The fashion industry is challenging to break into and succeed in. The industry is highly competitive, nepotism is prevalent, and brands with economies of scale are at an advantage. Although these barriers to entry make it difficult for newcomers to get their businesses up and running, it is not impossible for them to launch a company and achieve success in the fashion industry – although it will require a lot of hard work.
If you are looking to start a company in the fashion industry, you will most definitely run into obstacles along the way. Fortunately, we had the chance to speak with Cesar Cruz. Cruz is the founder and CEO of Sebastian Cruz Couture, a Men’s Luxury Fashion Brand whose pieces have been worn by celebrities and professional athletes like Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russel Wilson at red carpet events.
Cruz found success, but the path to it was not easy; his company faced many obstacles during their venture into the fashion industry. We took the time to talk to Cesar Cruz to learn more about the problems newcomers in the fashion industry will face, and how they can overcome those obstacles.
Fashion Industry Advice from Sebastian Cruz Couture’s Cesar Cruz
Common Problems Among Industry Newcomers
Most newcomers try to mimic what others are doing and try to design another brand’s next collection as their first collection. Individuality is everything. People connect with brands because they feel it’s an extension of who they are. The best question for a designer to ask themselves is, “who is this for?” For me, it was very simple; I was creating a wardrobe for me. It has always been like that. The joke at Sebastian Cruz Couture when we are developing new products has always been, “well, if it doesn’t work, I will have a pretty sweet collection.” If the designs are not for the creator, then it has to be very clear who it is for, and the brand cannot be disloyal to that.
Newcomers are often impatient, but people don’t buy into the brands right away. Often times, they follow them for years before they make their first purchase. Branding is all about storytelling. If the story/journey you take your customers through is great, they will listen for some time before they purchase. Only the financially fortunate ones will buy right away, but the “masses of your brand” will take some time to convert. This is when many people quit because they were in it for the “quick buck.” But if you are in it because of the passion for what you do, and the art of storytelling, then this process becomes your addiction as it has become mine.
And newcomers don’t always know their audience. You have to know who your customer is. Think about what story you want to tell them, take them through a journey, and do not “stutter” through the process. When someone is reading you something, and they stutter throughout the process, it will probably distract you and cause you to lose attention–correct? This is the same thing that happens when a brand is all over the place and doesn’t know their customer or is inconsistent.
Where (and How) to Begin Your Fashion-Industry Journey
Fashion is one of the most difficult markets to penetrate. The first question to ask yourself is, “do you want to sell high volume, low ticket items (fast fashion to the mass market), or do you want to build a brand that targets the 1 percent”? These are two totally different strategies.
When it comes to fast fashion, you can build a site that looks great; a site with UGC and reviews. If the product already has a lot of search traffic/built-in marketing behind it and if your pricing is better than your competitors, then you can make a lot of money very quickly. However, you won’t really have a lot of brand loyalty. Since you market to the masses and the masses are very price elastic, there will be very little brand loyalty. The moment another company comes out with a similar product and does a better job at marketing it than you, you will lose a major piece of your market share.
On the other hand, when building a luxury fashion brand online, it will take longer but can last a lifetime. You have to make it clear that people are not going to buy from you primarily because of the price. You have to launch with a unique design, something that may not even exist yet. You use that to build your brand by showing the market that you are here to innovate, and they can depend on you to look/feel great. Try to always touch on all five senses; the best brands do.
Stay consistent with your message, and know that you will not find overnight success. Feel free to look at what other people are doing, primarily to see what they are doing wrong. There’s a good chance that most of the luxury brands that come to your mind are not doing it right. For instance, most rarely engage back when someone asks a question or comments on their page. There’s a lot of opportunities out there for new luxury brands to emerge due to the opportunities that existing luxury brands are giving us. It’s very easy to snatch out some major value props just by looking at what other luxury brands are failing to do. Offer something great and execute in a way that existing luxury brands are failing to do.
Cesar’s Tips for Newcomers
You can have the best product in the world, but if the execution is not more unique than the product, it will not work. There is a lot of “low hanging fruit” out there. For me, it’s very easy to get an edge on competitors through execution. I do not look at their product, and by no means do I look at our industry for new product development. My inspiration comes from the mistakes others make. Solving those execution mistakes gives you not only a clear competitive advantage but also brings those customers over indirectly. Why? Because at the end of the day, sales are psychological. Consumers are constantly “traumatized” by the fact that the brands they spend thousands of dollars with don’t engage with them in the way they wished. If you end up giving them “the love they want,” they will come to you. The luxury market is more about the uniqueness of what they are buying and the love you give them.
How Individuals Can Find Funding for Their New Fashion Venture
I never raised capital; my first product was my most profitable one. It was so unique that we sold thousands of them fairly quickly. We managed the revenue in a way that we never had to raise cash. Every month we continue to reinvest a significant percentage of our profits into the business. We will never have to raise cash. If you can do it this way, I would suggest it. That way, you have 100% control.
On the other hand, if you are going to raise money, then you better know your business. Often, people think they need money to start or grow their company. However, what they really need is resources, and all these resources are tied into the numbers. If you don’t know your numbers, you don’t know your business. You’d be surprised by the number of people I know that have “big eCommerce sites” and don’t know their numbers. When you ask them, “what is your AOV, CPMs, CPA, LTVs,” they have no idea what this is. In eCommerce, you need to know all of this because that is part of the storytelling. In fact, that tells you how much “telling your story” is costing you. So instead of renting out a big location to speak to that audience, if you operate online, you are essentially renting what I call “digital real estate” to tell your story. If you don’t know how much you are paying for that and how much it costs you to convert/scale, then you don’t know your business. Pay attention to everything, and only then will you be set up to raise cash.
Marketing Tips for Newcomers, and Sebastian Cruz Couture Found Its Marketing Niche
It’s funny; if you add up all the above, it will equal the answer. Building a brand like Sebastian Cruz Couture is an art. It requires lots of talent. It’s usually what others had no idea it would be. People spend a lot of time pitching their product and talking about how wonderful their product is. In my opinion, it’s not so much about the product. It’s more about how you present it. How do you want your customers to perceive your product?
Think about this, I can give you an incredible product and place it in your hands, and you won’t really feel anything. But if I tell you a story that connects with something you already feel before I even give you the product, if that product is aligned and lives up to the story that you have and is something that touches all five senses, then you are creating art. How do you want to paint your picture? How do you want others to perceive it? What story do you want it to tell? Finally, your product is the excuse you will create to build a relationship with the people that will buy from you. If you see it this way, it’s nearly impossible to fail. Why? Because you can’t “fake the above.” It takes a very passionate/talented person to paint a picture that others will buy. It’s exactly the same way with fashion.