Q: I want to start my own fashion business, but I really don't know a lot about the business. Can you tell me where to start?
A: Entrepreneur.com and TeenStartUps.com are great places to start your search for general start-up information--like how to write a business plan or how to do market research. But for more specific information--like on the apparel industry--you'll want to really crack down and extend your information search. So whether you want to start a fashion business, a Web design firm or a catering company, here are 5 resources you need to check out:
- Your local library. You'd go there to do research on a term paper, right? So don't ignore this vital resource when researching a business idea. You can find industry-specific books here (like Inside the Fashion Business and The Business of Fashion); you can check out fashion magazines; you can ask your research librarian to help you access special databases and books like The Sourcebook of Zip Code Demographics or the Small Business Sourcebook. Bigger metropolitan libraries may even have specific industry publications available to view--the kind of trade magazines that can cost hundreds of dollars to subscribe to.
- Your community college. High school students can usually take courses at their local community college. Your college might have a fashion design and merchandising program, or even just an entry-level sewing class. If they don't offer anything specific to your interests, you can still benefit by taking classes on marketing, building a Web site or using a suite of office software. They may also offer classes on running your own business--and you can usually peruse the catalog online to find out. And these classes will often transfer as credit toward your future four-year degree. Other great resources for classes are ROP and community development classes; check with your high school for the former and your city center for the latter.
- SBDCs. Small Business Development Centers are run by the SBA with the goal of providing management assistance to new and prospective business owners. You might go there to get information on running a business, to ask a specific question of a business counselor or to attend a workshop. SBDCs are often located on community college campuses; go here to find one near you and to obtain even more start-up info.
- Industry associations. Almost every industry imaginable has a trade association, which is an organization made up of people and companies that have an interest in that industry. The association may be open only to businesses practicing in that field--say fashion designers--or it may also consist of the businesses who offer supplies to fashion designers, retailers who sell the fashion designers' clothing, and other interested parties. As someone who is just interested in finding out about the field, you probably can't join the association yet, but you can still ask them--or surf their site--for helpful information like market research, articles from their industry publications and trade magazines, and lists of suppliers. Ask your librarian to show you the Encyclopedia of Associations or do an Internet search on phrases like "fashion design associations" or "fashion organizations" to find appropriate associations.
- Internships and part-time jobs. Whatever your business interest, try to get an internship or part-time job in your field. There's no better way to tell if you're cut out for the work than hands-on experience. Caterers need servers. A local Web firm may need an extra hand for big projects. And while you probably can't get a job with Tommy Hilfiger, you can apply at The Gap and learn about merchandising and retail sales. You should also check out smaller, local designers or boutiques--they may just catch a glimpse of themselves in your ambitious eyes and be happy to give you your first lessons in your dream field in exchange for some grunt work.