I remember it was like it was yesterday: my cousin, my parents, my brother, and I were gathered around the dinner table at my cousin’s house in my hometown of Asenovgrad, in Bulgaria. She made us Turkish coffee, which perfectly complimented the homemade cake her sister baked. We were having a heated discussion about a name for the leather accessories brand I was thinking of starting.
We had already planned on sourcing the material from leading Italian suppliers and buying their surplus leather—a move that has since become fashionable but was novel at the time. We determined the goods would sell at a much lower price point, yet retain the quality, latest styles, and trends of the leading luxury labels.
But right at the time, sipping coffee and eating that delicious cake, the most pressing issue was naming the brand. We had different options in front of us, and I remember each one of them today, even after the passage of more than 20 years. After hours of discussing the pros and cons of each potential name, my cousin said, “Well, this was initially Neri’s idea. So, why not name it after her too?” And the rest is history.
A selection of Neri Karra handbags.
But over the years, I have taught countless students who want to start their own fashion brands, and this is the question I am asked most frequently: How do I name my fashion brand? In my practice as a fashion consultant, I often use a five-step process to help clients arrive at a name they love, as follows:
1. Personal: Now that I am also a mother and have had the joint responsibility of naming our son, I can tell you that naming a brand feels like naming your child. It’s personal, and many people will have an opinion on it, but in the end, it has to feel right to you. Recently, a former student emailed me to say that she is finally on the verge of starting her shoe brand, has found good contacts and partners to work with, but is still struggling with naming her company. She sent me several options and asked for my opinion. In the end, I advised her to go with what she herself likes and what feels right to her. It’s not about pleasing others but being true to yourself.
2. Eponymous or not: It was Charles Worth (the founder of haute couture), who decided to put his own name inside the dresses he was creating, a first at the time. This was in line with the synergy of artists as well as fashion designers of his time, and we have witnessed the increasing convergence of art and fashion even more as the years have progressed. Putting your name on a label, naming it after yourself; this is one of the oldest and most straightforward traditions, and this is exactly what I did as well. There are upsides (you become even more responsible for everything that goes on with your fashion brand, and if fame is important to you, and the brand does well, you can indeed become ‘famous’). But there are also downsides too because having your name on a brand could limit you in implementing other ideas or starting different ventures in the future. As you are reading this on my consultancy website, you know that I started a fashion business consultancy called Moda Métiers. I couldn’t have given it my own name because it would be confusing to customers, and limit my own services as a consultant. Today, we see more and more fashion entrepreneurs naming their brands something other than their own names. Some may say it’s the more ‘modern’ way of doing things, but as I said above, ultimately you have to feel comfortable with the name and the final decision.
3. Universality: I have worked with designers who want to remain small and local, but even if you are a designer who doesn’t want to expand globally immediately, the world today easily fits in the palm of our hands (here’s looking at you, Apple), and you will need to make sure the name that you choose is universal, easy to spell and easy to read. More importantly, make sure it doesn’t mean something unusual or potentially offensive in another language. You will need to do your research on this one. Don’t leave it to chance; make sure you do some thorough research.
4. Test the Name: Ultimately, the name will have to feel right to you, but you can also test it with friends and family, and even existing or potential customers. We did that too, gathered around the family table at my cousin’s house, and also asked our potential customers what they thought. Reach out to family and friends, test the name(s) on them and listen carefully to their reactions.
5. Check availability: You may have an idea for a great, catchy name, but if it’s taken already, there is no point naming your brand after it. That’s where a crucial aspect of the fashion business comes in, and it has to do with the trademark. Before you even begin anything, you will need to trademark your name, and even your logo or symbol. I once worked with a fashion brand that was very well known in Turkey, but they had failed to trademark their name. I found out about it during our consultancy session and stressed the importance of trademarks; however, unfortunately, when we checked, we discovered that their distributor had trademarked the name already. The result was a lengthy and costly lawsuit. So, make sure to check and see if your proposed name is taken already. And once you decide on a name, first things first, trademark it immediately.
Starting your own fashion brand is a labour of love—and often a whole lot of blood, sweat, and tears. Anything requiring that much effort is worthy of the perfect name. And ultimately, only you can decide what that is. It’s an intensely personal and, hopefully, thrilling process. I can guarantee you that with a fair amount of introspection, some research, and some market surveys or testing, you will come up with the perfect name for your brand. Then trademark it, immediately, and pat yourself on the back. It’s official: you’re on your way!