How to make it big in the fashion biz

By Pierra Calasanz-Labrador for Yahoo! Southeast Asia

Do you dream of being the next Rajo Laurel or Furne One? Do you imagine celebrities donning your designs, spotting your creations in fashion glossies, or perhaps seeing a billboard of your brand as you drive past EDSA? Unless you’re a genius or favored by the gods of fortune, you can’t expect to become a successful designer or fashion entrepreneur overnight.

Amina Aranaz-Alunan, designer of ARANAZ and co-founder and executive director of School of Fashion and the Arts (SoFA) Design Institute, shares some valuable tips on how to make it big in the fashion industry.

Eat, Sleep, Think Fashion!
The minute you realize that you harbor dreams of being a designer or fashion entrepreneur, try to learn all you can about your craft and industry. Do your homework, devour books and articles on the topic, apprentice if possible, and enroll in a fashion course.

What can you learn from design school that you can’t pick up from experience? Says Alunan, “Creativity and entrepreneurial skills come naturally for most. Yet, just like any natural talent or skill, it must be nurtured and cultivated for it to develop and strengthen. A top athlete does not reach success simply by self-training. He/she enrolls himself in a sports program or submits himself to the mentorship of a trusted coach. The same can be said about design.”

Alunan shares that going to a design school like SoFA allows individuals to make the most of their creative potential. “SoFA will immerse you into a full educational experience that nurtures and challenges your creativity. It teaches you the value of discipline and drive, which is very important especially in a creative field. Coupled with entrepreneurial skills, it will teach you how you can transform your passion into a lucrative career.” 

Beyond Talent.
Simply having a talent for design and an eye for style won’t instantly turn you into a fashion superstar. The industry may look glamorous, effortless, and even superficial to some, but it takes brilliance, bravery, and dedication to succeed in the fickle fashion industry. Alunan lists the qualities a successful fashionista must possess: “Discipline, professionalism, a global mind-set, the ability to think BIG, business acumen, and an understanding of numbers.”

Fashion by Numbers. Yes, numbers! Even if you are hopelessly math-challenged, you should at least learn the basics of managing your business before trusting the business side to someone else. Brilliant designers whose businesses have been terribly mismanaged (by themselves or others) should serve as a cautionary tale.

Alunan shares, “Though it can get tricky and overwhelming to do both the creative and business side, I advise to do both early on in your career. Learn the ropes of design and business. This way, you won't be in the dark about both areas of the industry. It will give you a more balanced understanding. However, as it grows, go ahead and hire a business partner. Being able to delegate will allow you to bring your company to the next level.” 

Dream big. Be realistic. It’s important to be aware of the challenges you face in the fashion industry. Some things Alunan advises to keep in mind:
• It is a generally small market size. You must always find ways to expand your market or to find new ways to cater to the same market.
• Raw materials and manufacturing capabilities are not easily accessible. You need to do a lot of research.
• It is not easy for a local designer to penetrate the global market. There is not much financial support or assistance available as compared to other countries. I have discovered that designers in other countries get subsidized by their governments to join various international tradeshows. In the Philippines, designers have to fund themselves.

Promoting yourself. In this fiercely competitive digital generation, you’ve got to put yourself out there, but in a smart, deliberate way. You’ve got to be as meticulous and creative with your branding as with your designs, and even if you’re the shy type who shuns the spotlight, you have to get your message of your brand across. For new designers/fashion entrepreneurs who want to get the word out, Alunan reveals, “Marketing is very, very important. You need to create a strong brand position and consistent brand story. This branding should cover all areas of your communication and living through the collections you create. CONSISTENCY is key in building a brand. Have a strong idea of what your brand stands for.”

Ultimately, for young designer or fashion entrepreneur hopefuls, Alunan advises: “Drive and perseverance are important. Know your product and brand. Be bold & ambitious and work at it; but stay grounded and focused.” It takes hard work, persistence, skill, a certain style intuition, and vision to make it big in the fashion industry, but the fact that you are doing what you love makes it all worth it.

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