6 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting A Fashion Business

Thank you Arlington Magazine for the cover feature!

When I was starting a fashion business and consignment shop back in 2007, I expected to run into some obstacles and challenges. Most entrepreneurs are optimistic, but we’re also practical and pragmatic.

I knew it wouldn’t be easy. I knew there would be ups and downs. Launching a new business is like having your first newborn: a lot of sleepless nights, a lot of stress, and a lot of “am I even doing this right?” and “am I cut out for this?” But there’s also a lot of excitement and hope when looking towards the future. (Working moms, you know what I’m talking about!)

You know it’s going to be new and hard–but you’re also sure it’s worth it.

Here I  am, going on my 13th year in business. After over a decade, I’m still growing and learning about business every single day. And I fall more in love with my business-baby with each passing week! 

Still, like having a newborn, there are some things I’d wish I’d known before going into business. Some tips and tricks to keep my head on straight while amidst the whirlwind of my new business. 

So I’m giving it to you straight today. What do you need to know when starting a fashion business or other type of organization?

1. You need to have a strong passion for the mission.

I have always loved bargain shopping. But more than that, I love high-quality craftsmanship and sustainability. 

I was getting frustrated with the fashion industry, which (in 2007) was at the brink of the fast-fashion explosion. Quality was decreasing while waste was increasing, which was putting a huge strain on our economy and environment.

I saw an opening to create a store that would meet the needs of today’s busy, modern woman. That woman who wants a trendy yet timeless wardrobe, always current and fashionable while also emphasizing sustainability and quality. So I decided to create not just a store but a community of fashion lovers–women who could sell their pre-loved designer items and find new hot pieces (at bargain prices) for their ever-revolving wardrobe! 

My mission stays true to this day. Quality, sustainability, and fashion are the three pillars of our brand, and they permeate every decision we make. 

Now for the hard truth. That passion and drive was only half the battle. It’s critical to business success, because it’s that passion that lays the foundation for everything else. 

But then you have to build on top of that foundation. You have to get the merchandise in-store, you have to figure out how to replenish and prep the goods, you have to hire people, you have to fire people, you have to stay compliant and do taxes, you have to make sure your pipes don’t leak in the warehouse and in-store… You are responsible for every detail and decision of that business. 

What I realized, though, was that it was my passion for the brand’s mission that kept me going. With all of the chaos of starting a new business, I kept my “purpose” in mind. Nothing felt all that overwhelming because I knew what I was reaching for and why. No decision was too hard, because I made choices in alignment with my mission. 

So here’s the first tip that can change the way you approach your new business:

Know what you’re in business for. Believe in it with every fiber of your heart and soul. See your business as the vessel to achieving that mission. 

2. You don’t “work for yourself.”

One of the biggest draws to entrepreneurship is the idea that you get to work for yourself. No boss, no problems, right? 

It’s true that you may not have anyone above you telling you what to do. But… 

  1. That means you’re the sole decision-maker and responsibility taker. And that can be stressful and frightening (yet sometimes exhilarating). 
  2. You still have a responsibility to your customers and employees. Your “boss” is everyone involved in your business. Your job is to make your employees and clients happy first and foremost. 

So don’t think you’re going to go into work and do whatever you feel like doing that day. Nope. Your job is to always be available for anything and everything your business “community” needs. Your employees and customers run the show! 

“Freedom” of schedule doesn’t mean you don’t still have a responsibility to your clients and employees. 

3. Don’t ride the roller coaster. 

When I was starting a fashion business, I was mentally preparing myself for “the highs and lows” of business. Owning a business is both blissful and stressful, exhilarating and frightening. 

And you’re going to be on a roller coaster ride. It’s thrilling and unpredictable. You’ll fail 100 times, and you’ll pick yourself up and push for success over and over again. There are some horrible days and some days that are just too incredible to put into words. You might feel extreme joy and extreme fear even within a single day! 

But you can’t let yourself “give in” to the roller coaster. You can’t let the bad days bring you down. And you can’t let the good days cloud your judgment. 

Instead of the idea of “riding” the roller coaster of business, I like to imagine myself as the operator of the coaster. You get to watch those ups and downs from the sideline, but you keep your distance from it. You maintain a level-headedness and composure that allows you to enjoy the thrill without jeopardizing your business with too much emotion.

Enjoy the ride, but make decisions from the operator’s seat. 

4. There’s no safety net. 

You’re responsible for everything. And you’re going to feel stress. A lot of it. Starting a fashion business or other brand creates a deep level of pressure that non-entrepreneurs simply don’t understand. 

You’ll be dealing with everything from recessions to insurance rate increases, supplier mishaps to competition, tech problems to managing personnel. Even when you make a “good decision,” it can come with side effects that can create a whole slew of problems. 

These aren’t just business stressors, either. These choices can put your business and your livelihood at risk. 

I don’t tell you this to scare you. But it does mean that in order to make it as a business owner, you need a tough skin and great coping mechanisms. It’s time to start learning how you’ll deal with stress, so you don’t let it affect your business or health.

You are going to face a lot of risk. But the biggest risk of all is never taking any risks. 

5. Building a team is one of the best parts. 

Along with having a personal passion for your mission, there’s something really special (and even magical) about building a team that also believes in your mission. You get to curate a community with the same desires and purpose, all working towards the same goals together. 

Cultivating this kind of team can be one of the most rewarding aspects of being a leader. 

You’re also responsible for the lives of your employees. You handle their wages, their healthcare, their work-life balance, and even their happiness. You’re responsible for their growth and learning, and you can continue to push and promote them to the next stages of their professional lives.

I absolutely love creating a culture that makes my employees happy and excited to come to work. There’s no greater feeling than seeing smiling employees and customers walk through your doors. You’re responsible for those smiles!

Starting a business is hard work, but being a leader is one of the most gratifying and enriching opportunities out there. 

6. Starting a fashion business is a lifestyle, not a job. 

You’re never off the clock. Forget about “clocking out” at 5pm. 

Even if you leave the office or the store, you’re still “on” 24/7. You’re solving problems, thinking about how to grow your business, making adjustments. Your brain isn’t your own anymore. It belongs to the business. 

Still, you definitely don’t want to neglect your home life. For most new entrepreneurs, this is the hardest part. You have to figure out how to blend and integrate “home” and “work” into a single lifestyle that makes you happy. 

Hopefully, your family is supportive of your dreams and wants you to succeed in your business. So it’s fun to include them in your excitement and tell them about what’s going on, so your business and home life can grow in tandem. 

It’s not a work-life “balance.” Try to nurture a work-life integration

I love this life with Current Boutique!

Starting a fashion business is hard. Owning a business as it grows and expands can be even harder. There are failures and stressors, and there are a lot of learning opportunities. 

But I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. Our mission, our team, and our experiences here at Current Boutique make this crazy entrepreneurship lifestyle the only way I want to live. 

If you’re looking to start a business yourself, feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll reach out to you directly! I love connecting with and supporting other entrepreneurs in their journey. I’m here for you- let’s grow this world together!  

1 Comment

  1. January 13, 2020 / 12:09 am

    Congratulations on your success Carmen! I myself took a big step in entrepreneurship and I 100% can relate to all of these. What you put here will definitely help a lot startups.

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