Design is a challenging profession, and most designers learn early on in their careers that there are two ways to do it. Some choose to take the entrepreneurial route and launch their own brand, electing to deal with the challenges of production, marketing, and eCommerce. Others decide to leverage the resources of big box brands and design strictly for another company, which often limits their creative control and scope. But, there are new trends in the industry that are beginning to blur the line between the role of designer and entrepreneur.
eCommerce is on the rise worldwide, and because the middle class is growing globally, online retailers can expect significant growth in the coming years. A recent study found that online sales increased by 7.5 percent between June 2015 and June 2016. That kind of growth indicates a shift in consumer thinking, something ideal for smaller brands. If a retail business can operate without opening a brick-and-mortar location, designers who have a product but lack the capital to purchase coveted shelf space have the chance to compete.
Here are four industry trends that will help designers who want to go the entrepreneurial route:
1. Designer empowerment
While online growth gives designers options for eCommerce, it does not necessarily solve all of the other problems that come with starting a brand. For example, designers work tirelessly to create designs their fans and customers will like, but the product itself will never get developed without a manufacturing partner to actually produce them. Brands like Etsy opened up the eCommerce world for designers but did little to help them with production and operations.
There are a growing number of companies trying to take that next step and provide platforms that solve logistical hurdles for entrepreneurial designers.
Ryan Kang, CEO of ROOY, a footwear creation and eCommerce platform, shares, “Many designers cannot afford high start up costs and do not know how to create the operational side of their business. Manufacturing platforms help to eliminate those costs by leveraging networks of manufacturers and by being able to make low minimum quantities.”
Marketing can also be a challenge. Designers often understand the importance of branding and social media, but are not experts on sales and consumer behavior. Kang explains, “Even for designers that can produce their own shoes; they often run into the problem of where to market their brand. Designers are supposed to be focused on the product, so it makes sense that the rest of the business has loose ends.”
eCommerce and manufacturing platforms are paving the way forward for designers.
2. Asian market
A growing middle class in numerous Asian countries is driving significant growth in the region. Data from Transparency Market Research shows that the regional market is expected to increase by $17 billion over the next seven years. Designers looking to reach new markets can benefit from familiarizing themselves with style trends in these markets to tap into that growth.
The potential for sales amidst such growth is significant. For designers in these regions it’s important to gear up production now to match the projected increase in demand. With thriving fashion centers in Seoul and Tokyo, the potential for visibility is increased for those that can tie themselves to trends.
3. Social commerce
Everyone is aware of the importance of social media for a brand. An online poll from Civic Science found that 20 percent of consumers said social media impacts what kind of clothing and accessories they purchase. Social commerce, however, is deeper than a promoted Instagram post or an influencer giving an online review.
Consumers are not just looking for new brands -- they want to learn about the brand’s development and participate in its story. This development in consumer preference has driven companies to invest in content marketing, and some of them are changing the way we perceive advertising altogether. Brands that connect the consumer to the story behind the product help establish a stronger connection to the brand. That is a unique advantage for entrepreneurial designers who, by nature, have a human story to tell that is more relatable than big box retailers. Designers need to be aware of this and capitalize on that advantage.
4. Millennials are shopping specialty
Millennials are quickly becoming the most influential consumer group. This means millennial preferences will begin to dictate the way brands behave in the market.
Marshal Cohen of NPD Group shares, “With so many retailers and brands trying to court this segment, it becomes very competitive and challenging to win share of younger Millennials’ discretionary, hard-to-come-by spending.”
Marshal’s study found that millennials prefer shopping with specialty brands for unique product offerings, dedicating 3.2 percent of their entire spending to specialty retail, compared to a more conservative 1.9 percent from older consumers. Designers seeking access to this powerful consumer group will likely find more success with smaller platforms than big box retail.
Designers that want to tap into these trends should consider what assets and experience they bring to the table to determine what partners they need to help launch their brand. For those with design expertise, but needing support with manufacturing, marketing, or eCommerce, a creation platform may be an ideal option to help get their designs into the hands of their customers. The result will be a market with fewer middlemen, bringing designers and consumers closer than they have even been before.