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Highsnobiety Commentary August, 29 2013
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How to Survive as a Streetwear Brand

At one point or another, a brand is going to come to a crossroads – whether that be deciding to stick with what’s working – or attempt that tricky tightrope walk that is trying to either deliver on trends, or cultivate enough brand reliability from consumers that they can forecast the fads themselves and ultimately survive in a crowded landscape. But this is just one conundrum in a realm of thousands that a brand will have to face as the years progress. Additionally, we live in a connected and digital world where social media tools have become as integral a part of a brand’s success as the garments themselves which seems to put the “hype” in hyperbole. Finally still, individuals dive head first into the world of streetwear without considering the business aspect of things as if the idea of “dress up” intrigues them more than the almighty dollar. Having spent many years in the industry from both an editorial and consumer standpoint, here’s a few tips on how to survive as a streetwear brand.

To read the ongoing roundtable discussion, head here.

David Fischer – Founder & Publisher

Creating a brand is not easy. It takes persistence, it takes drive and you have to be aware that most likely it will take you years to establish it. Sure, nowadays the Been Trills of this world come out of nowhere and become hugely known in a matter of no time. Please keep in mind that these type of brands usually also do not stick around for very long. If you want to play in this market for a long time you need vision and you need to have a clear theme in mind when creating your line. Who do you cater to? What look is your brand going for? What is your target market? What is your price range? What is your business model? Do you wholesale or not? Do you go niche or mass market? There are a lot of questions to be answered before getting started.

Pretty much every brand that I know that has been around for a while had these questions answered from the beginning. When we started in 2005 a wave of new streetwear brands entered the market and you know what? Not many are still around. The ones that are, not only got the design and production right, most importantly they got the business part right. Keep that in mind.

In streetwear most brands tend to start with T-shirts. It’s an item that everybody wears and that is not too pricey, so it usually makes for a good entrance into the market. At the same time, everybody does it. If you can find a more original way to start, even better. Caps have been the latest thing for brands to get started – mainly 5-panel caps with all-over designs – but I think it is safe to say that ship has sailed as well. The point here is to find a cool item to get started – an item that has a market – but that makes you unique and stand out. If you are strong with graphics, the T-shirt might be the best place to start. If you are strong with fabrics and cuts, you might want to go with something else. Most importantly do not jump on trends. Have a clear look in mind and stick to it. You can of course slightly adapt to current trends, but in general you have to stay true to yourself with your product. Trends come and go and if you do not want your brand to do the same, then you have to establish your own look.

Pete Williams – Editor-in-Chief & Founder of Raised by Wolves

Despite actually studying business in school, I dove into this “business” without any regard for traditional processes. Besides a bit of marketing, the rest of what I learned fell by the wayside in favor of developing the best product possible. Now five years in, we’re playing catchup on accounting, financing, production, logistics, staffing, etc. From my perspective, the fact that you need to actually run a business at some point is one thing that is completely overlooked by most people who get into this game. Beyond all the cool clothes, this is a business first and foremost. Well disguised as art in many cases, but at the end of the day we’re playing a game of supply and demand.

I can tell you from firsthand experience that once you get out your first few seasons and things go from hobby to legitimate business, you need to actually buckle down and get to the numbers or you’re done. If you wonder where all those incredibly cool brands went after a few years on the scene, it’s likely they crashed and burned through mismanaged books.

When success hits, things get very serious very quickly. So you wrote $100K in orders? Do you have $50K in cash to front production and fulfill those orders? If not, do you have good enough credit to secure a loan to get that collection made? Can you properly estimate your lead times and deliver on time? Do you have the manpower and time to pick and pack all these wholesale orders? When you launch online, can you actually fill those 300 boxes and get them out to your customers on time? Can you respond to their complaints? Have you been keeping proper records for the alphabet boys? And are you paying your sales tax? Do you have proper import/export licenses? Do you have any idea how to manage a payroll system once you bring on your first employee? Do you need to move out of your apartment and into a proper office/warehouse and get it insured? What happens when your customers don’t pay? If you can’t stay on top of the cash flow, you’re done. Plain and simple. Oh yeah, and please remember to keep focused on creating great product.

Luis Ruano – Art Director

I’m sure most people would love to start a brand they can call their own. To print and create stuff whenever they want and pump gear out to the masses in exchange for some green. Unfortunately, many important factors are overlooked, including production, distribution, marketing and ultimately presentation. My expertise lies on the visual side of things and throughout the past near decade I’ve been heavily into the scene, I’d like to think things have improved dramatically, although there’s still a wide gap between what some brands think is good and what truly is acceptable.

Presentation doesn’t just stop when you drag your friends out to a field to shoot them in creased-up T-shirts. It encompasses everything. Your website, business cards, product shots, lookbooks and even yourself. How you present yourself matters and will get you further than you think.

If I had any advice for a new brand, it would be to really sit down and think about what you want your image to be. How do you want to be perceived? To what demographic do you want to cater to? Invest time and money into this. Consult with people who have the experience and don’t be afraid to do some research. Your look will define your following and in the end, that’s who you’ll aim to please every season. Find a good photographer with knowledge in the industry, get a stylist (or stylish friend) and some proper models (or good looking friends) and don’t forget to iron your clothes!

Alec Banks – Editor

There are two schools of thought when it comes to enduring that rocky patch situated between the initial buzz that comes with being the new kid on the block, and inevitably discovering if all that hard work in between results in either success or failure. This period – this oh so vital period – is when creativity and a rock solid game plan need to be enacted. What we as consumers fail to realize as we age, is that sometimes we outgrow the market for certain products, styles and patterns. It doesn’t mean the so-called trend has passed, rather it’s an organic transition – a proverbial hand-me-down of sensibilities from one person to another. A brand has to decide if it’s going to age with its core demographic, or remain true to a sartorial marketplace that has probably already proven to be a sweet spot. If you think that staying “put” limits a brand’s growth, think about how many brands out there have kept a universal design theme while adding more and more products to the lineup. I can think of countless brands that started by selling tees, and after a few seasons were already doing cut and sew and footwear. Growth is what allows for survival, but it’s up to the particular company decide where that expansion will go.

Selectism