Sewing since he was 10 and in business for 26 years, Farley Chatto has experienced his share of triumphs and challenges within the ultra-competitive fashion industry.
Mr. Chatto recently returned to the runway with his own solo showcase at Toronto’s World MasterCard Fashion Week last month. In addition to his role as designer-in-residence at Four Seasons Fur in Toronto creating looks worn by homegrown hip-hop star Drake, the 44-year-old style stalwart shares his expertise with students as an instructor at the Academy of Design.
“A lot of people are trying to get into the business because they think it’s a quick way to make a quick buck and to get famous,” Mr. Chatto said during a recent interview. “I think fame will come eventually, but the truth of the matter is if you don’t work hard, you put in as much as you get out.”
Mr. Chatto and other Canadian insiders share five tips for up-and-coming designers seeking to enter the fashion industry.
1. Forge connections. At the recent DHL: The Business of Fashion panel discussion held during Toronto’s Fashion Week, participants emphasized the need for emerging talents to reach out to those already established within the industry.
“If you want to make sales, you need to be where buyers are,” said Susan Langdon, executive director of the Toronto Fashion Incubator, a non-profit business centre that has fostered numerous designers and style entrepreneurs.
“One idea is to participate in trade shows, to come out to Fashion Week, network and put yourself out there. Don’t just hang out with your friends or your colleagues. If you see a store you want to get into, go out there and hand them a business card.”
“When you’re at these networking events you have a captive audience,” said Ashlee Froese, owner and editor of canadafashionlaw.com and board member of Fashion Group International.
“Everyone’s there for the same purpose — to hear your story and to get their story across. It’s not as intimidating as new designers maybe think it would be.”
2. Consider giving your time. “It’s not always about the money ... that will always come afterwards. But definitely it’s about volunteering because it’s about the networking, it’s about the connections that you make with the people.” said Mr. Chatto. “By doing that, it will help establish your business. I’m so happy that in the last 26 years my networking has actually kept me going.”
3. Be versatile. “In order for you to figure out what you’re good at, you have to be able to figure (it) out by trying it all out,” said Mr. Chatto, who credits his ability to diversify as a key to his career longevity.
“Costuming for a film or for the theatre might actually open other streams and allow you to create something that doesn’t necessarily sell, so you can play around with your creativity. And then with that, you have the experience.
“When you come to sell it, it makes it easier (to say): ‘He’s done this or she’s done that,“’ he added. “You have credibility and you have stamina behind your name and brand.”
4. Boost your brand. Before getting potential shoppers to sport their styles, one expert suggested designers start off by being their own model.
“I met ... the head buyer (from Holt Renfrew) while wearing one of my coats. And I was sweating in fashion shows and I did not take my coat off — ever,” recalled Marissa Freed, president and creative director of Winnipeg-based Freed & Freed International Ltd. during the DHL panel.
“If you’re going to put yourself out really put yourself out. Wear your stuff, own your brand and be your brand. It’s really important.”
5. Protect your brand. “One of the mistakes new designers make is they don’t think of themselves as a successful business in the making,” said Ms. Froese.
As an intellectual property and branding lawyer with a focus on the fashion industry, she advised panel attendees planning to launch brands to do their “due diligence ahead of time” when it comes to protecting their labels.
“Not every trademark is going to be protected. Not every trademark is going to be viable in the marketplace,” said Ms. Froese, partner at Toronto-based firm Gilbert’s LLP.
Dealing with lawyers ahead of time helps determine what is and isn’t viable and exploring potential issues that may arise, she noted.
“It’s going to save you a lot of headache and heartbreak in the long run — and a lot of money.”
What’s more, designers can also move forward and create an intellectual property portfolio that best protects their creativity, noted Ms. Froese. Then, when they’re running up against counterfeiters or fashion design pirates, they’ll be better able to assert their rights, she added.
“It’s something that the designer has to do ahead of time to be on a better platform when things don’t go as well.”
Get involved in all aspects of the business.
Ms. Langdon said while creativity is key to forging a career in design, embracing the business side is essential if it’s to be a person’s livelihood.
“It’s not just about the pretty drawings and the samples that you create. If you’re not good at business, then find someone you can trust that can bring that component and help you out,” she said.
“It’s very, very important that you treat it like something that’s going to live forever because a lot of heart and soul and money will go into your business, and it will be all for naught if you don’t approach it this way.”
Mr. Chatto also encouraged designers to be immersed within all aspects of creating goods.
“You need to be involved in the factory, you need to be involved in the shipping production, you have to be involved in the actual marketing and retailing as well and product design. It’s key. It’s important.”
Shawn Hewson, creative director of Canadian sportswear label Bustle, said despite the business demands, individuals still need to have a passion for the work.
“I don’t think about: ‘What’s going to be hot now? What’s going to sell?“’ he said during the panel.
“I start from: ‘What do I feel? What do I want to make? What do I want to create? What speaks to me? What inspires me?’ And then of course ... it has to be tempered with concerns about consumer viability.”