Despite what you may have heard, the death of the fashion retail industry has been greatly exaggerated. In fact, now is a great time to create a clothing brand. Globally, the retail market is actually growing ‒ 5% in the last year alone ‒ and it continues to thrive in the UK. According to a recent Mintel report, the UK’s menswear market is predicted to grow by 3.5% and womenswear by 4.1%.
However, growth is not even across the market. Fast fashion is in decline while premium fashion is on the rise. Customers are becoming more aware of the damaging effects fast, disposable, fashion has on the planet and are opting to spend their money on longer-lasting, premium brands instead.
Ultimately, customers want products that reflect their personalities and say something about who they are. Nowhere is this truer than the fashion industry. So, if brands get it right, they can capitalise on the growth in premium fashion, creating a strong brand that stands the test of time.
Having rapidly established our brand presence we have some experience. Here are our five top tips…
Find your market
The strongest brands find a gap in the market, a need that is unfulfilled. However, they also need mass appeal. Research your market to uncover trends and discover areas which are undersaturated ‒ that’s where you’ll find the sweet spot between underserved and appealing. This sweet spot maybe hidden or obscured so it can be useful to think on multiple levels at once ‒ an overlap of activities and experiences the market enjoy, for example, or of an iconic figure and a hobby.
Finding the right products for your market also requires some trial and error. We started with a wider range of products at much smaller volumes, testing what worked and cutting what didn’t. This ‘agile’ way of working ‒ failing fast and finding what works ‒ means you can rapidly tailor your products to real-world market desires, rather than basing your product range solely on research.
In the current political climate, it is also important to connect with your market’s values. After all, people want clothing that reflects their own personality. Start by defining your own values and creating a vision and mission for your brand. The aim is to take people with you on that journey, so you need to base all your branding and marketing decisions around those values. By taking the lead on your chosen values, customers will forgive areas where you are less than perfect, appreciating the areas where you place your focus.
For our brand, Edmund Hillary Collection, we defined our values around the personality of Sir Edmund himself: humility, endeavour, philanthropy. We refer to these three core values on an almost daily basis to help our decision-making process. We also ask the family, who are a key part of the brand, what Ed would do, which helps us stick to our values when it comes to difficult, real-world decisions.
Design products that last
The big trend across all of retail, and fashion in particular, is toward longer-lasting products. People are much more aware of sustainability issues and want to contribute to environmental protection through every purchase if possible.
People are also simply looking for quality in their purchases. They understand the false economy of buying cheap products that fall apart after a year. If you’re designing for outdoor and activewear, it’s even more important to be hardwearing and repairable.
My advice is to design for your market and their needs today, as well as into the future. Strong brands have longevity ‒ if your clothing is falling apart after just a few years, people won’t repurchase and your brand visibility (not to mention sales) will dry up. If you design your clothes to last, however, people will still be wearing them in 10 years’ time and you will grow a brand synonymous with quality and longevity.
People also want to invest in meaningful purchases that reflect their personality and say something about who they are ‒ a conversation starter. This personal connection also builds customer affinity with the brand, transforming them from a customer into an advocate.
Use quality, sustainable materials
Sustainability is also important when considering the materials you use to make your clothing. Good quality materials make clothing last longer. Sustainable materials help establish your brand as one that cares about your customers….and the planet.
There is also a big trend towards natural fibres. One of the main reasons for this is that people are discovering the damaging effects of synthetics. It was recently reported that polyester had been found in the Antarctic, for example, and traces of synthetic fibres were also found in our drinking water. Worried by these alarming reports, people realise the benefits of natural fibres which don’t break down to such a small size or cause anywhere near the harm of synthetics.
At the very top end of the market, you have higher quality, heritage materials. Using these materials in your clothing will establish your brand as a premium one that shows incredible attention to detail ‒ key points of differentiation when developing a strong brand.
Ethics are important to consumers
Not only is sustainability important, but the human factor is also very important. Does your company do good for the people involved?
Awareness of exploitative sweatshops has been growing for years and tragedies like the Bangladesh factory collapse highlight real ethical issues at the bottom of the supply chain.
There has also been a rise in social enterprises over the past decade. These businesses either have a social mission of their own or support a particular charity. In doing so, they highlight their values and demonstrate how they are taking real, practical, measurable steps to help that charity or cause.
For example, we try to follow Edmund Hillary’s example and values, and therefore support various charities in Nepal and New Zealand. TK Maxx collects clothes for Cancer Research UK, and Toms donates a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair sold. These acts show that the brand is socially-conscious and actively wants to improve the world around them.
Find your story
The strongest brands have a good story. Perhaps a link to something or someone iconic. For example, we benefit from our connection with Sir Edmund Hillary through his family. And since it is Sir Edmund’s 100th birthday this year, we also have an event to celebrate.
Big fashion brands spend millions to form these iconic links with sports personalities. If you already have a link to something iconic or can capitalise on something connected to your clothing, you will start with this story already integrated into the fabric of your brand, making it particularly strong from the outset.
Of course, not every brand has links to something iconic, but every brand has a story. Why did you create your brand? What did you set out to achieve? What values do you hold or mission did you set out to fulfil? Again, link it back to your values, then tell the story. This will help develop the personality of your brand and provide the conversation starter that modern shoppers are looking for.
Creating a brand can be an exciting and challenging process with lots of decisions to be made. The strongest brands take time to consider every aspect of their business and pay close attention to detail.
If you use these tips to form the basis of your exploration, define your values to help make key decisions, and focus on being a premium fashion brand with a conscience, you’ll be on the right path to success. Best of luck!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Clare Hall-Taylor is from Edmund Hillary Brands. The Edmund Hillary clothing range is seasonless and durable and made from natural materials – often heritage fabrics. A percentage of every sale is donated to causes close to Hillary’s heart – supporting Himalayan communities and also outdoor education in the UK and further afield.