Top tips on how to become a fashion designer

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There are things in life that we all aspire to do but can’t quite figure out how to get there, like making it in the entertainment industry or becoming the next Bill Gates.

Well, 23-year-old David Stephenson from Melbourne’s south-east suburbs created his own fashion brand, Grafted, and is slowly breaking into the competitive industry. If you’ve ever thought about doing the same, here are his tips.

Come up with a unique idea. After David finished high school, he became heavily involved in the city street culture. This gave him the idea to create a clothing line that is different from what anyone has ever done before, that doesn’t just look good but is practical too. “Street culture requires more from what you wear than just warmth and appearance. So the idea started to form.”

He named his brand Grafted, after thinking about the idea of taking clothing and combining or grafting them with something that makes the item more practical.

David has since spent three years working on the business. He says, “At one point I was working full time, as well as several part time jobs to raise the money I needed to get the business going.”

Do your research. David says you have to work hard to find a way to beak into what can be a tough business. “I found as many innovative ideas and inventions as I could, that could be a possible graft for the range I had in mind. This on top of trying to get up to date with pattern making, manufacturing processes and printing procedures. I found heaps of different things that weren’t widely known and showed a lot of potential.”

David also did quite a lot of research figuring out costs. He has spent around $20,000 so far on setup.”It may be a year before we make back profit. Margins are slim on current products due to import charges and the benefits we give to the customers like free freight. I’m really big on solid customer service and if sacrificing a decent margin is what I have to do, then in my mind, it’s a given.”

Get creative. “The styles came from a combination of two things. Taking elements from dope pieces in my wardrobe and combining them to make a style that I would love to wear. The hope being that others would agree.” While David doesn’t mind putting pen to paper, he got his brother and another friend to help with the mock-ups and sounding boards.

David says, “Most, if not all, of the first range is going to be Australian made. On top of that, we are literally burning through suppliers to find the best materials possible. In saying that the price point is pretty standard. We are looking at $60 for a tee and just over $100 for a jumper.”

Pick a target audience. So far David has created several styles of tees, jumpers and jackets aimed at 16-35 year olds. He plans to make shorts and pants as the business grows, then continue with new ideas from there.

Fashion designer, David Stephenson

Make contacts. David says this was one of the biggest challenges.­­­ “Starting out, contacts would ignore me for months at a time as I didn’t represent a significant monetary value to them. Processes were new and difficult to navigate and unforeseeable events seemed to stall progress at every turn.”

David was lucky though to stumble on a guy who had a tonne of contacts. He helped David find a manufacturer who has basically become his mentor since then.

David also relied on people he knew to help him in many areas, such as by hiring old friend, Emily Hensman to model his designs as seen in the picture above, “We went to school together and he got in contact with me again after all these years through Facebook,” Emily says.

Get your brand noticed. David has been reaching out to several like-minded companies whose products and philosophy aligns with his. One of these brands was US based and was interested in a distribution setup in Australia. Grafted is now the official Australian distributor of Findlay Hats, which will be available for pre-ordering from August 1.

David has also applied to do a popup store near Melbourne Central in the CBD which will be open during November and December. The brand is also set to go live on The Iconic, an online clothing site, in September.

David plans to get the Grafted name out there, mainly through social media and other basic advertising platforms both on and offline.

Take risks! David says, “I have no idea whether i’m going to be totally broke in twelve months or not.” His clothing will be marked at a relatively high price so it’s all dependant on whether his business takes off or not.

Love what you do! David’s dreamed of having his own clothing line for years and he says he’s just as passionate now, even after all the hard work. “The only thing that really divides clothing is quality and branding. Even then branding has way more sway over quality. I love that I am bringing something new to the clothing market.”

Model, Emily Hensman said she loved doing the shoot for his brand. “I think David’s jackets are classic, made from the best quality material you can get. I think they’ll do well with a mature market.”

So there you have it, it doesn’t sound easy but if you have a passion for it, anything is possible.

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