We are going to address an issue many startups and existing brands face: how to find your fashion brand niche. We work with many brands worldwide through the apparel entrepreneurship member zone and our one-on-one consulting. We help them identify the exact actions they need to take to move forward and to grow their business. We help them take their brands to the next level of income, profits, and entrepreneurial lifestyle. To make sure we are a good match for each other, us and the customer, we have a relatively short consultation call, about 20-30 min where we ask them a bunch of questions related to their business to see how best w can support them. When we have our consultation calls with new brand owners we hear 2 things over and over again:
I have so many ideas, I want to launch with outerwear, and shirts and jeans, and socks and they keep going with more and more products on that list. Basically, they want to do it all, to start with a full-on 20-piece collection
The second thing we hear: I have no idea what products I want to make. What should I start with? I need to make this thing work from the start. And that’s the version where the person wants to start a brand but doesn’t know with what product.
No matter if you are just launching or if your brand has been around for a while, you want to be known for something unique.
You want to be known for something specific, and something distinct, that isn’t already out there. As you know, there are tons of existing brands and products. How are you going to make sure you stand out, and that the customers will buy your products instead of going somewhere else? In this post, we are going to talk about how to find your unique, special place, the gap that only you can fill.
What is a niche market and why should you find yours?
A niche market is a small subset of the market for a specific demographic, product type, a particular price point, and certain quality. Basically, a place where there is high demand and low supply.
The advantage of finding your own “pocket” is less competition. With less competition, you have higher chances to sell your product to the exact right people, that actually want and need your product. You can potentially even charge more because of the lack of competition.
This also increases brand loyalty and gives the brand a bit higher buying rates. Since your target customer is right there, you will not have to spend as much money on marketing. As long as you talk to the customers in their language, authentically, and by telling valuable stories, they will not have to be “sold to”. They will get your brand from the get-go. Customers like brands that are clear, consistent, and have a strong why.
The fashion industry is a 3 trillion dollar industry. That’s huge. This means massive opportunities for both existing brands and newcomers.
For startups to enter the market and get off the ground properly, they need to place themselves in a relatively small niche. They need to be where their target customers are, and where there is a healthy amount of competition. If there are a few competitors, it means that there is a market and a need for your type of product and concept. You can always tweak both your concept, values, business strategies, and products to differentiate yourself from the others. By doing this, startups will increase their chances of growing.
If you want to get a reality check, you should visit a trade fair for your type of product. If you are making activewear you can for example visit ISPO Munich, which is the world’s largest trade fair for sports business. When you visit this fair for the first time, you are struck with how many brands there are, and how many SIMILAR brands there are. This shouldn’t frighten you. Or maybe just a little bit. But, it should trigger you to want your brand to stand out. Imagine your brand being exhibited next to all other brands at this fair. How would you get noticed? What would set you apart?
OK, now we know what a nice market is and why you should find yours. That leads us to the big question:
HOW do you find your niche market?
You guys know how much we love tactics right, so we’re gonna give you the full-on version.
It all starts with general media monitoring. Check relevant brands online, offline, and in shops, you can talk to boutique owners, you can talk to your friends and family, you can read everything you can find related to your idea. Amazon’s “best seller” page is updated every hour so you will have a very accurate list of products to compare with. You can also go to fashion fairs and talk to other brand owners. You start to take notice, you start to connect dots, notice the hunches you get, things you have heard, read, things you have seen in shops, trends, and all that info should give you a very clear picture of where you should be heading with your idea and brand.
So, we have put together 7 questions for you, and a few tasks for each of them. By answering the questions and going through the tasks in the following 7 steps, it will help you determine your niche market. If you are already in a niche market, you might answer these questions and find that you should remain in your niche or move away into a new niche where the opportunities are bigger for you.
But, please please do not rush this process. It is important that you take your time and that you do everything thoroughly. All the research from this phase will make or break your brand in the future. Make a long list with ideas, don’t edit anything, at least not yet. The more ideas you have, the better it is.
OK, let’s start:
We will walk you through the 7 questions and with each question we will have a little task for you. We want to you take proper action and start implementing this right away.
1. What are your passions and skills?
You will be the engine behind your brand, or you and a small team. If this is your first business, you will soon realize that there are ups and downs, and you’ll realize how hard you have to work to succeed. Your passion will make your work easier. It will make you endure the downs, and it will help you push through the tough periods.
So, what passions do you have that can be related to the apparel industry? Are you a biker? Do you love tailored suits? Are you streetwear obsessed? Is your wife nagging about a problem with her outfits for the 100th time?
You will work 24/7 on your business, and if your passion doesn’t lie here, you should then NOT launch a clothing brand. If you truly are passionate and have genuine interests in the related segments, then you’re on the right track. Customers in niche markets tend to be very knowledgable, and they will sniff you miles away if you are not authentic and if you don’t know your stuff.
One last thing about this, trust your gut feeling. You know deep down inside what you want to do. Trust that intuition!
Make a list of at least 5 interests. What do you enjoy doing? What industry do you know a lot about? Which of those interests can you benefit from in your new business?
Make a list of at least 5 things you’re good at. What are you great at doing? What comes easily to you? Which of those skills can you apply in your new business?
2. What values do you want to run your business by?
The apparel market is extremely saturated. Today’s customers buy brands based on values and what they stand for. By making a list of values, you will narrow down even more on your target customer, demographic, and positioning. Is it sustainability, transparency, support local community, quality standards, for a specific gender, etc? If you have a hard time coming up with ideas, start listing the values that you love about your favorite brands. Look at your top favorite brands and see what you love about them and why. This is a pretty fun exercise. You can make it in written form or as a mood board with loads of pictures if you want. Or combine the 2.
Make a list of your values and your non-negotiables.
3. What area do you want to go to?
This bit is pretty much self-explanatory. What type of products do you want to make? You can’t and shouldn’t do it all, so definitely narrow down from the start. You will have a target audience, and you should stick to offering them the best product possible, instead of making things to suit everybody, but that, in the end, doesn’t suit anybody, right? So, remember the area you want to go in, should preferably tie back to and work in sync with question number one – what are your passions and skills.
Answer these questions:
- What segment do you want to start in? Menswear, bridalwear, sportswear, streetwear, childrenswear, etc? What gender should it be for? Men’s, women’s, kids, unisex?
- Do you want to sell online, retail, or a mix?
- What is your geography?
- Where is your customer?
- What price segment will your products be in?
- What quality do you want to have? (this is often related to the product price)
4. Who is your customer?
Mentioned it briefly in the previous question. In order for a brand to be successful, the brand absolutely needs to know who its target customer is. In order to know their preferences, where they shop, what they like, what they don’t like, you have to create a target customer profile before you start your brand. Basically so you know who to design for. If you know people that fit your ideal customer profile, talk to them. Tell them about your concept and ideas and show them product ideas. But please do this only with the people that fit your target profile description, and not your friends and family. They are most likely, not your ideal customer. When someone is not your brand’s people, they will not understand the concept, or the product, or the need that you are trying to solve, and they will probably not have the same values. So stay super focused on your true ideal customer.
We have written a post called How to define your customer. It’s exactly about what the headline states, How to define your customer.
Read the post to help you identify your target customer. And everything you do in your business, from the moment you have defined your ideal customer, everything you put out into the world should be for this person.
So your task is to define your target customer.
5. What problems can you solve?
Most of the successful apparel brands in the market, solve some sort of a problem for their target customer. What pain points does your target customer have and how are you going to solve this for them? For example, you are someone that travels a lot, and most of your suits get easily wrinkled during your trips. You would like to design a suit that doesn’t wrinkle, that stays fresh, and that looks sharp in all situations. This suit will require certain materials, a certain fit, certain manufacturing, it will be at a certain price point, etc.
In the segment area that you have defined, what are the pain points that you are going to address for your customers? How are you going to solve this through your products?
6. Perform a thorough market research
It is vital to know the market you are entering. Know who your competitors will be, know what price ranges there are, know what quality your competitors offer at what price, and know the collections, the colors, the materials, the marketing, the stories, and the pitches. What is there and what ISN’T? You should check as much what isn’t on the marketplace as what is. Analyze that later. Why is there a gap? If you see a potential gap, that’s your chance to fill it. If the gap is very clear, can that mean that there is no opportunity there? Talk to retailers and if possible customers to get clarification on this. Figure out what makes them your competition, and then do it better or differently.
Today you have to be different, and it’s better to be different than better. There are too many brands out there, and you have to mark your space and make an imprint on people’s consciences.
Make a SWOT analysis after you’ve done your market research.
7. Testing testing testing
When you know who your customer is, what they want and what your niche is going to be, it’s good to test your ideas and products. When you test your idea, you will have lots of valuable information to tweak your product offering. You will also know how to talk your customer’s language, making it easier for you to connect, attract and keep your customers. Be aware of how small your niche is. If there are not that many customers that want your products, you will have a hard time to grow your business. If you have a big vision for your brand and want to expand, you could be “trapped” in that niche, and it will be hard to move on.
Evaluate your product offering and the receiving in your market. Adjust your offer to serve your niche better.
One great example of a clothing brand that started out in a niche, and really succeeded is Everlane. They started in 2010 with a venture capital investment of around $1.1 million. Now it’s estimated to be valued at over $250 million.
Evarlane launched with a single tee shirt design, and have narrowed in on the basic apparel space. They know their niche and build high-quality products that are designed to withstand trends.
There are many aspects behind their success, such as focusing its time and energy on designing products that its customers will wear for years to come. This allows them to avoid excess.
Something that makes them stand out in their niche is their commitment to transparency. They publish their costs and markups clearly on their website in simple infographics. They allow the customer to see every expense related to a particular piece of clothing.
So it is possible to keep it simple and succeed with your brand.
I’ll also tell you the story about our kidswear brand. In 2011 we moved to Stockholm. Our kids were small then, Vince was 2 years old and Lilly 6 month. When you live in the archipelago, in a place with this much nature, with kids, it’s inevitable for them not just to crawl around, or play outside. They were always on the grown, climbing trees, sliding on big rock formations. You know, the stuff that kids do in nature. And what we realized after a couple of years was that all Vincents and Lillys pants broke, at the knees and the bum. With Vince pants sometimes after 2 weeks of use. No pants could last their outdoor play. We worked in the apparel industry, sustainability is our way of life, so buying stuff all the time didn’t feel good and you can repair only to a certain level. Plus we’ve heard about this problem from neighbors, so eventually, we launched our own kidswear brand – sustainable, durable playwear. We found an incredibly soft yet extremely durable material from a Swedish supplier that I had worked with through other brands, and we manufactured the pants in Estonia. Our kids were the best test pilots, and the pants were incredible. No more buying new pants, no more repairing all the time and happy kids cause they could just play without caring.
You see how it ties back to a very narrow niche – kids’ playwear, conscious customers or parents, sustainable materials and European manufacturing, and online direct-to-consumer sales. Our customers loved the long-lasting pants!
But something that is not gonna last is being in it for the money. Entering this industry for the money.
If you want to start a brand because you think you will make a lot of money, sorry to break it to you, that’s a really bad idea. To launch a brand takes time, a loooot of hard work, persistence, and passion and if your only drive is to earn money, then you will not have the will to push through when times get tough. Because there are ups and downs and you will encounter bumps in the road. If you don’t have that clear goal, and that strong motivation it will be tough for you to follow through.
The money will come if you have a clear concept, strategy, and a solid plan for growth. And yes, we totally want you to plan for profit because if you are not making money with your business, you don’t have a business, you have a hobby. A very expensive hobby.
It’s better to focus on one type of product or one segment. Do that really, really well, and expand from there, instead of having a big collection that’s all over the place, with no clear target customer in mind. And, the only way to stand out is to create your own niche. Once you have figured out your niche, it’s time to work on your business plan. If you need a business plan, we have a free template on our website that you can download.
Another way to think about finding your niche market is by finding your YOU. What do you want to be known for? That’s it, right there, that is what this is all about. Finding your brand’s identity.
You can’t and shouldn’t be everything to everybody.
Some last words: It’s better to focus on one type of product or one segment. Do that really, really well, instead of having a big collection that’s all over the place, with no clear target customer in mind. And, the only way to stand out is to create your own niche.