Struggling to find loyal customers as a local designer?

Local fashion designers often complain that South Africans do not support local fashion and would rather opt for luxury international brands such as Louis Vuitton once they’ve ‘made it’. On the other end of the scale, there’s also an increasing amount of competition from popular fashion brands such as H&M, Cotton ON and Zara which offer cheaper stylish options that locals rush to get at every chance available. Does this leave any form of hope for local designers in pursuit of building a sustainable fashion business?

At first glance it really doesn’t seem very hopeful, however if you ask yourself a couple of key questions perhaps there could be a glimmer of light, right in your own backyard. Let’s look at these…

First question may seem pretty obvious, i.e. who is your customer?  It seems that too many fashion labels start with defining what to create rather than who to create for. As a designer you are creating ‘wearable art’…’for the modern muse (male or female)’…but have you considered the “who’s” in your immediate environment in a more specific way? The ‘who’ that’s just outside your doorstep and not in an ideal world created in your mind and/or on your sketch-pad. Having said this, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have a beautiful vision, it just means that it should fit with the ‘who’ in a relevant manner according to their way of life, which could result in a beautiful collaboration of your artistic skills and the reality of what is.

Who is in your immediate real world? Is she a working, single mom? Is he the IT guy next door? Are they Hip-Hoppers or Skaters? What is their culture? How do they spend their working and/or free time? Who do they befriend? How can your skill and creativity fit into their lifestyles? What struggles do they deal with? How can it make their lives more convenient, more vibrant, and more pleasurable according to what you have observed? Have you looked at your prospective customer in this specific way? Close enough to gain insight into what they aspire to, what they truly value and which of these they share with their peers and/or communities?

Why and how is your creation relevant to their way of life?

Next element to question is the size of your customer group, whom you’ve gotten to know in detail. Are their enough of this customer group out there to support your business?  It’s either there are a high number that’ll buy at a cheaper price or there are a few select that’ll buy at a more exclusive price or they will fit in somewhere in the middle. Whichever it turns out to be, the important point is to choose a customer group that would allow for your business to stay afloat and eventually prosper.

So yes, international brands are heavyweights but as a local, you have the upper hand because of your first hand observations of the people and communities in your country and your ease of understanding the context based on your experience. You have a better grasp of their way of life and the environment that impacts it.

More importantly, start with focusing on who you’re creating for rather than what you’re creating because you want your non-living designs, products and/or services to form part of a living being and as human beings we have aspirations, we thrive on being valued, we thrive on connecting with others. Making an effort to know and understand this will allow you as a designer to create something more meaningful, more useful, and more applicable.

Plugging in this deep, will most likely lead to more loyal, local customers.

What’s your perspective on securing loyal customers? Let me know in the comments below.

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