The fashion industry has long had a reputation of gatekeeping and hierarchies based on legacy, inside connections, and family ties. In other words, it has always been tough to break into this space from the outside, and history would suggest that's by design.
But like so many areas of the economy, the internet has invited waves of newcomers to the fashion world, breathing fresh air into design, community, business models, and more.
The space has been flipped on its head by forward-thinking people with passion - and we love to see it.
How exactly are business owners breaking into the fashion industry and maintaining that success long term? Let's hear from these founders, owners, and CEOs to see how it's done.
Master of the Niche
Where there's a niche, there's a way. That's the case for industries of all kinds, and fashion in particular. Business leaders are finding this out firsthand as they start brands from scratch and immediately see positive responses, plus impressive profits.
'You can be in the apparel space without starting a crazy new trend or creating a revolutionary business model,' said Jared Zabaldo, CEO of USAMM. 'We simply capitalized on a demand that was there, and customers have been thrilled.'
Other companies have found success in existing niches that needed a boost of flair and aesthetics to keep things fresh.
'People love the customization angle, and it goes to show that fashion goes beyond the clothes you wear,' said James Ville, Chief Product Officer at GunSkins. 'We took a simple idea, delivered a solution that works, and it's been smooth sailing ever since.'
Sometimes, the wheel doesn't need to be reinvented. Many newcomers to the fashion space are doubling down on trends that have worked in the past, putting a fresh twist on proven formulas and enjoying the results.
'We offer clothes that let people represent their state, city, old sports teams, and other pieces of home,' said Mike Pasley, Founder of Allegiant Goods. 'It goes beyond clothes. Our niche is about identity, being proud of where you're from, and who you are. That resonates with people across generations.'
Of course, there's always room for something funny and original, which is how Pasley broke through with his brand Famous IRL. 'These clothes make us smile and bring people together over shared interests,' said Pasley. 'What's a better business than that?'
The Sustainability Factor
More consumers are wising up to the fact that many large companies in the fashion world have work to do in the sustainability department.
That's good news for small companies breaking into the space.
'The future of fashion will see brands with radical transparency and increased accountability in supply chains. It's now their responsibility to do your research, share space with marginalized communities, and be a leader of the community beyond designing and selling clothes.' - Cassandra Dittmer, Sustainable Stylist and Influencer.
Reversing the trend of fast fashion means supporting companies that put quality first, ensuring that products are built for the long haul. 'If you focus on creating great clothes that last years, people recognize that extra care and quality,' said Chris Cronin, Co-Founding Partner at Kitanica. 'It changes how you look at your footprint and the cycle of fashion in general.'
For some brands, switching up the business model is a good bridge between sustainability and customer loyalty. 'That is the advantage of a subscription model for products like clothes,' said Culprit Underwear Co-Founder Dylan Trussell. 'People get exactly what they want, and they don't overspend or waste.'
A fundamental change has happened in the fashion space ever since the dawn of social networks. Trends are no longer coming from the top - they're happening organically and by means of sharing, communicating, and collaborating.
'I think that the scrutiny on companies and CEOs is much greater today. I think that part of the reason is social media is bringing transparency and also a news flow that was never there before,' said Adidas CEO Kasper Rorsted.
While fashion giants are feeling pressure from customers and responding to feedback in real-time, smaller, newer brands have closer connections to people online and can be far more agile in their projects, according to David Wolfe, Founder and CEO of Oliver's Apparel.
'Places like Twitter and Instagram are truly the public forum for feedback in modern fashion,' said Wolfe. 'We get insights that never would have come across our desk before social media. It's such an advantage to have your pulse on the culture at all times.'
New Media Emerges
Exploratory and alternative media has always been closely linked to fashion, and we're continuing to see that trend go strong as new formats emerge across the internet.
Entrepreneur Daniel Patrick founded his own apparel company and has broadcasted his message with a wide range of media vehicles in the past few years.
'We've recorded podcasts, shot YouTube videos, written blog posts, and made a mark on all the social platforms you'd expect,' said Patrick. 'It's a high-volume approach to marketing that actually works, because people love to see a variety of material shown in different ways.'
Eye-catching aesthetics have certainly made their way online for some brands, in the form of visually stunning websites and original artwork. 'We take pride in what we've done with our site, creating a unique vibe and drawing people into the idea of the brand,' said Max Greenberg, Co-Founder and CEO of Stoggles.
Finally, interactive media is a huge source of excitement in the fashion world, and how many smaller brands are outpacing legacy competitors in sectors like eyewear. 'We've got printable assets, mini-quizzes, useful blog content, and all sorts of extras that entertain and inform people,' said Fred Gerantabee, Chief Experience Officer at Foster Grant. 'That's the direction fashion is heading, and we're on the cutting edge.'
The old-fashioned approach to fashion may not be around for much longer with these next-gen business leaders taking the reins. Pay attention to these innovative brands to see what the future of fashion has in store.