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fashion entrepreneur

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Baldegger, U. and Klösel, K. (2023). Fashion entrepreneurship: narcissism and entrepreneurial intention. Journal of Enterprising Culture, 31(03), 233-251.




passion entrepreneur

About the Recipe

The Narcissist on the Runway: How Personality Shapes Fashion Entrepreneurship

A new study delves into a question that has long lurked behind the glittering façade of the fashion world: How does narcissism influence the entrepreneurial dreams of fashion's rising stars? The research, published in the Journal of Enterprising Culture, surveyed 146 fashion students and alumni from renowned schools in Paris, Berlin, and Zurich. Its findings shed light on the complex interplay of personality, skills, and mindset that molds the next generation of fashion entrepreneurs.


Fashion entrepreneurs exhibit some unique characteristics shaped by the distinctive nature of their industry. Here are some key takeaways from the study on how they differ, particularly in terms of the role narcissism plays in their entrepreneurial journey:

1. Narcissistic admiration fuels entrepreneurial intention: Fashion entrepreneurs who score higher on narcissistic admiration - the "brighter" side associated with grandiosity and charm - are more likely to harbor startup ambitions. They're driven by a desire to showcase their uniqueness and leave a mark on the industry.

  • 2. Entrepreneurial confidence is key: Narcissistic admiration seems to boost fashion entrepreneurs' belief in their own abilities to succeed, from branding to pitching. This self-assurance then translates into stronger intentions to strike out on their own.

    3. Risk-taking matters more than innovativeness: While fashion narcissists see themselves as highly creative, it's their appetite for bold risks that actually drives startup plans. In an industry that prizes novelty, they may feel they can scratch the innovation itch without launching a label.

    4. Entrepreneurship isn't the only path to shine: For fashion narcissists, the admiration they crave may be satisfied by becoming star designers within established brands. Unlike other fields, fashion offers high-profile creative roles that can rival the allure of entrepreneurship.

    5. Ego is a double-edged sword: The outsized confidence typical of fashion entrepreneurs emboldens them to trust their vision and take chances. But left unchecked, it can breed blind spots around the humility, patience and collaboration needed to grow a sustainable brand.

    In sum, fashion entrepreneurs stand out for the complex ways narcissism shapes their self-image, risk tolerance, and route to making a name for themselves - whether by founding a label or headlining a storied house. More than most, they must balance bravado with groundedness to channel their personality into lasting business success. The industry's heightened emphasis on individual genius makes this a perpetual tightrope walk.


The authors, Urs Baldegger and Kilian Klösel, started with a hunch: In an industry known for its outsize personalities and spotlight-seeking designers, narcissistic traits might supercharge entrepreneurial ambitions. Using the dual model of narcissism, which distinguishes between the "brighter" side of narcissistic admiration and the "darker" side of narcissistic rivalry, they found that admiration indeed correlated with higher entrepreneurial intention. Rivalry, on the other hand, showed no significant link.

But Baldegger and Klösel didn't stop there. Curious about how exactly narcissistic admiration translates into startup dreams, they looked at potential mediators. Self-rated entrepreneurial skills emerged as a key bridge: The grander the students' self-image, the more confidence they had in their abilities to build a brand or pitch investors - and that confidence in turn fueled entrepreneurial intention. As the saying goes, "Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're right."

Interestingly, when the researchers examined individual entrepreneurial orientation - the degree to which students are innovative, proactive, and tolerant of risk - only risk-taking mediated the path from narcissism to entrepreneurship. Fashion students who admired their own uniqueness were more open to bold leaps into the unknown, and that appetite for chance was what mattered for startup intentions.

More provocatively, while narcissistic admiration strongly predicted innovativeness, the latter had no significant effect on entrepreneurial intention. In other words, fashion narcissists see themselves as wildly creative - but in an industry that celebrates constant reinvention, they don't necessarily feel the need to start their own label to make their mark. They may be just as happy dreaming up daring collections in the ateliers of Dior or Vuitton.

The study has limitations, to be sure. Conducted during the throes of the pandemic when Zoom fatigue was rampant, its sample size is modest. And the students' startup intentions were gauged at one frozen point in time, even though career visions at that stage are notoriously fleeting. Longitudinal research is needed to untangle how narcissism shapes not just entrepreneurial dreams, but the grit to make them a reality.

Still, Baldegger and Klösel's work is a vital first step in decoding the entrepreneurial mindset of fashion's future luminaries. It hints that the outsized confidence of the proverbial "little Karls" - the students vying to be the next Lagerfeld - is both a blessing and a curse. That bravado emboldens them to take risks and trust their instincts. But it may also blind them to the patience and collaboration required to sustain a brand beyond its buzzy debut.

As the study authors aptly note, runways and reality are very different things. For all the industry's quintessential flamboyance, the entrepreneurs who succeed are those who marry creativity with a keen understanding of craft and commerce. Fashion schools aiming to nurture the next generation would do well to cultivate not just skills and daring, but humility and wisdom. In an industry of inflated egos, staying grounded may be the key to true liftoff.

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