business idea, whether you are the designer or the business person, consider getting a business partner whose strengths are your weaknesses. If that isn’t possible reach out to experienced people and seek mentorship.

We aren’t finished yet, the next article will continue on this tangent. There was so much content I had to split this in two for Stabroek News-- part two will be live on Saturday July 29th.