Fashioning Your Business

The world of fashion is an amazing place, full of ego, genius, strategy and emotion. Yeah, it’s a lot like the stock market…

Giving your business style and substance

It’s also a lot like your average business, and how you fashion that is often an indication of how well it will function. Because just as our fashion choices are a reflection of our individuality and personality, so our businesses can be a reflection of the culture and identity we bring to them.

1. What’s the story?

Just like fashion needs a back story to be successful, so a business needs something that customers can relate to. No designer sends their new creation down the catwalk without a theme or explanation that buyers can, well, buy into. And everyone has a story to tell, even you.

What is there about your business that sets it apart, that will make people sit up and take notice when you parade it in public? What inspired you to start up, and what made you believe that others would want to associate with your company?

2. Bespoke or Off the Rack?

When a fashion designer prepares for a new line, they are often designing for a market of one. It’s their creation, and so long as they believe in it, and love it, then it’s a success. The press and the public are secondary considerations in a world where one-offs are desirable.

In business the aim is more often skewed to selling to the masses. It’s tempting to want to be all things to all people, to think that everyone will want to purchase our products, but is that really suitable to what you do? What kind of marketing would it take to reach that broad audience? Or are you better off targeting a niche market, becoming that one place to go to for a specific group of customers?

3. Would You be Caught Dead in That?

There is hardly a fashion house around today that hasn’t committed some gross faux pas in their past. They survived these mishaps back then largely because of the time it would take for a groundswell of angry consumers to be organised.

Make a disparaging remark about someone’s appearance today though and half the world will be beating your door down demanding an apology.

fashion_black milk SM faux pas

The internet and social media have been instrumental in allowing businesses to grow beyond their traditional boundaries, but it’s a double-edged sword that can cut you to the bone.

If you want people to be proud to be associated with your business, make sure you’re easy to love. Be socially responsible, be sharing and above all be authentic. And when things do go pear-shaped be the first to respond, in a positive and responsible manner. You don’t want to end up being a case study on how NOT to do crisis management.

4. Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better

One of the cornerstones of fashion and business is competition. And if you can’t handle the heat, then get off the catwalk ‘cos the bigger and better you get, the more you cop.

By your very existence you are somebody’s competition; you have to keep coming up with new ideas, improved products and better ways to market them in order to stay on top.

If fighting for survival isn’t in your DNA, then someone will be dining on your DNA before too long.

Sorry we're closed sign

5. Many Hands Make Light Work

Behind every great designer is a team of hard-working people that all bring something special to the table. Pattern makers, seamstresses, PR people, photographers, organisers, PAs…without this entourage the design would never be seen by the wider world.

In business you need a solid team behind you too. They may not all show up when you open the door each morning, but they are an integral part of your business. They might be bookkeepers or accountants, mentors, suppliers, marketing people, couriers and most important of all, customers. Don’t discount the support of friends and family either; they’re the people who always have your back.

6. If You Can See It, You Can Build It (And They Will Come).

Good fashion designers can visualise their creations long before they put pencil to paper. It could be argued that the only reason they do put down their imaginings is so others can marvel at their genius. And do the grunt work of cutting, sewing, etc…

fashion designer drawing layout

Setting out on your own business path is the same – you must have the vision before you begin. If you can’t imagine how it will look and feel for you and to the customer, then you can’t possibly build it.

The fashion world is often seen as cut-throat, bitchy and out of touch with the real world, but business can be guilty of the same sins. The truth is your business will be based on your standards, your culture and your vision. And if that presents as something that customers can buy into, you’re pretty sure to be a cut above the rest.

Footnote: much of the thinking behind this post has come from discussions with Kevin Gammie of Imagine First and Growth Mentors. Look out for his new book coming out soon.

About Jeff Polley

I'm interested in life and making the most of it. I have a fondness for good coffee and scintillating conversation. I don't act my age. For more you can follow me on Twitter - @xmpieman
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