In an earlier, simpler and more parochial world, all you needed to succeed in fashion was creative flair, a great fashion idea that tapped the appetites of the moment, and the means to make your product and get it to market. Perhaps that’s rather a lot. But in today’s increasingly globalized fashion market, with new digital technologies revolutionizing design and manufacture, that little list falls into the “necessary but insufficient” category.
A flair for design may be crucial, but today’s designers can’t afford to be Byronesque creators of artworks alone, focusing their energies solely on their latest muses. If you want to succeed, if you want to turn your creations into a profitable enterprise that allows you to go on creating, you need to understand how business works, how to can finance the manufacture and the logistics of getting your products to today’s vast, multi-billion-dollar global market, and how to secure investment to grow your business. Increasingly, in other words, you need to be an artist-entrepreneur.The importance of sound knowledge of business cannot be over-emphasized. New designer businesses still show high rates of failure, not because the product was at fault but because basic business acumen was missing. Fashion entrepreneurs, traditionally, have learned about business the hard way, through the hard knocks of unforgiving experience. The time has come for fashion entrepreneurs to be educated, not only in the intricacies of design, but also in business.
Thankfully, more fashion design courses are taking these dual necessities into account in the training they offer. These courses not only nurture and enhance students’ creative abilities, they teach crucial practical skills, such as production techniques and material properties. While some student fashion designers choose to work for an established fashion house upon graduation, increasing numbers are opting to become independent designers – and they’re being assisted through the inclusion of business and marketing modules during their training.
Yes, students need to immerse themselves in the different categories of fashion, from haute couture (expensive, made-to-measure, bespoke items made for individuals) to pret-a-porter (ready-to-wear, off-the-rack items that mirror the styles of the haute couture market, but at cheaper prices) to mass market, ready-to-wear items based on current trends in the big fashion brands. Increasingly, you’ll need to know how to go about successfully selling the pieces you create.
Knowing how to finance a fledgling business and attract investment are no longer optional extras for fashion designers: they’re fast becoming core skills. There are many successful, wealthy benefactors willing to assist a promising new fashion design business toward profitability. An exemplary figure is Lord Irvine Laidlaw, a Scottish baron, former member of the British House of Lords and a highly successful entrepreneur, who recently made a $2 million Columbia Business School donation. The gift will supplement needs-based scholarships and allow the school’s students to travel and learn abroad.
Investors are there to be persuaded. But if you’re one of today’s fashion designers, you must be armed with a sound knowledge of business principles if you wish to see your dreams and creations come to fruition.