So, you’ve started an online boutique for your small brand, and you’re set to take the fashion world by storm. You have a huge list of things to do, chief among them is the need to drive traffic to your online store. The key, you think, is getting noticed. What should a small, independent fashion brand do to stick out amidst such fierce competition?
Strangely enough, in order to stick out, you should be trying to fit in. Of course, your brand should be uniquely you -- we don’t mean you should change your style! Instead, ask yourself what the most successful fashion brands all have in common, and how you can implement these winning strategies for your own business. You don’t have to mimic their look or style, but if you’ll look closely you’ll see that the biggest names on your list of fashion heros all have a great many things in common:
Uniqueness is really all about your brand, or the thing that your online store stands for that sets it apart from others in the endless sea of fashion ecommerce. Apple’s built a brand on aspirational products that feel elite, while McDonald’s has done the opposite by building a brand that’s family-friendly and accessible on every corner.
Consider the very different ‘feel’ that Chanel has when compared with, for example, H&M. It’s not just the price that differentiates them, though that certainly plays a part. Establishing your unique brand is all about finding and communicating the personality of your label: who buys your clothes, and why? Does purchasing your products help a child in need, like TOMS shoes, or are they made in their home country, like American Apparel? If your products are handmade, or customisable, or any number of things that set you apart, focusing on that unique aspect will gain you recognition and build value into your brand over time.
Balmain, a haute couture fashion house are known for their unique ornate jackets, spray-on leather pants and tough-luxe dresses!
Every successful brand knows exactly who their customers are. Of course, there are the Amazons of the world that sell everything to everyone, but most brands have a targeted consumer base and know the demographics of their target audience intimately. Knowing your audience is important because sets the tone of not only your brand, but your marketing strategies, and ensures that you’re not wasting money marketing to people who aren’t potential customers. Focusing on a targeted niche will make it easier to build a community around your products and your brand. This, in turn, will help you grow as a company and reach a wider audience, so don’t be afraid to specialise!
Brand loyalty is one of the most important factors contributing to the success of big fashion brands, and unfortunately one of the most difficult for independent brands to achieve. It’s difficult to get customers to stay loyal when there are so many new brands for them to choose from, but not impossible. Raising the lifetime value of your customers means providing products and services that will not only keep them coming back, but recommending your brand to family and friends based on their experience.
That means building trust with a professional-looking store and equally professional advice about the product. It also means offering a great shopping experience in terms of ease and speed, or going the extra mile to customise an order. Everything can increase your customers’ lifetime value to your brand, including you: if you tell your story well on your About Us page, more often than not, it sparks a human connection with customers that makes them want to patron your business. In the same way, Instagram pictures of your products being made or Facebook updates showing your team at an industry event aren’t just social media marketing, they’re part of a larger effort to build a community around your brand and boost customer loyalty.
Clothing store L.L Bean Clothing use Facebook to focus on the customer. Not only do they post updates with cool photos, videos, and tips for outdoor adventurers, but they also include tabs dedicated to their free shipping policy, a "Base Camp" where customers can post photos using specific hashtags, and a "Join the Conversation" tab where you can get on their mailing list or follow their other social media accounts.
These kind of behind-the-scenes updates are part of a larger consumer trend demanding transparency from businesses. Consumers want to how products are made, who makes them, and what they’re made out of -- particularly in industries like cosmetics and fashion, where the product is about much more than plain functionality. This is a huge boon for independent fashion labels, since you’re often selling your own products directly and your smaller-scale operations can make your products more desirable. Take advantage of this to ensure your customers find your brand transparent, honest, and worth spending their money on.
Successful fashion brands don’t just sell individual products, they sell complete, stylish looks that inspire their shoppers. As an online boutique, you’re not selling equipment, you’re selling wearable art. When visitors stop by your online store, you should be appealing to their fantasies and emotions through an aesthetic that’s both pleasing and congruent with your brand.
All of the most successful online fashion shops are inspirational and visual, and that’s no coincidence. Shops like Net-a-porter don’t look like a store -- they look like fashion magazines. That’s because all online shopping is done with the eyes, but none more than clothes shopping. Having SupaDupa as an e-commerce platform makes it easy to create the same fashion magazine feel in your shop with, for example, sliding banners, or a proper lookbook with stunning images.
Big brands spend loads of money making their products look visually appealing: think of elaborate store-front window displays or photoshoots with high-profile celebrity models. You don’t have the budget to compete with that, but you can emulate their success by posting lots of aspirational images of your items. Offer as much visual information as a customer needs to properly decide they want to buy what you’re selling!
That means your product photography doesn’t just have to look good, it also needs to be detailed. Always include more than one picture, and make sure they’re from multiple angles. You also want to pay attention to details, with close-ups of any fasteners or special stitch detailing. Get close-ups of the fabric that you’re using so that customers can see all of the pattern details or textures since they can’t pick up your item as they would in a physical store. Video, especially, can boost sales because it provides a ton of information that written descriptions just can’t replace. Even if it’s just a short clip of someone walking in your clothing, that video shows how your product looks while being worn, captures the movement of your piece and makes it more ‘real’ to a customer who, very likely, has never seen your item in the flesh.
Footwear specialists SUPRA, truly engages with their audience by creating this awesome close up video on The Avex from SUPRA Footwear! Engineered to perfection.
Fashion is about inspiration and excitement, with new trends, colour palettes and products coming every season. Of course there are brands that embody the ‘timeless, classic’ aesthetic but even they are constantly updating their catalogue with new items to inspire and buy.
And keeping things fresh isn’t just about the creative side of your business, it’s also about the day-to-day operations such as photographing and uploading new items to your store. However, you know the power of a ‘new collection’ by a fresh face in fashion, so consider launching new products as a collection or capsule collection instead of simply uploading several individual pieces to your store. It helps establish your brand and ensure that repeat visitors to your web boutique never miss new products or feel that they’re shopping from dead stock.
The most successful fashion brands are able to keep customers coming back and recommending their friends by offering a consistently pleasant shopping experience. From the moment they hit your homepage, your user interface should be easy to use and your products easy to view. Your product descriptions should have the same tone, fit your brand, and be exciting -- or at least pleasant -- to read. Every item you ship out should be up to your standards, so that the moment your customer completes the transaction by opening your package, they’re ready to do it all over again.
Big fashion brands have a huge reach because they have huge marketing budgets and existing industry connections. You may not have either, but that doesn’t mean you can’t become an established brand by gaining exposure. In fact, the rise of social media has democratised fashion to the point where independent fashion labels are able to reach more potential customers than ever before. You may not rank on the first page of Google, but you can use Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. to narrow the gap between you and your billion-dollar competitors. Just make sure you develop a social media strategy and focus on the social networks that will most benefit your brand instead of putting an equal amount of effort into every single one. For example, Instagram users tend to skew younger, while Pinterest users tend to be women over 25 -- so channel your social media efforts as effectively as possible.
Tibi use Instagram to help those seeking out outfit inspiration, new season collection or just simple fashion porn, there is something here for everyone!
Your favourite mainstream fashion labels have designers and creatives just like you at the heart of their business. But, they also have a whole team of accountants, marketers, analytics experts and manages to make sure the money keeps rolling in.
As small business entrepreneur, the bad news is you have to do it all -- you’re there through the creative process, the creation process, and beyond. You might even be making your collection in your own home and carrying orders to the Post Office with your own hands, so it’s understandable if you’re overwhelmed by the idea of doing all that and then writing SEO articles or devising a new marketing strategy before bed. The good news is, you don’t need to do it all once -- just do one revenue-generating activity per day.
That means activities that attract new customers, of course, but also that court existing customers. Often, existing customers (those loyal, lifetime customers we talked about) makeup a small part of your total customer base, but you’ll find they make up a large part of your overall revenue. Do email marketing -- sending out vouchers, newsletters, or collection launch announcements -- to keep your lifetime customers loyal. Do sales calls, PR activities like contacting bloggers and influencers in your industry, to get new customers to try your brand.
As always, you’ve got your work cut out for you as an independent fashion label, but you wouldn’t start your own online store if you weren’t ready for a challenge! And sure, big fashion labels have more resources than you, but remember that people come to your store for your brand’s unique point of view, or because they want something more special than they can find in big-box stores. In this way, the biggest labels in fashion aren’t even your direct competitors, but their successful business methods are good models for your own success!
Find fashion provides access to fashion independent sales reps, retail fashion buyers, international distributors /sales agents, and an easy to use platform to post
Want a career in fashion? Mastered offers online fashion courses taught by world-class industry professionals
I love Fashion Retail
A practical crash course in Fashion E-commerce for Entrepreneurs, Fashion Designers and Start-up Retailers to build a Sustainable Business
UK Based Resources
British Fashion Council
The British Fashion Council’s Business Support portal offers a plethora of funding programmes for designers at various stages of their careers. They’re ultra supportive of everyone in the industry spectrum, too, so you’ll find opportunities for everything from menswear to fashion films. Read more here
The Centre for Fashion Enterprise
The CFE offers London-based designers mentoring and business guidance at 4 different growth stages. They count Meadham Kirchhoff and Mary Katrantzou among their alumni, so they must be doing something right
Empowers the Creative Industries to develop skills and talent by providing investment for individuals and businesses to grow
The Design Trust
An educational resource for young designers thinking of starting their own business. Includes links to resources for young designers, and a business start-up
The fashion industry business support experts, offering business mentoring, training, networking opportunities and access funding