How much does it take to start a fashion brand? Blood, sweat, tears, and between $300,000 – $3 Million USD upfront. Granted, it’s quite a range, but this is what it takes to launch a fashion brand in 2014 and there is no guarantee of success. So much so that about 60% of trained fashion designers drop out of the industry or, if they don’t, go to work for someone else as a designer while relegating their own brand to nights and weekends. Those that do stay for the lonely haul of running a fashion brand as their sole source of income are often supported by their family – financially and otherwise – though often don’t talk about it.*

Fashion is a game of perception and what some designers and most consumers fail to understand is the glamour versus the economics of starting a line. For example, a professionally produced, ten minute runway show during New York Fashion Week can easily cost over USD $100,000 and that show does not translate directly into sales. Many of the pieces that go down the catwalk are never accessible to consumers. Fashion shows in turn become more of a (very large) marketing expense than a sales opportunity. For bigger brands, these shows have become a necessity, but, for smaller brands just starting out, productions like this often break the bank with limited exposure as it may take three or more seasons of showing collections to get on the radar of retailers, let alone sell to them. This model of breaking into fashion and retail has largely remained untouched since its inception close to 100 years ago. Since that time, the financial bar to entry has only risen as larger brands – with deeper wallets – contend for the same audience of retail buyers and press. The result is a largely static ecosystem that is not wholly reflective of the design talent that is left untapped.

As a designer, I value tradition and respect the roots of this model but now is the opportunity for change and innovation. I know the story of the struggle first hand as a designer. I have had what would seem like major industry success – after co-designing a line that launched at Lincoln Center during New York Fashion Week 2010, I took a solo designed collection to the final round of judging at London Fashion Week in 2012. Both lines were financially backed by investors, both spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, were well received, but both ultimately failed. Like I said, success isn’t guaranteed. There should be a better way to bring the best creative brands to market. Technology has disrupted and improved so many industries, allowing more participation, creation and innovation to move us forward.

As a shopper, now you can be a part of helping designers “stilleto-strap” their lines without the pain of events that often don’t help them reach their end goals. With sales playing the biggest factor in their success, it’s up to you to decide whose talent is worth pushing production forward. Help us seize this opportunity in the fashion space to create the stronger, leaner, meaner brands of tomorrow.

*Lauren Sherman of Fashionista wrote a great overview of this problem.

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