In the last 10 years, fast fashion growth has spiraled out of control. Undeniably, the current way of business for the second largest industry in the world (oil being first) is not sustainable. We are already seeing progress from industry giants such as H&M and C&A to move towards planet and people friendly initiatives. Today, these large companies own most of the market, and are slowly coming around with an understanding that fashion’s future requires a shift in business.
The consumer awareness against the pitfalls of fast fashion is also on the rise because of increased consciousness around climate change, resource shortage, economic conditions, the slow-fashion movement, and unfortunate accidents like the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh, as well as hard-hitting, visually uncomfortable campaigns from organizations such as Greenpeace.
Playing with the best-case scenario, it is only a matter of time before we start seeing even more of an increase in demand for ethically produced fashion goods. So what happens then and how do emerging designers shift and re-shape themselves against large fashion brands? For as soon as the consumer demand rises, the fast fashion giants will move in that direction even faster, and just based on the sheer scale of these companies to create sustainable goods at cheaper prices, they are also able to buy raw materials in bulk, leverage existing production facilities, retail outlets and infrastructure.
These are opportunities that the emerging designer simply does not have at their disposal. So, what can an ethical fashion designer do to give fast fashion giants a run for their money?
Here are 7 key steps that will at least put an emerging designer in the running.
1. Raise authentic awareness around your brand.
Make sure that your potential customers know that you exist, what your philosophy is, and how your products are made. Being a small operation, independent designers get bogged down with day to day and marketing efforts can fall to the wayside. Customers have to be constantly reminded both online and offline in today’s hectic world. Don’t be afraid to market your brand at every opportunity making it more about being part of something good rather than shaming customers who are new to this type of shopping.
2. Combine forces.
By banding together, independent designers can take advantage of bulk rates from their suppliers and production facilities. You can also use this collective power to negotiate rates for services such as marketing as well as create one-stop shopping experience for their customers.
3. Provide exceptional value beyond the product.
In order to compete with large industry giants, independent designers must compete on value-add services such as repairs, customizations, and outstanding customer service.
4. Work outside of the traditional fashion calendar.
This allows designers to take full advantage of lulls in production cycles and able to negotiate better production rates by providing year round employment to their manufacturing partners. Not to mention offering a unique service to boutiques looking for new goods in between seasons.
5. Create an emotional bond.
By sharing behind the scene stories, faces behind the brand, and product creation process, independent designers can create unique bonds with their customers. This soft yet powerful engaging factor can keep customers loyal and even turn them into strong advocates for issues around human rights, environment as well as conscious living.
From the Madesmith site
6. Be innovative.
Keep your brand fresh by launching new products often. This not only can give you off-calendar opportunities with media looking for a good story, it will keep your customers engaged.
7. Be nimble.
One of the best things about owning a small business is the flexibility. By keeping a pulse on customer preferences and tastes, you can experiment with new products, markets and even business models. Being nimble is the key to survival for small businesses.
Important as it might be, promoting the philosophy of sustainability is often not enough to attract a loyal customer. However, independent designers can successfully launch their brands and thrive if they understand the business workings of their notable social missions both in the short and long term.
Sumeera Rasul is the founder of Madesmith and Madesmith Academy, premium platforms for sustainably made goods and a learning community for designers. Named by GOOD 100 as a thought leader and social innovator at the cutting edge of creative impact, her mission is to create a place of inspiration, learning and support for creative entrepreneurs who are looking to change the world through sustainable ideas. She grew up in a family business of apparel manufacturing and international trade. Sumeera’s expertise lies in business strategy, branding, marketing, and entrepreneurship. She is currently working on launching an online Fashion Business Incubator for independent designers where they can get a complete course on PR, marketing, business planning etc. Sumeera Rasul holds a joint eMBA degree from NYU, London School of Economics and HEC Paris.