An Honest Talk About Branding a Fashion Label
I had a client come in for business counseling and the dialogue went something like this:
Me: What kind of business are you in?
Client: I own a fashion label.
Me: What kind of fashion?
Me: What’s Fightware?
Client: Mixed Martial Arts – You know, MMA
Me: MMA only, or do you include boxing, kickboxing, muy thai…etc.?
Client: It can be used for all of the above.
Me: So, you have designed special clothing for competitive fighting?
Client: Yes, specifically MMA fashion.
Me: I’ve never heard of Fightware before. So, you use engineered fabrics that enhance the fighter’s ability? Like a swimming speed-suit?
Me: Does is wick away moisture?
Me: Does it move or support in a special way to enhance the fighter? Like Under Armor?
Me: Hmm. Well, it must be made with a certain fabric cut or the way it’s sewn that is special?
Client: No, It’s a T-Shirt. It’s a fashion label.
Me: Ok, I get it, you are not actually cutting and sewing fabric to make your “Fightware”. Right?
Client: That’s correct – we don’t sew the fabric.
Me: You are in the business of designing and printing T-shirts that are used in MMA fighting?
Client: Well, I don’t print the shirts. It’s a fashion label.
Me: So, you are only designing the graphics on the T-shirts then?
Client: No, We don’t design anything. We go online and buy designs.
Me: You don’t even design the shirts?
Client: No, it’s a fashion label
Me: YOU ARE NOT A FASHION LABEL.
The Honest Branding Business of a Fashion Label
I explained to my young client that to be a fashion label you have to actually make fashion – make clothing. Just like Daymon John of FUBU, or Tommy Hillfigger, Calvin Klien, and Ralph Lauren. The problem is that we see it every day on TV. If you are a music star or just famous, you will see clothing lines begin show up. The big difference is that they are famous – they already have a brand. They just put that brand on the clothing they are selling; the clothing company puts their name on the clothing and the person on TV promotes it by wearing it. That can work, if you are famous. The problem is that my client is neither on TV or famous. Brand recognition is zero. In that case, you need a ton of money to start a fashion label. My client was also broke.
Honesty in Branding: Your Business Needs to Under Promise and Over Deliver.
If you want to be a fashion label, learn to sew and learn about fabrics. If you want to sell t-shirts, learn to screen print. It’s OK to be a designer that designs graphics for shirts. It’s OK to be a printer that silk-screens the shirts. The point is to pick a craft and be honest with yourself at what you are doing. Branding lives and dies with honesty. If your brand messaging promises gold and delivers plastic, your customers will not return. The old adage of “Fake it – until you make it” does not apply here. My client might have a golden opportunity present itself with an actual fashion label - Until they find out that he’s not even operating in the same area code. Also, my client might have an opportunity missed because a great collaborative partner (another t-shirt vendor) might feel that a fashion label is out of his league. Be honest in branding. Under promise and over deliver.