How to start a fashion brand in South Africa

Written by Jade Garisch


Posted on October 30 2020

Starting a business is difficult. Compound that sentiment and do it during a global pandemic in South Africa and you have an extremely challenging task. In the article below, I highlight 10 guidelines I think are useful when starting a fashion brand in South Africa based on my experience at the Exotic Marigold Boutique.

1. Know what you are and what you are not
Writing a manifesto is an excellent way to start your brand's journey. If you're stuck and don't really know what your manifesto is, I would suggest writing a list of what your brand is and what your brand isn't. For example, in our store we have the following list:
an ethical fashion group
slow fashion
high end fashion
cheap, badly made clothing
fast fashion
The above is a small example of how a list of what you are and what you are not can help your business to stay in line with what you envision for it.

2. Invest in a some software 
When managing an online store, a physical store, stock, barcodes, Facebook Shop, local and international shipping and email marketing, it is worthwhile to have some software to integrate it all. We decided to use Shopify as it allows us to sync our online store with our boutiques's point of sale system. It also streamlines advertising and connects with our social media accounts. Additionally, Shopify  can be integrated with some very useful apps such as a barcode generating app that generates and prints barcodes for your stock, a DHL e-commerce app, a Mail-chimp app, SMS apps and a variety of other useful applications.

3. Create systems and procedures
You may be creative and full of design ideas, but the most valuable advice I could give you is to create systems. Have a time lines / deadlines. Have a process of what you do when your stock arrives (counting, quality check, costing/pricing, creating SKUs, importing data into spreadsheets, taking photos, labelling, putting stock online). All these tasks can make a small business a very busy business very quickly when procedures and systems have not been put into place. If you lay out what the process is for every task in your business, you are very likely to have some good guidelines that will keep you on track and ultimately lead to success.

4. Use social media to advertise
Never forget the importance of social media - before our store opened we were able to make sales in the midst of corona lockdown because we were consistent with our social media presence. Take the time to plan your social media content, take good photos, get your products on Google and send email campaigns - these tools are free (until you pay for advertising/campaigns) and extremely useful in growing your brand.

5. Keep it simple
Design, photographs, your store, your life - one thing that we have learnt the hard way is it is best to keep things simple when possible. You may notice that we are slowly changing our website and taking pictures of our clothing in a minimalist setting. This is because we feel that our clothing speaks for itself. We have also decluttered our store and cut down our design elements and stock to what works well for us. An important thing to remember is yes, you should try a lot of things and it may be chaos at first, but you will find that you figure out what works along the way. Use end of the month reports, customer feedback and intuition to distill your business into a fine liquor. This guideline will help you create a clean, professional environment that is true to what you believe in. Why not just showcase what is authentically your brand?

6. Produce local whenever possible
We import a lot of products for our shop to make sure we have quality, variety and clothing that speaks to us, but one thing we always do is produce/support local whenever possible. Not only do you uplift your economy by supporting local, but you also make your life much easier and save a lot of time and money. In South Africa, import taxes are high, you pay 45% import tax, plus an additional 15% VAT on whatever the original currency value (often dollar) of the order is at the time of landing (not the time of purchase). This makes costing very unpredictable, causes delay in stock coming in and adds a lot of extra costs. We do import quite a bit, but also believe that if you can get it locally, then you should.

7. Set time aside for the creative process
The creative process needs time. You need time to research colours, fabrics, designs, concepts and ideas. Don't forget to take time to make sure you are giving the idea of your brand enough time to flourish and grow. Admin can take over, but it is good practice to set aside some time just for creative research and play. Do not let the thing that makes your store special die. Keep your spark by constantly brainstorming ideas and figuring out who you are.

8. Set time side for meetings
There is no use working for hours on end without having a clear idea of what you are working for and who is doing what. At Exotic Marigold, we have at least one monthly meeting to discuss goals, events, deadlines, future stock etc. Without this meeting, we would be working in chaos. It is essential to take the time to get organized and set your goals.

9. Think creatively to promote your brand
Times are a tough and it is so so important to get creative during this time. We have used a few ideas to try bring in crowds.
- First Fridays: we offer an evening shopping, eating, drinking and entertainment experience every First Friday of the month so that people can enjoy our boutique environment in an evening setting.
- Markets: we go to many different markets and also host markets to promote our brand and to make connections.
- Collaborations: we collaborate with many other brands by having them in our store. We see this as a way in which they help us by bringing more people to our boutique and we help them by supporting their products as well as our own.

10. Have a team structure
It is impossible for everyone on a team to do everything and it is important to make sure tasks are allocated to people in a way that makes sense.
Having a team structure makes things easier, is a smarter way to use time and lessens everyone's load. Even if this is your baby or you are extremely passionate, it is so important to divide up the work if you can. No one should do every single thing in a business if that is at all avoidable - ask for help and allocate tasks.

I hope these 10 steps are helpful to you. Let me know in the comments below or feel free to add to the list. We are still learning and so happy to have you learn with us.



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