Episode 12: 8 unexpected but meaningful lessons I learnt from 20 years in the fashion industry - Part 1
Fashion Design, Research, Negotiating, Fashion, Sourcing,
Welcome to the Fashion Unearthed podcast. If you need help navigating the fashion industry sustainably, you have come to the right place. I'm your host Belinda Humphrey and my hope is to simplify the fashion industry so that businesses can make the best decisions for people, planet and product.
Hello, and welcome to Episode 12 of the Fashion Unearthed podcast. Today's topic is split into two parts. But before I get into it, I wanted to remind everyone that I'll be doing a summer series for the Podcast where each week I answer a question from the audience, you the listeners. I have already gotten some great ones from Instagram but wanted to give everyone long enough to have a think about what they're struggling with in their business big or small. Anything relating to fashion, sustainability, fabric sourcing, timelines, problem solving, whatever comes up, send them in to me at info@belinda humphrey.com and I'll try to cover the most popular ones. And I also wanted to mention, I send out a monthly newsletter full of inspiring articles or developments within the fashion and sustainability space and you can sign up for that as well at belindahumphrey.com.
So onto today's topic, eight unexpected but meaningful lessons from 20 years in the fashion industry. But as I mentioned, today's topic will be split over two episodes. So I will cover the first four today. But firstly, if you're new here, I wanted to go through and give you a brief history of some of my experience. So after studying it all started when I accepted a role in quality assurance, or QA at a wholesale company in regional Victoria, working on women's and kids where I worked closely with a Polish lady who taught herself English from watching Home and Away and was at the time teaching herself the stock market and was so generous with their knowledge. It was a great foundation for all the roles to follow designing women's wear for a small surf label on the southwest coast of Victoria, women's wear product development and sourcing at a women's streetwear label in London, product development and sourcing at an International Men's heritage brand in London. Designing in an Australian women's wear fast fashion brand, design in a contemporary women's wear specialty retailer and men's design at a large big box retailer. Add to that up until recently, I had my own boutique women's wear label selling direct customers, which I did everything for.
Over those years, I learned a lot. But in the interest of being brief, let's get into the first lesson, which is whatever stage you're at in the process, your day will be made up of problem solving. You might have minimums on a fabric, how do you incorporate another style? Do you even use the fabric? Can you do the job with something similar? Then you might walk into a fit session to see your garment on and something looks weird. So you go into assessment mode? What is looking weird and why? what needs to change? Do we have time to change it? How can we quickly get things communicated and solved? Or you might be going into a sign off with your product and someone doesn't like something about an item but can't articulate what it. So you have to start problem solving. What is it they don't like? Is it worth adapting? Or should you just move on and design something else? Or it might be at a larger scale. For example, at one retailer I worked at I was told they can't sell denim jeans, which became a problem myself with the help of the pattern makers solved and denim is now a substantial part of their business. I think the most common reason that people might be attracted to the fashion industry is because it's seen as being quite creative. And it is but often it's in thinking creatively to solve a problem.
The second lesson which kind of leads on from the first is that it costs nothing to ask a question. Most things are negotiable. A supplier might tell you that the minimums are X amount, it doesn't cost anything to ask "is that flexible?". This is a valuable one at all business sizes, you might walk away from a meeting that you think you can't move forward on because of one factor. But if you just ask that one question, it could open up a conversation on some other options for you both to move forward. That is of course if you've made a good impression, and the company can accommodate your business, but you might never know if you don't ask. On the flip side, don't be afraid to ask a seemingly silly question. If you've downloaded my free A to Z guide on the website on how to speak fashion, you'll see that often things are called different names depending on the country. So it's actually totally fine to ask clarifying questions to make sure you have all the information upfront and you're both speaking about the same thing when you're using a particular word.
The third one is to really do your research. Research who your customer is, what colours have worked, research what has sold before, what's not sold, what's getting returned. Even when you're looking at other retailers you're researching and assessing, see how they're splitting up their product mix. What are they promoting at the front of the store? what is sitting on the sale or markdown rack? If you work in a company for someone else when you walk into a product sign off, and you're asked why put something in the range? It's not going to be good enough, I suppose if your answer is because you liked it, you'll need to have the research on why you think it will be a suitable option for your customer and what they'll like about it. On the flip side, if you're paying for your garment production cost for your own pocket, you want to be confident in your choices and research will help give you that. But a little footnote to this lesson, it always pays to validate those ideas if you can.
Following on from that and the fourth tip for today's episode is that you can't and actually shouldn't be trying to please everyone. If you know your target market, you should know who you're not catering to. For example, if you are a mature women's retailer, you are not catering to the desires of a trend driven teenager. Or if you're an outdoor brand, you might actually cater to an office worker who wears a suit to five days a week, but you're catering to that part of their lifestyle or personality that is in the outdoors, it doesn't mean that you should start offering them tailoring as a category in your brand. Look, it might be a good idea, who knows, refer back to that third tip and do your research on that one. But you get my point, your product should be solving a problem or need for the person in a specific part of their life or wardrobe in a particular way. I can't think of any retailers off the top of my head who are the go to for everything in someone's life.
So just to recap today's four topics. The first one was whatever stage you're at in the process, your day will be made up of problem solving. The second one was it costs nothing to ask a question and often most things are negotiable. The third, do your research. And the fourth, you shouldn't be trying to please everyone.
I hope you enjoyed today's episode, part two will be released next week so tune in for that to get the remainder four tips or lessons that I've learned in 20 years of the fashion industry. And if you got something out of today's episode, you can DM me on Instagram @belindahumphrey.com, or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know. Again a reminder that I'm collecting questions for the summer series so send them through to email@example.com and you can sign up for my monthly newsletter on the website as well. And as always, you'll find the links and show notes on the website too in the podcast section. Thanks so much for listening. See you next week for part two.
Disclaimer: Whilst every effort is made to ensure that information is accurate at the time of recording, much like the fashion industry itself, this information may change.