Case Study: How NOT to morph from a designer to a brand

Some of these logos represent manufactured fashion brands. Can you tell which ones?

We watched over the years designers turn into brands and vice versa and wondered if it was ever a good idea. We heralded Target’s invention of the capsule collaboration but shunned the pop star turned designer ethos of K-mart. In any case, brands that embrace inspiration from high-end designers to TV shows (Olivia Pope for The Limited), brands thrive on reaching crowds through innovation and the constant need to look and dress like the ones we admire. However, it has not worded for designer brands like Noir. Juicy Couture and Betsy Johnson (who have both morphed into a brand) found that gimmicks destroy rather than increase loyal customers for designer brands. In this case study, we will explore what they did wrong and how you as a designer, can avoid the same fate.

Why not become a brand in the first place?

Some may argue that becoming a designed brand is possible but that is just fiction. Two aspects define a brand, they focus on trends of the market and the price is friendly to most of the population. Designers produce work unique to their point of view and the price reflects the uniqueness of their product. Crafters produce products with a unique point of view and a friendly price. If you happen to design your work on a raising trend with prices not too friendly to the consumer, you become a designer brand which is the kiss of death as Betsy Johnson found out. In retrospect, BJ never really found her niche market and worst her prices were too high to sustain general interest. A designer brand must go one way or another either lower cost and to compete with others who produce the same or similar products or limit distribution of your work to your niche market. In any rate; you will loose money the longer you stay in between until you either go out of business or sell. If you sell, you will be reverted into a brand as your products become manufactured and you will no longer have any influence in future production. You will no longer be a designer and your name will be attached to a brand. Nothing is more humiliating. So here are some points to make sure that does not happen.

Manufacturer brands can copy designs that can lead a designer to go out of business, the trick is to design items that are not worth reproducing because of cost or a niche market.

Discover your Niche Market and Expand it

The problem with designers is that they are increasingly fighting with manufacture brands for reproduction of designs that sometime borders on counterfeiting. So if you create broad trendy products like urban or kitschy (like Juicy Couture and Betsy Johnson respectively), you will be pushed out of the market as manufactured brands copy your looks for a cheaper price then you can afford. If you wish to continue your work then find another market where the style has not gone mainstream but still desired (BJ in Japan anyone?). Juicy Couture’s journey into a brand was also because urban chic became a staple in America but London is still on the rise and by expanding to that location could of saved them from becoming a brand.

Expanding to new locations does not necessary mean outside the US, you can move from Cali to NY if you create bohemian chic products since that trend is on the rise here but not mainstream as well as take urban chic to Chicago or Normcore to Seattle. In any rate, expand and save.

Too many sales or a sale at high percentages can hurt rather help your designer credit.

Keep your prices in the right market and don’t compromise

Lowering your prices only work if you want to become a brand and continue to produce trendy products while reaching that broader market. If you want to retain your name and make money from your designs then take a page from Michael Kors and limit sales. Do not let seasonal and holiday sales deter you from holding firm to your price points. If you do have sales limit them to no more than 25% so you do not seem desperate for sales. People are weary of sale items which now are damaged or faulty. Keeping sales few and between will increase customer loyalty. If you do need to clear away product, consider offering loyal customers a discount that others will not have access. This is a great way to build loyalty without sacrificing profit.

Create a consistent Voice

Some designers can feel detered from thier vision when sales take a downward turn and decide to go with gimmicky collaborations to entice new customers. I knew a designer who paired with a celebrity that not only did not take his brand into consideration but also put out a collection of questionable morality. Needless to say, it ended up not doing much for sales. It may have been better for him to take a look at his inventory for inconsistency.

1. Clean house: Remove products that are not selling and focus on the ones that are selling. Decide what is similar between all these products and develop a voice through these similarities. Alternatively, toss out all other products or re-invent them using your new viewpoint you just discovered.

2. Commit: Only produce the products in step 1. Even if you like a design, it is important to make a profit because that is what drives your future as a designer. It is how investors decide rather you are a risk or not and how you can file for grants or incubators.

3.Stay away from craft selling sites: Sites that have a variety of products will limit how many customers come your way because you will always be in competition with other designers as well as crafters who have more price friendly products. Build your own website to your voice so customer can get an idea of who you are as soon as they enter.

In conclusion, take care to create products that are unique and price within the market you want to attract. Stay away from producing products that has become mainstream or too trendy and hence picked up by brand stores.


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