"Dear Angie, I have this great idea for a label. I spend hours a day designing but I can't even sew a button onto a shirt. How do I start? Help me pleaaaaaaaaaaaase!!"
First off let me just say that just because you doodle every now and then, or you can throw an outfit together that your friends love does not mean you will make a good designer. Also there are very few jobs in South Africa that will allow you to just design clothes so being a designer usually means being a business manager. Already this probably doesn't sound as sexy as designer.
There are many ways to get started as a fashion designer. The most traditional route is to study fashion design. There are a number of fashion design colleges in South Africa. Most of them offer a 3 year course that should teach you the basics of fashion design, patternmaking and garment construction.
- Directory listings of fashion colleges
- Education portal on iFashion
- Discussion forums on courses, training and bursaries
- Letters to the Editor about Part Time Courses
- Letters to the Editor about Full Time Courses
- Is Fashion Design For You?
Depending on where you study your other subjects could include History of Fashion, Media Studies, Business Management and Computer Aided Design. College and university fees range from R30 000 to R45 000 a year. Add a sewing machine, patternmaking equipment, textbooks and your monthly spend on fabrics/thread/glue/photocopies and you will have to add another R10 000 a year to your fees. While this may sound a bit nuts, all it really is doing is preparing you for a very cost and labour intensive business. Having a clothing label means paying upfront for fabric, finishes, staff wages, cmt services and distribution before you have even sold one item.
Going to college also has the additional perk of giving you three to four years to build relationships with people who will be active in the industry when you leave.
You can also opt to do part time courses. The two most critical are patternmaking and business management. With these two essentials you will be far more prepared to start a label than if you did a drawing class. Learning to sew is also extrememly useful as gives you the opportunity to manufacture at a cheaper rate. It also teaches you how fabric behaves and compliments the pattern making. But it is also very time consuming which may hinder your progress as a label. It is therefore not necessary to know how to sew, as you can outsource this to a CMT or hire someone to do it.
- CMT= Cut, make and trim. A clothing manufacturer that can make a garment from scratch.
- Preparing to Use CMTs
- SA Business Directory
- Pursuit Index 2010
- To find a seamstress: post notices at fabric stores/community noticeboards, post a job ad on iFashion, enquire at other fashion labels if any of their staff know of people who need work.
- Starting Your Own Label
The final way to get some experience and an education is to receive training while you are working in the form of an internship. Finding these kinds of internships is next to impossible - unless it is your aunt who is willing to cut you a break. Most people are just too busy to train someone from scratch. Interns are generally there to give the business a (free) set of hands while giving invaluable working experience and they are therefore more likely to hire a graduate.
"Usually, you apply for an internship by sending a portfolio to a fashion house you're interested in. But it's a good idea to call them up beforehand to see exactly what they need. It's also important to note that competition is fierce, and unless you have personal connections, it's very difficult to get an internship without an education." Fashion.net
Once you have qualified as a designer you can start to build a portfolio of your work and begin searching for fashion design jobs.
- Find jobs on iFashion
- Portfolios on iFashion
- E-How to make a Fashion Design Portfolio
- Portfolio Presentation for Fashion Designers from Amazon
- Some more examples of portfolios
- The rebirth of fashion illustration
- Entrepreneur or Company Career in Fashion: Your Choice
- Recruitment Agencies
If you would rather start your own label then you need to compile a business plan.
Now there have been many successful businesses that have started without a business plan. It is possible. But usually this is because:
a) the business started off very small with very little overheads: you made 5 tshirts, which you sold to your friends and now more friends want them
b) you have factored in all of the costs of your business into the products including your time and are able to make a sustainable profit
c) you are growing at a slow enough pace to build your business from the profit of your past sales without having to invest more capital
- Garment Costing: Workshop Feedback
- Your Fashion Label: Getting the name right
- Producing a Sellable Range: Workshop Feedback
- Quality: Workshop Feedback
- Trademarks: Protecting your Label
- Protecting your Designs as a Fashion Designer
- Pricing: Creating Value
If you are running a business selling stuff for profit, you will need to pay tax. This means registering your business as a legal entity. It is highly recommended that you do this at the start as there are a number of tax benefits you can receive when establishing your business.
- Registering your Business discussion forum
- Registering your Label discussion forum
- Joint Ventures and Partnering
"To create your own label takes a lot of time, dedication and hard work. Not to mention living just above the poverty line for several years." Fashion.net
Once you have set up your business and manufactured a few samples the next step is 'where do you sell it?'. Depending on your strategy you may start off with selling to your friends first and growing from there. You can organise a party where they get to try on the clothes and have fun at the same time. This one-to-one contact will give you great insight into what people want to buy, instead of what you want them to wear. There are a myriad of other options when thinking about selling your goods:
If you decide to go the boutique/retailer route keep the following in mind:
Here are some more links that will help you with your ongoing business:
Running your Business:
- Supply Chains and Your Business
- Increasing your Profitability
- Manage your Suppliers
- Cashflow Management: The Basics
Public Relations and Marketing:
- Public Relations 101
- Marketing is the Key- part 1
- Marketing is the Key - part 2
- Fashion PR Agencies
- The Importance of Social Networking in Marketing your Brand
- Starting a Label on a Shoestring Budget: Part 1
Industry Associations and Services:
General Tips and Guidelines:
- Getting your Fashion Business Started
- Starting a New Label: A Helpful Guide
- Common Mistakes by Small Businesses
- From Design to Ramp to Store - Part 1
- From Design to Ramp to Store - Part 2
- Fashion Industry discussion forum
- General Chat discussion forum
- Designing, Assorting, Producing and Selling a Retail Range
- Two: A Recipe for Success
- A Question of Quality
- How to Break Into the Fashion Industry
Wholesalers, Fabric Retailers, Label Makers and Machinery:
The Virtual Classroom: How To Become A Fashion Designer
Fashion Design Careers : Tips on Becoming a Fashion Designer