Fashion designers can easily spot when something is missing in the trends or in the industry. You yourself, or someone you know, may have apparel or footwear needs that go underserved by the bulk of fashion brands and designers. There are many different niche fashion markets that cater to customers with unique garment needs or desires – but is it enough of a need for you to earn a profit and make the extra design work involved worth the effort?
What are Niche Garment Designs and Fashion Markets?
Niche garment designs are clothing or footwear designs that appeal to a small group, but not the majority of customers – for example, a womenswear brand may use standard sizing and design proportions that meet the needs of most American women, but fail to comfortably fit women who have heights above six feet. Most mainstream fashion brands don’t cater very well, or at all, to niche markets like this one.
The decision whether or not to serve a niche market is one that most designers make based on cost. I’ll address that in a bit, but first, I’d like to examine the pros and cons of designing for a niche of customers instead of the mass market.
The Pros and Cons of Niche Fashion Markets
When starting your own fashion brand you will need to research, study, and decide who will be your target customer. In that sense, having a niche market can be a benefit for new fashion designers because it helps their fashion labels to stand out in a competitive industry.
However, you still want to make sure that your niche has enough consumers to sell well. You may absolutely love 1930s fashion and have it heavily influence your designs, or you might even recreate 1930 fashions, but unless there is a market and demand for this style of design, it will be hard for your brand to succeed. When you do find the right niche market though, you will often find that your work draws a highly loyal brand following.
Common mistakes when picking a niche market are that it’s either too broad or too narrow. If your niche is too wide or is too common, it will prove difficult for your label to stand out. On the other hand if it’s too selective and narrow, your brand could have limited growth potential and fade out.
Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Start Designing
Many fashion designers started their careers because they liked a certain clothing style, and had to make their own clothes because the stores didn’t have them. However, your own personal fashion preferences alone aren’t enough to build a successful brand. When designing for a niche market ask yourself:
Is it in demand?
Has the demand fluctuated, and for how long?
How many people are in this market?
Is this a problem you are trying to solve?
Is there competition for this niche?
How will you be different?
Is there room for growth/expansion?
Why do you want to design for this market?
Are you passionate about these designs?
You want to make sure that you really understand your niche and why you want to design for this market. Otherwise you could end up losing focus.
The Costs of Designing for a Niche Fashion Market
There are many advantages of designing for a niche market. But there are still lots of challenges that come with it. If you decide to design for men who are shorter than average male height in a given location, or clothing for customers who have specific skin concerns for example, it will require a lot more work on the front end. Depending on your niche, you may have to create your own measurements, outside of the typical sizing chart. You will need to test and sample your designs much more and adjust or create new patterns. All this, on top of finding a manufacturer who will accurately translate your tech packs and patterns into real products, and fabric and trim suppliers who can source the specific materials you need. This all takes a lot of time and money. Everything may line up for your niche fashion designs and market, but as an emerging fashion designer you need to be aware that there is also a lot more capital needed to start up in a niche market.
Successfully Meeting the Need for Niche Markets
With all of the upfront extra work and investment, are niche fashion markets worth the dollars to design for? If you research well and plan well, and design quality clothes that last and truly meet the needs of your customers, you may see the same success as other designers who saw a niche need in the fashion industry and answered it. For example, Lamood Big Hats has found success by designing hats specifically made for people with larger heads. Petite Studio captures loyal customers with attractive clothes created for petite women.
Of course you can also have success in a niche that specializes in a particular product type like, Ties.com, which specializes in ties and other men's accessories. You are also not limited to traditional and expected fashions. American Duchess has a successful business in designing vintage footwear from the 18th century to the 1940s.
Go ahead; explore, and find your niche. Put in the work, time, and money to plan your production and sales distribution channels far in advance, and you have the potential to create a strong and lasting niche fashion brand.
Anna Spaugh resides in California and is a Marketing major at Sacramento State College. She is currently a Marketing intern at MakersValley. In her free time, you can find her drinking tea and creating crafts.