Working in fashion was my dream for a long time, though it took a little while to uncover it. What took even longer was discovering how much and why I loved working with startups and direct-to-consumer brands. For a long time, the fashion industry and existing brands worked in very similar ways. Corporate fashion has a process, a food chain, and people to execute the way the industry wants them to execute. It’s quite unremarkable after experiencing it a handful of times.
What’s always been so captivating to me about designing for direct-to-consumer brands is that they usually start small and agile. They adjust their course more frequently, shifting direction to capture more market share and improve their results across the board.
They also operate more like tech companies vs fashion houses.
Corporate brands tend to have so much red tape, processes to uphold, and meetings...Oh, the meetings.
You know the ones:
You head in and 2 hours later you come out overwhelmed with information and behind on time. You listened to a design director drone on about whatever mild new ideas she was having as she wavered back and forth between which to execute and which to run up the food chain.
Corporations tend to promote people to their highest level of incompetence. This phenomenon, called the Peter Principle, is rampant in apparel design and so many corporations have this problem. A good designer does not necessitate a good manager. It takes a specific skill set to delegate effectively and lead a time.
In my experience, this has been the hardest part of working in the corporate world. Having ineffective leadership is detrimental to teams. It stifles growth, and turns excited team members into half-hearted zombies, just bringing enough for the paycheck.
This is a huge area where startups differentiate themselves quite a bit.
Because of their very nature, the people who start new brands are driven by the need to solve a problem, execute the solution and make something magical. They’re not in it just to rise through the ranks. Startup founders don’t jump into things lightly because it’s damn hard to create a business, let alone a successful one!
Of course, there are always the ‘wantrepreneurs,’ but it’s easier to identify those players than you might think. They have no why behind them and no passion for what they do. They don’t really care about the execution, just the appearance of it.
Startups that excite me have passion and purpose. They build their meaning day by day and create with heart.
Startups and D2C brands have disrupted the fashion industry by being focused on technology and changing the way the game is played. Whether big or small, the teachings from D2C business are endless, but here are 6 of the most important things I’ve learned from working as a direct-to-consumer designer.
Top 6 Lessons:
Know your customer. By this I mean, really get to KNOW her inside and out if you don’t fully already. Learn what motivates her, what excites her, and what she is truly looking for from your brand.
Data and analytics will always be a critical part of great design. Inside information informs our direction and colors the stories we tell both to ourselves and our customers.
Iteration is the key to long-term success. You have to be open to evolving, whether it's your brand, your message, or your product itself. Your first take might not be where you need to land to get a product-market fit and continuing to flex and evolve is what it’s all about.
Creating new brands and products is a long and arduous process. It will feel like magic once your product is live. The process makes the magic feel even more magical when you make it to the other side. The fact that you DID that, that you accomplished that is what really makes it special.
Never forget white space opportunities. This is your chance to wedge yourself in there. Always be on the lookout for a chance to capitalize on a missing solution in your market.
Be authentic in everything you do. People can see right through the other sh*t. Just be you and do your best at being the best version of yourself. Carry this authenticity throughout your entire process.
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