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Targeting a Niche vs Mainstream Fashion Market

By: Jennie Kermode - Updated: 17 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Fashion Fashion Business Fashion

Often when we think of fashion we think first of catwalk models and the magazines which feature them, then of the more modest versions of the clothes we see there which are sold in high street chain stores. But the fashion industry isn't just one entity with one direction. It's split into numerous subsections with rules all their own.

Aiming your designs at a niche market can make it much easier to get noticed when you start out. It can help you to focus and it can be a good way to take advantage of your existing familiarity with a particular group. On the other hand, it can limit your ability to expand and it may make it more difficult for you to get your work taken seriously in the wider marketplace. What's more, niche markets are often crowded - your designs will need to be really good in order to compete.

Types of Niche Market

Most people who enter a niche marketplace as designers do so because they already have an interest in its customers. However, it's important to understand that knowing the customers is not the same as knowing the industry. With each type of market, there are specific factors to consider.

  • Industrial Clothing - People care about what they wear at work, even if they have to wear a uniform or if their clothing has to be designed specially to protect them from industrial hazards. Managers are always on the lookout for industrial clothing which will be more practical to wear or which will make a better impression on business clients. However, you'll often find that one or two big companies control the whole marketplace and that it's very difficult to compete with them.
  • Hobby Clothing - There are all kinds of hobbies and sports for which specialist gear is essential. Often this will need to meet strict safety standards, so make sure you know your stuff. Customers in this group often follow fashion closely and are excited by new fabrics, colours and designs, but they also tend to be conservative and to depend a lot on prior experience or word-of-mouth recommendations.
  • Subculture Clothing - This can range from highly noticeable items like gothic or rave wear to fashions aimed at less visible groups such as elderly people who have retained the cultivated tastes of their youth. Generally speaking, the more fashionable the group, the more designers are competing to serve it. Some may be doing it as a hobby and making very little profit, making them difficult to compete with.

Despite these problems, there can be big rewards involved in targeting a niche marketplace. If you are successful, it's much easier to remain that way than in the more fickle world of mainstream fashion. Niche marketing won't make you a star and it's unlikely to make you a millionaire, but it can be an effective way to swiftly reach a point where you're generating a steady income.

Niche Markets Need Strong Ideas

If there's one rule in niche fashion marketing, it's that there's no room for copycats. Many people are drawn to this type of work because they admire existing designs, but attempting to recreate them won't get you anywhere - customers will stick with what they know, even if your work is a little cheaper. In the mainstream market you can adapt high fashion styles and get away with it. In niche marketing it's much more important for you to find your own voice. Customers are often hungry for new styles, so innovative work can lead to quick success.

High quality work is also more important in a niche market where word of mouth is a much more significant factor. This may seem like a burden, but on the other hand it means that good work will quickly get you noticed. Niche markets reward talent and hard work far more consistently than the mainstream market does. They may limit your options as a designer but they'll present you with strong opportunities as a business.

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