So, you want to start a business...? Start with a great idea

Sunday, March 17, 2013

I get quite a few emails and questions from people who want to start a business - specifically in lingerie or clothing design - but are unsure where to start.  While I am by no means an expert, I have learned a thing or two through my experience on Etsy.  I've made lots of mistakes along the way, and continue to flub up here and there, but I've also learned a lot of valuable lessons.  I thought it might be fun to share some basic tips with those who are interested.  I know that many of my readers also run creative-type business, so I am hoping some of you will chip in as well!

I'm going to touch on some basics of selling on Etsy specifically - starting with choosing what to sell, photographing your items, writing shop policies, and writing product descriptions.

If you want to start a business, the first and most obvious thing you need is a really unique product to sell.

Before I even opened an Etsy account, I had a general idea in my head of a the type of product I wanted to sell.  I wanted to get into Lingerie.  For me, lingerie was a fun thing to sew, something I personally really enjoyed, and I thought would be a rewarding challenge to try!  We touched upon foundation garments in school, mostly corsets and bustiers, but other than that I did not have much experience with lingerie.  I gathered up resources; books, vintage patterns, vintage pieces, I sewed lots of samples. I sewed things that sucked, I sewed things that I threw in the garbage... I sewed a lot.  And I continue to sew a lot. I still have piles of items that just don't make the cut.  I still sew things that get tossed in the garbage! I continually am trying new technique and trying to improve.

Practice your craft over and over... your style will evolve and your techniques will improve!

It is also important that you do some market research.  While there is hardly such thing as a completely original idea in this world, it is important that you, as a designer, have a unique aesthetic, something new and exciting to bring to the table.  There are hundreds of thousands of other sellers out there on Etsy alone, so imagine how hard it is to stick out?  Lingerie can be tricky because there are really only so many styles of knickers you can sew, but there are things you can do to make your garments stick out of the crowd.  Do you use top of the line, natural fabrics? Do you silkscreen your own designs on them? Do you add some kind of funky embellishment? Were you taught to hand sew by a fancy french couturier? Whatever it is, do something that makes you unique, so that people will instinctively look at what you do and think, "Oh! That must be *insert your brand name here*!" I think of brands that I admire, like Hopeless.  Hopeless has a very unique aesthetic, and I can always tell from a photo if it is Gaby's work.

How well do your designs stand out?

What you sell is the most important part of your business (obviously), so it is important that you show creativity and integrity with your designs.  While it can be tempting to jump on a bandwagon or a trend, creating a distinct image that is your own will serve you better in the long run.  Incorporate trends, if that is something you like to do, but make them your own.

On the note of being unique, I just read this article this morning, The Technology Trap: Fashion, Copying and the Speed of Technology. From the article,

"“The US is the only developed country without copyright protection on fashion designs,” Banks noted, “France, Japan, India and even China have some level of copyright protection for fashion designs.”  
Institutions such as the Fashion Law Institute and the CFDA are actively lobbying Congress to pass the Innovative Design Protection Act (IDPA) that would allow copyright protection on fashion designs for a term of 3 years." 

 I would love to hear your thoughts on the ability to copyright a fashion design.  Would it stagnate designers? Or, would it encourage more creativity? The fashion industry largely thrives on copying one another.  While larger brands can compete with that type of competition, I always have concerns for smaller brands who do not have the production power to compete on the level of say, H&M or Urban Outfitters. You hear horror stories of Etsy Artisans being ripped off by mass producers overseas.  While I personally would try to avoid purchasing from brand that I knew was outright copying someones design, I know there is a high demand for fast fashion.  We have made such a sticky situation for ourselves. We want high end designer garments at a minimal price.  We practically begged for knock offs.  But now it makes it hard for new small designers to make a real break because their designs are being knocked off before they get a chance to make a name for themselves.  It's a tricky situation, and I'm not sure what the answer is.  I do think that if we, as designers, make integrity a strict design policy, it would definitely help.  End Rant!

If you run a creative-type business, how did you decide what to sell? Was it an obvious skill you had, or did you have to think long and hard about what you would sell?  How do you keep your designs unique?


  1. I love this post! It was so encouraging to hear that you sewed (and threw away) many pairs of undies and bras as you were developing your brand. I've been sewing bras all this year and every time I finish one, I first cut another bra and then I write notes about what I want to improve on my next one (so that I can research later). I've come a long way but I have a long way to go too.

  2. Your brand is definitely unique. I can pretty much tell Ohhh Lulu pieces when I see photos of them on other lingerie blogs. I've never really thought about fashion copyrights. Interesting.

    Deciding to sell blog designs was a rather obvious thing (being a blogger & professional Graphic Designer), but it didn't come to me right away. Designs are kept unique, as they are all currently custom made to order.

  3. Really enjoyed this post, Sarah, and looking forward to reading more about your business tips x

  4. Thank you soooooo much for posting this. I'm a fashion design graduate without any luck in the job market and I've a creative person. I've been toying with the idea of making things and selling them and Etsy can be incredibly confusing for a non-business minded person. It's such a help! It's also nice to know that I'm not the only one that makes things then throws them out.

  5. So, You Want To Start A Business... comments ... 7 Reasons Brilliant Ideas Die On The Drawing Board... And How ... But she had decided to jump into something she didn't know a lot about except that she was good at sales.Business NLP

  6. Thanks for sharing these tips! Starting a business can be a fun and exciting adventure once you know what you will be planning to do. Once you do, you should set a list of goals for you and the business so that your chance of succeeding will increase tenfold. For my business, one of our goals was to find a way to ship our products to other businesses, so we decided to go with a truck fleet that will definitely help us out with this.


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