Simple enough question right?! I thought so too… but after relating to a few people, I decided to write a post on this topic to get designers to actually start looking deep within to discover who they really are as designers and what their design aesthetic is.
Let me take you back to a conversation I was having with a friend sometime last week.
He was firmly of the opinion that designers needed to start with market segmentation and identify their markets first before coming up with their designs. His explanation was simple enough. “You need to know what the market wants before you design”. I told him point blank that I did not agree with him! That logic may work in other industries but not in the creative industries and definitely not in the fashion industry!
Yes it may make sense from a theoretical point of view but identifying your market before knowing who you are as a designer and what your design aesthetic is is like pulling the cart before the horse. You will be unable to sustain it in the long run!
As a fashion designer and this of course applies to those who plan to build careers in the industry or become fashion entrepreneurs, you need to have a design signature. You need to know what you can do, what you like to do, what comes naturally to you, what your vision is for the person you would like to dress and of course, who your ideal customer is. You do not go out looking for the customers first and then decide to come up with designs to suit that customer! I mean who does that?! Ok so what happens if all the market wants is “high fashion” as is usually the case over here and all you really want to focus on is lingerie or even sportswear? Would you go out of your way to continue creating “high fashion” when you know deep down what you want to do is totally different? I tell you and I may have said it before… “there is nothing worse than loving what you do and not enjoying it!”
I remember when I completed my studies, people told me that the market wanted ankara and made-to-measure clothing. I knew first, I did not want to work with ankara for so many reasons or go down the bespoke route. I had nothing against the fabric or sewing for people. It simply was not the vision I had… or should I say it simply was not something I wanted to constitute a substantial proportion of my business. BUT did I listen to people? Yes. Did I dabble into an area I didn’t have much passion for or expertise in? Yes. Did I get burnt? YES!
I also remember when magazines wanted my work or people wanted me to participate in fashion shows, I kept getting requests for “high fashion” clothing…and I quote… “never before seen, unique items” (whatever that means) or “Lady Gaga-ish clothes”. I told the people… sorry… I do not do high fashion. It is simply not me as a designer. That is not to say I cannot come up with something if I wanted to… but I would assume the reason for putting my clothes in magazines and on the runway is for publicity and also to make sales. I didn’t see the point if I did not plan to replicate those clothes for anyone who liked them and wanted to order them. So for me, I felt it was better to channel all my energy into the areas I knew I wanted to specialize in.
So what am I saying?! …and this is my personal opinion…
I believe that as a designer, you have to search deep within, determine what you like create, you decide (not the market or a consultant) who your ideal customer is and most importantly focus on the vision you have for your passion and business.
Once you are absolutely sure of what your mission is, then go out to look for your target customer. Conduct adequate research, TEST your designs for feedback from your intended market and then tweak your designs to suit what your market wants…because after all, you do have to sell your designs to make a living. But the truth is… there will always be a market. But detailed research is key! Conducting your research can simply be asking as many people as you can if they will buy your designs and what changes they would like. If you are targeting a middle class market and your designs are too expensive for them, look for ways of cutting down costs such as alternative fabric choices, minimize details without losing the very essence of the design, cheaper production techniques and the likes.
Do not let people drag you into bespoke clothing simply because they feel that is where the market is if all you want to do is retail or vice versa. Do not let people force you into menswear when all you want to do is womenswear. Do not let the market force you into selling fabrics if all you want to do is design. Now that is not to say you cannot set up parallel businesses for these different areas if you have the capacity… but my point is… know what you want to do and do not get swept by the tide. If you dabble in an area you are not comfortable with, you run the risk of either not having the ability to continue to churn out creative designs suitable for that area (well except you employ a designer) or have the capacity to continue to produce such highly detailed work. If you choose to operate outside your comfort zone, do it when you are ready and not out of desperation else you will be frustrated!
And most importantly, surround yourself with the right people. Seek advice from people who understand your industry and who will not merely give you theories that should work in the “ideal” world. And even if they do not have an in-depth knowledge of your industry, do not let them change the vision you have for your business. I have come across many people who have tried to make me change my vision but thankfully I remained firmly rooted in my beliefs and I think it is paying off…at least even if nothing else, I am happier now…
I challenge you to go into a quiet place (or noisy place if you so please), say a prayer asking God to help you with this journey of self discovery, pick a pencil and a piece of paper or your journal, draw the very first sketch that comes to your mind and write down 10 things about your abilities as a designer (what you like to do, what comes easily to you, what details you like to put in your clothes, if you want to sew for people or go retail, menswear or womenswear, lingerie or maternity wear, who your ideal customer is, etc), try and describe your design aesthetic or principles in 3 words and finally write down the vision you have for yourself. Be true to yourself.
Do this 2 or 3 times or as often as you can and when you are firmly rooted in your convictions, then start to write a life plan for your fashion business, even if it is a mere hobby or a serious business. When you complete this task, discuss it with someone, could be a family member or a mentor. If you have no-one or need help with this task, feel free to send me an e-mail on firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be glad to assist.
Looking forward to hearing from you!
Have a pleasant week!