The fashion industry, in general, is intimidating. This makes the idea of how to start a clothing line scary for any aspiring designer or entrepreneur. Thoughts of a steep learning curve, constant all-nighters and failure can be discouraging for those considering entry into the business. But the truth is, starting a clothing line isn’t that scary if you take the right steps to begin.
Technically, you don’t need a degree from a fashion or business school to start your clothing line. You don’t have to super creative and you don’t need a large capital for the early stages to get started. All these factors make the barrier to entry relatively low to start a clothing brand.
But with starting a business, making an informed decision before you take the plunge is necessary. I hope what I share will be of help to anyone who is figuring out how to start a clothing line.
In this post, I have outlined the basic steps of how to start a clothing line based on my experience from helping more than 1000 clothing brands.
Planning for your clothing line
First of all, failing to plan is planning to fail. It’s very important to define a plan which includes creating systems and strategies for the business. Having a plan forces you to think about how feasible it is to execute the plan with your current resources. It will also give you an overview of the gaps to be plugged in terms of priority.
As a founder, I had to scale back on some great ideas by breaking it into smaller parts in order for it to be executed efficiently. Trying to do too many things at the same time would have been more detrimental than being beneficial. There is nothing wrong with reshuffling your priorities and executing the plan in a gradual progression.
Knowing Your Market
Any business gurus will tell you this, but in the fashion industry, knowing your customer is especially critical. Your pricing, style, user experience (retail or online) and even the colours you use are dependent on your target market. Hence, this makes conducting comprehensive market research essential to understand their consumption behaviour as thoroughly as possible.
Determining your customer’s lifestyle is vital to realising their consumption habits. Ask yourself questions like ‘What country does he/she live in?’, ‘Where does he/she work?’, ‘Where would he/she like to go to relax?’ and ‘Will your designs allow him/her to wear them to the places or events they have to be at daily?’. Talk and ask store owners, sales staff and your customers because they are going to give you invaluable insights.
Knowing Your Customer
Once you have a good grasp of what your market wants, go out and observe what is already out there. Source out competitors, look at their products, prices and how they are selling to their customers. Then figure out how you can differentiate and make your brand and user experience better. Study magazines, blogs, websites & Instagram accounts that cater to your market. It’s also worth considering having a coffee in areas frequented by your target market to study what they’re wearing.
Before I started my graphic t-shirt label, Ardentees, I spent 10-12 hours a day devouring any information about creating the best t-shirts. Sites like Emptees (now Mintees), T-shirt Forums, Threadless and Behance were my daily go-to sites for inspiration and ideas for the label.
Exhaust every possibility to learn about your customer as it may give you some surprises of who you thought is your actual customer.
Nailing Down The Concept
Think about what category of apparel you want to make – is it streetwear, formal wear or activewear? Then consider the number of styles and pieces you’d like to produce. Bear in mind that the more styles and quantity you have, it will cost more to produce your collection. Being prudent and starting with a smaller quantity will give you more runaway to release new stuff.
One of the most important things in creating a clothing line that I can’t stress enough is that you need to have a concept. The concept is what breathes life into a brand and serves as the guiding principle for the brand’s identity, aesthetics and values. The story your brand tells will allow your customers to resonate easily with the brand.
If you don’t have the skills in design, you would need to hire a fashion designer to produce sketches. If you need prints and pattern designs, you will need to get graphic design help. Hiring extra hands means incurring extra costs, but it’s a necessary expense. It’s crucial to engage help in certain areas that are not your strength so that things will get moving faster.
I will suggest looking for skilled freelancers for assistance from sites like Fiverr, Dribbble, Behance, Creative Market and Upwork. They have a large pool of freelancers offering different prices that would help with keeping your costs within budget.
Manufacturing your clothing line
Finding the right manufacturing company is a difficult task for most start-up brands. Manufacturing costs, order quantities and quality control are all common concerns amongst other variables which directly impact the end product.
That’s why there is often a trial and error process before settling on the right manufacturing partner. As the business essentially revolves around the product, getting the right manufacturing partner can either make or break a brand.
For my first business, I bought and tried blank t-shirts from different brands like American Apparel, Gildan, Alternative Apparel, Continental Clothing and Hanes. I also ordered cut & sew t-shirt samples from different manufacturing partners. In the end, I decided to go with full cut & sew manufacturing as it allowed me more flexibility to showcase the creativity of my designs. That decision also allowed me to understand the manufacturing process & helped open other doors to create different product lines.
While I decided to go with cut & sew manufacturing for Ardentees, it wasn’t a smooth process. It took me a year to settle on a suitable partner as there were a lot of rejections due to my small order quantities. The manufacturing process had a lot of hiccups and entailed many trips to the manufacturer, which added to my costs. Throughout the entire process, I thought to myself, ‘Was it that difficult to start a clothing line?’
That episode inspired me to start Bryden with the vision of creating a fuss-free manufacturing experience for clothing brands.
Marketing Your Fashion Brand
After crossing the initial hurdles of research, design and production, there lies a crucial stage that will serve as a springboard for your business.
Marketing, which is the art of creating awareness for your brand and converting that into product sales.
Creating a fashion brand requires you to think about ways to anchor your brand identity across all facets of your business. This helps customers to remember and resonate with your identity and be more willing to make a purchase. Retailers will also feel more confident in stocking your products if you have a strong marketing presence.
Many fashion brands start out by advertising on social media, sending out press releases or organising pop up events. These are a few ways to do it & there is no hard and fast rule in the way a brand should market itself. Marketing is very much a creative exercise as is designing.
When you’ve built a network of customers, ensure you keep them constantly engaged via social media and newsletters. Always keep updated on your promotional methods to stay relevant to the market’s needs at all times.
Managing Your Clothing Line
If you’ve managed all of the above, you’re off to a great start, but don’t forget to be prudent about how you manage the overall business. There should be consistent reviews to monitor progress and potential pitfalls so that you are always one step ahead. Cash flow, production, inventory, fulfilling orders need to be consistently analysed to ensure your business is continuously moving forward.
It may seem daunting, but if you take the necessary steps to build the right foundation, the rewards are immeasurably fulfilling.
I hope that my post helps aspiring designers and entrepreneurs to feel more confident in kick-starting their business. Remember, if you’re hungry enough and have a strong will, you can do anything.
As my business partner, Kai always says to all questions on whether something is possible: “Can is can”.