This week’s Q&A is with Elizabeth Formosa, Founder of Fashion Equipped, who recently launched online programme Start Your Fashion Business that is designed to arm business owners in Australia’s $21 billion fashion industry with the knowledge and know-how to avoid being one of the 60 per cent of small businesses that cease trading within three years of starting up.
ISB: Could you tell us briefly about the idea behind Fashion Equipped.
EF: The idea came to me while teaching at Melbourne School of Fashion. I had an aha moment when asked if I could help a student launch their label and I identified a clear gap in the market for support, mentoring and consultancy for fashion start-ups, emerging designers and SMEs wanting to plan, launch and grow a fashion business.
Over time I realised it was not just fashion graduates that needed help. There were so many people looking for fashion industry specific advice, including those working in fashion who wanted to start their own venture, those without any fashion industry experience at all but who were entrepreneurial and those that had already been trading in fashion for several years but were finding it hard to scale.
ISB: How did you fund Fashion Equipped in its start-up phase and early stages of operation?
EF: Fashion Equipped is fully self-funded. It hasn’t been easy, in fact it has been very challenging at times. The majority of our clients are starting out in business, so we strive to keep our fees as low as possible and I always try to find a way to make myself and my team accessible to those who need us.
ISB: The fashion industry is incredibly competitive and full of big players – what challenges does this present for small players entering the market?
EF: The fashion industry is multi-faceted with a very diverse consumer base. There are plenty of smaller brands succeeding. My advice is find your niche, identify your USP early on, keep your customer at the heart of everything you do and always strive to exceed their expectations. Never cut corners!
The benefit of being a smaller player is you can build close customer relationships, listen to them and really identify their wants and needs – something the bigger players often struggle to do. As a smaller player you can work close to market, be nimble and pivot when needed. Some key challenges when starting out include sourcing competitively due to lack of scale in the early days and ensuring you have enough funding to invest in building and marketing your brand at a very high standard.
ISB: What skills does your new initiative Start Your Fashion Business (SYFB) offer to empower people to overcome these challenges?
EF: Planning, launching and scaling a fashion business can be consuming, confusing and overwhelming. Coming up with an idea is the easy part, but building a business involves skills, strategy, and great connections. So, SYFB covers these key areas, skills are acquired via our 10 Modules and 50+ video tutorials, covering Business Planning, Funding, Branding, Product Development, Pricing, Sourcing, Sales, Marketing and Business Operations. Each module contains strategic action plans and industry best-practice tools and templates.
The SYFB programme is supported by fortnightly live group coaching calls which provide access to industry consultants, mentors and connections to a like-minded community of entrepreneurs which is invaluable, especially when starting out.
ISB: How do you deliver these skills to those who enroll, and over what timescale?
EF: The programme is delivered online so it can be accessed from anywhere in the world. We have clients all over Australia and internationally. We have key enrolment dates and the modules are released over a 12-week period, however, clients have access to the learning platform for a full 12 months. Then they have lifetime access to our private Facebook group, offering ongoing access to myself, my team and our broader SYFB community.
ISB: And finally, what is the #1 piece of advice you would give to those who aspire to start a business in the fashion industry?
EF: I would urge anyone considering starting a fashion business to invest in their own professional development first and foremost. Identify any gap in skills and ensure you either upskill or work with someone with expertise in that area. This, combined with solid market research, is crucial before you start investing in a new business. You can’t just wing it or make it up as you go if you want to build a viable, sustainable business that succeeds. You must move forward with your eyes wide open and ideally have access to a support network to reach out to when you need them. Doing this will save you tens of thousands of dollars in expensive start-up mistakes.