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Success in fashion, why some brands fail

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  • Post last modified:18/12/2023
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Creativity, commerciality and uniqueness

Fashion, by its nature, moves in cycles. Hemlines go up and down, colours are bold and retreat to muted hues, heels elongate and flatten. While the industry loves to laud fashion brands who make it to 10, 20, 30 years or more, many will only make it to single digits.

This article takes a look at the secrets behind fashion brands’ triumphs and pitfalls that can lead to their downfall or their uprising, highlighting the reasons why some fashion brands have succeeded and why many of them failed. While no two brands are alike, success generally involves a combination of creativity, commerciality and the elusive X factor.

Brands can quickly rise or fall, so it is vital for brands to find a delicate balance of creativity and uniqueness, consistently connect with consumers to stay relevant, be fiscally responsible and commercial.

Industry consultant Jarrad Clark, based in New York who has worked with brands including Tommy Hilfiger and global fashion giant IMG, says, “It’s not all spreadsheets and cost-benefit analysis. There is plenty of opportunity for raw talent, when paired with clear vision and strong leadership”, however, “Long term, they [brands] must be able to set realistic goals, be fiscally aware, strategic in thought, and neurotic even, about consistency in the brand’s attention to its detail.”

The success of fashion entrepreneurs

Alice McCall announced the closure of her label this month after nearly 20 years.
Credit: Dominic Lorrimer

Creativity and business acumen are both essential for success in the fashion industry. On one hand, a creative approach to design, styling, and branding is essential to stand out from the competition. On the other hand, having a business mindset to analyse market trends and plan strategically is also key.

The most successful fashion entrepreneurs are the ones who can develop new ideas, visualize their ideas and execute their plans. It is not enough to be creative. Entrepreneurs need to be able to make decisions based on market analysis and use their business acumen to set the direction for their brand.

Time and resources also need to be allocated proportionately. For example, allocating too much time to creative pursuits and not enough time to business planning can lead to a lack of focus and direction. Similarly, allocating too much time to business planning and analysis and not enough to creativity can lead to a lack of innovation.

The key is to find the right balance between creativity and business acumen. Fashion entrepreneurs should focus on creating unique designs, styling, and branding. They should also use their business acumen to set a clear direction and plan strategically to reach their goals. By finding the right balance, entrepreneurs can make their fashion business a success.

Establishing Brand Identity

Effie Kats has built two successful businesses after her first venture failed after less than five years.
Credit: Eddie Jim

When it comes to success in the fashion industry, it’s important to form a recognisable brand. To thrive in the competitive landscape of fashion, brands must establish a unique identity and voice that resonates with their target audience. From luxury labels to sustainable and fast fashion retailers, each brand must strive to differentiate itself and create a lasting impression. A major contributing factor to any brand’s success is having brand identity, which includes:

  • A unique, well-crafted logo
  • A memorable slogan
  • Recognisable fonts and associated colours
  • A clear intention and mission

All of these are important elements for creating a strong brand image, brand message and identity. With these incorporated into the brand it is much easier to capture and keep your audience’s attention and trust. It creates a brand symbol that provides a clear representation of the brand and business that is recognisable and familiar.

Jarrad Clark, says brands are “most vulnerable when there is confusion about who they are, or what they stand for, which creates a domino effect across the rest of [their] business, including [their] supply chain”.

Factors contributing to a fashion brand’s success

Guiding brands towards the future ... Australian Fashion Council boss Leila Naja Hibri.

After establishing a recognisable brand. There are other important factors that brands should incorporate into their business that ultimately contribute to a brand’s overall success. These include:

Staying up-to-date with industry trends – producing high-quality products is good, but they also must to stay on trend. It’s important for brands to stay innovation with new designs to meet the demands of the consumers, providing products that are in season and trending; products consumers actually want. This is especially important in fashion, with trends changing on a seasonal basis, unlike other industries. This is what makes fashion unique and so fast paced.

Remain flexible and not be afraid to take risks- find the balance between the two. Many times, brands have become too entrenched in their own ideas and have failed to make changes when needed. So, it’s important that brands stay on top of this. Although, many brands lack the necessary capital to stay competitive this needs to be factored in as a priority to be successful.

Providing excellent customer service – consumers are loyal and they want to feel valued. In fashion many purchases are emotional, rather than logical. So, consumers want to feel connected to the brand in some way. It means brands need to provide a service that makes the consumers feel like they are valued and accepted. This could be something like providing special packaging with a purchase, a nice gift box or gift bag; a free gift with their purchase, like a sample; free delivery or a special next day delivery; a follow up email to see how they liked their purchase or even a phone call. All of these add value to the customer experience to make them feel special and appreciated.

Having a strong online presence- Having an active website, social media accounts and a presence on other digital platforms can help boost a brand’s visibility and drive sales. This is fast becoming more and more important for fashion brands but also more of challenge for brands, as they try to keep up with new technologies and online trends. Online platforms are always introducing new ways of showcasing brands and products which often requires learning new tricks or hiring more resources with a new set of skills to keep up. It can be expensive and time consuming, but it’s a required investment that brands have to make to succeed in the fashion industry.

The legendary fashion brands success

Amanda Briskin-Rettig: ‘Having lots of stores and breaking even – from my measure that wouldn’t be a success. To me, that’s treading water.’

Fashion brands have been around for centuries and many have been able to adapt and grow with the changing times. However, some have been able to make a mark on the industry like no other. Household names like Chanel, Gucci and Louis Vuitton are some of the most successful fashion brands in the world. The strategies they have implemented over the years are the pinnacle of their success. They have diversified their product offerings, kept up with fashion trends, utilised modern technology, digital marketing and virtual customer service. They consistently pay attention to their branding, changing and rebranding themselves, throughout the decades maintaining a strong brand identity.

These legendary fashion brands have really paved the way for other brands, giving the fashion world a benchmark for other brands to be able to analyse their business models and strategies that have attributed to their success.

Common pitfalls that lead to failure in the fashion industry

Zimmermann is one of Australia’s greatest fashion successes, but success has many guises.

Aspiring fashion brands and entrepreneurs have made some common mistakes. The fashion industry is a competitive and ever-changing world, with new trends and styles emerging all the time. Despite the many success stories in the fashion industry, there are pitfalls that can and have led to failure. Some common mistakes are:

-Failing to conduct adequate market research. Not researching is a mistake that can doom any fashion venture from the start. Knowing the target market, the trends that are selling, and the demographics of potential customers is essential to success.

Kellie Hush, the former Harper’s Bazaar editor who now consults for brands says “For some [brands] their price point is too high for the consumer [they are] trying to market to,” and “Even if the clothing is beautiful, sometimes the customers who could actually afford the dress couldn’t wear it.” So, it’s important for brands to know who their target market is which requires market research.

-Not having a clear and cohesive vision for the brand. Without a clear vision, it can be difficult to stay ahead of the competition and to keep customers interested. While some brands effortlessly capture the attention of consumers and become household names, others struggle to make an impact or quickly lose their allure.

-Not keeping up with evolving consumer preferences. Things are always evolving, especially in recent history with the global pandemic and technological advancement. Brands often struggle to keep up with changing market dynamics and changing buying habit, which contributes massively to sales declining and operational missteps.

-Poor investment of resources. Investing in quality materials, fabrics, and talent is essential in fashion. Most sales are emotional and consumers want to feel (literally) like they getting something of high value. Without high-quality materials and workmanship, any fashion venture is likely to fail.

-Not understanding the importance of marketing and promotion. Good marketing is imperative. The brands that stand out the most are those that have the best marketing campaigns and marketing strategies. Good marketing is an investment to make sure the brand stands out from the competition and reaches the right customers.

The importance of branding and marketing in the fashion industry

The future of fashion is bright ... Jordan Gogos.
The future of fashion is bright … Jordan Gogos. Credit: Dan Castano

Branding and marketing play a critical role in helping fashion companies gain visibility and establish a unique presence. Through effective branding and marketing strategies, brands can create an identity that resonates with their target audience and build a loyal customer base.

Branding is about creating an image of the company that appeals to the customers. This includes designing logos, creating website designs, and developing a unique brand voice. By leveraging the right branding strategies, fashion companies can build a strong, recognisable presence.

Marketing helps fashion businesses reach their target customers and promote their products and services. Through strategically planned campaigns, brands can create awareness about their offerings and encourage customers to make a purchase.

The fashion industry is a highly competitive space and it is essential for companies to stand out from the competition. By creating a strong brand identity and executing effective marketing strategies, brands can make a lasting impression on consumers and stay ahead of the competition.

The effects of failed fashion brands on the industry

In today’s highly competitive fashion industry, even with the best intention and in some cases good strategy, many fashion brands have still failed. They haven’t been able to keep up with the ever-changing trends and consumer demands, leading to their expiration. Despite their best efforts, many brands have had to close their doors due to lack of capital, ineffective marketing strategies, or poor customer service.

The failure of these fashion brands, not only has an impact on the industry but also on the people behind the scenes. From the designers and tailors to the factory workers and suppliers, these individuals face the consequences of the collapse of a brand which can be devastating. Many who work in fashion have a passion fashion, so the collapse of a brand tends to have a big emotional impact as well as an economical one.

Even so, these failures have also opened the door for new opportunities for other fashion brands and entrepreneurs to take advantage of. New brands are able to enter the industry where they may be a gap and take full advantage if they position themselves right.

Briskin-Rettig, a mentor for young designers says, “[failing] isn’t always a bad thing”. Some designers, like Kacey Devlin, bow out of their own labels but find fulfilment in other roles. Others, like Macgraw, have quietly notched up 10 years, with a healthy overseas clientele. Yet more will take their creativity and channel it into other disciplines, such as styling, or the arts. And some, so history has shown, will just fade away.

Success after failure – case study

If you want to really understand what it takes to make it in the fashion industry, it helps to talk to those who have failed.

Effie Kats, today runs two successful brands Eponymous and Bayse. But in 2018, Kats first brand, Zachary, closed after fewer than five years in business. Kats, who didn’t have any formal fashion training when she started Zachary, “had no idea the kinds of issues you can have with stretch garments”. She also fell victim to an “industry veteran”, who effectively conned her into signing away her own company, but not before she ran up debts for retail leases that she now says were never right for her brand’s target audience.

But today after here failed business, Effie Kats has now built two successful businesses. She says “I wouldn’t take it back, even if she could. I learnt so many lessons.” She says her gradual growth and strong social media presence has been key to her success this time and that “you have to evolve and adapt – that is tantamount to survival in this industry.” She infers that adapting to technology changes, how brands connect with their audience and customers, understanding that what’s happening socially or politically that could impact consumer confidence are all important factors to success. She also mentions aesthetics in relation to branding. But says “as soon as you remain stagnant your brand gets lost, fashion is commercial as well as artistic, and people overlook that factor.” She continues to say that brands need to have targets and budgets. She says “I am constantly looking at what’s selling, where we need to inject variety. I want my customers to feel and look how they want, without breaking the bank.”

Quick Tips  Recap for building a successful fashion brand

Building a successful fashion brand is no easy feat. It requires an immense amount of dedication, passion, and hard work. Here are a few tips to get your fashion brand off to a great start:

  • create a unique brand identity. Develop an eye-catching logo and design aesthetic that will stand out from the competition.
  • research the industry and create a business plan. Knowing the fashion landscape and understanding your target audience is essential.
  • create quality products. Quality is key when it comes to fashion. Invest in high-quality materials and production processes to create garments that customers will love.
  • establish a strong online presence. Make sure that your website, blog, and social media accounts reflect the brand’s personality and style.
  • market and promote. Invest in a solid marketing strategy and brand campaign to stand out from the competition.
  • focus on customer service. Make sure that your customers have a positive experience when they interact with your brand.
  • stay commercial – create targets and budgets. Be financially viable with your brands investments and strategies.

Whether you’re a fashion enthusiast, industry insider, or aspiring brand owner, understanding the dynamics that shape success and failure in the fashion realm is vital. By following these tips, you can make sure that your fashion brand is successful and long-lasting.

Good luck!

Final thoughts

There is often a misconception that fashion is all ‘champagne and catwalks.’ Not finding the balance between creative and commercial can tip some brands over the edge, often before they have really got off the ground. As well, like in Kats case growing too quickly, expanding and opening stores may be seductive but doesn’t always make commercial sense. Having lots of stores and breaking even may be manageable in the short term, but not sustainable. Expanding too quickly is risky as we’ve learned from the recent pandemic, things can change fast.

It is important for brands to look beyond Gen Z and to approach commerciality from a long-term perspective. Brands have to forecast how the industry is changing and work towards sustainability. Brands need to be sustainable economically and socially. Brands need to consistently stay proactive and connected to their audience. They need to follow popular trends and technological advancement. More so than a heavy financial investment. Brands must invest in their brand identity and what it symbolises to remain relevant and successful.

Guest Posts

Pritzy welcomes article contributions from professional writers or simply someone with a unique perspective. Whether you are a seasoned veteran or new to fashion, if you have something valuable to share with our readers, we want to her from you

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