Industry Insider: Why Your Brand Story MattersExpert Advice Industry Insider
By Jessica Quillin, PhD, Fashion Features Editor, Glass Magazine and Fashion/Luxury Brand Strategist, Author, and Lecturer
Setting up a fashion company involves a lot of long hours, planning, and sheer perseverance. One of the biggest hurdles many young creatives encounter is how to sell themselves to investors, business partners, the media, and, most critically, buyers. Unfortunately, making beautiful clothes and accessories is not enough. You need an authentic, compelling brand story, vision, and elevator pitch that sets your brand apart and makes it memorable.
Defining your brand story is not hard. Like the rest of your fashion business, it requires time, planning, and strategic thought to design a vision that defines and differentiates your brand and the impact and even legacy you want to create within the oversaturated world of fashion. Taking the time to think about and write your brand’s story helps you own your brand and, in turn, to pitch and sell it.
Brand Story vs Founder Story
As a brand strategist, the most common mistake I see in startup fashion business branding is a blurring of the line between the brand’s story and that of its founders. Your label should have a life of its own without you. On your website “About” section, your personal story should stand apart as a separate “about the founders” section, separate from your brand story.
While the human element and authenticity are critical to any brand story, you need to think about the brand you’re trying to create and decide what elements of your own life story are important to include. This is not to say that you should not invoke personal details in the narrative you write, simply that you need to be selective.
If you’re using your name as your brand name, then you perhaps have a bit more leeway when it comes to brand story. Yet, in this case, it becomes even more critical to craft a narrative for your label that can stand on its own and sell itself to someone who has never encountered you or your designs.
Some questions to ask yourself as you begin to think about your brand story:
What inspired you to create this brand? What are your brand’s core principles?
What elements of your life do you bring into your creative work for your brand?
What does your brand name mean? Do you have a tagline?
What does your brand do that other fashion brands are missing?
How do you plan to sell your brand? If you’re planning to be a digital native brand, why did you choose this over selling locally or in another bricks-and-mortar environment?
Who are your target consumers? What are their lives like?
Envisioning Your Vision
Among the above questions, the first one concerning brand vision is far and away the most challenging, even though it may seem the most straightforward. As a creative, it can be a hard thing to try to pin down what you’re trying to do with your fashion label, why you decided to start it, and for what it stands.
A desire to “make women feel beautiful” is not enough to set your brand apart from countless other labels trying to do the exact same thing. Your brand vision need to be inspiring yet real, visionary yet approachable.
When writing your vision statement as a part of your brand story, start with a few critical steps:
Do your research. Know your consumers, their habits, lifestyle, and pain points when it comes to fashion and buying online.
Be conscious of craftsmanship—i.e., how your designs will be made, who is making them, and what sets them apart. Have a strategy for your manufacturing and production lifecycle. Think about sustainability, costs, ethical production, local sourcing, etc. and how that impacts your brand.
Think about the emotional impact of your brand. How do you want your designs to make wearers feel? Are you concerned with trends, timeless classics, or something different? What about fit, body type, and wearability?
Take the time to consider your brand’s stance as well. Are you concerned with a particular ethical, political, social, or philanthropic cause? What about these causes do you want your brand to convey?
Brand Story Elements
Every label’s story is different but contains some similar structural pieces. Let’s take a brief look at a brand story. In this case, let’s examine that of Charli Cohen, a young British designer with her own take on fashion forward sportswear.
The most important thing to note about Charli Cohen’s brand story is that she chose to use her own name but kept the brand story distinct from that of her personal story. She also has a strong, principle-focussed narrative that makes it easy to distinguish both her brand’s point of view as well as its impact.
To break it down, here are the main elements of the Charli Cohen brand story:
Vision Statement: “Charli Cohen creates technical-wear, born out of a need for evolved clothing and progression within the fashion industry.”
Point of View/Audience Targeting: “We believe style and movement should be synonymous, translating advanced performance technology into contemporary womenswear and menswear.”
Production/Manufacturing Statement: “Founded on core values of sustainability and transparency, we manufacture limited quantities of each style in Leicester, Porto and Shanghai, sourcing premium materials from Milan.”
Impact Goal: “Grounded in design innovation, outspokenness and current culture[,] the CC brand, seeks to be an inspirer, and enabler and a co-conspirator.”
There is a reason I devote entire course sessions to brand story when I teach about fashion entrepreneurship. Each element above requires some degree of in-depth analysis. But, here I will keep it short. Suffice to say, every brand’s story needs to contain:
A vision statement;
A clearly defined point of view that addresses the brands target audience(s);
A production/manufacturing statement that states how, where, and by whom the products are made; and
An impact goal that delineates the brand’s influence or positioning within the fashion and luxury industry.
The easiest way to do this is to consider how Charli has structured her brand bio, then take a step back to decide how you want to create yours. Charli decided that her brand is one that cares about things: sustainability, production transparency, and mental health awareness. In an industry constantly accused of superficiality, this depth is remarkable and a key differentiator when added to her cutting-edge designs.
Your Brand Story
Narrative is never easy. Begin with storyboarding your main thoughts about your brand, draft and draft again until you have a rough sketch of a few paragraphs, have friends or colleagues read it, then revise until it sounds right. If necessary, hire a professional to assist. A brand strategy consultant can be helpful to make sure your brand story not only reflects your own vision and targets the right audiences; but also that your story is in line with the rest of your content across platforms.
Your brand story matters. It is what marks your label, makes people want to buy and sell it, and makes possible a lasting impact for your creative vision in the world. Make your brand story all your own. Decide what sets your brand apart and for what it stands. Having a story gives you power: it makes your brand strong and unforgettable.