As published by the STRAITS TIMES, RECRUIT, 1 May 2010
With the launch of the Asian Fashion Exchange (AFX) Singapore, along with the introduction of the Fashion Incubator Project in June 2009 (the collaboration between Parco@Marina Bay and Textile Fashion Federation Singapore (TaFf), supported by Spring Singapore), and the opening of several new shopping malls there is a buzz in the air about becoming the next up and coming, hot Singapore Designer.
The popularity of the US television program Project Runway may lead people to believe that it is easy to transition into the fashion industry. More individuals are jumping into the business without the benefit of a fashion education. While it is certainly possible to do so, the learning curve is bound to be significant.
Even with the technical and merchandising skills that can be acquired through a design school, young designers should know it takes more than a great looking garment to be a successful designer. As a veteran in the industry for over 25 years, I see start-ups so focused on designing beautiful garments that they miss the ‘big picture.’
Before venturing out and launching a new collection, designers should be able to address the following issues:
1. Clearly and concisely identify the target audience.
When speaking to young designers, the first question I ask is, ‘who is your target audience, who’s the customer you’re selling to?’ Many respond with ‘I sell to everyone ‘or they tell me a range of customers that span 20 years in age. My response to that is, “if you try to be everything to everyone, you’re nothing to no one”. If designers do not have a clear and specific target audience, it’s going to difficult for them to formulate a marketing message to reach their prospective customer.
2. Create the brand Unique Selling Proposition (USP).
What is your USP? What is so special about your brand? Why do I want to buy from you? There are thousands upon thousands of brands for consumers to choose from. Designers need to have a clear identity of what they have to offer to consumers with their apparel. What problem do you solve for me? Maybe you offer exercise or yoga wear for the plus size woman, or offer office wear for very tall men or shoes for people with a wide foot. In many cases what is on offer is an unconscious desire to be part of the brand identity. The USP must also be conveyed in your marketing message.
3. Create a meaningful brand name that relates to your product and speaks to your customer.
According to Al Reis & Jack Trout, the authors of Positioning, the Battle for your Mind, they state “In this positioning era, the single most important marketing decision you can make is what to name the product.” I couldn’t agree more. Too often new designers pick obscure names because they think it’s cute or cool. They need to be thinking about the product and the target audience. They should select a brand name that is memorable, easy to articulate and is appropriate to the product and target audience.
4. Develop the brand personality.
Brand personality? Am I supposed to have a brand personality? Just as individuals have a name and a personality, so do brands. The brand personality something that should be created by the designer at the early stages of the brand development. Brand personality can be conveyed to the consumer visually by the product design, in the store layout, and something as simple as the brand font or corporate colors that represent the brand.
The brand personality is what the consumer identifies with. The closer you can get your brand personality to that of your target audience, the easier it is going to be to sell to her.
5. Establish the brand positioning.
Positioning is all about how your product is positioned in the mind of the consumer. In other words, what is your product is known for in the marketplace. Volvo holds the position for being a safe family car, Tiffany’s is known as the place to go for fine jewelry, or ‘the engagement ring’ and McDonald’s. Each designer should establish their brand position by writing a brand positioning statement. The positioning statement takes into account the customer, the competition and what makes you unique in the marketplace. Your positioning also makes it easier for consumers to identify with your brand.
6. Design a sales & marketing plan that draws a steady flow of customers to you.
In the movie Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner continually hears a voice from above tell him, “If you build it, they will come.” This only happens in the movies. If you build it (the product that is), you must have a sales and marketing plan to create awareness for your brand and a means to continually promote the brand to drive traffic to your store or website. It’s simple. No traffic, no sales. Develop a sales and marketing strategy before you open your doors to the public.
7. Make sure your business hat is bigger than your designer hat.
As the creative force behind the business, designers sometimes forget that they have a business to run. There is misconception that being a designer is all about creating beautifully garments and that very little time needs to be spent on the other less glamorous stuff. Designers need to be savvy enough to know that there are times when they need to be working ‘in’ the business and working ‘on’ the business. Running the business is a bigger hat to wear. If you’re not prepared to wear this hat, by all means get help.
Dreams will become reality for many new designers in the Fashion Incubator programme at the end of this month with the launch of Parco Marina Bay on 31st March. With the support of their mentors, TaFf, Parco and Spring, we are sure to see some new rising stars on the Singapore horizon.
Five Steps to Manage & Resolve Conflict in the Workplace
As published by the STAITS TIMES, RECRUIT, February 2010
Conflict is no stranger to any of us. We experience it in our daily lives – with our families, friends and increasingly in our professional lives. Conflict in the workplace causes many of us a great degree of discomfort, anger, frustration, sadness, and even pain. It is a normal aspect of life.
Today we live in a flat world as one big global village. There is an increase in workforce diversity where organizations have teams of employees from different geographic locations, with diverse cultural and cognitive backgrounds and various outlooks. In the workplace where individuals have different perspectives toward the same issues, sooner or later there are bound to be disagreements.
Conflict can happen when different views or opinions come to light. When conflict occurs the idea is not to try to prevent disagreements, rather to resolve and manage conflicts effectively. When individuals or teams are able to use appropriate resolution tools to address an issue, they are able keep their differences from escalating into problems. If the issues can be viewed constructively as nothing more that different points of views, it sets the stage for a positive outcomes.
Establishing some type of conflict management process within an organization is far better than allowing avoidance, denial, passive-aggressive indirectness, or plotting how to get even to take place amongst the employees. In the conflict resolution process, both individuals and teams are able to explore and understand their differences and use the information to interact in a more positive and productive manner.
Below are five basic steps to follow in resolving a conflict.
1. Identify a safe place and time to talk.
In order to allow for a constructive conversation, individuals generally need to feel that they are in a ‘safe place’ – one that allows them to take the risk involved for honest communication about the issues at hand. This means finding a private and neutral room; a location that isn’t the office of one person or the other.
Ensure the amount of time for a meeting is acceptable and appropriate for all parties. Complex disagreements can not be resolved in fifteen minutes or less. If time is limited, determine the criteria for the discussion and then fix a time and date for immediate follow up.
2. Clarify individual perceptions involved in the conflict.
It is important that each party involved in the conflict has an opportunity to express his or her perception or understanding of the conflict. An issue can’t be solved if you are unclear what the problem is about.
Start by sorting out the parts of the conflict. Get straight to the heart of the matter and avoid any unrelated issues not pertaining to the conflict at hand. Identify issues clearly and concisely and remove the emotion from the situation.
It is important that each person recognize that everyone needs to be involved to be the most effective.
3. Practice taking an active and empathetic listening stance.
To obtain a positive outcome in negotiating solutions to workplace conflict, it is vital that we resist the desire force our ideas onto others and instead make a concerted effort to listen to what is being conveyed.
By advocating empathy, team members are able to identify the thoughts or feelings of the other person and have the capacity to understand the other person’s point of view. When teams take a listening stance into the negotiation process, they set the scene for the opportunity to share their concerns about the conflict.
4. Generate options with the vision of a win-win outcome.
In conflict resolution a win-win strategy is a process that aims to accommodate all parties and arises out of sense of fairness. Explore and be creative in searching for alternatives.
Begin by taking one concern at a time, starting with an issue that the parties agree is worthy of discussion. Generate several possible solutions to the problem by collectively brainstorming ideas. Write down the various ideas on a flip chart. Defer any judgments or evaluations at this stage until all ideas have been presented to the group.
Clarify the criteria that the individuals or team will use for evaluating options. This ensures everyone is on the same page and, with mutually acceptable criteria, good solutions to problems become easier to formulate.
5. Develop an agreement that works for all.
At the conclusion of the negotiation process and the team has reached an agreement regarding solutions to each of the problems, summarize the ideas and put them in writing. Restate them back to each other to ensure everyone agrees with both the intent of the solution and how it is to be carried out.
As the conversation comes to a close, leave the session with a commitment to implement the plans that you have just created.
So next time an issue or concern arises at the workplace, don’t avoid it by acting like an ostrich with his head in the sand; employ your conflict resolutions skills and face the issue head on before it escalates into a conflict requiring intervention.