(Images: Stylesight Blog, Google Images)
As designers, we have all been asked this question countless times before: “Who is your customer?” And we have all heard a similar answer, the specific details may change but the over-all picture often looks the same.
“She’s in her mid-twenties to thirties, she works for an art gallery. She looks to Erin Wasson for her street-style inspiration; she knows the words to every classic rock song and attends Coachella every year. She wears Alexander Wang and The Row to work but searches flea markets on the weekends for vintage t-shirts. She’s the kind of girl that drinks whiskey sours. She has an independent spirit, she’s a woman of extremes.”
This answer certainly paints a nice picture, doesn’t it? We can all imagine that woman and exactly what her perfect wardrobe would include; but is this truly your customer? Our industry expert says, “no” so we asked her to help us define the difference and bring clarity to this common misconception.
So tell me, have I defined my customer correctly?
“No, although quite descriptive, this is not your customer this is your muse; and although each is equally valuable they both serve very different purposes when developing a collection.”
What is the purpose of a muse?
“A muse focuses your designs and allows you to dress a very specific person. A muse creates consistency within a collection and builds a backstory to develop a certain character. A muse doesn’t have to be a real person but can be. They help you to define your brand’s identity. The key here is that this character doesn’t have to actually exist, it can be a celebrity or historical figure set in modern day life. The purpose is, ultimately, to tell a story that can focus your inspiration.”
Then what is the difference between a muse and a customer?
“Your customer is a real person. This is the person that is actually going to buy your finished garment. Ask yourself the following questions when helping to define your customer:
Who can afford the collection you are creating?
Where do they work?
How much of their income do they spend on their clothing?
Where do they usually shop?
The customer helps you determine where your designs will be sold and whether there is an actual need for it.”
A celebrity is a real person, so why can’t they be my customer?
“When we say a real person, we mean that there have to be multiple people that can fit within this definition. Yes, your perfect client may very well be your favorite celebrity but ultimately there is only one of them. You will need a market for your product and your market cannot be limited to one person.”
So if they are both equally important, your customer and your muse, how exactly can you tell if you have defined both?
“If you can’t think of a real life situation where someone can wear it, will buy it or has a need for it then you don’t have a customer or a commercially viable design. The answer to this question can’t be that your muse would buy it. You have to remember that you have created that character to help design your collection. If you are designing $1000 leather jackets with style lines inspired by the armor of a modern day Joan of Arc, you’ll need to find a woman in the real word that can afford them, has a need for them as well as a store that would carry them. If you can’t, then it’s time to go back to the design table.”
Designers are, in essence, visual storytellers but unlike traditional writers who can use words forged in pen and ink, we have a combination of colors, fabrics and silhouettes to convey our message. Every designer has his or her own main character defined as a muse. Whether she is the art gallery owner or a modern day interpretation of Joan of Arc a muse is invaluable for a designer, most importantly when building a brand identity. But a muse is not enough. When developing your next collection ask yourself this question:
Is my customer or my muse driving my inspiration?
Your answer should always be “Both.”