4 Lessons Your Business Can Learn from the Fashion Industry

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Think your business has nothing in common with the glamorous, trend-driven world of fashion? Think again. Here are four great lessons your business can learn from the fashion industry:

Start Small

Did you know that Ralph Lauren started his fashion career as a necktie salesman? Similarly, Coco Chanel began as a clerk in a hosiery shop, and Salvatore Ferragamo worked on an assembly line producing cowboy boots. We’ve all got to start somewhere, and it’s almost never at the top.

So don’t be discouraged if your big idea isn’t immediately a massively profitable success. Pursue your passion and build experience, even if you have to start small or keep your day job, and those baby steps can ultimately lead to big success.

Market to People Whose Values Already Align with your Brand

The products we buy say a lot about our values. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in fashion, where consumers express themselves by choosing between brands as varied as polished, conservative Ralph Lauren and hip hop label Baby Phat. These companies have succeeded by speaking to a market that already shares their values, rather than trying to change consumers’ tastes. Ralph Lauren doesn’t need to seem urban or trendy; it already has the market cornered on a timeless, Ivy League look instead.

What happens when labels ignore this rule and fail to play to the values of their base? Consider the launch of Walmart’s George clothing line in 2002. Intended to help Walmart become a contender in the arena of serious fashion, George offered well-made professional wear at Walmart’s famous low prices. Since Walmart already held 25% of the U.S. apparel market before the launch, its competition was seriously nervous. Yet George never took off as expected, achieving only modest success.

The moral of the story? Play to the values of your base. People don’t go to Walmart looking for high fashion, so those who can afford it continued to buy big investment pieces like suits and dresses from more upscale fashion retailers, while George became a source for affordable basics like shirts and tights.

Keep up with the Trends

The world is constantly changing, and if you don’t change with it, you could be left behind. This is a rule that virtually defines the fashion industry, where new looks grace the runway every season, and sometimes, entire business models change with consumers’ evolving tastes. Just ask the Canadian Lady Corset Company—now known as Wonderbra. Stay relevant and keep consumers engaged by staying on top of the trends and offering new solutions to a rapidly changing market.

Tailor your Social Media Strategy to your Business

As members of a highly visual industry, fashion designers have found incredible success on Pinterest, an underutilized medium which was responsible for 23% of e-commerce sales generated by social media in the second quarter of this year. If a picture is worth a thousand words, the beautiful boards posted by companies like Anthropologie and Kate Spade speak volumes about the virtues of their clothing. Both designers even supplement pictures of their own products with images from the web to create inspiring themed collections like “For Your Getaway,” “Wear to Work,” and “Think Colorfully,” expanding the image of their brand into something more like a lifestyle than a series of purchases. By choosing their medium wisely, both labels achieve results they’d be hard pressed to get on Twitter or Facebook.

With social media as with any other task, make sure you’re using the right tool for the job. Want to tantalize customers with appealing images? Try getting a Pinterest or Instagram account. Are short, text-driven news blasts more your thing? Then Twitter might be your go-to tool.

For more social media tips from the fashion industry, check out Stephanie Meyer’s recent Inc. article: http://www.inc.com/stephanie-meyers/6-social-media-tricks-fashion-brands.html

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