You’re stylish, passionate, and talented—and you’ve decided you don’t want to work for the man for the rest of your life. You’re going to become an entrepreneur and start your very own clothing line!
This journey is undoubtedly going to be challenging and exciting, so you need to get yourself prepared properly. Here’s the “checklist” for starting your own clothing line, starting right at the very beginning.
Do you have the right skills?
What is your background? Having creative ideas for stunning clothing is a great start. But in most instances, it will be somewhere between ideal and mandatory to have some training or education in design, textiles, and garment creation—sewing or altering.
Although you can have clothes manufactured in a factory on a mass scale, you’ll need to be able to sew and draw initially so you can produce concepts for the factories to adhere to. Plus, it’s always a good idea to test your ideas with an MVP (minimum viable product), meaning that you test your designs by creating a small run before you invest in large-scale production. If no one buys a run of thirty skirts, for example, you’ve lost significantly less than if you finance a run of 20,000 without verifying that people will buy or that retailers will be interested.
Taking classes in marketing, design, textiles, or business is always a benefit in the clothing industry. But studying on your own time is also a good option to consider if you’re not interested in or don’t need formal education. University training will almost always help you expand your knowledge base and give you access to feedback from professionals and peers, but ultimately, developing creative designs is personal—it’s about your own style and ability.
Are you suited to having a clothing line?
Do you have the artistic expertise, a strong design ethic, and a real passion for creating a brand?
Yes? Great, you’re probably pretty suited to running your own clothing line. The term “clothing line” refers to designing and producing your own clothing, controlling and directing the process from start to finish. There’s really only one thing that you will 100 percent need if you want to be successful in the industry.
It really doesn’t matter which way you decide to go with your line, this is an industry were passionless people stand out. While everyone says that no matter what your company, you need passion regardless, that simply isn’t the case these days. To be frank, there are actually a number of sectors that allow you start a perfectly successful business without ever having any real passion for the sector or business model itself.
When it comes to clothing, however, you really do need to have a genuine passion for what you are producing. Without it, you simply won’t stand out and enjoy any real success.
It also goes without saying that you need to be an imaginative person. Having a creative eye is essential.
There is simply no point trying to copy what others are doing in the fashion industry— it simply will not cut it. Your brand’s rep is everything—never forget this.
So, if you’re creative, passionate and original—then you are suited to having a clothing line.
How’s it that we’re sure on that, where do you start?
The first thing you need is a plan, and the first question you need to answer is:
What is your brand?
In any business, branding is important. But for a clothing line, it’s absolutely imperative. Without a strong brand identity, affable story, and admirable ethos, your business will be overlooked for your competition.
Most brands have a great origin story, even the bottom line is that they were started simply to earn more money. Rather than just aimlessly choosing a style without reason, think about what you want to add to what’s already available in the marketplace: luxury, quality, cheap alternatives, additional sizes, or even a completely new style, it’s worth thinking through to create a foundation for your brand which will also serve as a guide in future.
When working out what you want your brand to be, draw on your own experiences and personality as a base. Your entire brand should, ideally, be a reflection of yourself. Consumers are cleverer than you think, and will immediately see through any generic, insincere branding attempts.
What is your goal?
Your goal can be as big or small as you want, but while having a big goal is good for the distant future, you should also create some shorter-term, realistic goal for your business plan. Think about how much profit you want to make, or the level of public awareness of your brand you want to generate. The end goal doesn’t have to be for the label to become a global giant. Your line can exist as a side passion project to help you earn extra cash. The key is to figure out what you want.
A lot of new brands attracted the larger companies to buy the name from the owner and encourage a quick turn around in revenue rather than playing the long game, it varies on your passion and investment in your brand.
How will you sell?
Next up, you need to work out how you plan to sell your clothing. These days, ecommerce is the best place to start. It keeps startup costs right down, and core retailers and distributors are more likely to talk to you with at least some sales and brand recognition under your belt.
Building a functioning ecommerce website can be ridiculously easy these days—and cheap. You can build a basic Shopify site for as little as $29 per month, and it’s you’re good at the design side of things, you can make it look pretty epic with very little effort. Remember that your website will need to reflect your brand, which means conforming strictly to your brand guidelines strictly. Nothing puts consumers off faster than a poorly-designed website.
Another platform to consider is an independent listing on a fashion marketplace like ASOS marketplace or Amazon, alongside your own ecommerce offering. This can really help to boost much-needed exposure in the early days, and setting up a “boutique” style hub on ASOS in particular—which costs just £20 a month in addition to a 20 percent commission on sales—has added benefits. People trust platforms like this, and so these sales ultimately build your brand organically.
Selling directly to consumers isn’t the only option either. Depending on your goals and personal investment in the company you could consider selling to retailers as a wholesaler. The demand will be much higher and profits per individual garment lower. But it also makes the sales side easier, not needing to deliver to consumers or market to individual consumers.
How to market it right
I cannot stress how important market research is to any company. When you have settled on the brand, the next step should be market research.
Use (your best friend) Google to research the clothing brands out that are creating similar work or targeting a similar customer demographic. Pay attention to details about competitors, like their size, branding, geographic reach, price, and unique selling points. Use what you learn to work out how you can offer consumers something new, different, and ultimately better.
Marketing starts with testing the product on your target market, it’s a poor move to manufacture 300 garments without having first sought feedback on your prototype from customers in your target market. Creating a minimum viable product will help identify any improvements your garments need. Whether it’s the fit, size, or color, you’ll be able to make changes without investing a lot into an imperfect product.
Asking family and friends to try out your line might work if they are part of your target demographic, but making sure you’re getting unbiased feedback is key. So try to find some people you don’t know to give you feedback. Doing all of this reduces your risk—if your product isn’t viable, you will be out a minimal investment of time and money, but if it’s received well, you might yield repeat purchases from happy customers.
Identifying the right target market is also important—it can make or break your clothing line. Research on how much people are willing to pay for your product, and how much they pay for similar products, will help define your quality standards and pricing.
It’s important to do the basics right. When you’re designing your online presence don’t be afraid to invest in it. If a potential customer likes your clothing but doesn’t trust (or can’t navigate) your websites they probably won’t order. Invest in quality product photography—your images need to look professional and be properly lit. Hiring a photographer for a day or two is worth the investment.
Secondly, it goes without saying that you will need a full and thorough marketing strategy that makes you stand out. The clothing market is unbelievably congested and extremely competitive. In general terms, it is always a good idea to build a strong social media presence through Facebook and Instagram. Via these channels, you can interact with brand advocates directly and develop a clear “voice” for your clothing line.
Putting initial budgets into paid advertising on these platforms is probably most worthwhile for ecommerce sites. You target audience, nine times out of ten, will spend their lives on these channels. Facebook’s model for ad targeting is so specific and niche these days that you can really reach the best audience for your brand.
Also, before you set up profiles on every single social media platform, make sure your target market actually uses them. Instagram, for example, isn’t as widely adopted by people over age 40, so if your range of garments targets that age group, it might be best to stick to Facebook rather than attempting Instagram too.
One way to increase sales and brand awareness is through celebrity endorsement. Most “instafamous” or “Z listers” social profiles will list an email address for PR inquiries. Getting celebrities to wear your brand increases follows massively and has the potential increasing your followers. But, be realistic. Don’t depend on celebrity endorsements as your primary marketing strategy, but it doesn’t hurt to try.
Keep your startup costs low
One of the main advantages of starting a clothing line business is that it is relatively easy to keep costs low initially.
As you get started, put together a business plan. It will help you decide on and maintain your key areas of focus and should help you put together your initial budgets and financial forecasts, based on your startup costs. It’s a good idea to write down ways you can minimize your initial costs—look at your list of startup costs and define them as either essential from the very beginning, or something that can wait until you’ve started generating some revenue.
Your largest overhead at the very beginning will probably be the clothes themselves, and as you will likely be producing the clothes yourself, you’ll only need the most basic of equipment. Only invest in more professional equipment once demand has increased and you have more capital.
Until you’re dealing with a high level of stock, it’s a good idea to avoid renting space and just manufacture from home. This allows you to be more flexible with working times and keep your day job until you really take off.
One expenditure you should consider is insurance, including basic business insurance, freelance insurance, or professional indemnity insurance. When you’re small and the risk is low, you’ll be able to find policies that cost next to nothing—but should the worst ever happen, it could save you.
If another company claimed that your design, logo or branding was copying theirs, having professional indemnity (liability) insurance would give you the financial backing to battle the claim. It also offers some protection from dissatisfied clients.
From the outset, you should also consider setting up some key financial performances indicators to help you thrive—it’s critical to be able to keep track of how your business is actually performing, versus your financial projections. Think about number of sales, the total profit made per order, and the revenue you hope to generate within a set time frame.
When you start your clothing line, you’ll need to find the balance between your quality standards, costs of production, and making money.
Almost no one is born with the full stack set of skills to start and run a successful business, so take the time to learn about the parts you don’t know as much much about, whether that’s how to network in the fashion industry, or how to develop a business plan that’s designed for growth.
Be passionate, know your brand, and keep your set up costs low! Good luck!