Welcome back! This week's post is all about how 'HERSIDE' have decided to merchandise our first ever collection! Lots of planning has gone into mapping out how our collection will look - as well as how we're able to price it at the other end! Keeping the collection's prices, accessible, has been incredibly important to us. Undertaking the research to get it right, has been an incredibly long process. We want to make sure we enter the market with a collection that really embodies the brand but stays on budget (£10k). Since collaborating with Katy Wood, (ex production director at Reiss), our planning has been a lot more thought through and we can't wait to jump into designing, now that we have a clear understanding of where we want to sit in the fashion marketplace. Katy's advice to us has been invaluable and I thought sharing her collection planning advice, would help any other start-up designers, ensure they understand what they should research and why before they begin designing!

Competitor Analysis

So everyone knows it's a good idea to do your competitor research before you launch a company. But particularly in fashion it heavily influences the entire pricing pyramid. This is something Katy really stresses the importance of. "You really need to invest the time into your competitor analysis, because every other decision about your collection needs to align with where, in the market you sit, in relation to those competitors". This is something that we've since looked into heavily. What I've learnt is that it really ins't enough to just have a list of retailers that you feel are aesthetically close to your brand. You need to understand their entire collections inside and out. What are their entry level price points? What are their exit price points? What type of products sit there? What's the difference in fabrics at each end of the pyramid? What do they have sitting as their press piece? What's the highest profit margin items? And you need to know all of this for every retailer that you identify as a potential competitor. We've now acquired a huge number of documents that outline the answers to these questions and while it's definitely taken a huge amount of our time, it's now become extremely obvious how we need to design our collection in relation to the competitors we've identified.

Fabric Choices

Once you have analysed your competitors' collections, you need to thinking about where you sit in relation to them. Are you higher in quality? Lower in quality but better prices? More ethical and sustainable? Better customer service? More choice? Unique concept of some kind? And then based on your budget, you can start to place your self on a 'map' of where in the market customers would place you in relation to other retailers - based on everyone's offerings (perceptual mapping). Once you've identified where in the marketplace you want to be positioned, the price point you want to/need to charge can be set. And then based on this, you can start to select fabrics that align with this. This is so vital to do before you start designing. You or your designer will need to know what fabric the collection will be produced in so that the designs themselves can be created in such a way that compliments the selected fabrics. Each and every fabric type has a range of different qualities, that make it suitable for different uses. And depending on the quality, origin, thickness, handle, drape, construction method or finishing effect, the price can drastically differ - hence you need to figure this out first!

Core Collection VS Press Pieces

Of course not every piece in the collection is sat at the exact same price in the exact same material. This is where the pricing pyramid really comes into play. At the bottom of your pyramid should sit your bread and butter pieces. They are the pieces that represent your core collection. Your core collection should be easy to wear, everyday pieces that can be paired with almost anything. T-shirts, simple black/navy trousers, or basic shirts are all good examples. They're type of pieces that remain season after season with only small and infrequent updates throughout the years. There are also the items that retailers typically make the most margin on so it's important to make sure your brand's version of the 'core collection' is right for your customer group. However. These items usually no not photograph well. They're the type of clothing that everyone needs in their wardrobe and buys but they're not what typically excites you. This is where your press pieces come in. They're the epitome of what your brand stands for. The best of what your brand has to offer. They will typically be a 'wear once' kind of garment affair but they will also (usually) be the most complex and expensive to manufacture and therefore this sits right at the top of your pyramid where you set your most premium price point. Because of their strong, visual appeal, they work extremely well with magazine feature pages. They're amazing for brand campaigns. They're excellent for window displays. But they're not what actually sells the best (they actually sell the least). They're designed to draw attention to everything else you have to offer. Pieces that customers find suits their everyday lives better. So when considering your press piece - do not order a large quantity!

Product is King

The product is everything. No amount of marketing can cover up a bad product and a good product rarely even needs marketing (take Zara for instance (if you ignore the harmful effects of fast fashion for a moment)). The thought and detail that needs to go into a fashion product is immense. A customer needs to understand why they're paying what they're paying. If the product's fabric is extremely thin, the thread work is messy and the hem has only been ironed up instead of sewn, then people will expect an extremely competitive price point. And if it is then they understand they cannot expect more from the quality. But if the quality is there and the garment has clear signs of great craftsmanship then the customer will understand why the company would set a premium price point. Katy really stresses the importance however, of ensuring that quality is actually there. Product is king!

Learning from our Customers

Despite all the advice and all the preparation you can do, you're inevitably going to get it wrong anyway. It's not until your customers start to buy your products and report back (through returns) that you start to understand what is expected of your brand and what people are willing and not willing to pay for. Additionally they will tell you what your best sellers are over time. And those are the pieces of focus on and nurture over time. They will also tell you what products worked and why as well as what didn't and why. And from those responses, the brand can evolve over time into one that really understands it's customers and what pieces they will respond best to. From there the merchandising team can take this data, analyse it and use it to build up the design brief for the brand's next season!

Thank you so much for reading! I hope that was helpful for any other fashion start ups. For a very long time, I found it extremely confusing about where to start. Do you start with the branding and make everything fall in line with that? Or do you start designing and build a brand around that? It felt a bit like trying to work out what comes first - the chicken or the egg? But since having Katy on board to organise where my thoughts should go, in what order, the brand's progress has really kicked up a notch! If you are currently thinking of starting up your own fashion company, I highly recommend speaking with Katy yourself. The advice I received was specifically for my own company, 'HERSIDE', however this could vary for different brands so it's definitely worth seeking her out yourself. If you are interested in getting your own advice, contact Katy, at the Fashion Foundry!

If you're interested in keeping up with our journey, we post every Sunday. Next week's post is all about the outcome of this research we've done. It'll be all things inspiration, creative direction, colour palettes and fabric choices! If you'd like to be notified of when it goes live, subscribe to the blog to have the post emailed straight into your inbox!

Thank you so much again for all the support!



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