This week I had the pleasure of attending Fashion Group International's Profit is Not a Dirty Word panel and networking event. The panel hosted a diverse selection of entrepreneurs who started in Canada and found success in their respective fields.
The night started off with casual networking at the Thompson hotel (a chic spot for any fashion networking event), moved to an hour and a half of panel discussions, and closed with a round of speed networking. Speakers included Jennifer Ger, Co-Owner of Foxy Originals Inc., Victor Casale, CIO of Cover FX, Katherine Hague, Co-Founder of Shoplocket, and Will Poho, Founder of Moose Knuckles. Of particular interest to me was chatting with Katherine Hague - a startup successor who had countless amounts of advice to share with eager attendees. Without reading a profile and just hearing her speak for the first time, my guess was that she was a well-experienced tech-startup founder who knew the ins and outs of building a personal brand. And that's exactly what she is, but she's gotten all of these achievements under her belt by age 23. Being of this age myself, I am amazed at her story and how quickly she's been able to learn her strengths, outsource activities which are not her area of expertise, and build a successful brand that continues to be a source of inspiration for many budding entrepreneurs alike. She is one of many that we can learn something from.
From my notes to yours, here are 5 things to know about being an entrepreneur in the fashion space...
5. Start small and increase in scale as you see growth
Many entrepreneurs will tell you that they went through lists of ideas for their first business before they settled down with one that ended up going places. It's important to do your market research so you're not draining your funds on a plan that won't take you in the direction you'd like to head. Once you've got a solid plan, build your business to a point where if an opportunity presents itself, you're ready and able to take it. Increasing in scale can be an intimidating process, but this article in the Globe and Mail really articulates some expensive mistakes that others have already made that you don't have to repeat.
4. Network, network, network
Attend as many events, trade-shows and networking nights as you can. It's the only way you're going to connect with your consumer or connect with potential partners. Meeting people is a great way to start a dialogue that you can continue later on and possibly convert into a loyal supporter.
3. Find your competitive advantage
In a saturated market where it seems like everything has been done already in some form or another, find out how your product or service stands above the rest. It can be something as simple as being produced locally, cruelty-free, or with a specific customer in mind. Whatever it is, make sure it's the focal point of your value proposition.
2. Find the right partners or brand ambassadors
All it takes is a partner that doesn't have the same goals for the business as you do for everything to fall apart. It speaks volumes that Sarah Jessica Parker waited years before she decided to produce her own shoe line with the CEO of Manalo Blahnik, all because she was waiting for the right partner. If you want to weed out the loyal from the temporary, try putting your full-time prospects on contract. You'll see who's truly passionate about and dedicated to delivering. If they don't work out - it's okay, better you know sooner rather than later.
1. Develop Your Personal Brand
If your product is the exact same as someone else's (although I hope there's a competitive advantage in there somewhere), there is still a way for you to differentiate your offerings - your brand. Whether you're attributing yourself to being fun, sophisticated or practical, you're going to find a market that relates. Here's a great exercise: make a list of 20 words that you think describe your brand. Narrow it down to 10. Now narrow it down to 3. These should have their own place in your brand mantra. What do you want your brand to stand for? How can you leverage all of your channels (website, blog, social media, ads, etc.) to showcase that? These are the kind of questions you want to ask so you can ensure what you're projecting is exactly what you want it to be. You've specified what you want to be. Now dress the part.