9 tips that all aspiring fashion designers should know

Inspired by the success of Singapore-born designer Prabal Gurung (who incidentally will be showing at Audi Fashion Festival 2014)? Then you definitely need to save this list! Seen here: Prabal Gurung Spring Summer 2014. Image: Showbit

Famous faces, glitzy after-parties, fabulous clothes and some very stylish people ‒ outwardly speaking, the fashion industry sure has a glamorous image.

But it takes far more than having “[good] ‘taste’ to make it in the fashion industry”, says Thomas Tan (as seen on the right), a Singapore-based design consultant and trainer at the Textile & Fashion Federation (TaFf) training centre. And no, it’s not just about hobnobbing to become successful in the business of fashion.

9 tips that all aspiring fashion designers should know“The reality is that fashion designers spend most of the time in the studio working ‘til the wee hours,” says the design consultant, who has nearly 18 years of experience in this competitive industry. “In fact, most designers I know are surprisingly shy people and prefer to spend time working than out prancing around.”

The Singapore fashion veteran is one of our panel speakers for the upcoming How to make It in Fashion seminar on May 17, 2014, at the Suntec Convention Centre, brought to you jointly by Her World magazine and herworldPLUS.

During this two-hour seminar, expect to hear from design consultant Thomas Tan, along with panel speakers share more about the industry, plus top tips that all aspiring fashion designers should know.

As a teaser of what you can expect, we’ve reached out to the fashion professional for practical advice, to get you thinking about starting your very own fashion label in Singapore.

If you’ve ever dreamt of becoming a fashion designer, start by reading his very handy list:

1. Being passionate is key.
“I often tell people that they have to really love what they do because [this industry] takes a lot of you and if you do not enjoy it, it will often be a fairly painful experience. People often don’t see the work and anxiety designers and retail owners face … This is also the reason why the dropout rate of the fashion industry is also pretty high.

“Fashion retail is also like any form of business. If the stars are not aligned, no matter what you do, you just can’t seem to make it. But what I often tell young designs is to persevere, to keep working at it. Business can sometimes be a longevity game and one needs to work on keeping it going to build the brand and garner new followers.”

2. Learn more about the business side of fashion.
“While you do not have to be proficient in drafting, cutting and sewing, you need to have a working understanding of these processes so you know if you are being taken for a ride. Costing is another element that is crucial, know what a thing costs and how to price it so you can make a living out of this venture.

I know this sounds logical. But you will be surprised how many people price their items either too high or low, which has its consequences.”

3. Your friends may not give the best advice.
“Friends can cushion the truth. A lot of young designers tell me that they’ve shown their designs to their friends and they loved it, but are these friends buying the designs? You need to suss out who can be truly honest and objective about these designs.”

4. Be realistic about the customers that you are designing for.
“Designers often create the generic customers with impossible capabilities. I often call these the imagined Credit Card Model customer: She is young, fashionable, rich, stylish, travels the world, lives in an expensive apartment, eats at high-class restaurants, works in a highly stylised office. She also has a gorgeous boyfriend who drives a fast car and when they kiss, fireworks explode in the background … All these are marketing images to entice customers, not a realistic target market model.

“The typical Singapore customer is often the girl who is living in a flat with her parents, takes the MRT to work and eats at hawker centres. She likely works as administrative staff in a company, loves a bargain and dates a guy who isn’t interested in fashion, and prefers to play computer games than take her out shopping.

“I once had a designer who told me that she is a little bit sad that her customers are middle-aged aunties. At which I said to her that in this competitive industry, she should be thankful to actually have customers buying her stuff.”

5. Find out who your biggest competitors are.
“Many designers don’t really know their target market or tend to be too generic with their research. Thus they find themselves competing with the retail giants and losing at the game.

As Sun Tze said ‘Keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer’; so understanding the market situation is often very important.”

6. Learn to follow the fashion and retail calendar.
“There is a need to know when to drop new items and when customers are not in the mood to shop. Spring launches, Fall launches, Christmas launches, the Great Singapore Sale (GSS) and Chinese New Year are important shopping seasons.

“You also need to keep seasonal sale periods (like the GSS) in mind, so that customers will not go to major brands to shop for clothes instead of buying from smaller, independent labels.

“If your designs drop late  —  you’re releasing the Spring Summer collection in May instead of February or March — customers are going to wait until the GSS to buy their items.”

7. Understand the unique limitations of the local textile and apparel industry.
“Sourcing is one of the biggest problems that local labels face. In Singapore, it is extremely difficult for designers to source for fabrics or trims that are interesting and unique.

“With almost no textile industry locally, it is hard for designers to find affordable materials thus they often have to rely on local fabric agents — and risk having the same fabric as another designer — or source from overseas which increases their cost.

“Another big problem our designers have is production of their garments. We have local manufacturers who produce for the likes of The Gap, Banana Republic and Nike. Yet our designers can hardly find manufacturers to produce for them locally since their quantities are limited. This also means that our designers often have to incur costs to fly overseas, pay for freight charges for their materials which in turn brings their cost higher.

“The third biggest problem affects designers with a brick and mortar shop since rent is one of their biggest costs when running a business.

“Many local retail malls in Singapore raise their rent on a yearly basis and with the already high rentals in our malls, the designers can hardly keep up with these expenditures which is why we are seeing how designers are pooling their resources and opening up their own multi-label store. But it could also mean it’ll be harder to craft their own image without their own space where they can have better control.”  

8. Discounts matter: Know when you need to put your items on sale.
“When the season is over, some designers hang on to those designs and refuse to lower the price to let go of the clothes. While I can understand that a lot of ‘blood and sweat’ goes into the creation of their designs, the reality is that in our retail environment, a 20 percent discount or more is standard during the sale period. A 10 percent cut isn’t going to do. Consumers are not looking for a puny discount to make them buy things.

“If the item is still hanging on the rack after a few months, then something is wrong. It could be the pricing, design, fit or material that is not right. There is no such thing as a bad design; only designs that doesn’t sell. And that makes it a failed design.

“Holding onto these items not only restricts your cash flow; they also take up space in the store. Returning customers will see the same item on repeated visits, thus giving them the false impression that there is nothing new in the stores.”

9. The savvy online way: To sell and educate.
“Gone are the days when you could just put your products online and expect them to move. With thousands of brands and labels existing in cyberspace, it becomes important to think about how to stand out and how are you going to promote it.

“I find online stores that both sell and educate very useful. Like tips on trend forecasts, styling tips, what celebrities are wearing and even interview features with fashion designers. While these services cost little, it can reap in huge benefits for an online store.”

How to make it in fashion, as shared by Singapore insiders

Design consultant Thomas Tan will be speaking at the How to make It in Fashion seminar on May 17, 2014. Sign up for it soon for more expert tips from Singapore fashion insiders; email marketing@herworldplus.com to make your ticket booking soon.