Launching a fashion brand at any time in history has always required the right mix of talent, skill, contacts, grit and perseverance. Today, that list is just the beginning. In many ways, it is now essential for designers to know about technology, data, social media, new ways to distribute and new customer values that can make or break a brand.
It would be impossible to think about launching a brand without acknowledging the powerful global impact of the pandemic. The number of lives lost has been horrifying and continues, affecting people emotionally and economically. While the issues related to the pandemic are deep and complex, new fashion brands are realizing challenges that have arisen which could never have been anticipated and are being addressed for both short- and long-term periods.
Understanding New Challenges
Ships are stuck in ports or unable to be unloaded; factories are closed and cannot manufacture; if there is manufacturing, it’s at a slower pace; entire cities are on lockdown — the list continues. Delivery dates are no longer expected, only anticipated with flexibility in mind. Fashion brands have also come to expect the unexpected, which can mean a different size of fabric bolt that was ordered from the one that arrived. The message here is that changes to the way international business is being done will have long-term effects, and the industry is doing its best to be prepared. For new brands seeking to launch, there has to be a thorough review of where products are being sourced, manufactured and distributed. As with so many other challenges, often, there are opportunities. In this case, it can mean more domestic production, the use of alternative fabrications and taking a highly-targeted approach to reaching customers.
Deciding on Distribution
Traditionally, new brands would launch at a trade show. While there are varying levels of success depending on location and marketing, trade shows around the world offered the chance to meet with a long list of buyers, discover new suppliers, network with members of the industry and develop new ideas from the experience. New brands now have to be creative in how they plan to launch. Will there be more of a direct-to-consumer focus through social media? Are virtual shows a viable option? What is the new role of a sales rep or showroom? These are the questions that new fashion brands are asking.
The Importance of Storytelling
Having been in the industry for some time, storytelling has been one of the most exciting developments in recent years. For well-established brands with large budgets, we see this done with excitement, energy and anticipation. Fashion shows take on an air of Hollywood films, and models and actors are crossing over into each other’s domains. New brands are taking note and are creating content on various digital platforms that drive brand awareness and loyal followings. Fashion shows are happening in a few cities, and we see more themes, brand narratives and a return to creativity. In many ways, new brands must begin with a story and understand how the experience and vision can be shared with audiences.
Most importantly, storytelling is letting the consumer understand what their brand is about, why it is different and how it will make them feel. It gives a level of credibility because the information is coming from the primary source — the originator of the vision.
The next generation of shoppers is looking for brands that embrace environmentally-friendly practices with recycled and renewable fabrics. Shoppers are being more mindful of their purchases, and they are doing research before making a purchase. Consumer consciousness about the environmental toll of the fashion industry has taken on new meaning and momentum, driving change from not only new brands but well-established ones, too. Brands are using upcycled products to create new and exciting collections that bring creativity and credibility. This area is also good for business; technologies are helping in this area too. For example, 3D virtual sampling shortens delivery times, lowers costs (due to fewer samples) and offers a more Earth-friendly way of designing because there is less waste overall.
Everyone craves a sense of belonging, and at no time has that need been greater. Now, people are more vocal, and, to a certain extent, it is being demanded. Inclusivity ensures long-term change because we hear more voices and incorporate those needs into designs, branding and sales channels. The fashion industry, while often exclusive, does embraces those that break norms and have something to say. We can see that more fashion shows include higher percentages of models from diverse backgrounds and skin colors. More Black fashion businesses are getting the spotlight and are being supported. Where this will all land remains to be seen, but we do know that it’s very much a part of the conversation and will continue to be so for a while.
Out of challenge comes opportunity, and the global pandemic is certainly one challenge with many hurdles along the way. Launching a new fashion brand has never come at a more exciting time; it will just require a new set of rules and understanding.
Amy Berkowitz is a retail visionary, entrepreneur and founder of Ready-2-Launch. She is known for her ability to navigate new fashion brands through the obstacles and intricacies of the complex world of fashion. Find out more at ready-2-launch.com.