How to build a direct-to-consumer strategy and conquer the market as a fashion brand

Building a direct-to-consumer strategy is a very good idea for an emerging designer. it looks like an unusual path from the point of view of fashion professionals, who are used to building brands via traditional wholesale – PR marketing schemes, and using social media as a prolongation of press communication. Normally, when we start to somehow discover those new designers on social media we will most probably want to have direct access to their shops, but this would be difficult, as they are using mostly resellers to distribute their products. In fact,  this way of thinking limits us to only a partial choice of products (what buyers have chosen for us), and limited places where we can find them. If you want to buy on the Internet, it is much more complex, depending on whether this designer has an e-shop and whether he or she has your sizes (usually, designer’s first collections are limited to 36 or 38 sizes for sample production and what models will wear during the fashion weeks).

So why are so many talented, young designers still relying on this old scheme and not using the huge potential of selling through direct-to-consumer schemes?

Well, for me, this is a structural problem in the fashion industry. What I’ve noticed is that usually outsiders will use direct channels to communicate, create products and sell, and will succeed in it, using tried and tested principles as a way of going to the market.  While most professional designers come from the fashion world, which is still based on old marketing principles.

When I was finishing my MBA in Global Fashion Management in Paris, one of the lecturers told us: “You need €5m to invest in a brand in order to build a €5m worth brand.” Then, I met several designers and some of them repeated this formula. So somehow this limited belief become popular among the insiders thus limiting any new brand development. Moreover, designers all start in similar ways, imposed by the industry for decades: using showrooms, playing by fashion week rules, making pre-collections and waiting for buyers to order. This is a long cycle which keeps them in the dark for many years. With no sales traction or any investors interested in such a poor financial performance, eventually they have no money, sponsors or financing to continue the feedback loop cycle, which is not providing any results.

This common belief is still dominating the industry, while outsiders with less sophisticated products and better prices conquer the marketspace. In this article, I want to show you how to go to the market and sell direct to consumer, when you are just starting out and don’t really know where to start from and how.

  1. Build a brand story

First of all, there’s no one unique way of launching your story. Build it as a story, the story you want to tell to your target audience in such a way that they could get straight to the point and just love it. Consider starting your brand with “WHY”. Why are you doing that? Why is it important to you? Why should your customers like it? What are the values you want your brand to have as a base?

Do this work with deep understanding of how it will impact your future business and the audience you would like to touch first with your brand statement. Collect every word that can describe your brand in the most impactful way. Get it clear and don’t stop working on this until you are completely and fully satisfied with the result.

Test your stories with people in your target audience and see how it relates to them. Listen and take notes, and go back and  improve your story. This work can take months. So take time to make it completely clear for your target audience. Test and try until you’re completely satisfied.

Use visualisation to help you conceive how your brand will appear on every digital support, web pages, instagram posts, facebook ads, apparel, etc. Use the mock-ups (prototypes) to get your brand into real format. Correlate the visual part with your written story. Does it match? Does it create the effect that you’re looking for? What feelings or emotions do these two parts provoke in you? How different are you from others?

2. Prepare your plan

When you’re done with this definition stage, map out a plan of how you are going to tell your story. Define the channels you will use, your social media strategy, and how you plan your web acquisition. Building a website is an important part of selling, but without clear goals for customer acquisition and how you are going to drive traffic to your e-shop, your website is pretty pointless.

Don’t launch your brand until you have a clear strategy on paper and  you feel good about it. Make hypotheses of the results you are expecting from the launch and compare the real metrics with the ones you’ve planned. If you don’t know where to start, try taking examples from recent success stories in the digital space and take away some strategies that you can apply to your own brand.

3. Study the success of others

Here are some examples of different strategies that I think may inspire you:

  • Build your audience on Instagram first, inspire them and create the urgency and scarcity effect with your limited collections. Don’t sell until you’re ready to go. This is what the 5th brand did.
  • Align your e-com strategy with your Instagram following. Help your customer to IMAGINE how they will look wearing  your brand, how their lifestyle will be impacted and changed. Think of small capsule collections that you can co-create with your audience and make them wait until the limited edition is out. Be honest and transparent about how you build your collections and how small they are. This is what ORO LA did.
  • Develop you blog first and inspire your audience. Be consistent in publishing and publish two to three articles a week. Don’t stop after launch, be creative and visual, just like the Hundreds did, a streetwear brand from LA. This strategy works well for new lifestyle or philosophy of living clothing such as streetwear or yoga clothing.
  • Learn success from others. If you don’t have similar success stories in your country, look worldwide. Use deep analysis of shopping behaviour and support your hypotheses with figures just like Inch2 from Latvia did. This brand used exclusively digital channels and focused on data. The result, a widely-known shoe brand with 700k followers and revenue growth x10  in just one year. They hit the €550k sales in one day.
  • Use Kickstarter to launch your unique concept, like Filippo Loreti did, a watch brand from Lithuania, inspired by Italy. Thanks to an attractive price point and luxury high-end design, the brand seduced three times the backers and managed to sell €9m worth of product during three crowdfunding campaigns and acquire 40k backers. Now, the brand is a heavy user of paid ads on social media to continue to hit sales objectives and sells only via digital channels, such as its website and social media.

4. Make it fun

Make it fun for you and your audience to discover your universe little by little every day. Enjoy this journey of building your audience and celebrate every small, remarkable milestone.  Don’t try to imitate others, find your way, your voice, your unique style that will support the identity you’re looking to create. Engage yourself fully in this process and believe in yourself and your ability to seduce your target audience.

5. Keep it simple

Stay focused on one channel, don’t divert your energy to all the other stuff that everyone else is doing such as pop-ups, exhibitions, designer events. Give it your full, unshareable focus for six months and build your audience. It will pay off from day one of your launch if you start doing it long before production. Do it when you start thinking about your brand and when you’ve written down all the ‘whys’ and challenged them.

To wrap up :

  • Build a plan  and respect it. Never miss a day working on your targets and goals. Check your progress and adjust your strategy each time to make it better.
  • Start as soon as you can, long before your website is online, or your collection is out. The key to success is to build your audience first and then sell. Building an audience is a long process, but it is monetizing your business and will help you to attract important investors to your project for further expansion. Get the buyers on board and the customers. This is the new paradigm of the digital world and the basic principle that you should begin with. Building your collections and your audience are both important elements of your business, so get it right and don’t miss your launch.
  • Consider other platforms where you can build a brand and a related audience, such as Kickstarter or other crowdfunding platforms. Take a look at my last article about this on my blog. In both cases, you need to relate to influencers or people who are important to your audience in order to attract followers or  backers. Whether you want to win followers on Instagram or ensure the success of your funding campaign, consider contacting only influencers that are relevant to your target audience, don’t multiply your efforts, stay focused on the most important influencers for your audience.

If you’ve already launched your brand and need to relaunch it, you need to make an exhaustive analysis of your weaknesses and then make  a plan of how to work on them as well as any points you’ve missed. It’s likely that you are too close to your business and are unable to make a proper, objective analysis as an outsider would do. Ideally you can use the services of our consultancy or another expert that you trust to carry out an audit of what and how it can be improved.  This way you can come up with action plan and control its execution. It’s all about good practical sense, but the results are immediate as you will see your sales will rocket.

To summarize why you should go for DTC strategy (direct-to-consumer) instead of using old development schemes, such as wholesale and PR marketing:

  • Buyers won’t be interested in your brand until you have built your momentum on social media
  • Selling on social media is an ideal way to develop your brand quickly and win more sales. You can also  easily attract investors to your project by demonstrating a high-performing customer engagement track record.  
  • Once you’ve found your audience and a voice that engages with them, your product will naturally respond to their needs, and your sales will soar.
  • Selling to consumers, and putting their satisfaction first in everything you do,  will enable your business to achieve ultimate performance and help develop the selling machine that customers will shop effortlessly from.
  • Inspiring your direct target audience will help you gain their direct feedback  in order to build better collections for them.
  • This emotional link that you create on a daily basis will help build customer loyalty and ensure they remain devoted to your brand, securing repeat orders several times a year from them.

So don’t delay, start creating your momentum now, and remember each small action today will create a big impact tomorrow