From my mail:
I have been reading your blog, your book is on the way, and I have learned a lot from you. I am in the newborn stages of considering a children’s clothing line. I believe I have a market niche. My first challenge is to determine if there really is a market for my line and whether the cost of production will comport with my targeted market. My question is how to determine the existence of a market for my line of children’s clothing. My husband and I are established professionals and he needs strong market evidence before I put time and money into this. Do you consult on such matters?
I do consult to a very limited extent but mostly hesitate because it is very difficult if not impossible to predict outcome with any certainty owing to myriad factors -and certainty is what most people want. Most people on the service side would likewise hesitate because we would have been wrong so many times. An example I like to use are the folks who came up with the idea of making germ plush toys. I would have given it a thumbs down in the concept stage but the line is doing well. I even bought a set for Christmas ornaments. And then, there are product lines that could be doing much better than they are. Drilling it down, sure, I think I know what good design is but it all depends on how you execute.
Whether anyone else is willing to admit it or agree to it, the only way you will know if your venture has a chance is if you try it. If you want a sure (or surer) thing, start a franchise. They give you training, support and a guaranteed territory. Manufacturing isn’t a franchise. It’s not even a kit for which you can buy separate pieces and put the whole together to get a real company, real products or real sales. It’s a risk although it doesn’t have to be as risky as most people make it but they selectively pick and choose the advice they’ll follow -and then they wonder why it all fell apart? Manufacturing isn’t a list of options, no matter how much you dislike it or wish to avoid it, there are some things you must do. And you have to do them when they are supposed to be done. Most people never get off the ground because they put the cart before the horse. Like all the IP stuff. Let that go until you are far enough along (for goodness sakes have samples!) to have something worth protecting. Most people blow their entire start up budget on legal stuff when they haven’t bought as much as a yard of fabric.
Manufacturing also takes time. The endeavor is not well suited to someone who wants to work it in on the side, after dinner or when the kids are napping. Not unless you can do a lot of the product development yourself. A very common conflict is when a designer’s time is limited by her first priority, that of caring for her children. I get it. The pattern that seems to be emerging of late is that people who have less time, tend to view all the manufacturing steps as options, like a list of desired ingredients you check off when you order a pizza. They perceive any deviations from the plan as flexibility and pat themselves on the back for their creativity and even think they’re ahead of the game and maybe even saving themselves some money. Some things you can’t do. Take sizing. I don’t care if you have kids spanning four sizes and want to use them as fit models so you develop patterns in all sizes, you’re going to lose your shirt. Your “flexibility” is going to bury you. I am not being a meanie in saying you can’t use your kids as fit models. This isn’t a rule you can break but most people do. And most people fail.
My point being, this endeavor is risky in that you have to put money and time into developing prototypes to see if the concept will fly but most people make it far riskier than it should be by their own actions. If you follow the plan and its silly rules even if they don’t make sense to you or seem counterproductive or resist the temptation of following what you think is a novel idea (it’s not) … you can dramatically limit your exposure to risk.
A few other points in your specific case. I become very very nervous when women talk about a clothing line in terms of birthing or having children. Women start 97% of clothing lines. Men end up owning 98% of them. I don’t think this is coincidental and I don’t think it has anything to do with male domination or discrimination against women or any of that. Which is not to say it’s all rosy for women but men don’t take things as personally as women do. It seems that some women hedge their bets, telling themselves “it’s just part-time”, that they’ll play according to the rules if it takes off but I think that perspective is more like a built in excuse they tell themselves. Like an advance out they give themselves for when they fail. Like they didn’t really fail because they weren’t serious about it.
I do think that failure avoidance is much more prevalent today, further impacting women in spite of the great strides we’ve made. Recent research shows that people who have been praised for being smart are less willing to risk. They don’t want to stretch and test their mettle in uncertain territory. I can’t say whether this is true of you but I have seen that this problem is endemic among Gen Y; too many don’t want to risk failure because it would mean losing their smart badge. And they especially don’t want to do it in manufacturing of which perception continues to mount that any dumb bunny can do it. These are easy to pick out. They often disavow or disassociate themselves from it, as though it were something to be ashamed of.
If you ask me personally, I think this is a great business to be in. Done well (following the rules), it’s practically a license to print money. The people who excel in it aren’t artists or what we typically define as “creative” people. The people who excel are pragmatic, grounded, analytical, systematic and psychologically healthy. Other than DIY hard scrabble folks, most successes are from people who have rigorous academic backgrounds, like lawyers, doctors, engineers etc. Only you know whether this defines you.
Summary: People who make it follow the rules and are willing to risk. If your first prototypes don’t fly, it’s nothing personal. Dust yourself off and try something else to see what sticks. The question is not if but when and you’re the only one who can determine that.