The New Fashion Business Model

new fashion business model

I’m all about the New Fashion Business Model. Working with independent brands so closely has shown me what is possible when we take our ability to reach our goals solely into our own hands. Rather than waiting for permission to succeed, we break the rules that don’t make sense to us and we charge full steam ahead.

I’ve written about this topic in bits and pieces, talked about it on the Conscious Chatter podcast, and have built a business around it. I figure it’s time to lay it all out in a blog post; everything I believe to be true about the direction of the next generation of fashion designers as evidenced through my own experiences and lots of time spent with so many of you!

So what do I mean when I talk about the  New Fashion Business Model?

I’m talking about the decisions that designers are making about the kind of businesses they want to build. From the kind of products you create to how you sell those products, and so much in between, so many of you are creating your own rules and building businesses that are completely unique to your life goals and personal values. And it’s incredible to see!

Let’s break it down. Here are the trends I’m seeing in fashion businesses these days.

Sharing Personal Values As Brand Identity

This is so good. The most incredible part of being an entrepreneur is the control you have over your own future. But this is only true when you’ve built something that complements your life, rather than works against. When your work competes with your life every single day, then you have no control. But when you have created something that works with the kind of life you are leading, then it’s really good.

A big part of building a business that complements your lifestyle is building a business that is based on your personal values. Spending time thinking about what matters to you as a human being, what values you want to hold, what personal message you want to convey to the world, has become the foundation of so many emerging and independent brands.

Rather than feeling as though you have to adhere to the old school version of what a fashion brand is, you are building lifestyle brands that have purpose and meaning and are fulfilling not just for you, but for the people who purchase from you, write about you, and collaborate with you.

Selling Direct to Consumer

Every single day I see and hear independent and emerging brands say, “That’s it. I’m done.” when dealing with total crickets from buyers or zero new accounts during trade show season. It’s not that you are all refusing to sell to stores (though that’s a totally viable business strategy, as well) but you’re not relying on them to make sales.

The direct to consumer sales channel is growing fast, and it’s awesome to watch how so many of you are embracing that and finding creative ways to get your brand recognized and customers to your website!

Individual Versions of Success

This is a great one! Money, and lots of it, used to be the only way that people measured success. And for some, that’s still true. And that’s fine. We all want to make money and there’s nothing wrong with that. But what I’ve seen happening recently is that designers are taking a step back, reflecting on the things that make them happy in their life and in their work, and are redefining success for themselves. Part of it is financial, sure. But that’s no longer all that matters.

So many of you have clearly defined freedom and time to be indicators of your own personal success, and that’s a really refreshing thing to see.

Ignoring Seasons

Pre-Fall, Resort, Wintmmer, Sprutmn. The fashion industry has literally been making up seasons for years now. All in the name of more stuff. And one of the most refreshing things I’ve seen lately is the way designers are refusing to participate. A/W and S/S are enough to deal with on their own. But when you start adding all these extras in there, it becomes a nauseating practice in excessive-ness. And the most amusing part is that the average consumer has no idea what all this shit is.

Needless to say, I’ve loved watching the push back from so many brands who are fed up with it.  Whether ditching seasonal collections altogether or simply focusing on the two majors, the new fashion business model means you’re making your own production rules.

Redefining Collections

In line with ignoring seasons, is this idea of what a collection has to be. So many designers are done with 30, 50, 80 piece collections that are “fully merchandised” in order to give the buyer a rich, well rounded collection to display.

I’ve seen emerging brands launch a single, signature piece in order to test the market, and build capital. I’ve seen brands introduce one or two new styles every three months. I’ve seen brands create core collections of 5 to 8 pieces and then have fun with one, limited addition style launched every month.

It’s awesome! And it’s totally unique to you.

Finding Value in Niche Press

It used to be that if you weren’t getting the nod from good ol’ Anna or you weren’t mentioned in Elle, you really hadn’t “made it” in fashion. I love that so many of you have stopped putting so much stock into that idea.

I’m not saying that a Vogue write-up wouldn’t be incredible. What I’m saying is that a lot of you have stopped allowing that to dictate whether you’re on the road to success or not. You’re realizing the power in tapping into niche media, connecting with bloggers, being interviewed on podcasts, and working hard to tell your own story. And you’re seeing the positive impact it’s having on your business both financially and in terms of awareness.


No more New York. Just kidding, New York is still the major fashion hub. The difference is that designers are no longer introducing themselves by saying “My brand is called X and I’m working my way to New York.” The beauty of having individual versions of what success is, means that running your business from your studio in Denver is totally doable and makes you no less a member of the fashion industry.

Participating in NYFW and all the expense that goes with it, matters a lot less to designers these days. And so many of you are feeling totally comfortable with that mindset in way we didn’t used to see.

Taking the Reigns

The common theme in all these things is that emerging and independent brands are no longer waiting to get picked. So many of you are taking your success into your own hands. You’re realizing that this industry is shifting, that values matters, that rules are meant to be broken, and that you have the power to create and mold a business to the life you want.

That’s not to say that there is anything wrong with a more traditional fashion business model or that some of you aren’t still working on building that. The excitement, the newness is in your ability to make the decision about exactly what you want to build.

Nicole Giordano

Nicole is the founder of StartUp FASHION, an online resource and community supporting for independent designers around the world with building their businesses. A deep love for the craft of fashion paired with an adamant belief that success is defined by the individual, led her to found StartUp FASHION, where she helps independent designers and makers screw the traditional fashion business rules, create their own paths, and build businesses they truly love. More than anything else, she’s in the business of encouragement and works every day to remind makers and designers that they have something special to offer the world and that they can, in fact, do this thing!

  1. Morgan

    Hi Nicole

    Thanks so much for encouraging me with your words. You spoke deeply to me. I finally made a decision to live my dream and get into the fashion industry with a message/story that will impact the world and I needed all the motivation and mentoring I could get to make it happen. I’m making a list of manufacturers who are good with working with Startups and once I find the right one I’ll cast in my net.

    Thanks a lot and I hope to read more from you.

    • Nicole Giordano

      That’s so great to hear, Morgan! Congratulations on taking that leap– it’s not an easy thing to do, so you should be really proud of yourself. 🙂

  2. Christina DuVarney

    Thank you Thank you Thank you! As a brand we do not follow seasons, we do not have sales reps, we do not go to the industry trade shows. We have one person in mind at all times and that is our Direct Consumer. Reading your post made me feel validated!!

    • Casey Cline

      We definitely agree that the consumer is the most important aspect of running a business! Thank you for reading and we’re glad this one spoke to you. 🙂

  3. Oscar

    Thank you, Nicole! This was very refreshing and provided me with some peace of mind. I work with a start up out of Boston and so much of our model mirrors your insights. We have a passion for fashion and hope to inspire people to pursue their dreams in a and change the world for the better. Our challenge is connecting with manufacturers who can help us create our own patterns at a reasonably cost. I wold love to know if you have any advice for an independent brand with out a limitless budget. Thanks!

  4. Brittany Penland

    Thank you! Every point shared I was like yes, yes, and yes. I am a freelance stylist in Charlotte, NC I started out designing a line in undergrad and let the expertise of my colleagues intimidate me right out of my passion because I was the only person in my class who didn’t know how to design, and had never really used a sewing machine for that matter. My dream is to own a fashion company with my own label. But not just that. I have a urge to make an impact on the world. I want to share my voice, and influence women to practice self-love. 2012 I finished my degree and my strategy was to leap into the industry following the path as a stylist turned designer-test shoots, send to magazines and pray everyday for Anna to call me. But you’re right, during the process my heart’s desire never left and that is to own a fashion company. Fast forward here and now my mindset and values are different. I love the way fashion is shifting I feel I can be myself without conforming. My weakness is designing, I have developed ideas for a business model, plan, creative concept not sure what I am looking for to start (confidence maybe) haha but after reading this article I feel really confident. Thanks again,

    • Nicole Giordano

      You’re welcome, Brittany! I’m so glad that this post was so relatable. Keep moving forward, work hard, tap into your confidence, and be kind to yourself and you’ll get there. 🙂

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