Start a Clothing Line
So, you dream of starting your own trendy clothing line? To be successful, you'll have to learn how to run a business, market your products, and keep your customers happy. Here are some basics on getting started in the clothing and fashion business.
Getting Your House in Order
- Create a solid and clear business plan. Your business plan needs to lay out how you intend to manage your clothing line. Try to be as realistic as possible when you write this. Remember, it's better to underestimate your profits and be pleasantly surprised than to overestimate your abilities and be disappointed. Think about these aspects in particular:
- Executive summary — An executive summary is both a description of your company's mission statement and future plans, as well as a way to lure in potential investors. Necessary for all businesses, but especially for clothing lines, which often require outside funding.
- Company description. The company description gives people an idea of what your clothing line is about, what differentiates you from your competitors, and the markets you want to gain a foothold in.
- Put top priority on your company's projected financials. Your funding is the lifeblood of your company in its early stages. Even if you don't have outside funding yet, it's important to get your financial ship in order and master certain basics. Here's what you'll need to know starting out:
- How much money will you need in order to launch your clothing line? Do you have money saved up for this, or will you need a bank loan? Consider an Get SBA Small Business Loans, or another type of loan to get your business started. To get a loan, you might need to have collateral.
- What are your costs? Read through the rest of this article, then make a list of all of your anticipated costs (materials, manufacturing, supplies, equipment, advertisement, marketing, overheads, etc.). Add up how much it would cost to run your business for a year. Will your available revenue offset these costs?
- Try to imagine how long you can personally go without pulling down a salary. Do you want to do this clothing line full-time? If so, how many years are you willing to wait before this company starts turning a profit, thereby giving you a chance to earn a salary? Or do you want it to be a side thing? If it makes money, it's a bonus, but you value expression more than profitability. Try to gauge your level of involvement. At the same time, bet on not giving yourself a salary for about the first year of operations unless you're incredibly lucky.
- You'll probably spend more money than you earn for the first four seasons (one year). Once you're established, however, you might be able to expand with funding from angel investors, celebrities, and pre-orders with store accounts.
- Do research on the rest of the market. Who is your current and likely future competition? Who is your target market? How much do you think you can sell your designs for at the retail and wholesale levels? Ask around. Get feedback. Talk to store owners and potential customers alike.
- It can be a good idea to get a part-time retail job at a store that caters to your target market. See what the store is buying and what the customers are buying.
- Find examples of clothing that is similar to what you're going to design, and learn where and for how much they sell. This will give you a leg up when you need to build your own.
- Straighten out your legal obligations. First of all, decide on your business structure (LLC, partnership, corporation, etc.). In the US, you'll need a tax ID number, a business license, and you'll also want to fill out a DBA (doing business as) form at your local bank so that you can accept checks written out to your company's name. You may want to consider hiring a lawyer to either act as a consultant or be available on retainer should you need her.
Nailing Down the Basics
- Consider whether you'd need employees. Will you need to hire help to work on your clothing line? Consider what sort of assistance you'll need, how many hours per week you'll require, and what you'll be able to pay.
- If your production is at boutique level, you may be able to do all the cutting, stitching, and hemming yourself. If you plan to start a bit bigger, you'll definitely need to hire production help.
- Do you want your clothing to be produced locally? Organically? Are you willing to have it manufactured abroad for less money (and lower quality)? These questions will all affect who you decide to hire.
- Will you want a retail location? If so, you may want to hire help.
- Begin to build your brand. Now it's time to make some fun aesthetic decisions! How you set up your brand will define what people associate with your clothing line, so choose wisely.
- Choose a name. What name will represent your clothing line? You could use your own name (as did Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Marc Jacobs), a word you coin yourself (such as Rodarte or Marchesa), a word from another language (for instance, Escada means staircase or ladder in Portuguese), or words whose aesthetics you like (such as Iceberg, Mulberry or Imitation of Christ). Whatever you pick, make sure it's unique and recognizable.
- Your brand name and company name can and should be different. Your company name, for example, can be your initials or a variation of your own name, while the name of the collection (the clothing line) should be something more creative and representative of the style you're going for.
- Design a logo. Brainstorm a lot of different logos, but narrow it down to one and make sure you are completely sure about the one you choose. People are going to recognize you by your logo and it will confuse them if you keep changing it. Check to make sure the name you pick has an available domain name, and look into registering for a trademark (most jurisdictions allow for and encourage this).
Making the Clothes
- Design the clothes. This is the fun part for many people, but it's only 10-15 percent of the process! Make sketches, get feedback, and decide which ones will constitute your first collection. Pick out fabrics and materials that are cost effective and current.
- Ask whoever is producing your line whether there are any restrictions, such as if they can't print certain colors. If you are designing a T-shirt line, get the following information from the printer: size specifications (specs) of the design (how big it can be), the type of shirt you want to print on, and the weight/quality of the fabric (for example, choose thinner, less expensive fabric for summer clothing lines).
- Detail is everything. When you do your sketches, create a layout that shows every detail clearly and uses the proper terminology. If you don't know what the terminology is, find a photo and show it to the manufacturer and ask what they call it. Learn the jargon and be prepared to properly identify the fabric you wish to use by weight (yield), content, and construction. After you have created your designs, you should create a pattern of you product. This is the blueprint of your clothing and is used by manufacturers to mass-produce your designs.
- Design your collections according to season. Collections are usually designed by season. Most departments stores buy at least two seasons in advance, while smaller stores buy one to two seasons ahead. You'll need to time your design, production, and delivery accordingly.
- Produce the designs. Bring your sketches to a seamstress, manufacturer, or screen printer. Typically, a prototype or sample is created so that you can be sure that the clothing is going to be produced the way you want it to be. No matter what, be sure to ask lots of questions, and always get everything agreed upon in writing.
- Find your manufacturers. Do an Internet search for "clothing manufacturers" or "design clothing." There are also online platforms available that help fashion brands to connect to manufacturers. Many people use garment manufacturers overseas because the costs are lower. Keep in mind that many overseas manufacturers only do large quantities, so ask about minimums before proceeding. Shop around, and ask for turnaround times and how fast you can get samples sent to you (they should provide samples before your designs are finalized for production). Another way of finding suitable suppliers is through trade fairs. Here you are able to actually speak to the manufacturers, which very important.
- Bear in mind the conditions of manufacture — consumers are much more conscious about "sweat shop labor" than in the past and will penalize clothing lines that use it.
- If you know how to sew, you may be able to create the patterns and prototypes yourself. Consulting with someone who's an expert at sewing apparel is also an option.
Marketing and Selling Your Line
- Create a website to promote your clothing line. Make sure it looks very professional and presents your line in the best light. Provide contact information, in case stores or other merchants want to get in touch with you. If you want to give people the ability to buy clothing from your website, you'll need to set up a shopping cart and merchant account so you can accept credit card payments.
- Establish relationships with websites and blogs that can bring attention to your brand and site. This includes selling your clothing through auction sites and arts and crafts sites that allow clothing sales. Relationships drive sales, whether it's by word of mouth or helpful quid-pro-quo. Don't forget that!
- Promote your line. These costs can run into the thousands for just one year. Here's what you can do to get your brand out there:
- Write a press release, send it to local newspapers and magazines.
- Purchase ads in papers and on websites that people in your target audience read.
- Sponsor events that cater to your target audience.
- Get a celebrity endorsement, or get the most popular person you know to wear your stuff by giving it to them for free.
- Use social media, such as Twitter, Facebook and your own blog, to spread the word. Make sure you have a good LinkedIn profile too.
- Use yourself as a walking billboard. Wear your own fashions and ask people's opinions and record them; this will also aid you in designing a product people will like. Take every suggestion a person has to offer; it's like having your own marketing and design team and it doesn't cost you a thing. Starting out, money is going to be tight, so take advantage of every opportunity you can.
- Take orders. Sell at festivals, markets, and to everyone you know. Get appointments with local stores and convince them to carry your line. Offer your clothing on the Internet. Print a catalog and mail it to clothing stores and potential customers.
- Go to a fashion trade show if you have the funds. Paying for a booth can be expensive, but it can also be worth it, both in terms of sales and publicity. For example, the MAGIC Fashion Trade Show held in Las Vegas, or Europe's Bread and Butter fashion trade show, are great places to set your sights.
- Sometimes joining up with a designer friend or colleague can help get your clothing line off the ground with more support and ideas than just doing it alone. However, ensure that you are business compatible––just because you're friends doesn't mean you'll click when running a business together!
- Try to think of a catchy name! It helps your business really take off!
- Be conscious of the need to ensure that your clothing line reflects your own principles. If you care about worker fairness, a healthy environment and sustainability, work out the ways in which you can ensure that your clothing line lives up to these principles and is also made clear to your consumers.
- Make sure what you do or what you take out there will be something that helps and boosts your brand.
- See if you can find angel investors or similar investors who are willing to back your brand. You might even consider going on a program such as Dragon's Den to get investment and show off your clothing line at the same time.
- Once you get into the fashion industry and start brushing elbows with celebrities, it can be tempting to assume that you've got it all figured out, but don't go down that road. Keep looking for ways to improve. Continue changing your clothing line and seeking to make progress. Don't get too comfortable or else your brand will become stale!
- Always be sure you can fulfill orders taken. You will get a bad reputation quickly if you can't deliver when (and what) you say you will.
Things You'll Need
- Business plan
- Suitable place to design and work on clothing
- Storage for clothing (Beware! This can be costly.)
- Manufacturer details and certainty that you have chosen the best one for your needs (do a lot of online research and telephone or face-to-face discussions)
- Mentors – you really should have people who can help you survive and work through the challenges that pop up in this cut-throat industry
Sources and Citations
- Jay Arrington, The Official Step-by-step Guide to Starting a Clothing Line, ISBN 0976416107.