Fashion is fickle, trends are “in,” then they’re “out.” So how do you build a fashion label — and keep it going?
Well, one fashion insider has come up with five ways to successfully build a fashion label. Amy Smilovic is the founder of the international fashion label Tibi. Her company has survived over two decades and made its mark on multiple continents. On an episode of ABC Radio’s “No Limits with Rebecca Jarvis,” Smilovic shared five key tips for building a fashion line today.
1. Start with a well-rounded team
“A right brain-left brain mix” is essential to succeed long-term in the fashion industry, Smilovic claimed. She recalled designing jackets and dresses early on that might have looked good, but because she didn’t have a technical designer, at the time, the clothes wouldn’t fit whoever was wearing them. “I would balance out my weaknesses,” she said. “So if you know that you are great with numbers and can really dive in there deep, then I would have some creative, throbbing left brain around me, and vice versa.”
2. Get experience
Over the last 20 years, Smilovic has grown Tibi into an international business from its early days in Hong Kong to its flagship store in New York. But to get experience, she said you don’t need to start your own company. “If I were starting a fashion label today, first of all, I would need to have in-place experience,” she said. “I get that question a lot — and I think there’s a lot of anxiousness for people. They want to graduate tomorrow and start a company.”
She went on to add, “If they really want a company where they can sit down with you 20 years later, and be able to discuss the life they’ve been able to develop in the company, how they’ve been able to grow — I really think having experience is key.”
3. Learn the industry
Smilovic told Jarvis that learning the ins-and-outs of the industry, from vendor relationships to the unique qualities of other designers, is crucial to building a distinguishable label. “I really encourage people to go out there and learn. Learn who’s doing it well, see who’s doing it wrong, and what you would do differently,” she said.
4. Develop relationships
She has seen the fashion industry transform from one year to the next — it’s digital disruption. Although e-commerce has reinvented the way consumers shop, the Tibi founder believes that relationships with department stores remain essential. “I think those relationships are incredibly important,” she explained. “I think that it is a real misguided notion for a lot of people that you can go straight, direct to [the] consumer — that you will turn on that e-commerce light and build it and they will come. They will not come.”
It’s challenging to emerge as a new brand with lasting impact. Smilovic explained to Jarvis that at the end of the day, “you have to hustle.”
She went on to add: “And it’s not easy. It’s really hard. And if you love what you’re doing, you won’t be angry that it’s hard.”
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