How Digital has Blindsided Fashion Designers

It’s hard enough to succeed as a fashion designer… from coming up with a unique product, brand and viewpoint, to mastering manufacturing and distribution and receiving industry support and endorsement…but it is often the world of ‘digital’ that has proven most elusive and even damaging to burgeoning brands.

Twenty years ago distribution may have been somewhat straight forward…from securing plum wholesale deals to eventually opening a store. Ten years ago the savviest of designers even managed to create web platforms but many also found themselves also dealing with fraud not to mention dizzying to secure trusted, cost-efficient web development and digital marketing resources. Some designers dropped their website or avoided it all together from the start. Even some of the biggest luxury houses have only ramped up their digital activity in the past 3-5 years.

One of the biggest issues that has arisen today — often without many small-to-mid sized fashion brands even noticing — is the way in which a brand can be co-opted and even damaged by the very thing that was an indicator of success…their wholesale relationships.

Sound familiar? Here are few reasons why and what can be done:

Include strong digital terms in wholesale agreements. While much consideration is given to negotiating deals with wholesalers often anything digital is an after-thought. But these wholesalers — who often range from department stores to pure-play multi-brands such as Net-a-Porter and Matches Fashion — have robust and increasingly sophisticated digital operations. What does this mean? We don’t need to spell it out for most of you, but this scenario is increasingly common…

A consumer Googles your brand after being introduced in-store or in the news and are immediately besieged by ads for ’70% off’ your band. Some sites even look rather suspect. Others drive consumers right to knock offs. How is this happening? Because even if your wholesale partners aren’t exploiting your brand, their affiliate partners are. Affiliate sites like shopping aggregators aggressively bid on your brand an append inflated % off to drive consumers to their sites. These sites are fighting for users more than ever and using your brand as bait – especially if you’ve had particularly good press and/or a celebrity publicly has worn your designs.

Playing at the same game. In many cases in the above scenario the ‘horse is out of the gate’; but all is not lost. You as a brand can engage in affiliate marketing too. You can go to aggregators who are buying your brand terms and offer a better business arrangement in working directly. You can often increase the commission you offer over your wholesales with less of an impact on margins and start to have a direct dialogue with those same companies exploiting you for traffic.

Find solid, reasonably-priced digital partners. Designers are creative, esthetically-driven and often find themselves tugged toward looking at their sites as art and (rightfully) as an extension of their brand. But this doesn’t mean spending loads of money on flashy images and the same website designers used by X, Y, Z house. It’s more important that your site works and works well. This is not mutually exclusive to representing your brand, but the focus should be heavily weighted to functionality. If consumers are fighting to even get to your site, through all of your wholesales and affiliate partners, then they expect search and buy to be a breeze. Everyone wins when you take control of the relationship with your customer.

Don’t let the passion, grit and hours spent building your brand be damaged by the world of digital. It’s not an either or proposition and there are loads of resources available and many you can easily manage yourself.