Fashion and Business models

blogging, bmgen, startups

Mar 2013

Fashion is about building remarkable things.

Making a remarkable product does not necessarily require (much) money or (much) time. For example, designer and software developer Sacha Greif says starting a sideproject only requires 10 hours.

How do fashion designers build products that feel special? How can you connect with people and address their needs?

Seth Godin explains exactly this in a TED talk: How to get your ideas spread

In this video, Godin looks for explanations on how Jeff Koons or Frank Gehry became so successful. He also mentions, that sliced bread (that had nice patents and a well-thought out bakery process by its inventor) got unnoticed for 15 years, and became only successful by having a company applying the right marketing techniques. His message is about looking at fashion, because fashion is all about making products ‘remarkable’.

In the business model canvas, selling a product or service is about the customer relationship and sales channel part. It’s about how you feel, when you enter and touch a shop or a product. It’s providing the right options to buy a product, or subscribe to a service. It’s about the setup of a flagship store or the design of a landing page.

In the world of fashion, the most remarkable products are “haute couture”. These fashion creations provide ideas to a whole industrial branch. The ideas that are shown on runways easily spread through magazines, television shows and blogs nowadays.

In another sense, garments from designers such as Jean Paul Gaultier are also a kind of prototype. A prototype (greek for “first impression”) is about how something can look, work, feel and how you can appreciate it . The saying goes, a picture is worth a thousands words, and a prototype is worth a thousand pictures. In the fashion pyramid, prototyping is about what happens at the top of the pyramid. There, fashion designers are specialized in sketching, observing and in handcrafting and materializing ideas.

In business models, prototyping is about something similar: Discovering unique and special recipes from sometimes common ingredients, sometimes rare and expensive ones (like patents or jewels). And in both, business models and fashion, it’s important to learn what works for 1 or 2 customers, for 100 men or women, for a cultural region, or for a contintent. (Another example: Some companies seem to run prototypes of a business in Canada first, and roll them out in the USA afterwards)


Here are some conclusions:

  • Business models don’t need a lot of resources to experiment with. That’s the whole point of building prototypes. Fast, cheap and throw-away models to test ideas.

  • A business prototype might be compared to ‘haute couture’ in the fashion pyramid. It’s about making something unique and special, that can be simplified later on. Like in haute couture, there are companies specializing in bringing prototypes to the world; however, a whole lot profitable luxury fashion lines do both: Haute-couture and High-end retail. And besides, there is space for volume and mass market segments.

  • A business model is not just a product and a customer. Like in fashion, it’s about how you feel in a shop, are received by a nice sales person, get extras and feel special. That is the sales channel and customer relationship part in a business model.

Note: This post was inspired by a a discussion in the lean startup circle on how small companies can actually have enough resources to experiment with a business model.

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