The world of fashion is about art, creativity, and expression. The fashion industry, however, is about scale, international expansion, and market share. Although a designer may be great at their creations, to succeed as a fashion entrepreneur they must also understand branding, marketing, and sales. The fashion industry is valued at $343.70 billion. And the trends point to that number increasing by one percent for the foreseeable future.
Being a fashion entrepreneur is more than just launching a clothing line. It is understanding fashion, business, and how the two work together. In this article, we will be looking at a few of the most successful fashion entrepreneurs of all time.
To make our list, the entrepreneur must’ve started or have been the driving force behind a company. The brand also must be internationally known, have massive influence, or revolutionized the industry in some way. We also included fashion entrepreneurs that were able to very successfully branch out into other ventures within their industry but separate from their initial business.
Originally born, Ralph Lifshitz, Ralph Lauren was born in the Bronx to Ashkenazi Jewish immigrant parents. After graduating high school, he enrolled at Baruch College. However, he dropped out of school soon after. Lauren then decided to join the army.
After leaving the army, he started working as a clerk at Brooks Brothers and then moved on to become a salesman for a tie company. It is then that Lauren designed his first tie, only to be rejected by the management. Shortly after that, he started making his own ties – he made them from rags and started selling them to small shops in New York. In 1967, he opened his first necktie store and sold his neckties under the label Polo. More than 50 years later, his clothes are world-famous. As of 2023, Ralph Lauren has an estimated net worth of $7 billion. He is not only one of the greatest fashion entrepreneurs but is also one of the greatest entrepreneurs of all time.
The name Giorgio Armani is now synonymous with fine Italian suits and ties. But the company designs a wide range of high-end clothing and fragrances. Armani was introduced to the fashion industry while being a men’s department sales clerk. Armani launched his own brand. Armani’s most famous creations include his tailored suits and the Emporio Armani line of clothing, which features more casual, everyday wear. However, the company is also Armani is credited with pioneering red-carpet fashion.
Armani, himself has branched out of just fashion. He is the president of the Olimpia Milano Italian basketball team. He also launched Armani Hotels in 2010.
Gabrielle Coco Chanel
Coco Chanel brand is widely recognized for revolutionizing women’s fashion by popularizing the use of comfortable, casual clothing, such as trousers and suits. Chanel was born in 1883 and began her career as a seamstress in a Parisian shop. Chanel went on to open her own boutique in 1910, where she introduced her signature design aesthetic of simple, elegant, and functional clothing.
Chanel’s most famous creations include the Chanel suit, the Little Black Dress, and the Chanel No. 5 perfume. Although a fashion icon for many years, Coco Chanel’s legacy has been tarnished in recent years as details from a classified government document began to surface which suggested Chanel was at one point a Nazi agent during their occupation of France.
Our next fashion entrepreneur makes the list because of the way her company revolutionized an industry.
Sarah Blakely is best known for founding Spanx, a line of women’s undergarments that became wildly popular for their ability to smooth and shape the body. Blakely’s designs are characterized by their comfort, versatility, and ability to enhance the natural curves of the body. To start her company, she took $5,000 out of her savings. This was all she needed to get started. She ran the company out of her apartment and was still a fax machine salesperson at the time.
During an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show, Blakey told Winfrey that she got the idea for Spanx after hearing Oprah mention that she cut off the feet of pantyhose in order to wear them with sandals. It took her a year to create the prototype that she tried out on friends and family, which was unheard of at the time. Blakely has become one of the greatest entrepreneurs of our time and now has an estimated net worth of $1.1 billion. She also makes our list of the greatest entrepreneurs of our time.
Yves Saint Laurent
Born in Paris, France in 1936, Yves Saint Laurent began his career at the age of 17. He began working as an assistant to Christian Dior. This is where he undoubtedly learned the ins and outs of fashion and the business of fashion. While there, the designer was conscripted to serve in the French Army. While recovering from injuries sustained during military hazing, Saint Laurent was fired from Dior. He would sue the company for breach of contract. He would eventually win the suit.
In 1961, Saint Laurent launched his own brand. His designs were characterized by the use of androgynous silhouettes, bold prints, and luxurious fabrics. Saint Laurent’s most famous creations include the Le Smoking tuxedo suit for women and the Mondrian collection.
When people think of Calvin Klein they think of underwear. That is because the company became famous for its internationally successful marketing campaign featuring celebrities and models wearing Calvin Klein underwear. But, the company produces more than that. In the fashion world, Klein’s designs are known for their minimalist, modern designs. They combine clean lines with classic elements.
Calvin Klein Inc. was established in 1969 by Calvin Klein and Barry Schwartz. They were able to secure millions in funding in the 70s, beginning with Bonwit Teller, to finance a streamlined clothing line for women’s coordinates. Klein went on to include designer jeans, perfumes, and, of course, undergarments, and a men’s clothing line. Klein’s net worth is over $800 million.
Daymond John should be considered the greatest hip-hop fashion entrepreneur of all time. While he is also best known as one of the millionaire investors on ABC’s Shark Tank, John made his money by launching his clothing line FUBU. The brand that he started while working at Red Lobster, has gone on to generate more than $6 billion in sales. The company has also gone on to acquire other fashion brands. In 2020, Eye Candy Creations USA and FUBU announced their collaboration to design, create, produce, and sell FUBU FRAMES, a sunglasses, and optical collection worldwide.
As a fashion entrepreneur, John was able to succeed beyond expectations. However, John’s entrepreneurship skills have reached far beyond fashion. He was a key investor in Bombas Socks which has made over $250 million in revenue while donating socks to the homeless.
Gianni Versace began his fashion career by opening a boutique in Milan in 1978. His business quickly gained popularity so he and his sister Donatella focused their energy on expansion. By 1982, Versace expanded into jewelry and housewares, designing luxury furnishings, just to name a few. Versace’s most famous creations include the Medusa logo and the Baroque print, which were often featured on his clothing and accessories.
Vera Wang is an American fashion designer who is known for her elegant and sophisticated bridal gowns. As a child, Wang was a figure skater. However, after college, she pivoted her future into the fashion industry. For the first half of her career, she worked in fashion publishing. She became an editor at Vogue Magazine and stayed with the company for 17 years. Wang then went on to work for Ralph Lauren before launching her own bridal line in 1990.
The rest is wedding dress history. The brand quickly became popular for its modern take on traditional wedding gowns. Her designs often feature Your Mindsetintricate detailing, luxurious fabrics, and unexpected twists on classic silhouettes.
Burch began her career in fashion by working for several established brands such as Ralph Lauren, Vera Wang, and Loewe. In 2004, she founded her own retail store in New York. The inventory sold out within one day. The Brand quickly became known for its signature blend of classic styles and eclectic prints. Today, Tory Burch is a globally recognized brand that includes clothing, footwear, handbags, and accessories.
Here are some other honorable mentions
Entrepreneurship is an art. And so is designing fashion. These designers has made a significant impact on the fashion industry through their unique and innovative designs. They have inspired and influenced countless designers and fashion entrepreneurs around the world.