How The Fashion Industry Works
Fashion is big.
Like, multi-trillion-dollar-industry, big.
A web woven by thousands of different micro-industries, all working together to ensure that we're not running around in fig leaves.
I've spent the last few weeks trying to map it out in a simple way. I came to the conclusion that I could never write a 'book for dummies' because my charts were out of control. I couldn't draw the line on where to stop, and who to leave out.
My detailed infographics would have you scrolling down your Pinterest screen for days trying to reach the Ryan Gosling memes, and frankly, you've got better things to do.
So I thought for now, I'd focus on the end of the process: How your clothes get from us to you, and what all the confusing terminology means.
No Pinterest-scrolling necessary.
So basically, there are 3 routes.
I've left out the other 500 processes because they probably all need their own blog post.
Here's a quick breakdown of 'Who Does What' from this flowchart so you can show off at your next dinner party.
What IS a Fashion Label?
A Fashion Label is a specific 'brand' of clothing (more on that word below).
A 'Fashion Label' is made up of a team of Designers and Industry Professionals.
So, what do they do?
Fashion Labels take care of all the 'making'.
They coordinate everything from:
- Initial garment design (sketches, moodboards, etc. Usually done by in-house Designers),
- Pattern-making (either done in-house or outsourced),
- Fabric/yarn/trim design (again, either in-house or outsourced), and
- Fabric/yarn/trim sourcing (from manufacturers, printers or agents),
- Sampling (tailoring, altering patterns, quality testing fabrics/trims)
- Manufacturing (bulk production),
- Photoshoots/Lookbooks (coordinating models, photographers, stylists, etc.),
- Marketing, and
Fashion Labels either sell garments wholesale to Distributors/Clothing Stores/Boutiques or directly to you through their own store. Some do both.
What is a Fashion Wholesale Distributor?
Exactly that. The middle man. They take ready-made garments from Labels and find markets for them.
Using their buying power, import/export licences, and networks, they bridge the gap between Labels and Clothing Stores.
What is a Clothing Store?
Any physical store or e-commerce platform that sells apparel direct to you.
Pretty simple, right?
We can categorise these into:
- Department Stores (such as Myer or David Jones),
- Online Collectives/Marketplaces (The Iconic, Asos, etc.),
- General Retail Stores, and
- Fashion Boutiques (more on this below).
Clothing Stores source ready-made garments at wholesale prices, either from the Distributor or from the Label. (Another 'middle man')
What is a Fashion Boutique?
A 'Fashion Boutique' is generally used to describe a smaller retail Clothing Store.
Boutiques curate garments from a range of different Labels based on a specific theme or style.
For example, their market could be:
- maternity or breastfeeding fashion,
- children's wear,
- country clothing,
- beach attire,
- corporate wear,
- wedding gowns,
- boho style, etc.
Fashion Boutiques source ready-made garments at wholesale prices.
So, What's the Difference between a Clothing Store and a Fashion Boutique?
Usually their size.
Boutiques tend to have more of a unique identity and stock smaller quantities of lesser-known, higher-end, or couture fashion labels.
It is less common that Boutiques would use a Wholesale Distributor, but there are many popping up online now making it easier for Retailers to find Labels.
Is a Clothing Brand different from a Fashion Label?
Ahh, a contentious issue.
In general terms (eg. 'what brand is your dress?'), they are the same thing.
Some will argue that a brand is much bigger than a label, given that some brands have many different labels beneath them.
This is also true.
(How's your brain?)
Some might even go as far as to say a Clothing Store or Fashion Boutique is a 'Brand'.
This is where we cross dangerous waters into the marketing world.
You can be a brand without having a brand.
You can also have a brand without being a brand.
(Still with me?)
In the marketing world, a brand is not a label, and a label does not constitute having a brand. The word 'brand' has taken on its own very specific meaning; of which nobody can agree on the definition of.
Can you now identify the difference between your favourite Stores, Boutiques and Labels - and what they do?
AND, did you know that Cousin Billie is a Label who only sells directly to you, right here on this website?