Being a fashion designer isn’t easy. From the outside, it may appear to be glamorous and perfect, but anyone in the industry will tell you that it is often a far cry from it. There are late nights, hair-pulling moments, and more lackluster incidents. Our head designer at L. Royalty Clothing, Ginger, has experience at several companies throughout the industry which has allowed her to learn and grow as an independent designer. One resource Ginger always recommends to aspiring designers is Mary Gehlhar’s The Fashion Designer Survival Guide. Today we are starting ou mini book club and discussing several chapters at a time. Grab a copy, and let’s get started! 

In Chapter 1, Mary Gehlhar makes it clear that being a fashion designer isn’t as glamorous as you might think. (Cue Fergie’s “Glamorous.”) She states, “If you’re doing this just to be famous, forget it.” Gehlhar goes on to list several truths of the industry that you may not realize at first. The biggest misconceptions of young designers just starting out is the cost of getting your business up and running, how much hard work it really takes, and how little time you actually spend creating. I was surprised when the author said that “You will design less than 10 percent of the time.” It made me realize how designers must also be business savvy to succeed. Andy Warhol says that “Good business is art,” so it’s important to shift gears to prioritize the nitty-gritty of accounting and legality aspects alongside creativity and designing. 

If you’re feeling discouraged after reading all of the realities of being a designer, don’t worry. Gehlhar offers some advice: start out by working for another designer. This will first and foremost give you experience within the industry. Working for another designer will teach you first hand what it’s really like to be in the industry, and you will learn about every facet of being a designer. In addition to this, it will also give you the capital to start your own business, connections to suppliers, and an outstanding reputation. Gehlhar says that working for another designer is the most important piece of advice that she can give. 

Next up, in Chapter 2, you’ll read about developing a business plan. A business plan will keep you on track to achieve your goals. Writing a business plan might be daunting to creatives, but at the end of the day, you will know your company the best because it’s yours. Taking ownership of your label is critical to its success. Gehlhar outlines the important elements of a business plan as follows: an executive summary, company overview, marketing and sales plan, competitive analysis, operations plan, and financial analysis and projections. This plan will set the course of your business, so take your time when developing it. There are many resources available online to help you with this, including Gehlhar’s recommendation –

In addition to a business plan, Gehlhar recommends seeking out legal advice when deciding on the format of your business. You have options such as sole proprietorship, limited liability corporations (LLC), and corporations. The author strongly cautions against having a sole proprietorship because if someone were to sue, they could seek damages from the company and you personally. Getting a lawyer will help an aspiring designer to make business moves that are legal and keep their company safe. Similarly, hiring an accountant to do bigger tasks such as taxes or payroll may also be a wise decision. 

For our last chapter this week, Chapter 3, the author discusses money. (I’m sure you’re already thinking of a Rihanna or Cardi B song right about now.) The two main points of this chapter is cash flow and financial backing. Firstly, cash flow is the movement of money in and out of your business with the goal to ultimately be having more coming in than out. Especially when starting out, it’s important to keep expenses low since the cash from a collection will usually come about nine months later from sales. You need money to make money, so cash flow management is critical. Secondly, Gehlhar talks about the capital to get off the ground and where to get it. Personal sources are the first options which include personal savings, freelancing, and working a day job. It can take years to build up enough money to start your business, so don’t expect it to happen overnight. Other aspects of personal backing come from a personal loan or a credit card, but Gehlhar recommends both of these with caution. As brands grow and gain more of a following, you’ll need outside backing to support the expensive manufacturing process and everything needed to take your label to the next level. The author gives tips and tricks such as perfecting your “elevator pitch,” how to search for loans, and to always remember to negotiate. 

Whew! That’s a lot to chew on, and we’re only three chapters deep! Feeling inspired? Let us know what you think of this book so far in the comments below. Share a favorite quote or a question you may have. 

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