I'm a Malcolm Gladwell fan -- I've read Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers. I just finished reading What the Dog Saw, which is a collection of some of his articles from the New Yorker. One of my favorite articles was called Late Bloomers, with the subtitle, Why do we equate genius with precocity? Among other examples, he provides a comparison between Picasso and Cezanne. According to the article, Picasso's most expensive paintings were made when he was in his 20s, while Cezanne's priciest paintings were produced when he was in his 60s. The article goes on to compare prodigies vs. late bloomers.
The interesting part for me was when he talked about how an artist like Cezanne could never have made it without the support of his circle of friends who supported and championed his work (people including writer Emile Zola and painter Camille Pissarro), and his wealthy father, who supported him financially all through his life. I've mentioned before that I groomed my brother with the notion that he would be the Theo to my Vincent Van Gogh, so it was comforting to know that I'm not the only one out there who needed a little $$ help (although truthfully, I'm not a huge Cezanne fan).
The reason I'm bringing this up and tagging it under the "becoming a designer" category is because I think that if someone wants to become a fashion designer, or more specifically, an independent designer (or artist or entrepreneur), he or she should be aware of the difficult parts as well as the exciting parts. I write my blog mostly for this purpose, but I feel a separate post to specifically discuss some of the difficult aspects is worthwhile.
If you want to set up your own label, you need cash for a myriad of things. You need money to
- develop samples
- pay for sales/press help
- marketing expenses (including advertising, participating in tradeshows and other events, maintaining a website, etc)
Even if you do get orders from stores, there's generally a lag time between when you have to front money for production (to pay for fabric, trim, labor) and when the store actually pays you (a lot of stores ask for net 30, and even after 30 days, don't pay until you badger them). The bigger the order, the more you need up front.
Then you have to deal with returns (if something isn't selling, buyers sometimes try to find excuses to return items) or chargebacks (big department stores often charge you back for violating one of the items on their routing guides).
Meanwhile, you're usually also trying to develop new samples and promote your line, so you're spending even more money. Cash flow is a big problem for small independent labels. Without an investor, people rely on credit card financing or getting bank loans.
It can take years before your line is profitable, so sometimes in the meantime you aren't able to pay yourself a salary. One of my main difficulties has been supporting myself while trying to run my business almost full-time. Many people run their business on the side while working for someone else full time. Not having financial stability can be very emotionally stressful, and is something to keep in mind if you're interested in starting your own line. You should consider holding onto your full-time job as long as you can while you start up.
It's also worth keeping in mind that in fashion as in many things, it's not just about talent. It's also about having enough money to not just stay afloat, but to flourish.