Answer first few simple questions.
You are probably in a situation, where you either have a collection or you’ve created a brand OR have an idea for a brand, and it’s time to move forward – it’s time for you to find the customers.
Before we start looking for your customers, we need to step back and look at your products and overall brand and answer the following questions.
- What is your brand about? (mission)
- Who do you see wearing your products and why they wear them? (vision)
- Who do you WANT to wear your products? (target)
- Does your brand or your products reflect a lifestyle?
- Where your potential customers can buy your products?
By answering those questions, you get slight idea about who you should and want to target.
Unfortunately this is not enough. You need dig deeper and collect real numbers about how many potential customers are there, would they be interested in your products (demand) and what is the future of this group (Is it profitable? Is it growing? What happens if trends change?).
Best way to test the market is to concentrate as local as possible and continue from there. After you’ve established a good amount of loyal and interested customers, you can start to expand your business. Of course every fashion brand is different, but before taking your business across the borders, try to find your niche in your country. This is a suggestion. You should always dream big!
1. Start with market research.
You need to learn about the market, in order to get real numbers. Market research is highly recommended, as it helps you to understand your customers, competitors, industry you are in, and how to deliver the goods meeting your customer’s expectations. (Baines et al. 2013; Pyle 2010).
You can use primary or secondary research. There are some common mistakes when relying only on one or the other!
Primary research means interviewing or surveying potential clients or the target group. The common mistake made in primary research is when focusing on collecting data from people you already know. (Pyle 2010). Find people outside your friendszone and collect as many results as possible.
Secondary research means collecting and analysing data that has been already published (e.g. Mintel). This is relatively easy and fast way to get information about your target group. Remember, that there is also numerous amount of data online that is not very accurate or is outdated. Secondary research is effective when trying to understand your competitors and target group demographics (age, sex, income, education, etc.).
The main data that you need to collect through research, is the information about the size of the market and its current state, for instance, is it a growing market? What is the future of the market? (Posner 2015). This information will provide you insights about your customers, and the future of your business.
Market research is important, because not all consumers are the same, and by conducting the research, you can learn their motivations and shopping behaviour, such as: is shopping a social event or something they do online? By identifying customers with similar characteristics, needs or fashion traits, you will know your market size, their location and habits. (Posner 2015). Using this data, you can calculate approximately profitability and potential amount of production.
Dig in where you think your customers are, and create a survey with set of questions that help you understand who you are suppose to target and why.
2. Finding your niche.
Drawing a plan on who’s your customer is essential to any business. Depending on your designs and brand identity, you need to find out are there any customers to buy your clothing, and how to get them interested in your offerings, since we all know – fashion market is very cluttered.
With market segmentation, you can divide market into more smaller, more focused sectors, or so called niche. The fashion market can be segmented in several ways, for example by product type or market level (luxury, premium, budget…). (Posner 2015).
Define the size of the target group in an amount of people, as well as in currency (euro/dollar/etc.), and be realistic. Narrow down the target group to your niche (using statistics), for getting more accurate numbers. Get specific and add any details, such as age, income, hobbies, job status, where they spend their holidays, where they shop and how they use their money.
Analyse the lifestyle and trends of your target group, that will have the most impact on your designs. (Gehlhar 2005)
Social media is your friend. Find groups where your potential customers might be. Join to the groups, and see what they are talking about. How many members there are and what type of clothing they wear. Don’t be shy to post a question asking about their shopping habits, brands they are wearing and where/how they shop. Easiest way is to just post a link to a survey. Don’t make this mistake: Don’t start selling your clothes or promote your brand – as you might be kicked out by the admin. You might also get negative comments when promoting your brand where people just gather to chat about things they are interested in.
3. Be found.
Sometimes you don’t need to look for your customers, because all you need to be – is found. This means, that having a business website and social media presence is a must in our digitalised world.
Even if you’re not selling online, it’s proven, that people use internet to find and compare products and brands.
To get started with your online appearance, it’s important to understand how websites work, what information you need to have there, and which social media platforms would work best for you. In this post, I am not going to explain how to get traffic to your website, nor explain the benefits of SEO (search engine optimisation), analytics, user experience and so on, but let me tell you one thing: If you don’t have a clue how to attract people without paid advertisement, and you want to do everything yourself, you’ll need to do a lot of reading and tests. Consider outsourcing if you can.
To be found offline, you can give away flyers or put up posters where you think your customers might be. E.g. are you targeting party clothes for young adults? Maybe you should put up an appealing poster at university!
Attending events and giving away your business cards is still considered as an important factor in fashion industry. You need to be seen – in order to be found. Fashion related events happen all the time, and there’s no one stopping you for arranging one yourself. You can even partner up with other fashion designers, and have shared fashion show/event or open up a pop-up store.
In other words, you should look into fashion PR and create a plan how to get noticed, where and when. You need to establish a buzz within your target group, with something that catches their attention.
If you’ve done everything you can, and still you don’t get any customers, you should try to engage with them – you need to make the first move and start a conversation. You can even look into your segment influencers and see if they are available for a chat.
How does this happen? Start talking to them online and offline (e.g. expo, fashion show). Don’t sell your products, ask them what they think is happening with the fashion world. Ask what they like about fashion brands and dislike. What type of clothing they think is considered as good, and what brands they like the most. Don’t forget to ask, how often they find new fashion brands/startups.
Learn from the information, and see what you’ve missed. When you have conversation going on, and both of you are on the same page, you can ask them to review your website or if they would be interested in trying out some of your designs – because they are related to what you’ve talked before, not because you want them to buy your products.
Why you’re not selling? Because it’s all about engaging. People love to learn about brands. When they feel that they are part of the brand and you can offer something valuable – they become brand ambassadors. People talk – and word-of-mouth is the most valuable way to market and advertise a brand. Nowadays with electronic word-of-mouth, the information spreads fast and shared content can go viral. Nurture your potential customers. It takes some time, but it does pay out.
- Baines, Paul, Fill, Chris & Page, Kelly 2013. Essentials of marketing. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Gehlhar, Mary 2005. The Fashion Designer survival guide. Deadborn
- Pyle, Lesley 2010. How to Do Market Research–The Basics. Entrepreneur. [online] <https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/217345>
- Posner, Harriet 2015. Marketing Fashion, second edition. Strategy, Branding and Promotion. London: Laurance King Publishing