How to Build a Sustainable Fashion Business

How to Build a Sustainable Fashion Business

What’s the difference between a fashion business that survives and thrives and one that’s a complete bust?

It’s the secret sauce. The formula behind a sustainable fashion business.

Today’s guest, Vicki Wallace of The Fashion Business Coach, doesn’t mind sharing the mystery.

After successfully running her own fashion brand, she knows what it takes to win.

Stick around to learn about:

•The secret sustainability strategy

•Narrowing down your niche to target the right market

• Establishing streams of passive income

• The was is it way to launch a branded apparel and merch line

Work with Vicki:

Instagram:@thefashionbusinesscoach

Pinterest: @thefashionbusinesscoach

Website: https://thefashionbusinesscoach.com

 

Danielle Towner | Entrepreneur + Digital Creative | Marketing signature in pink

Danielle Towner (31s): “Clothes mean nothing until someone lives in them.” That’s a quote from designer, Marc Jacobs, and it really resonated with me about the things that you’ll take away from this episode. 

Today, we’re talking to a female fashion expert, Vicki Wallis of The Fashion Business Coach. She’ll be walking you through how to be a successful fashion entrepreneur, how to get your clothing lines off the ground, how to get your fashion business off the ground, get those clothes off the rack, paint a picture that makes people imagine themselves in your merchandise and want to buy. 

How to build those relationships and take them from cold to smoking hot, and how to do that with a plan and do that over time. Keep on listening for this special interview, all about being a fashion entrepreneur. Welcome back for another episode of Dreamers Den Podcast.

Danielle Towner (1m 44s): I am your host, Danielle Towner. If you haven’t met me before, I am the owner of Dream Work Creatives. I help entrepreneurs through creative marketing, and helping them get an online web presence, and build their brand awareness. 

Now, today we have a special guest with us, and we got so much attention on our last podcast that was about starting your own fashion boutique. We have something that goes even further today. We have Vicki Wallis, who is the founder of The Fashion Business Coach. Now, The Fashion Business Coach is a platform that’s designed to help small and startup fashion brands launch and scale successfully. 

The brand provides people who are new to fashion with actionable tips, strategy, and an understanding of the fashion business. Vicki also offers consulting and courses, which helps members go from an initial idea, through the design process, and into production. If you’ve ever wanted to own your fashion business, launch your own line, then you’re going to get a lot of information today on how to do that, and how Vicki can help you with that.

Danielle Towner (2m 26s): Thank you for joining us, Vicki.

Vicki (2m 30s): Thanks so much, for having me. I’ve been really excited to talk to you.

Danielle Towner (2m 34s): Awesome. I’m excited to hear about this because when I retire, my second business I want to do something with fashion.

Vicki (2m 46s): Okay. Amazing.

Danielle Towner (2m 57s): Okay. Now, let’s kick it off by talking about your company, The Fashion Business Coach. Now, how did you decide to add coaching to your profession as a fashion designer and a studio owner?

Vicki (3m 1s): Honestly, it was totally by accident really. I never intended to go into coaching. I never imagined I’d have an online course or anything, but I’ve realized there was actually a really deep need for this in the fashion industry because it’s a weird industry. It can be so secretive and people don’t like to give away their secrets, so to speak. 

There was a lot of people that I came across that were new to the industry and wanted to learn, but there just wasn’t a platform out there where they could get real actionable advice. It was either very fluffy and not really to the point, and not really things that you could follow easily, or people just weren’t willing to tell you anything. 

It just came about naturally, from people inquiring with me as a designer, and then wanting to know the next steps, how they can actually get products produced and sold.

Danielle Towner (3m 52s): You’re right. There is such a mystery surrounding these and you as a fashion business coach, that’s something that I haven’t really seen around. It’s great that you were able to take those questions, identify a need and a problem that needs to be solved, and create an opportunity not only for yourself, but for many others.

Vicki (4m 14s): Yeah. Absolutely. It’s just so strange that even if you have a fashion degree, which is what I studied, you’re just not at all prepared for the real world. There’s really exciting illustrations, and try and be as creative as you can, and imagine yourself on Project Runway or something like that, but when it actually comes down to running a business, it’s just so different. 

There just wasn’t the education out there for that. As a secondary part to this, there were coaches out there who help big brands and did have the facility to be able to help with this kind of information, but they cost thousands of dollars. They’re just not going to be accessible to small brands who were really enthusiastic and really willing to put in the work, but just didn’t have that kind of cash to spend initially.

Danielle Towner (5m 2s): Right. This is a more affordable option, and like you said, more accessible. That’s awesome.

Vicki (5m 12s): Definitely. One thing that I’m especially passionate is sustainability, which is something that gets talked about a little bit more now. Especially when I launched this business, people just weren’t really aware of how damaging the industry can be. I make sure that I have lots of free resources on the site for that so that it really raises that awareness as well.

Danielle Towner (5m 34s): Awesome. Now, speaking of resources, and you said you give a lot of information on your website, what is one thing that most people don’t know before launching a product or service-based small business?

Vicki (6m 24s): Okay. Good question. I think the things people don’t know are very different depending on which of those businesses they are. First off, if they’re launching products, particularly in my space with fashion products, people seem to think it’s a whole lot easier than what it is. 

They don’t realize how much information they actually need to provide. I don’t know if this is because fashion is familiar, like everyone wears clothes. A lot of people maybe have a grandma or an aunt or something that has a sawing machine, so they have some familiarity with it. So they think that it’s not that hard. 

They think they know all the steps, but what people don’t tend to realize is that the factory often isn’t going to be working with you to manufacture product. You have to give them very, very specific instructions about what to make, down to the stitching you use, and all these tiny little details. That’s where a lot of people initially struggle, because they don’t have that technical knowledge.

Danielle Towner (6m 49s): Right.

Vicki (6m 50s): Then the service-based businesses, I see this misconception that, if you’re online everybody can find you. You’ve got the whole world at your feet. Then they forget to niche down and try and target somebody specifically, which is really important. 

Sure, anybody could land on your website, but how are people going to find you? That’s a real piece of the puzzle that a lot of people don’t seem to think about at the start.

Danielle Towner (7m 17s): Yeah. That’s one misconception that I have to get people to understand in my business also. Like you say, they think it’s a whole world out there. I’m not going to have a problem getting traffic to me and getting found. When you ask, “Who do you want to target?” They’re like, “I want to target everybody, anybody who has money to spend.” It’s like, “No. That’s not how it works. 

People like to feel important. You need to niche down to be able to concentrate on a certain group of people, and build your tribe off of that instead of, trying to target any and everybody, because when you do that, you’re targeting no one.”

Vicki (8m 2s): Exactly. It’s so true that saying, isn’t it? And people buy from people. They have to like you, especially if it’s a service-based business where they’re going to be in consulting sessions with you, or maybe even working with you in person at some stage, there’s got to be a good working chemistry and working relationship there because it’s just not going to work otherwise. 

Not everyone is going to like you, unfortunately, but for everyone that doesn’t, there’s going to be a lot of people that do. It’s just a case of finding those people.

Danielle Towner (8m 31s): Exactly. Now, I’m not sure if that’s a problem in the fashion industry, but I have noticed that there are a lot of people, especially womanpreneurs, they have dreams of, launching this business in the fashion industry. 

Whether it’s as a designer, an affiliate or an influencer, an ambassador for another business or owning a boutique online or in a brick-and-mortar boutique, but many of those start it and they ended up closing within the first five years, in little time, even in a year I’ve seen. Those that survive and thrive, what do they do differently to sustain their businesses?

Danielle Towner (9m 13s): I know you said sustainability is a big thing for you.

Vicki (9m 19s): For me, that is something that I’m passionate about. In terms of making a business sustainable, you do need to pivot quite a lot with the fashion industry, whereas maybe you don’t need to do that so much with other businesses. It’s so fast moving, and a brand that’s loved one day can easily be forgotten about the next day. 

Maybe it’s a bit different there than other areas. You need to continue to market and stay relevant. You can’t just keep doing the same thing week after week, month after month because people get tired of it. Fashion is not something that people need to buy. In most cases, it’s usually creating that desire that people need to want your products.

Vicki (10m 3s): Most people aren’t going to think, “Oh. I must buy a new dress today.” It’s unlikely that that’s going to happen as something that’s a priority. You’ve got to make sure that you’re refreshing your offering regularly and staying up to date with consumer trends and fashion trends as well, particularly, with the brick and mortar side and also online businesses as they grow a lot bigger. 

If they’ve grown quite quickly, a lot run into cash flow problems because there can be quite a lot of highs and lows with the purchase of clothing. So some months are going to be considerably better than others. If you’re not really good at managing finances and keeping on top of the money, that can also become a problem.

Vicki (10m 45s): One month you might think, “Yes. I’ve got so much cash in the bank. I’m going to do this, this and this.” Then in your low moments, you’ve just not reserved enough back, and you see quite a few businesses go under, unfortunately, because of cash flow problems.

Danielle Towner (10m 58s): Yes. That’s one of the top reasons why some of the businesses failed that I’ve seen too, is the cash flow problems. Like you said, it has to be a balance between keeping up with the times, what’s going on and what’s fashionable, even what’s trending with current events that’s going on that you see that show up in fashion.

Vicki (-): Yes. Absolutely.

Danielle Towner (11m 22s): It’s a balance between keeping up with that, and also just keeping up with what’s going on seasonal. I know in some of the businesses that I’ve worked with, if there are things going on, like people are going back to school, people aren’t going to spend money on just branded things. They’re going to be spending money on school uniforms and on school supplies. That may be a slow month, but that’s something that you can predict and, like you said, plan for.

Vicki (11m 55s): Definitely. It’s especially sad, and I do see this a lot that, it’s not that the business was unpopular. It did actually make a lot of sales and made a lot of money, but they just didn’t plan it so that they understood when they were going to have tough months and save enough money for it. 

Obviously, it’s one thing if you make no sales at all, that’s a whole different kind of problem. It’s really sad to see businesses that are doing really, really, well, but just didn’t manage it enough to survive.

Danielle Towner (12m 21s): All right. I want to share a little secret with you guys. When I was first getting started with Dreamer’s Den Podcast, I had to research to answer a lot of questions. Like, how do I record an episode? How do I get my show into all the apps that people like to listen to? Of course, how do I make money from my podcast? The answer to every one of these questions is simple.

Danielle Towner (13m 3s): Anchor. Anchor is a one stop shop for recording, hosting, and distributing your podcast. The best thing of all is that it’s 100% free and ridiculously easy to use, and now Anchor can match you with great sponsors who want to advertise on your podcast. That means you can get paid to podcasts right away. 

One thing that I also liked about it is that it reduced the workload so that you didn’t have to do a lot of the load work, and I could focus on getting guests and started interviewing and recording immediately. If you’ve always wanted to start a podcast, make money doing it, go to anchor.fm/start to join me and a diverse community of podcasters already using Anchor. That’s anchor.fm/start. I can’t wait to hear your podcast. 

All right. A little side note: if you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you probably saw a story from me recently where I shared a photo of me completing my application for my absentee ballot. I’m staying home as much as possible and keeping and mine safe, but I do understand that my vote and my voice matters, especially at critical times like these. 

Now, if you share some of the same concerns that I do, just know that voting isn’t just going to the polls on the election day anymore. Options like early voting, mail-in voting, and ballot drop boxes are available to more voters and are growing in popularity. How to Vote, a tool created by Democracy Works, breaks down the options your state offers for casting a ballot, empowering you to decide when and where to vote. 

With the How to Vote voter tool, you can sign up for election reminders, see what’s on your ballot, get step-by-step assistance requesting your mail ballot, explore your options for returning your vote at mail ballot, check your voter registration status, find your polling site, and make sure you have the appropriate ID. Decide when and where you vote this year at howto.vote. 

Danielle Towner (13m 43s): We talked a little bit earlier about people that are just trying to target any and everyone, and that also being a problem with their sustainability. It seems like, from what I’ve seen, that you’ve been very strategic in defining your niche and that’s worked out very well for you. That’s one of the factors that contributes to sustainability. Why is it important to define your niche, and how does someone who’s new in the game do this?

Vicki (14m 46s): It is so, so important. When I think back to when I first started my business, it’s literally laughable. It really is because I hadn’t done that at the start, I didn’t think it was important. I was one of those people that thought, “Oh, yeah. The Internet is a big place. I’ll just try and get everybody on board.” I had a ton of different stuff going on, you should’ve seen it. 

There was so much stuff going on in this website. I was selling bags, I was selling digital greeting cards, I was still in design services, it was all over the show. It’s really important to have that niche so that you don’t become me basically.

 I was in a situation where if I could get some traffic to the website, which was happening, that wasn’t going to bad, but people would arrive on the site and then just leave because maybe they’d come to the site because I was talking about one of my bags, but then when they land on the site it’s talking about something totally different. 

You have to keep it consistent across your social channels and what you’re offering. Otherwise, people are just going to arrive and then leave. There’s nothing to keep them engaged there. You really need to show people that you know them, and you have something important to offer, and it’s going to be able to help them.

Vicki (15m 27s): What I then did when I realized this was all a terrible idea to try and target everyone, I had to real think about specifically what my experience was, what I enjoyed doing, and what I had the most requests for and use those three things as an idea as to what my niche would be. If you’ve not had a business before you can still do that exact same steps. 

You want to think about what you really enjoy doing, what your strengths are, and what there’s a demand for in the market. Just have this initial idea which you can then refine down, and actually, I continue refining constantly. It’s not something that I think, “Okay. This is my niche. This is going to be it now for the next 40 years or however long it is I have to work.”

Vicki (16m 7s): I do update it regularly. Even just today, for instance, just very casually on Instagram Stories, I just gave them a couple of updates as to what was going on and asked people which other few options they prefer.

 I always use that customer feedback and audience feedback to really gauge what I should be doing and continue to define, and also refine that niche. If you are very new, you don’t have anything in this space, you’ve not started your business, what you can do is have a look at people who are doing something similar to you. Look at the kinds of people that they’re serving and see what similarities or what patterns are there.

Vicki (16m 48s): It might be that you specifically want to target female entrepreneurs, so join groups with female entrepreneurs, and start networking and getting the ideas about what questions people are asking, what they’re struggling with, and how you can serve them best.

Danielle Towner (17m 6s): Absolutely. That’s excellent advice. People don’t really think about it, but it’s common sense. Ask the people who are engaging with you and supporting you, they’ll tell you everything you need to know. Sometimes even just looking at the comments and seeing the questions that they have and what they want, you see how to give them what they want. 

Like you said, you have to be happy with it too. I’ve been through that same bright light moment that you’re talking about when I sat down with my business consultant, and he’s like, “This is too much. How are you going to do this starting off on your own, first of all?” He’s like, “You’re not going to have enough time in the day to do all of this.”

Danielle Towner (17m 48s): Like you said, you need to focus on what your capacity is, and what you enjoy doing because, at the end of the day, it starts off with a passion and a dream that you have. You don’t want to make it just specifically about making money and not making yourself happy too.

Vicki (18m 9s): Exactly. Most people have got to work for a long time, and you want something that you’re excited to get up in the morning for. You don’t want to be thinking, “Oh. God. It’s Monday. I’ve got to go to work now. It’s really important to have that passion, and it just makes work so much easier when it doesn’t feel like work.

Vicki (18m 50s): Also, I would add to that in terms of your workflow and how you plan your day out and things. If you have very specific things that you offer, I think it really helps with growing as a business owner and growing in terms of the service you can provide because you’re very focused on the kinds of things you help with. You’re always in that space. 

Whereas for me at the start, when I had all these things going on, I’d be in the bag making zone and I’d be thinking about that. Then I’d have the digital products and I’d be thinking about that. They were all so separate that I had to be in all these different headspaces so to actually make progress was very slow, but if you’re super specific in what you’re doing, you’re always living in that zone. You can take a lot more in, watch more videos, and learn more without having to spread yourself too thin.

Danielle Towner (19m 33s): Right. When I went through my transition and trying to niche down, I realized that I wanted to switch more to digital products, courses and strings of passive income.

Vicki (19m 33s): Yeah.

Danielle Towner (19m 33s): Now, with you, how hard is it to establish a stream of passive income, and what are some ways, from your perspective, that entrepreneurs can add passive income to their business model?

Vicki (19m 47s): I really love the passive income because it really takes you out of that trading time for money, where you reach the ceiling of there’s only so many hours in the day. It’s really important for businesses, especially, if you’re a coach or a consultant or a service-based business in general really, it’s definitely something I’d recommend. 

I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily super difficult. Anybody can really follow the steps to make a digital product, and make it successful, particularly these days when there’s so many tools online that can help you to build a course if that’s what you want to do, or just free softwares that you can use to create eBooks and so on. It’s not necessarily hard to get to a point where you’re ready to sell.

Vicki (20m 30s): It’s the marketing that’s the difficult part. Anybody can quite comfortably get to a point where they have a digital product. The marketing side of things, again, doesn’t necessarily need to be too difficult, but I would say, and you’re maybe a better place than me to answer in terms of the marketing side, 

I do think there has to be a series of events that happen to transition someone, particularly if they’re a cold lead, who’s never heard of you before transitioning to that purchase. Most people that land on your page for the first time, they’re not going to be in the mindset to buy it. They don’t know you well enough. They don’t trust you. Especially if it’s a higher ticket item going into hundreds or thousands of dollars, they’re going to need buttering up, so to speak.

Vicki (21m 15s): I don’t know if that’s an American phrase, but we want to sweeten the deal, right? They’re not just going to have never heard from you before and then spend $1,000 on a course, it’s just not going to happen. We need to make sure that we are capturing anybody that comes to our site, ideally, through the email list, and then nurture that relationship. 

A lot of coaches in particular that I see initially, they’re quite hesitant to give free advice, but I think it’s that that really gets the sale because you’re showing people, “This is what I can do. Look how much you’ve learned from this one email. Imagine what I can do for you if you actually work with me on this course, or this program.”

Vicki (21m 56s): It then does need to be that series of events rather than just putting something online and then hoping that it sales.

Danielle Towner (22m 2s): You nailed it. You have to warm them up to that, especially if it’s a big ticket item. A lot of people are hesitant and I can understand why because they think that they keep coming back for free, free, free, then they’re not going to need to buy anything. 

Actually, a lot of successful people who have passive income, they have the philosophy that they give as much as they can on way for free, and then they have the items that they have to sell. If you give that to them, like you said, you get them to your list. You give them something away in exchange for that. You give them valuable information in different forms: video, social media, and direct to your email.

Danielle Towner (22m 42s): Then eventually, they will continue warming up to you and building that relationship with you and relating to you, and that is what translates to the sales.

Vicki (22m 57s): Exactly. That’s really key, what you were just saying about the different kinds of content as well. We don’t want to be bombarding people with a ton of emails like, “Buy this. Buy this now.” It’s very much education first and giving first. Sure, I’m not going to lie, there’s people on my list that have never bought anything from me. They’re probably never going to buy from me because they’re just going to get the free stuff and take it, but I’m okay with that. 

I know that there’s other people on my list, some who will be on my list for a year, actual 12 months, takin the free stuff, seeing how it goes, and then they’ll eventually have the confidence to buy one of my higher ticket programs. Some people don’t need that long, one email sequence might be enough to convince them, but other do need that nurture, and they do need to trust that you’re the suitable option for them.

Vicki (23m 45s): Especially, nowadays, there are more and more people becoming online coaches, and there’s so many different courses popping up everywhere. Chances are people have tried something before and have maybe been burned by that experience, maybe it didn’t work out for them. It’s going to make them even more cautious next time when they purchase something.

Danielle Towner (24m 4s): Exactly. You’re absolutely right about that. Some people, they lose faith from getting somebody who was a good marketer, but didn’t put out a good product. Now, speaking of products, we talked about the passive income and we talked about services, but there are a lot of entrepreneurs who are building a solid brain. 

They’re doing the part right about warming people up, and getting support for their brand then they want to venture into branded apparel and merchandise. From a standpoint of a fashion business and you being a fashion business coach, what advice do you have for someone who’s wanting to venture off into branded merchandise?

Vicki (24m 50s): If you’re wanting to do that the best way to approach it would be, rather than having your own completely custom ideas, that you have to go through all the development process, then finding a factory to make it, and go through a whole sample process. 

It’s a ton of different things between having an idea for a custom item and then having it developed. It can take a long time, on average about six to 12 months—which if you’re building your audience and excited to introduce them to some branded apparel, most likely, you’re not going to want to wait that long. Instead, what I would do is, rather than seek out completely customized product, is use a service. There’s quite a few different providers that do this now, where they actually have the facility to customize products.

Vicki (25m 34s): That’s the key difference; rather than having completely custom we’ll customize. What this means is they’ll already have in stock products, for instance, t-shirts or sweaters or tote bags, different products, and you can just customize them with your own printed design. 

Maybe you want to have your logo on it, or you want to have that’s embroidered, there’s loads of different options. I think that’s a good way to dip your toe in the water, so to speak so you can see whether people actually are interested in this or not. When you’re working this way, you don’t have to buy stock upfront. You’re probably going to want to buy a sample for yourself and for your photo shoot, but you don’t have to keep stockpile loads of stuff.

Vicki (26m 17s): You can just try it and see if it sells, and if it doesn’t, you’ve not really lost anything. You’ve not had to pay for that expensive and long-winded sample process. That’s where I would start if I’m wanting to slowly transition into merchandise.

Danielle Towner (26m 39s): Right. That’s a great idea. Like you said, it’s cost effective and you can do some testing and refining without losing big.

Vicki (26m 43s): Yeah. With those customized products, it becomes a whole different ball game. For instance, a lot of manufacturers, they have what we call the MOQ or minimum order quantity. It’s often, at least absolute minimum would be about 50 pieces that you have to order at every style that you make. In the US, I’ve seen around 300 pieces and that’s a lot to gamble on if you’re not sure whether your audience is even going to like this. You don’t want to go ahead and buy 300 pieces and see if it works.

 If you can just get a few bits to try out and see what works and what doesn’t, even down to things like what size is popular. If you’re ordering the stock up front for your custom design, you’ll have to tell the factory, I want this many size small, this many size medium and so on.

Vicki (27m 31s): That’s just so hard to guess if you haven’t been in this space before. If you can do something on a much smaller scale, to begin with, it will give you all that data that you can use if you do want to go and do something bigger in the future.

Danielle Towner (28m 3s): Right. Well, you’ve given us some very valuable information today, and I know that there are listeners out there who would want to get more help with their fashion business and get more of your expertise. Tell us how our listeners can connect with you or get in touch and work with you.

Vicki (28m 7s): Sure. You can find me at thefashionbusinesscoach.com. I also hang out on Instagram and Pinterest as well, and I’m just @thefashionbusinesscoach. 

Danielle Towner (28m 16s): Simple. Okay. Well, you’ve heard it from her, how you can reach out to Vicki Wallis of The Fashion Business Coach. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to her. You can also press record and ask your question if you’re listening from the Anchor platform, and you can post a comment if you’re listening from my website and Vicki will get back to you with the answers.

Vicki (28m 45s): Yeah. Sure. Happy to answer questions.

Danielle Towner (28m 47s): Other than that, come back to listen to us next week. As I always end my episode, dream until your dreams come true.

How to Build a Thriving Fashion Brand

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Danielle

As owner of Dream Work Creatives, LLC, Danielle has the opportunity to use her gifts of business development and creative expression. She has a passion for helping solo entrepreneurs and small businesses make their dreams work through marketing and creative strategy. Danielle’s digital marketing services have helped countless businesses build their brand awareness and online presence using social media marketing, website design and content marketing. Her blog features business and lifestyle growth tips and “Dreamer’s Den Podcast: Entrepreneurs Making the Dream Work”. During her free time, she enjoys travel, movies, books and the endless joy of her little one.