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The road to starting a fashion brand

As someone who has no formal training in fashion, I often have people ask me how did you start a fashion label? Well the journey has been long and interesting, and there have been a lot of mistakes along the way, but for those who have tinkered with the idea of starting your own brand, here is how it happened!

I am a trained Graphic Designer, I have been working in Design Studios and Advertising Agencies since is was 21. At 32 I started my own Graphic Design bizzo which I loved, but after having 2 kids in 2 years, at the age of 40, I really needed to do something different. Like a gazillion new Mums I became obsessed with kids clothing, the good and the bad, availability, organic options, price - and I started to see the emergence of some great Australian brands, including Sapling Child and Wilson & Frenchy - and in the great tradition of people thinking something extremely hard and complicated looked easy I thought, "I could do that!"

So I literally googled Organic Manufacturers in India and found my first supplier. It quickly became apparent that I needed much more knowledge than what I had when they asked me for my 'tech packs'. I created some rudimentary measurements on a few onesies and off my first production went! Over the next few years I hired a wonderful student from RMIT in Melbourne, who proceeded to teach me via a steep learning curve about fabrics, GSMs, stitching, technical drawings, pattern making and of course how to create a tech pack. You see your tech pack is your main communication between your creation and how the factory will interpret it. And when working with an oversees manufacturer, communication is key! After my first few production runs, I realised that I had to travel to India at least a few times a year to oversee the processes, and spend 3 solid 18 hour days going over every stitch and snap of each garment. From a Mum who started with 4 onesie designs, my business was now churning out 40 styles per season, and went from 0 to 60 stockists world-wide in about a 2 year period.

My garage literally became my own personal pick and pack. Boxes on top of boxes, with couriers coming every day and retail orders binging through Shopify day and night.

Where I had a slight advantage was in the Design Department. Due to my professional skills I was able to create a brand, a website, marketing material, catalogues, look-books and garment prints myself. At this stage I was still running the entire business from home. I was the Designer, the Accountant, the Marketing Strategist, the Social Media Manager the Warehouse Manager and more. It is a work load not for the faint-hearted.

By around the 3rd year the business was in a position to pay me a decent wage. This is standard in new businesses. If you think its a quick way to make money - think again. Around this time the business became too big for me to manage, I made the decision to sell part of the business, and within a year I had sold all of the business. It was a wild ride, full of mistakes, but no regrets!

A few years on, I am starting again with Milk Addict. I hoping that I can avoid some of the pit falls from my first foray into a fashion brand... watch this space!



My top ten pieces of advice

  • Think carefully about the name of your business. This can make or break your business. Think about how you want to be perceived.
  • Check ASIC records and Domain records before settling on a name. If your name has already been taken, go back to the drawing board.
  • Get trademarks in nice and early before your name gets out there.
  • Don't undersell your products, your overheads add up quick and margins. disappear very quickly!
  • Love what you do, otherwise it wont work.
  • Expect many hurdles. Success doesn't come easy.
  • Be very careful who you get into business bed with. There are a lot of snakes out there. Do your research, seek references. Dot your i's and cross your t's.
  • Try and find a Mentor, someone that can help you navigate the path
  • Find yourself a good Commercial Lawyer - you never know when you will need them.
  • Know your market!!

If you have started your own fashion business, I would love to hear about your experience! - Kelli

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