Starting a Fashion Design Company: Wholesale Merchandising 101

It’s easy to start a fashion brand and really start off from the position of designing clothes that you like. Oftentimes, as creative entrepreneurs, we say, “Hey, these are collections or products that we feel so largely inclined to make for ourselves, why not start a business around those products?” Well, while you might find a niche market in that direct-to-consumer (DTC) e-commerce space, as you start to look at wholesale merchandising, and how you need to diversify your collection to reach that buyer and that wider audience, there are a few different techniques and strategies you might not be aware of.

1. Collection Breadth & Depth 

Some of you have small brands launching with what are referred to as capsule collections, those 12-piece or so collections where you’re designing really super-edited styles and want to create a very curated capsule wardrobe. We’ve seen brands who have launched with this model produce new collections every three months, sometimes seasonally, and they’re really driving that DTC connection between consumers wanting to consume less and buy less and have more edited wardrobes, à la Marie Kondo.

However, capsule collections don’t translate quite the same when it comes to your wholesale buyers. For example, if you have a 12-piece collection and you’re going to show a company like Nordstrom what you have to offer, 12 styles is simply too limited. Think of it from the perspective of the retail buyer. They’re looking at your collection and saying, “Hey, from a financial standpoint, how am I going to cover these different categories that I have to buy into.” They want to see what you have to offer in terms of breadth of styles and also breadth of colors. Even though you may not go into production for all of the samples you’re producing, it’s really important that you say to these retail buyers, “Here’s the entire breadth of what it is I can offer.” 

Start looking at your merchandising- how many tops vs. bottoms are you producing? Are you working with dresses, mostly tops or separates? What is your point of view? How can you really expand on that to show the breadth of the collection? 

Keep in mind that after you have your salesman samples and go to market, your buyers are going to give you a lot of feedback. You may introduce new silhouettes, a shorter hem length, a longer hem length, or possibly even change some of the materials you’re using, based on buyer feedback. The more options you have for your retail buyers to choose from, the more feedback you’re going to get. It’s going to really stand to improve the collection you’re developing and also show those retail buyers that you have skin in the game and that you’re willing to work with them. Remember, those buyers are coming to market with a suite of what the products are that they’re looking for, what their budgets are, and how exactly they plan to allocate open-to-buy (OTB). 

As a newer emerging market brand, you have to compete with larger brands. You need to be able to show a unique point of view- whether that’s showing them breadth or opportunities for exclusives, take a look at the number of products you’re producing. 

2. New Market Trends 

Be cognizant of what’s happening with retail market trends. Companies like The Modist are really important because they’re segueing and showing us that the modest marketplace is actually quite popular. A lot of brands and retail stores opening up in the Middle East are also asking us, as Western retail companies, to start diversifying the types of products we’re producing. For example, just about a year ago, our firm opened up a retail store in Bahrain in the Middle East. When we went to market to do the buy for this retailer, we took a look to not only search for styles trending in the Middle East, but also what they could produce for us that would be unique and exclusive to that market. 

As you explore ways to diversify your offerings, also keep in mind where your intended target consumers reside and how you may want to assort your collection or provide breadth based on where those markets are. Also remember to keep the northern and southern hemispheres in mind. When it’s summertime in one market, it’s often Fall/Winter in another. Work with your retailers to find out what’s on trend for them and what seasons they’re buying for. 

Finally, when it comes to collection breadth, pay attention to things like seasonality, but also the frequency with which you’re dropping your collections. Your wholesale buyers will usually want products to arrive nearly every three months on the least frequent cadence, probably twice a year, but more often than that, maybe four or even five times a year for delivery. 

3. Size Inclusivity

Body positivity has become a huge trend in the market as we take a look at social media, key influencers, and also brands that have been launching and making a lot of steam. Companies like Universal Standard with their collaborations with Rodarte, as well as their collaboration with J.Crew, show an opportunity in the market for creating a wide, diverse range of sizes for those products while taking a look at how popular they are in the market. It’s no longer the case that you can get away with an XS to an L. Look at expanding your sizes all the way up to XL, XXL, triple or even XXXXL, depending on the capabilities of your existing production and development process. 

Get on board with this movement ASAP. It’s the predominant trend happening right now as wholesalers look to buy brands espousing cultural zeitgeist movements- and body inclusivity is not going away. 

How can you tell you’re on the right track? Read “How to Get Retail Buyer Feedback on Your Collections” and download our document on how to create the best wholesale line sheet. There are so many different ways to present information, and certainly the ways in which you communicate your brand to the public (using the right business terminology, formatting, images…) can make a big difference between a buyer who’s going to say yes and one who will say not right now. 

If you’re interested in working with us for any of our marketing, branding, and business modeling services, send us an email at hello@scalingretail.com.

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