Guest post by Lexie Coon, Brand Marketing Assistant at Indie Source.
For fashion designers starting out, a signal to start the manufacturing your designs may come organically through a steady increase in demand that cannot be fulfilled by in-house production. However, for the vast majority of designers, this is not the case. The signal to start beginning manufacturing isn’t obvious, and beginning manufacturing is more of a gamble or investment that doesn’t have any clear returns, if any.
So how do you know when to follow your gut or the signs from your buyers?
Here are five key factors to consider when determining whether to take the leap into manufacturing.
Do you have set distribution channels?
The iconic line from the movie Field of Dreams, “If you build it they will come,” has never been as helpful in the explanation of a career path like that of the fashion designer. Although the beginnings of the design trade require hands-on learning and training, the phrase does not always hold true when it comes to business.
The most common mistake I have witnessed amongst new designers when it comes to the beginnings of manufacturing/mass production is this idea that if “there is product than there will always be a buyer.” If this were true, there wouldn’t be any past-season designer back stock sold in discount stores like T.J. Maxx all over the world.
The worst part is that most designers that decide to just produce one collection off the bat end up over-saturating their local community with their first run, and still end up having a surplus of pieces that need to be heavily discounted to sell. Unless you have set distribution channels that will guarantee big minimum purchases, starting production without set retailers or buyers is an incredibly risky. Running the risk of tying up assets in an unnecessarily large and untargeted first production is often too big of a cost for new designers, and can be completely avoided!
How well do you know your target market?
You’ve probably thought of your target consumer from time to time, envisioned their lifestyle and perhaps even the music they listen to, but do you really know them they way you should?
Have you analyzed them thoroughly with census data, geographic data, and psychographic data? Have you tried to simulate their buying style and how their regular shopping outing goes? Do they choose items that are made in the USA over pieces made offshore? If you don’t know their target age range, general location, aspirations, values, and buying habits by heart, you’re not ready for manufacturing just yet.
Due to the large political and financial debate over whether or not to buy USA only, where you manufacture your line is no longer a minor detail. If your line is eco-friendly or based on a one for one model, or based on ideals of social good, choosing not to offshore your production would definitely help your chances of it catching on with your target demographic. If you are trying to position your collection in America, making your collection in America is one way to not only to appeal to very politically sensitive shoppers, but also to build a supportive initial following of your brand.
Knowing how frequently your target customer shops and the price points they regularly buy will also help immensely in guestimating the number of target units and maximum cost per piece. Identifying these key data pieces will help you to estimate your collection’s return on investment or ROI. If your estimated ROI is too small, it’s better to keep tweaking your line until your estimated return is high enough to sustain your business and provide savings for the next batch of production. We all know that the trend forecasting cycle is nearly three years ahead, thus, there is no reason that your ROI shouldn’t be projected for at just a season ahead!
Do you have your own set of personal brand data?
To make the most of a production run, established brands go to brand data to ensure that their production maximizes their ROI by piece. Some large retailers even go into depth within their 401 K Statements to shareholders expressing pieces with the highest turnover that they will be sure to make more of and capitalize on through their next production. For example, within their 401 K Statement and following interviews, Express Clothing has previously cited basic knit tops as their high turnover pieces and intent to expand their knit top selection.
So what are your top sellers? Do you have data culminated from sales receipts, buyer invoices, or online store sales? These pieces of data are crucial especially for an emerging brand, because being able to establish your best sell-through piece will help you create more retail-friendly collections as needed to continue the growth and expansion of your business.
What are the goals of your first run?
What is the one business goal that you want to achieve with your first run? Do you want to brand yourself for your incredible every-season basics? Do you want to establish what pieces are your best repeat buys or sell-through the whole collection?
If you cannot define the most important goal of your first run, production should be held off. Being able to communicate your main goal with a manufacturer may even allow them to extend their services beyond just production, and give you invaluable help in achieving your goals.
Defining a goal for production is important because not only will it shape the way you decide your assortment (many pieces vs. limited editions, shallow vs. deep), going into production with a goal will help you stick to putting your efforts toward the most important things, rather than trying to do everything.
Once your line is produced, it’s hard not to want to use guerilla marketing and strategy tactics to show it off to the world, have viewing parties, get it photographed, get it filmed, and get it on line sheets all at once. If you hold yourself accountable for just the most important production goal it will keep you on track and less overwhelmed.
If the goals of production weren’t achieved, would the consequences shake your foundations?
The last major factor to consider before beginning production: If the worst possible outcome happened – say your largest unit vendor goes under or something happens to your completed product, would you able to stomach the blow as a business and financially? Can your budget support loss if something unfortunate occurs? Most large retailers factor in many different types of loss within their budgets, including entire Maersk shipping containers full of product. However, this isn’t even budget padding, but for a good reason. Sometimes Maersk containers packed with product for large retail chains really do just fall off of industrial ships heading to port.
Unless investors back your brand or collection, or you have endless supply of funds, think about the consequences in the event of mistake or production problems. Never underestimate or under calculate loss through the production process, and never start production if the worst-case scenario, well, is the absolute worst-case scenario for your business.