How to launch a fashion startup on Kickstarter (even if you don’t have a background in fashion)

Want to launch a fashion startup but not sure how to fund it? Find out how one mum (with no fashion background) managed to get full funding in just three days on Kickstarter.

My name is Shamanth Pereira and I recently launched InvisiBelly, a high waisted compression leggings brand on Kickstarter, which was successfully funded in less than three days with (still growing) worldwide support. You can check out my campaign here.

Unlike their predecessors, InvisiBelly leggings are a unique combination of old and new, preserving a traditional Ayurvedic practice with modern day compression technology. Their revolutionary high waisted performance leggings combine the slimming of shapewear, the durability of activewear and the modesty and style of outerwear.

Trethowans

In this article I am going to share my behind the scenes experience of launching a fashion startup (without any fashion experience) on Kickstarter.

What is Kickstarter, and why use it?

Kickstarter is a type of rewards-based crowdfunding platform. Crowdfunding platforms were originally created to help budding artists crowdfund their music album. As the artists didn’t have the funds to produce their album, they turned to their fans to help them by pre-funding their album.

Soon the likes of Kickstarter and Indiegogo crowdfunding platforms were launched to help creatives in any industry bring their business to life.

So why launch on Kickstarter and not your own commerce site? Here are some reasons:

  • Kickstarter allows you to prove your concept, thereby minimising risk of launching and no one being interested in the product.
  • You can generate revenue to help you produce your first run of orders.
  • It’s an excellent form of validation – you can say your startup was successfully funded through Kickstarter. It means real customers love your product and are happy to part with their money and wait a few months before the product arrives.
  • It gives you the opportunity to pitch to bigger retailers as you are a proven concept.
  • Kickstarter is widely trusted platform. While there were some initial projects that failed, Kickstarter have tightened their rules for launching. Now your project needs to pass their rules and guidelines before you launch.
  • Your campaign has a wider reach as you are also tapping into the Kickstarter audience, who may otherwise not know about you.

One thing to bear in mind though is that Kickstarter is a predominantly male audience platform (it has around a 70/30 split). That said, there are many female-led campaigns that are successfully funded, and some have gone on to achieve the one million mark in pre-order sales.

How I launched my fashion startup on Kickstarter

So how did I successful launch my fashion startup on Kickstarter? To help you get practical tips of your own campaign I’m going to share my step-by-step process with you.

However, I first need to stress that launching on Kickstarter is neither easier nor harder than launching on your own ecommerce site. The level of effort involved in launching a Kickstarter campaign is the same as launching any startup.

1) Come up with an idea

First you need to decide what you want to create, and ensure it has wide appeal. To come up with my idea I decided to look at the problems I encountered on a daily basis and picked the one that had the biggest impact on me.

In my case, it was the weight gain from having two children. I was a lean person prior to having children, and post-children I found it hard to lose the baby weight, especially around the tummy area, and as a result my overall confidence took a tumble.

2) Talk to others and get feedback

Once I had my idea, I reached out to other women and asked them the part of their body they found most challenging – and the muffin top/tummy came up tops.

This step is critical. I appreciate that some of you might find this process daunting, but it’s an essential step to ensuring you are building something that people will want. I also reached out to stylists as they dress women all the time, to confirm this theory and was soon onto a winner.

3) Check out your competition and see what else is out there

Now I knew I wanted to create a pair of comfortable leggings that had shapewear built in, so they held in my ‘mum-tummy’ and were versatile enough to dress up or down.

I was inspired by the age old Asian belly wrapping tradition that has been passed down through the generations. However I didn’t want to wrap my tummy with a cloth and then put trousers over it.

So I decided to try combining both, and that’s when I discovered compression garments mimicked the same benefits of the belly wrapping tradition. It is important to see what’s currently on offer and how you can differentiate yourself from the crowd.

4) Build a prototype

Next I had to translate this idea into a prototype. Not having a fashion background meant that I needed to thoroughly research to find reliable designers who could successfully translate my idea to reality. The easiest way to do this was to get an existing pair of competitor leggings and show the pattern cutter/designer what I wanted to change.

5) Create a design pack

With clothing you need to create a design pack that includes the design and measurements for sizing, so it’s easy for the factory to translate your idea.

Unless you possess design skills, this is by far the best way to translate your idea. Sometimes a good factory, will get their in house team to help you with design and measurement process.

6) Find a factory to produce prototypes

Once you have an idea of what you want to produce you need to find a factory that can help you produce prototypes. In my instance, I wanted a pair of compression seamless leggings that required a specialist circular knitting machine.

As I had absolutely no fashion experience I needed to thoroughly research manufacturers in the UK, China and Europe to evaluate and choose the best for my business. It was a long long road with incorrectly translated samples, poor quality materials (despite specifying exactly what I wanted) and even being dismissed outright by some for being a startup.

To create seamless leggings I needed that circular knitting machine, but most manufacturers take the cut and sew route. The downside to this route you are at the mercy of fabric manufacturers, and there are tons of fabric out there. While it’s a more affordable way to produce, I wanted to create something unique and different.

I wanted solve real women’s problems, so I wanted my leggings to stay put, and be an easy to wear, dawn to dusk item – in short a pair of leggings that women want.

7) Ask your network for introductions

It took me nearly a year of trial and error with various manufacturers before my research eventually led me to my lovely producer in Portugal. I was introduced to them through Utelier, a platform that connects creators with makers.

By this point, I was on the verge of giving up! I asked myself if it was worth the effort to keep trying. I had internal discussions with myself such as “maybe I am not cut out for this” and “maybe it’s just not meant to be”. However my competitive mindset didn’t let me give up just yet.

I told myself Portugal was my final attempt otherwise I would have to rethink my options.

Thankfully, Utelier solved my problem. They connected me to a manufacturer that created seamless leggings, and I felt it was a sign from the universe to not give up!

8) Launch your startup to an audience

Now that I finally had a prototype that was designed to my idea, the next phase was working out how to finance production and market it to the world.

Every startup knows that the first customers are crucial to building momentum for the business, but startup capital is tricky to obtain. One way around this is to pre-fund your startup by launching to pre-orders. 

One of the key lessons I learned from my previous e-commerce experience was to ensure I had an audience of willing buyers to launch to. This is where Kickstarter comes in. 

Eight critical steps to ensuring a successful Kickstarter campaign

So how do you ensure your Kickstarter campaign is successful? Here are the eight critical steps you need to take (and some lessons I learned on my journey).

1) Produce an engaging video that shares your story and product

The video is a critical element to a successful campaign. I recommend taking inspiration from other fully funded campaigns and observe how they have scripted their videos.

It’s worth investing in a really good videographer because a good video can help convey your message clearly and make potential buyers want to pre-order your product. I received a lot of good feedback about my video. (You can check it out here.)

I recommend setting aside a budget of £1,000-3,000 for a high quality video.

2) Make sure your Kickstarter page is has an engaging layout, design and photography

Your crowdfunding page is essentially the website of your project. It’s the sales page you use to convert visitors into backers. As such it should be crafted with the same care you would put into a new website or project.

Once again set aside a decent budget to create this, and of course research and get a few referrals for graphic designers before you settle for one. (Here’s the graphic designer that created my page.)

3) Create a strong pre-launch campaign

It’s worth noting that almost 50% of campaigns don’t get funded. Though the good news is once you hit the 20% funding goal, your chances of failure drops to 11%.

Building an email list of between 5,000-10,000 subscribers ahead of your launch will help you with days one to three of your launch. You can gather subscribers by running a giveaway of your product, collaborating with bloggers to share the giveaway with their audience, and also use ads to promote the giveaway to a wider audience.

I want to highlight that I did not manage to execute this as effectively as I would have liked, because my son became unwell for three months, so everything stalled. Yet I managed to reach my modest funding goal. To ensure you raise as many pre-orders and generate as much revenue as possible it is critical to do this step well.

To provide some context, campaigns that have executed a strong pre-launch campaign went on to raise six figures for their campaign. Most of these campaigns achieved the high five figures ( £30k upwards) within 48 hours of launch. Here are are two examples to check out.

Little Nomad:

Flexr:

4) Plan effective rewards

Rewards are effectively pricing your product in an attractive way to make people want to buy it. Here are some different reward types you can offer:

  • Early bird discounts to entice buyers to pre-order quickly.
  • Bundle discounts.
  • Limited and premium rewards.

The most critical part of rewards is to price them carefully so you don’t lose money after accounting for Kickstarter fees and payment fees.

One thing to bear in mind is that you would be doing well if you break even from your Kickstarter campaign. View the campaign as a way to acquire customers that you can nurture and sell future products to. The lifetime cost of the customer is going to be much higher, so think big!

The bottom line is to make your rewards as easy to comprehend as possible. Draw inspiration from successfully funded campaigns.

5) Offer attractive shipping rates

Research has shown that consumers prefer free shipping and are happier to pay a slightly higher price for a product, than paying a lower price for a product and paying on top for shipping.

So wherever possible, and only if it financial makes sense, offer free shipping or significantly reduced shipping.

6) Invest in online advertising to drive traffic to your campaign

Having done my research, I knew the benefits of spending on advertising (primarily Facebook advertising) to promote my product. You can opt to learn and do Facebook ads yourself or find an agency that specialises in Kickstarter campaigns to help you. There are many agencies, such as Jellop, Crowdreach, Enventys and Funded Today.

As I am in the midst of my campaign, I am still evaluating the effectiveness of using these agencies and will update post campaign.

7) Put aside a budget for PR

If you are able to set aside a budget for PR, then do so. Try to hire an agency that specialises in Kickstarter campaigns, as they will know how to pitch your project to the press.

If you can’t set aside a budget, it’s worth trying to write press releases yourself because getting any mentions for a startup helps with brand awareness. For some campaigns, press mentions generated at least 30%-40% of their pre order revenue. Paved with Gold specialises in crowdfunding PR and is fairly reasonable with their rates.

8) Reach out to your network

Do not overlook this step. I reached out to friends, former colleagues, and family to help gain early momentum for my campaign.

I was also planning on out doing blogger outreach, but because of the break in my pre-launch plan this didn’t get done. In hindsight, I could have hired a virtual assistant and got them to do the blogger outreach on my behalf.

If I ‘launched ugly’ and still got funding, you can do it too!

If you are really low on funds, then you want to focus your budget on steps 1-3. As you are aware I am in the midst of my campaign. Mine was not a perfect launch by any means, but I decided to launch ugly.

I had a choice to make, either delay my launch further until I achieve a perfect pre-launch or just ‘launch ugly’. I didn’t want to lose more momentum so I decided to go ahead and launch.

Since my pre-launch efforts only generated less than 1,000 emails, I compensated with aggressive manual outreach to friends and family and paid advertising. Thankfully my efforts led me to achieve my modest goal in less than three days, and right now I’m at nearly 200% of funding.

I hope my experience and advice helps you to have the courage to plan your own successful Kickstarter campaign. While there’s a more that goes into a Kickstarter campaign, I have highlighted the key steps you need to take. And if I can do it, you can too!

If you love leggings and always dreamt of a pair leggings that doesn’t roll down, not see through with the added benefit of a built in shape wear for an instant confidence boost, you will love Invisibelly. Click here to take advantage of the early bird pre order discount.