What it Takes to Launch a Successful Online Fashion Store: Tips From the Experts
People don’t come into fashion by accident, the industry is driven by passion. And while art and creativity are the foundation of a solid career in this field, a business-oriented mindset is what gets you further.
But that’s where the problem often lies: artists can be discouraged with the practical side of things. Running an online store is a logical step to get yourself out there and at the age of eCommerce blossom, it is a must.
But how do you make it successful? In a competitive environment, any store needs a secret ingredient to stand out. Your designs might be one of a kind but so are thousands of other designs made by talented people around the world. If finding your angle doesn’t come naturally, here are a few examples of how other fashion entrepreneurs are handling this.
Sustainability, Community, and Smart Approach
The fashion industry holds dishonorable third place among the most polluted industries. It is responsible for 8.1% of the global greenhouse gas emissions and begs for a new eco-friendly approach. If you’re struggling with finding your brand’s fingerprint, focus on sustainability. Not only will you do good for the planet, but raise your value in the eyes of your customers and use it as your “little extra”.
Stacey Fruitman is a founder of Style with Substance Ventures. She is also an advisor and angel investor with a focus on socially responsible fashion companies. Stacey has been involved in sustainability and corporate social responsibility for over 15 years, initially in the green building industry. With her early career and passion for the fashion industry, the good cause became Stacey’s new obsession. In 2015 she got back into fashion but with a new perspective.
Stacey recognized that the fashion industry was about 10 years behind the green building in terms of sustainability. In 2015 she founded Style with Substance, a venture capital company that invests in innovative companies that aim to reduce the environmental impact of the textile and apparel industry.
“Any new company going to the market should start by building its community based on long term sustainable relationships, not just with their consumers, but with their suppliers.”
After years of working in the industry, Stacey has a lot to share. She points out the importance of building a community based on long-term sustainable relationships with customers and suppliers. As an example, she mentioned Jane Mosbacher-Morris, the Founder and CEO of one of SWS’s protege companies TO THE MARKET. Jane didn’t let her suppliers down even though some clients had to cancel orders due to the pandemic. Being innovative enough to realize that they can use the products for something else, Jane was happy to pay for the order and maintained respectful relationships with the suppliers. And that goes a long way, especially when you’re doing your business remotely.
The lack of regular face-to-face human interactions should be replaced with even better online communication and mutual respect.
Another tip from Stacey to novice fashion brands trying to make it in the world of online retail is not to reinvent the wheel. We live at the age when almost any problem you can think of has a ready-to-use solution. Whether you’re struggling with inventory, delivery, or customer service (and that’s where Markeaze comes in handy) — chances are that there is a platform that can make your life easier and more efficient. Establish your pain points, do your research on the market, and invest in the best-fitting solution. One example is N.A. Bld, a digitized platform for small and medium-sized designers.
Success also comes to those who use the smart approach. You don’t have to source your textile abroad because it seems cheaper or everyone else is doing so.
It might be possible to create a more efficient inventory management system when working with local suppliers. This way you’ll be managing your cost load and controlling the process firsthand. And it’s sustainable too.
Stacey also advises new companies not to jump into producing as many styles and designs as possible for the sake of it. It makes more sense to come up with a few products that will resonate with your customers and brush up on quality instead. Start small and collect feedback from your customers — so everybody wins as you’ll know what products you should launch next. And gain your customers’ loyalty by fulfilling their needs and involving them in creating the final product.
Summarizing the above, Stacey believes that it’s about time we slow down the fast fashion and rethink the alarming rush mentality. It leads to falling off in quality, mismanagement of the inventory, and doesn’t make anyone happier.
Strategic Thinking and Feeling the Demand
Another important quality for the fashion industry newcomer, online or not, is the ability to adapt and feel the demand. Neel Elsherif is a New York-based fashion designer and the founder of two brands Nile Hudson and Guardex. She started her journey in the fascinating world of couture.
Neel likes to compare high-end fashion and mass production with theater and movie genres. With couture, like with theater, you have to be good at what you do as you cannot edit anything later.
But Neel decided to dig deeper and challenged herself into joining the mass production scene. Having taken the best from both sides of the fashion industry, Neel decided to start her own business and launched Nile Hudson, a private label for wholesale manufacturers. The company helps aspiring fashion brands with entering the market by connecting them with manufacturers and setting them up for success.
Neel points out that for every fashion brand it is important to bring the manufacturers on board as partners leaving the toxic relationships behind. The key to success, according to Neel, is to treat everyone involved in the process as one team. And share success together. If you’re motivated by greed, it will hardly get you anywhere.
But good things happen when you’re generous — people tend to trust you more and as a result, you gain more loyal customers and clients.
Neel’s second business was born as an answer to the COVID outbreak. She woke up one morning and realized she doesn’t have a mask. And that’s how Guardex started. Guardex sells specially-engineered face masks and personal protective gear made in the USA. Neel didn’t want to launch a website right from the start and made sure to secure the first responders first before they opened the product to direct to consumers.
Equipped with a deep knowledge of textile, Neel developed a special fabric and came up with a filter solution. At the moment, Guardex is the first FDA registered and lab-tested mask with surgical-grade replaceable ProteX filters.
For the first three months, they were not making any profit donating all the masks they produced. But people loved the product and Guardex quickly became a success. Neel believes it’s all about your commitment to succeed. Everyone on her fast-growing team was really serious about the product and did their best to contribute.
From innovative tech to beautiful packaging — you can see that they are taking pride in what they do. And that attracts customers. In Neel’s case, it attracted outstanding customers like the New York fire department who ended up buying the Guardex masks for the team.
Guardex is a great example of three ideas: to launch a successful business you need to be able to adapt to the market, come up with a distinctive feature that will capture people’s attention, and dedicate yourself to it.
Neel describes herself as a very hands-on CEO and enjoys interacting with customers. Once in a while, she sends an email to a customer introducing herself and wondering if they are satisfied with the service. As for the customer service, she prefers her team’s communication strategy to be as friendly as possible.
Neel bets on approachable thank you letters instead of pushy emails and aggressive sales techniques. She advises thinking about every action that you make from the consumer’s perspective. Are you just trying to make some money? Or do you actually want to bring value? Who are you as a brand? Think about your mission and your customer service strategy will fall into place.
Another tip from Neel to the etailer-wannabes is not to take launching your online brand lightly. Waking up an eCommerce millionaire one day, without putting too much effort into the whole deal, is hardly ever realistic. Nobody can guarantee you a return on the investment and if you’re scaling any brand online, you need to bear the upfront cost inventory which is an upfront investment. The best thing you can do is be strategic, plan your ins and outs in advance, and take the brand awareness game seriously.
The Bottom Line
So what makes a successful eCom business according to the experts? Fast fashion is dying out and more designers prefer a new sustainable approach. They choose quality over quantity, produce locally, and focus on people — partners, teammates, and consumers.
Relying on experience, and strategic planning as well as taking advantage of the supporting tech that’s already there is a smart approach that works. Add a lot of passion — the secret sauce that improves every affair — and you’re doomed to succeed.