Q: What advice do you have for someone looking to start a fashion company but has no experience in the field of business?
— Twitter profile Dalphine Twins
A: Some of the most successful founders I’ve had the pleasure of mentoring started their entrepreneurial journeys without any prior business experience. Having a business background isn’t necessary to start a fashion company, or any company for that matter. Business skills can be acquired through great teammates and advisors, and learned over time.
What is required is having a unique insight into your industry, or a core competence that others don’t have that makes you uniquely qualified to start your venture. You’ll also need a passion for the product or service, intense motivation, tenacity, perseverance and vision to turn your business idea into a reality.
Assuming you possess all of these qualities, here are concrete steps for starting a fashion company without business skills.
Find a co-founder with complementary skills
A good place to begin having a clear vision on the kind of company you’d like to start, the role in the business you’d like to play and the type of help you need to get your company off the ground.
In the case of starting a fashion company, you probably already have an idea for a specific fashion product (e.g. affordable, comfortable business shoes for millennial men) and would like to be in charge of designing the product. What you need help with is turning your idea into a viable business, including guidance on how to effectively design, manufacture, market and sell the product.
There are various ways you could go about trying to find this help, but I’d suggest looking for a co-founder that has these complementary skills, namely, a business background and experience in the fashion industry. In addition to having these skills, you’ll want your co-founder to be just as excited about your fashion business idea as you are.
Get involved in fashion and startup communities
Deciding that you want to bring on a co-founder is the easy part, but the real challenge comes in actually finding one. Start your search by fully embedding yourself in both fashion and startup communities, and sharing your idea with as many people as you possibly can.
Getting involved in both communities begins with researching the events in your area that bring people interested in fashion, startups or both together. In the fashion space, search for local fashion meetups or events. For instance, Boston has the Boston Fashion Meetup Group. Also look for broader startup-focused events that have at least some consumer focus. Again, using Boston as an example, we have Venture Café and Mass Innovation Nights.
When you go to these events, share your idea with every person you talk to, and also make clear in all of your conversations that you’re looking for someone to start the business with you. Don’t worry about someone stealing your idea. Execution is far more important than the idea itself.
As you embed yourself in the fashion community and search for a co-founder, you’ll likely meet a number of people who are excited about your product and offer to advise you. Make sure to keep in touch with these contacts. Building a strong team of advisors is a great way to augment the knowledge that you and your new co-founder bring to the table. Advisors with fashion-specific manufacturing, distribution or marketing expertise from their experience in the industry are particularly valuable.
Think about the best place to be to achieve your goals
If you think to yourself after reading the above section, “There really isn’t much of a fashion or startup scene where I’m living,” I’d strongly encourage you start your venture where the fashion industry is thriving. This will increase your likelihood of building the right team and garnering the resources and skills you need to succeed in the competitive world of fashion.
Finding great co-founders, putting together a team of advisors, and beginning to make industry connections are the most important first steps of starting a company, particularly if you don’t have any prior business experience. You need to put yourself in the best possible location to meet the right people who can accelerate your development and maximize your opportunity for success.