Is it better to work for a fashion brand or start your own?

Starting a fashion business can be done alone, but for it to be truly successful, you’ll need to work with other people, whether you choose to employ them or outsource them. This article is all about whether it’s better for you to work in an existing fashion business or if it’s time for you to fly solo. Let’s get stuck in:

What’s it like to work for a fashion business?

Working for another fashion business means that you’re responsible for helping that business meeting its goals. Depending on the scale of the fashion business you work for, you may be someone who can fill various roles or you’ll be part of a specific department or function. Smaller fashion businesses offer a little more freedom, responsibility and exposure per employee, to all elements of managing the business; there is less bureaucracy and business success is often more visible.

Working in a bigger fashion business is just like working for any other big business. There’s likely to be less integration and cross-functional work per employee the bigger the organisation is, but there are other benefits. Larger organisations tend to have budgets for skills development, so whichever department you do work in, you’re probably going to get access to specialist skills training programmes or accredited courses.

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Benefits of working for an existing fashion business:

This is similar to the perks of regular employment at any other business, and includes:

  1. A certain and regular salary every month.
  2. Possible employee benefits, like pension, medical aid, disability cover etc.
  3. A defined scope of work and company structure, which enables you to focus on a core competency without distractions.
  4. Existing brand equity, so you can network professionally with more impact.
  5. Defined hours of work, with rare disturbances outside of your shifts or business hours.
  6. Human resources staff and processes that already exist so you don’t need to create them.
  7. Health and safety, and compliance, teams who take care of everything from fire safety to first aid, so you can focus on your job as an individual.
  8. Possible car and telephone allowances, or these items can be entirely company-provided.
  9. Repairs and maintenance being someone else’s problem, for the business premises, machinery and equipment.

Downsides to working for another fashion business:

There are also a few downsides to working for another business. Depending on what matters most to you at work, some of these may apply:

  1. Limited creative freedom.
  2. You may need to work overtime to help deliver orders in time.
  3. You get a limited amount of leave days every year, so you have to plan time with family in advance, sometimes as long as four weeks ahead.
  4. Bureaucracy and office or factory politics.
  5. Complex company structures and processes can be overwhelming and confusing.
  6. Limited control over and contribution to developing company goals and strategies.
  7. It can become monotonous and boring over time, especially if you’re not being promoted or cross-trained in other departments.

What’s it like to start your own fashion business?

This experience is unique to every person who starts a fashion business. Your work experience, skill set and interpersonal communication style all play a part. The most sensible way to go about this is to start small, and scale up as you find opportunities to grow your business over time.

Benefits of starting your own fashion business:

We have worked with fashion entrepreneurs and fashion business owners since 2012, and here’s what they say are the biggest benefits of starting their own businesses:

  1. “I get to be my own boss” – freedom and self-respect are yours in your own business.
  2. “I can work flexi-hours” – you can adjust your schedule to work around your family’s needs, like your children’s school timetables or your book club meetings.
  3. “I feel in control” – there’s nobody instructing you on what to do; you can follow your own system and instincts.

Is it hard to start a fashion business?

This is a matter of perspective. Our experience of working with employees and entrepreneurs in the fashion industry since 2012 gives us authentic insight to the process. Here’s what some of our programme members had to say about their start-up journeys:

  1. There is so much admin: CIPC, SARS, banking, POPIA, PAIA, CPA – it’s a gauntlet to work through all of this and understand it if you can’t afford consultants to help.
  2. Funding is hard to come by, and without it, you have to save up for a long time even just for material.
  3. Getting your label into stores can be a challenge; some shops have lots of rules or they only take you in if you’re already in other stores.

Starting any kind of business is challenging, and there’s a lot of red tape around running a company in South Africa. None of this means that it’s impossible. You just need to decide your ultimate goal, and there’s nothing wrong with that being to work and grow your career in existing fashion businesses, or to learn by doing, and starting up your own. 

What do you need to start a fashion business?

Like we’ve discussed, creativity is important for a creative business like a fashion brand. Whatever products you decide to create, you’re going to offer a unique style and brand story. Here are the basic needs for you to get started:

  1. Target audience: you must know who you want to serve, what about your offering will appeal to those people, and how you’ll communicate with them.
  2. Differentiation: there are thousands of fashion start-ups entering the industry every month, but what makes yours different, and why will yours be worth supporting?
  3. Vision: define what success is for your business, and what you will use your business to achieve. The best company vision is one that acknowledges people and the environment, in addition to corporate or commercial goals.
  4. Equipment: the amount and type of equipment you need will depend on what kind of fashion business you’re starting, and what portion of design, development, production, marketing, distribution, sales and administration you do yourself.
  5. Service directory: start researching and shortlisting options for outsourcing parts of your business, from material and equipment suppliers to accountants, human resource consultants and even IT experts. 
  6. Workstation: it doesn’t need to be a flashy building in an expensive district. A neat space to work is all you need, whether it’s your dining room table or a spare room in your house. Many people set up wendy-houses on their properties, with electricity and plumbing, to use as home office space.
  7. Brand: a business name for trading (make sure you don’t use a name that’s already taken – you can run a search on the CIPC website to check availability), a basic logo and maybe a label design.
  8. Banking: if you’re hesitant and you want to field-test your fashion business before going through formal registration, start by opening up a new bank account in your personal name, and trade as a sole proprietor for your first 6-12 months, so you can begin to build up capital for growth, and know for sure that you can safely receive and spend business money without getting confused about what belongs to you or to the business.
  9. Capital: usually, to get at least one batch of samples ready, you’ll need to have a bit of money saved away for materials and tools, or to pay for outsourced work.
  10. Mentorship or advisors: this is also where our programmes fit in. It’s wise, and it feels good, to have someone in your corner. You can get advice on branding, marketing, sales strategies, streamlining and growing production once you get it all up and running – this is one item on the checklist that will never be obsolete!

Do you need a business plan for a fashion business?

If you are starting a corporate fashion business that’s large in scale, this requires a lot of capital and if you don’t have it readily available then you need to find funding elsewhere. To get a business loan, or to find private investors, you will most likely need a business plan. Take planning seriously: the business plan will indicate to the investors or finance team how well-thought-out your entire business model is, from identifying market potential to projecting realistic revenue estimates.

Creative Angels Fashion Benefit has a selection of start-up programmes for fashion entrepreneurs, which cover the basics of fashion business management. Some of these programmes are completely free, and some of the premium programmes will offer you the chance to consult with a member of our team, to ask specific questions and get the support you need.

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