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What it takes to create a successful start-up fashion brand - why did Fenty fashion fail as a luxury line?

Creating a successful clothing line is most definitely not a simple task. A creative flare will enable you to produce innovative items that may spark an interest in your target audience but this skill will only get you so far if you lack the business acumen that will help your brand thrive and ultimately turn a profit. Although there have been multiple instances where brands have obtained success due to the passion of those working on the products, we must also account for those who, despite the very same investments and enthusiasm, still do not reach their goal.

In February 2021 Rihanna’s Fenty clothing line officially shut down after just two years of business. Luxury conglomerate LVMH confirmed in a statement to Women’s Wear Daily; “Rihanna and LVMH have jointly made the decision to put on hold the ready-to-wear activity, based in Europe, pending better conditions.” Not long after this statement, many speculations began to form with rumours that a scarce team of staff remained in the Paris headquarters of Fenty fashion in an attempt to reduce any remaining projects.

Despite the global pandemic's undeniable impact on the fashion industry, notably putting many fashion brands in danger, Fenty did not achieve the traction its initial hype had promised. By autumn of 2020, it had become apparent that the brand had a serious crisis when Bastien Renard was appointed to replace Veronique Gebel as a ready-to-wear executive. Signifying that something wasn’t working with the original team. Jean-Jacques Guiony, the chief financial officer of LVMH, then said the line was still a "work in progress."

So what were the exact reasons for Fenty's fashions demise? Initially, Fenty fashion was positioned as a luxury fashion brand with extremely high price points. However, from the outset, it seemed to have been serving as a celebrity brand; with similarities to Kanye’s Yeezy streetwear line and Drakes' OVO fashion. According to Robert Burke, luxury brand consultant of Robert Burke and Associates a clothing line priced at collection prices was not the best way for Rihanna to appeal to her customers. Burke also noted that luxury buyers continued to gravitate towards known and trusted brands such as Dior, Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Hermes. In addition to this, there was barely any storytelling to be found in Fenty's marketing. The brand also did not conduct fashion shows, which if done correctly would have provided the opportunity to expand both the image of Fenty and the collection itself. The brand instead released monthly drops in lieu of following the seasonal fashion calendar.

Another limiting factor of the brand was that Fenty, instead of having physical stores, choose to sell through a series of pop-ups within department stores which did not support the brand in giving the luxurious feel that was initially intended. The overall lack of individuality consequently made the clothing line indistinguishable from others. There was also an absence of editorial coverage and celebrity endorsements; when Rihanna chose to wear her label, she was only ever seen in custom designs that were not available for sale.

Overall, there is a lot we can learn from the failings of Fenty fashion. When beginning the process of starting a clothing line, here are four steps to take to ensure a successful and solid start.

  • 1- Establish your identity and follow a direction

The first step is to create a relevant and strong title for the brand. Finding a brand name that is meaningful and adds to the story or idea of the company is a bonus since it creates interest in your products while giving you an indication of your creative direction. As well as positioning the brand to a specific market, it is important to have a clear idea of whom you are designing for, while also keeping your focus in one direction. Your goal is to create familiarity with your brand as you want consumers to recognize it. Therefore, consistency is key. Showcase your talent tastefully and once you have that strong identity it will be easier to network which is essential to growth.

Denea Elliot, founder of Three-Nineteen clothing said: Sometimes you can have the most-simple product if it's branded properly in the right way, it's styled nicely and your brand tone and voice visual language is correctly developed. People want your products and the demand will be there.”

  • 2- Understand your audience

Secondly, you need to decide what you are designing for, whether it is a hobby, cause, sport or movement. It must be something you have thoroughly researched and that you are passionate about. Identify whom you are designing for from this. You can market your clothing brand most effectively by understanding who the main consumers are, taking age, gender, and interests into account. What is their occupation? Are the target customer group prepared to spend a lot of money or just a little? Where do they currently shop?

Sydney Cassidy, founder of Sydney Cassidy Studios said: I think smaller start-up brands have a better understanding of how to appeal to consumers because they can relate better to their clientele.”

  • 3- Decide where to sell

Choosing a selling place can be a difficult decision. Nowadays, online stores are the easiest to operate and provide shoppers with the most convenience. In addition to that, consider showcasing at events as well. A local pop-up shop or a large conference are effective ways to allow people to see and feel your product. If you want to grow fast, make sure your marketing messages are ‘on point’ from the packaging to the checkout.

Denea Elliot, founder of Three-Nineteen clothing :“Exposure assists in your brands success, So having your pieces on certain artists or talent can definitely boast your clientele and with a strong visual brand identity to accompany this your will be able to market yourself as a professional and trustworthy clothing line.”

  • 4- Create options

As a final note, make sure your brand has options. There are different body types and preferences when it comes to styling and designs. Ensure that your brand is inclusive. Offering a wide range of items will also allow you to distinguish your best-selling items.

Denea Elliot, founder of Three-Nineteen clothing said:

“ I think the most important lesson I’ve learnt during the development of my clothing line, is not to stress over things and that preparation is very important. I also think its important to remember that if all else fails, I still have value.”