Are you thinking about starting a clothing line? Are you already running a clothing brand, but you need some clarity about all the steps involved? Are you already running a business in a different field, and now you want to expand into clothing? The following18 steps will help you to start a clothing line.
The clothing industry is a 3 trillion dollars industry, and over one trillion garments are sold worldwide every year. It is a huge market and a huge opportunity and it is understandable why so many entrepreneurs want to tap into this industry and why companies want to expand into apparel. All brands want to increase their profit. But the competition is fierce. There are hundreds of thousands of brands out there, so you want to do it right, you want to stand out and offer something unique in order to get noticed.
So if you want to get into this industry and learn how to start a clothing line, then this article is for you. We’ll go over all the 18 steps involved in starting and running a clothing line and in what order you need to do everything. You will have a complete understanding of what it takes and what you need to do.
The Business Foundation
Marketing & Sales
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Let’s start with the basics.
1. Being an entrepreneur
Before you even begin to take action you need to have the right mindset and to have a complete understanding of what it means to start and run an apparel brand. You need to have the right expectations because it takes effort, time, and money and it can take several years before you make a profit.
So, are you cut out for being an entrepreneur?
Running your own clothing business isn’t a 9 to 5 job. It is not the hours you spend in the office that matters. What matters is what you produce. You are your own boss and you need to make it all happen. You will live and breathe your clothing brand, working 24/7. Everyone has great ideas. The difference is: an entrepreneur makes them happen. It will require you to put in the work and follow through on your dream. Are you cut out for this or not? Is it really what you want?
You’ll be your own boss—no one will be there to make sure you put in the work and stick to your deadlines. You will be the one that needs to focus on your dream, your vision, and mission. You will be the one that needs to stay motivated and inspired to push through and don’t let anyone or anything get in your way.
You have to be really realistic and try to envision what it’s like to have an apparel business. The more you can see it in your mind the more ready you will be when it’s time to take action.
Are you really passionate about your dream, about starting this brand? Without passion, to truly love what you are doing you’ll not have the mental power to grind away when you need to. You need to really really want this!
Something else you need to consider is your family and friends. How will working on your brand affect your family? You might have a family and might need to discuss with your spouse about income and money going into your business, and time you need to allocate to make you dream work. And also to your friends, they might need to know that for some time forward you will be quite busy working on your brand and that they can support you and understand you instead of getting pissed off that you don’t want to hang out with them.
And one last thing, do you have a personal interest in the field you are going into? Depending on what category you want to place your brand in, you’ll need to have a personal interest in what you do. Without the interest, you’ll have a hard time motivating yourself to do the work. If the interest is there you’ll be your own customer and you’ll know what you need and want, it will be much easier to design, product develop and market your products.
Moving into the next phase:
2. How to get started with your clothing business
It all starts with a great idea.
All great brands start with one thing. A fantastic idea.
Do you have a great idea for an apparel brand?
- If yes, great keep reading.
- If not, you need to figure this out first. The market is way too flooded with amazing brands. Without a great concept, you will have a hard time getting your brand off the ground and even harder to grow it. All brands start with that initial product or brand idea. Maybe you have strong design aesthetics you want to showcase. Maybe you can’t find the clothes you are looking for in the market. Maybe you have a solution to a problem you see every day. To improve your chances of succeeding with your clothing business, you need to connect your concept with a customer need.
When you believe so strongly in your idea and when you see that there is a gap in the market, that’s enough validation that you need to proceed with your idea. You should absolutely go ahead and make it happen.
Determine why you are doing it, write it down in a clear easy to understand and easy to explain way, so even a 3-year-old could understand it.
At the same time also state your values, what do you believe in and how do you want to be in business? These values will guide you in decisions moving forward and it will be way clearer for you to attract the right customers. And this leads us to: who is your customer?
3. Your target customer
This is extremely important. Because, when you know exactly who your target customer is, you’ll know, in all areas of your business, what decisions you need to make in for example design, product development and in your marketing and communication.
Create a detailed customer profile with a description of your ideal customer. it can be one customer profile or several profiles, but you should never have more than 3, cause then you’ll confuse yourself and your customers. You’ll end up losing focus. And actually, a customer profile is a group of people, more like a generalization and not an actual description of each and every one of your customers. You can do this in writing or in pictures with mood boards, just make it fun and easy to understand for yourself and your future team. You can read more about how to define your customer profile here.
When your customer profile is done, we move in to:
4. Understanding your market
Perform a thorough market research.
When you have decided on your clothing concept and you know who your target customer is you need to answer the question: ”is this thing unique?”
Examine your intended market and get to understand the other clothing brands that are in your field and see what they have to offer. Search the web, visit shops, look at consumer behavior, and read relevant magazines. You want your brand to stand out in the competition and find your target niche. If another brand already has your idea, you will always be number two. Make sure you differentiate your clothing brand so that you bring your special unique value proposition to the market and not a similar product like existing brands.
We are NOT saying that you should check competitors to copy them, we say to see what they are doing so you can do something different, but it’s a must to understand your market and the product offers, and the qualities that competitors offer, and the prices they charge and what their marketing is, etc. All this so you can go the other way, to make sure you offer something special! Because this will be the reason people buy from YOU and not from them.
When you know your market, you also know where there’s a gap. If you can fill that gap, you’re in business.
Now it’s time to
5. Plan your success
Write a business plan to be better prepared.
You have your dream but if you don’t have a plan, a blueprint, a map on how to get to your dream, you will not be able to reach it.
That’s why it’s a great idea to create a plan for how you want to run your clothing business. It’s called a business plan. This is where you will determine your business model, your sales strategy, your marketing strategy, your need for money, a plan for profit, etc. A business plan is necessary if you want to bring other people on board, for example, investors or partners. But primarily, the business plan is there for you. It forces you to ask yourself those tough questions and look at your business venture from different angles. The business plan is a living document that will change and evolve over time. Unexpected events occur and you will adjust accordingly.
It doesn’t have to be this boring100-page word document, you can make it fun and visual in for example a PowerPoint or Keynote presentation with pictured and drawings. And remember a business plan should be a living document and not something you do at the beginning before launching your brand and then you tuck it away in a drawer. it’s something you should revisit and iterate along the way.
You now have the big picture and know what you want to do. it’s time to start working on your:
We are referring to the message and the visual brand identity that you will put out about your brand and on your products. You should put a lot of time and thought into your branding. There are many clothing brands out there so you need to make yours stands out and.
A great branding helps improve recognition, it creates trust, it supports advertising, it provides clarity and focus, it states your business philosophy and above all, it sets you apart from your competition. And a clear branding creates awareness and loyalty that connects your customers to your label.
And if you’re not sure of what we are talking about when it comes to branding we mean your vision, your logo, your tone of voice and your values. We mean your brand personality and your story.
It is important that your branding ties together with your actual products and that you are consistent in all your implementation and your communication.
And yes, you can go big and be bold and unique because that is what’s going to make your brand stand out.
We have received questions from you regarding designer that can help you out with your branding package and logos etc. Check out 99designs for this service, we will add the link in the show notes. You can check them out, they are an online service helping brands with graphics and logos, branding, etc. They are fairly quick and you only have to pay for what you like and accept, not for the rest.
OK, moving on…
7. Finance your clothing line
The apparel industry has long product development cycles. It takes quite some time to product develop a clothing collection, and therefore it also takes a while before you can start selling your collection and before you actually generate revenue.
How much money it’s all gonna cost depends on the size of your collection. The more products you want to develop the more it will cost you. If you one start out with one or a few products, of course, this will be better for you financially. it also depends on the technicity of your products. A simple t-shirt is cheaper to manufacture than a super complicated down winter parka for example.
A smart thing to do is to try to get as much information as possible about the product costing so you can reverse calculate on how much the sampling will cost, and how much your production will cost so you know what amount you should allocate for your collection.
- Can family or friends help you?
- Maybe you have your own money to invest or a side income?
- There are special start-up loans as well as investors to turn to.
- Crowdsourcing is a great way to finance your clothing line without giving away parts of your business. We strongly recommend Kickstarter also because it will help a startup with marketing. It will be easier for you to spread the word and to get preorders and the production paid for before manufacturing it. Read this post about how to run a Kickstarter campaign.
8. Build your brand dream team
After checking your finances you should start looking into who is going to do what.
Can you do it alone or do you need a team?
And if you need a team, what roles should you cover first?
Setting up a clothing brand requires a lot of as they say: blood, sweat, and tears. Do you have the skills to do it all by yourself? Even if you can, is that the most efficient way to do it? A person is not great at everything, someone creative might hate numbers, and someone that has a business head might not be so good with design. Make a self-evaluation, what you’re good at and what you suck at, what you love doing and what you hate doing and then see the gaps for what to look for in a partner. A partner should compliment you and NOT do the same things as you. So if you and your best friend want to start a clothing brand and both of you love designing, but none of you is fired up about the business part, you will end up having a lot of trouble down the road. It’s extremely important that you do not operate in the same area. You will drive each other crazy and you will still lack expertise in areas that might be extremely important for your business.
And in general, make sure to network with talented and driven people that can help you out where you fall short. No one can do it all and you shouldn’t either.
One vital role to fill if you don’t possess this expertise is design and product development. Make sure you get someone on board that knows what they are doing because your products are your business. And if your products are not great from the start it will be hard for you to get a second chance.
Something else we recommend all our clients is to learn the basics in all areas of the business. Even though you might hate numbers, you have to understand numbers and how to properly operate your business based on the numbers. If you don’t know sales, you will have a very hard time selling and pitching your brand, collection, and your products to people. So learn the basics in all areas to have a grip of what it also means to do that job and how much time it can take so you can easier plan and strategize.
That was a lot on the basics and foundation of your business. Now we are going to talk about :
9. Plan your clothing line
Make sure your collection is clear and is cohesive.
Once you have set the foundation for your clothing brand, it’s time to start the product development and the process of making your garments. The first step here is to define your collection. Take help from your brand identity and your vision, to determine your products. Preferably start within a niche, with as few styles as possible. It’s easier to get known for a specific product than for an entire collection with many product segments. When you so to say “own” that market space with your product and you are known for that particular product and concept, then it’s easier to expand into other categories.
Make sure your collection is clear and has cohesion. Also, make sure the products in your collection have their own positioning and don’t cannibalize on each-others sales. Basically make sure they are different in styling, price, materials, and end-use.
Create a product range plan to keep track of your products and their positioning in relationship to each other. A product range plan is a detailed written overview of your entire collection. It helps you keep track of product parameters such as style numbers and names, number of styles, colors, variations, and features. It also includes financial information and sales forecasting. You can start planning your collection in this document before you even design your styles. It’s a solid way of structuring the collection and keeping track of all styles.
We actually have a downloadable product range plan in the membership program, that’s very easy to use to keep track of everything.
10. Design your collection
Your designs should be directly linked to your branding, your values, and your mission.
Clothing design is the core of your business. As we mentioned earlier, If you don’t have the skills, you should bring someone on board that understands clothing design, apparel construction, fit, materials and product development. Clothing design is not a one-off gig. You will be designing new products, you will be tweaking old ones and this is the foundation of your business.
When you have structured and defined your collection, you or the designer can start sketching.
Your designs should be directly linked to your branding, your values, and your mission. Get back to the inspiration and the brand image, and the customer you want to have. The styles should fit in with the vision and identity of your brand.
In order to communicate with the manufacturers, you will have to have certain documents in order so the pattern people and the manufacturers know what you want to achieve. You will need to have great tech packs, fit specifications and material specification in order for the factories to make a sample. Read this post about what a tech pack is and why it’s important,
Hand-drawn sketches are not a good idea to use with manufacturers. You should have clear tech packs make in Adobe Illustrator so you can minimize errors later in the production phase.
Also in this stage, you should have a good idea of the materials and trims you want to use.
Learn more about designing, how to fit and comment garments, as well as tech packs and BOM templates in the Apparel Entrepreneurship Membership Program.
11. Finding fabrics & manufacturers
Choosing your fabric.
Finding factories, materials, and trims is called sourcing. Materials is a science by itself. If you know your price points, performance requirement, and quality level, it will help you narrow down your search for the right materials. Accessories can be cords, zippers, pullers etc that you want to include in your garments. Then you need to find a factory that suits your needs, that can produce your styles, and also that believe in your concept. The best way to source is to visit clothing trade shows where you can meet suppliers and see what they have to offer. At trade shows you can discuss with suppliers about your intended products and they can help you with material choices. At trade shows you can also meet with manufacturers and directly discuss with them if they can produce your products. You can bring your sketches and material swatches and they can let you know if it’s possible or not to make your garments. One thing you will encounter pretty early in your sourcing is MOQ. This means minimum order quantity and it refers to the minimum quantity that you can order fro a fabric or trims supplier or a manufacturer. Most of the time you can order less but you will probably have to pay a surcharge. At least you will get going and you will have a product. So paying a surcharge is OK in the beginning. It’s better to pay a surcharge and order less material than to order the entire MOQ and have it sitting in your warehouse.
A little reminder, The Apparel Entrepreneurship members have access to contact information to over 300 material suppliers and over 500 manufacturers worldwide. Save yourself some time, search the databases, and start contacting manufacturers for a match. There are also scrips on how to contact suppliers and manufacturers for the best possible outcome.
12. Determine your clothing prices
Your product pricing depends on your brand positioning. Also, you can base it on target cost and your margin.
Are you a mid-market brand or a luxury brand?
When starting out you can take a look at competitor prices to see what you get for the money. You won’t know for sure how much your product will cost until you have manufactured your first sample. Once your collection is defined and you have sourced materials and found factories you will have a better understanding of the costs. Does it add up? Will it be profitable? Review all the posts in your budget and see how you can recalibrate it. In the end, you want to live and work, doing what you love. You don’t want it to be an expensive hobby that you pour money into. To help you keep track of all costs associated with producing each style you can use a costing sheet. That’s where you note down the costs of all components in making the garment.
When you have that, plus your intended margin, you can calculate the retail price of the garment. Adopt the habit of filling out a costing sheet for each item already from the start. It will be a vital tool to run your business financially. You will be able to price engineer every product and make sure you are getting the margins you need to run a profitable brand.
We have a downloadable costing sheet template that is ready and easy to use in the membership program or you can create one yourself. This video shows how to calculate your product price using the AE Calculator.
The next step is:
13. Make your patterns and prototypes
This is a very crucial part. Even though you have great designs on paper, you need to transform them into 3-dimensional garments that look and feel the way you want. Based on your tech packs and fit specifications you need to find a good pattern maker. Unfortunately, this isn’t easy. The pattern is made in your wanted sample size and will later be graded to fit several sizes. Based on the pattern, the manufacturer will start making a first prototype. In between every prototype, you will measure, fit, and adjust the pattern to improve your garment. Typically you will need 2–3 prototypes per style before you have a sample ready to show and sell.
Depending on what manufacturer you work with some of them also have this service in house. They have a pattern department in house and can help you with patterning your products. Ask your manufacturer if they can help with this or not.
The sampling process can take several months, and it takes several iterations and fittings, and commenting, but this is how you reach a perfect product. By tweaking and changing and improving it. When you are happy with the last sample it’s time to
14. Plan the production of your clothes
A clothing factory in Vietnam.
Once you have arrived at your final prototype, you can start planning the bulk production. Discuss this with your factory as early as you can. They need to plan in your production in their schedule, which they often make one year ahead of time. The manufacturers need to know how big your production will be, the number of styles and sizes per style that you want to make so they can schedule it in.
We suggest you write an agreement with the manufacturer stating delivery times and quality requirements. You can find templates for terms of agreements in the membership. Having an agreement in place makes sure you have clearly understood each other and both parties know what needs to be delivered and in what quality. It can be very expensive and devastating for your business if you manufacture a large bulk production that is wrong.
15. Send your clothes to the stores
When your bulk production is ready you need to get your garments to your customers. First, you need to transport the garments from the manufacturer to for example your office or warehouse and then to your customers. Your customers can be retailers, distributors, or end consumers. Take a look at your agreement with the supplier to see what is included in the deal and what you have to sort out yourself. When arranging your transport, talk to different logistics companies and see who suits you best, and works with your values and business model.
We have discussed the product development phase and now the next step is
16. Create a clothing line that is unique
Let the world know your brand’s story. Marketing is your products, your meetings, your communication, and everything you do in your business. Be honest in everything you do, let the customers understand why you do it, and what your brand is about. You want to get your message out. Tell the world about your products and what differentiates them from the competitors. A first reaction is often to bring a marketing person on board, but remember that no one knows and understands your brand as you do. You are your brand’s number one marketing person. Use that to your advantage!
17. Sell your collection
A line sheet is an important piece of your sales kit.
In the end, it all comes down to sales. You want your garments to sell, so you can reinvest and develop your collection and keep doing what you love. If you work with retailers, the traditional way is to show at a trade fair or to take your collection in garment bags and visit the shops. This way you end up having multiple mini-presentations and demonstrations of your collection. It can be time consuming and exhausting but you will increase your chances to sell your collection to your intended shops.
If you are selling online, direct to consumer, you need to set up an online store. With a direct to consumer model, you will have bigger margins, which means more money in your pocket and you will also have direct communication with your community, without a middle hand.
For a quick, easy and professional webshop solution, you can take a look at Shopify. With this link you can start a 14-day free trial.
18. Focus on customer care
Take very good care of your customers. Happy customers, means more sales for you. Happy customers are also your best marketing. Word of mouth is the most effective marketing there is.
So from the start, make sure you implement good customer care. If something happens and they have complaints you should meet them in a humane way with their best interest in mind. Put yourself in their shoes and just see how you can help them. How will you handle complaints, returns, delays? Talk to your customers, listen and just help them. Put your ego aside, and use the information to make even better products in the future and to grow your brand.
That was a lot but we covered all the important steps in starting a clothing line.
So that was it guys, hope you got the information needed to finally get that brand of yours started.