Author: Stephen Laundy, Managing Director at FashionCompass.co.uk
Over the past 15 years since starting Fashion Compass I would guesstimate, being prudent around 600 brands have approached me, “please can we discuss my brand”. At least 10% of these have been from brands started by a factory. I respond to all enquiries so many of the points in this article have appeared over the years. That said there are some truly amazing brands out there started and owned by factories. This article like any does not apply to all, but it does apply to many that have contacted me. I am not nor claim to be a brand expert, but I probably see more brands than most who claim to be a brand expert.
I only work with brands, I work with brands from all countries & get fashion agents, distributors, retail partners in new markets globally. Fashion, Lifestyle, Outdoor, Retail/ Wholesale. Luxury, premium, commercial. More on my profile Stephen Laundy | LinkedIn or https://www.fashioncompass.co.uk . To be very clear, I do not work with factories to get them agents/ orders.
The below are observations I am sharing and hopefully also offers solutions.
As many know I love and use the phrase “a good brand is measured by the quality of a relationship between the owner and it’s consumer”. So for example if you supply a store, that store is now placed between you and the consumer and so on. I read that phrase from Peter Fisk’s brilliant book about 20 years ago called Marketing Genius.
I can normally spot the brands started by factories very quickly. Here are some tell-tale signs.
The factories use the word “Garments” in their branding/ website. Based on the above phrase “owner/ consumer”, when has anyone woken up on a Saturday and said “lets go shopping for some garments!”. Garments is a b2b phrase not a consumer term. It is not just factory brands that use the word “garment” often brands started by people with a manufacturing background like a former buyer who spent a lot of time in factories.
Quality. Ever since my first visit to a factory in about 1982 in my former fashion life, every factory probably uses the word quality 50 times a day. Of course many brands will use the word quality but not over use it and they will usually point out why it is quality etc. In their b2b habitual way factories tend to harp on too much about the quality of their product because that’s how they sell to their factory customers and that’s all they know. Great for the factory, not enough for the brands sole being.
A common thing in the brands marketing or in its approach, certainly to me anyway. “Here is our brand. Also if you know any big buyers, we can make for them or other brands”.
Many will slip in styles or products that are completely unsuitable for the brand. I can only guess the reason is a client brand of the factory is probably selling bucket loads of something so the factory force it in the brand. Also they will often slip in a few men’s styles or shoes for that Women’s handbag brand they developed to show “We can make anything” another common factory mantra.
Intention. Many factory brands are started with the intention to safeguard or increase the factories output and wellbeing. So immediately the priority is the factory. If the brands priority is to “feed the factory” it doesn’t really stand a chance.
The brands interests must be separated from the factory. I will say that again. The brands interests must be separated from the factory. Now before some successful factory owned brands jump down my throat, of course there are great examples where the factory can leverage the brand, and vice versa for the brand but many don’t, that is a fine line and it is usually best achieved later in the brands lifespan.
Think for a minute. As a factory you have probably dealt with brands so imagine how hard it was for your clients when they started the brand. A new, unknown brand is not going to give you good orders at the start, your clients likely didn’t come to you day 1.
Why burden your brand with any responsibility to act as a sales tool for your factory? Things are hard enough for a brand to succeed. I was actually approached by a factory brand last week. I went to the brands IG and there was one post requesting it's consumers "we are also a factory, we will pay you commission if you recommend us to any stores or brands for production". Is that really in the interest of the brand?
Treat the brand like a customer. That is a good way when I refer to keep separate above. It is not always easy as often you cannot have a different team to run the brand. There are often common areas between brand and factory but use common sense. Often successful brands with factory links is when the son or daughter for example come into the business and see the opportunity. That often succeeds but if it does fail it is usually due again to putting factory first.
Factories start a brand, they are used to volume orders or if they are luxury lower but still they expect to get minimum order requirements. Unlikely.
So by the start of season 3 many are already losing patience with the brand. “We don’t want to spend more money making samples”. “We don’t have enough orders”. That’s often when the unsuitable to brand products appear. They also start using the brands profile and website to try to entice private liable buyers and very quickly you have a brand that is just a product list.
For what it’s worth I have met quite a few designers who are employed by factory showrooms and whilst there and doing well they get some funding (mostly funding in the form of making the samples, a startups biggest cost usually) to start/design their brand within the factory a kind of partnership. Again in most cases I have seen season 3 the factory has lost patience as the volumes are small. The factory wanted to start this brand hoping for orders for the factory. Not with the intention to build a great brand.
Recently with one client, a brand started by a factory approached me with many of the above mentioned “mistakes”. We spent 3 months re branding re designing and tweaking. Tweaks like to use fabrics that were always available to ensure small orders could be fulfilled. We also made sure the first 3 to 4 seasons would use as much of the initial sample collection so not making new, new, new all the time. New samples, new costs etc. The important thing I have geared them to is that separate thinking, portioning the brand from the factory and more important a mindset that it will take 3 years to really get it going. The brand was started by the daughter of the factory who whilst still works with the factory we turned her focus to the brands consumer. She represents her consumer when dealing with the factory. We also switched most of the fabrics to organic (another article there:).
It is not easy for factories starting a brand, the key to making a brand work is PERSISTENCE a rare quality shown by factories with their new shiny brand and why should they? Often the people that started the factory used up all the persistence they had struggling to build the factory in the first place and my respect goes out to them.
I could and will one day write a similar article on brands started by sales agents. There are common observations there too and completely different to the above. A common thing I do now with brands that approach me is look “who/ what is behind the brand” it is very interesting.
As per my profile I am always interested to hear from brands that want agents, distributors and retail partners for their domestic and new markets. I have worked with many startups and many large retail/ wholesale brands and everything in between. I like having that mix. At any given time I usually am working with at least 5 to 6 brands. The full list of brands I am currently working with at time of writing is here: https://lnkd.in/evZG8pwC