By examining some of the world’s most influential fashion labels and the people behind them, we can see how best to create a powerful fashion brand that is truly outstanding…
Stay true to yourself
The individuality that every successful fashion brand represents comes from a passion, self-awareness and self-knowledge that every successful designer embodies.
It is essential to have confidence in your own fashion designs and your own brand in order for others to believe in it too. American designer Tom Ford is most famous for re-branding Gucci where sales increased by 90% under his creative directorship. “Trust your instincts when it comes to design,” he says, “If you’re designing your own label, then know yourself.” He later created his eponymous fashion and accessories label to international acclaim and fantastic success. “If your brand is to have a strong identity, it must come from you,” says Ford, “Trust your instincts when it comes to design.” This passion and sense of self must extend to every aspect of the brand.
Designers must be aware of what they want to design, the message they want to convey and the audience they wish to appeal to. Ambition and success will only come to those who know exactly what they want. “Know your ideal client,” explains Ford, “the dream person you design for, your fantasy muse, so to speak. You have a voice that can influence contemporary culture as much or more than anything else.” For a man whose designs are sold worldwide and are one of the top-selling brands in South Africa, his advice is definitely worth listening to.
While a clear identity and self-confidence is essential, we must also face the reality of our extremely competitive world and a market saturated with new fashion designers. In our ever-evolving fashion world and wider cultural landscape, the audience is continually looking for something original. Contemporary designers must work harder and harder to capture public attention, but it will pay off in the end. Gaining press coverage and making headlines is crucial for success, as once your brand is in the spotlight, you will have the base from which to work your way up.
Ann McCreath, head designer and managing director of Kenya-based fashion brand KikoRomeo, uses her fashion to showcase what she is passionate about and the identity of her continent, all of which has helped her to gain the attention of the public and the press. By using runway models with albinism wearing the sweatshirt slogan, “It’s in my DNA” at a time when there was a movement in Kenya to reduce the stigma around the condition, she used her designs to tie into contemporary feeling, current events and to touch the hearts of those around the world.
She also made headlines. KikoRomeo continues to maintain their public presence at pop-up events and award shows. As the winner of East African Designer of the Year 2014 at Swahili Fashion Week, KikoRomeo gained another platform and more publicity, demonstrating how it is essential to keep pushing in order to stay in the spotlight and maintain a strong public presence.
It’s business time
At the end of the day, fashion is a business and it is essential to not only have the design talent but entrepreneurial skills, too, in order to succeed. Nigerian-born fashion designer Folake Folarin-Coker is a prime example of the importance of business acumen in the fashion world. As the founder of Tiffany Amber, one of Africa’s most iconic fashion labels, she was named by Forbes as one of the 20 young power women of Africa in 2013. She has showcased her designs on more than 40 runways worldwide and won countless awards. “The key is to be able to strike a balance between the art of fashion and the art of business,” she explains. “The fashion business is a process of seduction that ultimately leads to desire.”
She attributes her success to “a constant dedication to building the brand,” and admits that, “as an entrepreneur, I don’t see obstacles. The constant drive is to make a success of the business side of it.” While creativity is a more inherent quality, designers must make a conscious effort to be constantly aware of the business side of things and focused on the elements that will contribute towards making their brand a success. Network as much as possible, make new contacts and ensure you take advantage of every opportunity.
As Folarin-Coker explains, “the business side is dictated by your surroundings. So it was… not allowing anything come in the way of making the brand a success.” Stay focused on your ultimate goal and don’t let anything – or anyone – stand in your way. By staying true to what you do and putting every effort you possibly can into your success make it all the more likely to pay off in the end. And, as Tom Ford wisely says, ““Be thankful to all those who help you on the way up. You won’t get there without them.”
Don’t be afraid to break new ground
No one ever gained success by being afraid and fashion is one of the areas where consumers love to experiment. Therefore, fashion designers should be aware of meeting these desires and being creative. Some of the most successful fashion brands in the world have taken a risk and their courage has paid off. Lagos-based menswear brand Orange Culture took the adventurous step of experimenting away from traditional black formal menswear and designing clothes in a range of bright colours that are rarely seen in menswear. The company are now considered to be one of Africa’s top fashion brands.
Your brand is your personality and your voice, so you need to send a clear message about who you are to your audience. A confident brand will attract a confident customer. Nigerian-born designer Deola Sagoe is another designer who is not afraid to break new ground. She uses hand-woven African materials and traditional techniques to create clothes for the modern woman but retains a sense of mystery with her brand.
She describes her target customer: “The Deola Sagoe woman has the mysterious and engaging complexity that is a gift to all women.” By equipping the women that buy her clothes with their own unique and mysterious identity, Deola Sagoe is encouraging consumers to buy into not just her fashion designs but also her brand as a whole. It is through building this connection and appealing to the customer’s emotions that many designers find their success and their niche. If your brand has its own distinct personality and is something that customers can relate to, it will be far more memorable than the competition.
By inviting customers to be part of a community and to buy into something that is more than just a piece of clothing, designers can begin to build a foundation for success. British-born designer Abenaa Pokuaa is another designer who found her niche and built her brand with an adventurous and creative attitude. She used her Ghanaian heritage to inspire the concept of her brand Ohema Ohene, whose name means ‘king and queen’ in the Twi language. By staying true to her roots and her inspiration, she gave her brand an identity and a concept so that her audience could immediately see where her passion came from.
Keep on going
Once a fashion brand has found success, there is no time to stop. In order to capitalise on your success and maintain the public and media interest, ensure that you continue to build on your brand and everything that you have worked for. Sometimes this may mean venturing sideways into an area you may not have previously considered, such as with Folake Folarin-Coker. “I think the most powerful and invaluable thing in my business is the name itself because I spent the past 13 years building this name,” she says.
“This name can now be monetised by branding as many things as possible.” As long as you retain a clear business model throughout the process, things can only get better. And remember, keep the sense of yourself at all times and don’t lose sight of the personality of your brand, as that is often its unique selling point. “Continuously reinvent yourself but don’t change the DNA of the brand,” advises Folake Coker. And she’s right.