A clothing brand needs more than just winning apparel design to create a lasting business. It needs all the trappings of a successful business as well. Starting a successful clothing brand or clothing line from scratch means an emphasis on basic branding prowess and business acumen, compiled into these five steps.
1. Develop Your Clothing Brand Identity
When you start a new clothing brand, you must first develop your brand identity. Before you sketch your first rendering, ask yourself these important questions:
• What identity do I want my clothing brand to project?
• Who will want to wear my clothes?
• What can customers get from my clothing brand that they can’t get anywhere else?
• What makes my clothing unique? Is it high-end?
• What is the most important part of my customer’s experience?
Your answers to these questions — and others like them — will build the core of your brand.
All of your future branding decisions should expand on these ideas. Your company name, your logo design and your web site design should all grow from the concepts you laid out here. For more on building a strong brand identity, take a look at 2019 logo design trends.
2. Fill in the Business Blanks
You will need to define the legal structure for your new business. After you determine your business’ legal structure, you’ll need to file the necessary paperwork. The U.S. Small Business Administration web site has the info you need to find out what sort of license or permit you’ll need to start a business in your state.
Next, consider creating a business plan. Your plan should include at minimum a statement about your clothing brand, a general description of your products and a strategy for how you plan to sell them.
The Small Business Administration has a complete guide to writing a business plan.
3. Crunch the Numbers
Start at the beginning — with your start-up costs. For a clothing line, these costs will include:
• Your brand design: logo, business cards and web site
• Any license or permit fees
• Deposits and rent for a physical work location if you plan to lease your own workspace
• Basic infrastructural costs such as phone and Internet service, invoicing software, etc.
• Marketing and advertising costs
• Sewing or design tools: sewing machines, scissors, rulers, fabric printing accessories, etc.
• Materials for your first collection: fabrics, notions and embellishment decor
• Hourly wages to cover your design and construction time
If you plan to hire employees, you’ll want to budget their wages into your start-up calculations as well.
Traditionally, new start-ups had enormous legal expenses, but fortunately, this area has experienced a lot of innovation. If you need help with employment or contractor agreements or agreements with your vendors, take a look at Quickly Legal, which offers entrepreneurs, small businesses and start-ups an easy and inexpensive way to create, sign and manage legal contracts and agreements.
Once you know how much it will actually cost to get you started, compare that with the funds you actually have. Then plan how you’ll make up any difference.
Setting Your Prices
To create a smart and effective pricing strategy, you have to start by knowing how much it costs you to produce your clothes — also known as cost per unit, or CPU.
But, the CPU is only a starting point. It’s important to bake the cost of running your business — and some profit — into your clothing prices as well. Otherwise, it will be difficult to sustain your business over time.
Also, consider competitor pricing and perceived value. If you’re completely unaware of what your competitors charge, you may miss the mark entirely by either costing you potential profit if you charge too little, or sales — if you charge too much. Perceived value is the amount that a customer thinks a product is worth. And, your competitor’s prices are a part of that perception. But, not the whole picture.
The appearance of your clothing plays a role. A poorly made shirt that looks fancy may have a higher perceived value than a beautifully made simple shirt. Most customers have no idea how much time, money or effort actually goes into making a particular garment.
Your branding can influence how your product is perceived, as well. A classy logo and high-end brand positioning will lead to a higher perceived value than discount brand positioning.
4. Build a Web Presence
Your web site is one of your clothing line’s most important ambassadors. So, put this vital business tool to work for your clothing line.
Start by ensuring that your web site design truly embodies your brand. Visitors should be able to understand who you are and what your brand is about as soon as they arrive. Your web site’s visual design and marketing copy should project your brand’s voice and identity. Here are some suggestions:
• Use your brand’s colors.
• Prominently feature your logo.
• Write copy with your target audience in mind.
• Showcase your fashion design aesthetic.
5. Plan Your First Collection
Before you can even consider the details of your first season’s designs, you have to decide what kind of clothing line you’re going to offer in the first place.
There are many different models for fashion businesses. A few of the most popular include print-on-demand, custom wholesale, cut-and-sew or private label and custom couture.
The print-on-demand business model enlists the aid of a third party to print and ship pre-existing wholesale garments such as T-shirts, hoodies or leggings to your customers. Custom wholesale businesses purchase pre-made wholesale garments and then customize the clothing by hand. You can print, appliqué, embroider or otherwise embellish the existing garments to fit your vision.
With cut-and-sew and private label – you will design your own clothing and then have it manufactured to your specifications. Couture garments are handmade to fit each individual client. This level of detail is both time and labor-intensive and expensive to execute.
Choose Your Niche
Is your clothing line a sportswear brand? Or will you be offering retro-inspired lingerie? Will you design for men? Women? Both?
It’s essential that you identify your clothing line’s niche before designing your first collection.
Design Your First Collection
You can branch out and explore new directions later, but your very first collection needs to preview what your audience can expect to see from you consistently as a designer.
Don’t be afraid to be unique. Uniqueness and authenticity are two elements that will help to set your clothing line apart in the crowded fashion marketplace.
6. Plan for Manufacturing
Unless you personally plan to sew every garment you sell — a business model that would be impossible to scale — you’ll need to consider how your collection will be manufactured.
A manufacturer is not just the means to an end — it’s the partner that will help you make your ideas a physical reality. So, making the right choice of clothing manufacturer is critical.
Plan to interview a number of different factory locations to find the one that is a right fit for your business. Remember that you must ensure that you maintain healthy profits margins for your business, and manufacturing will be a large percentage of your budget.
There’s a terrific book about this from the founder of Nike, Phil Knight called “Shoe Dog.” In the book, Knight writes about how he found the perfect partners for manufacturing Nike shoes — and his struggles with partners who were less than perfect.
Before you commit to a full-scale run, order a few samples from several manufacturers to evaluate the quality and speed of their work. For example, if you’re screenprinting on your clothing, examine the quality of the print. Examine the labels to make sure they contain the information you require.
Once you’ve evaluated all of your options and reviewed samples, choose the manufacturer that will serve your business best.
Before you hit the catwalk…
There’s a lot to think about when you’re starting your own clothing line — not the least of which are the clothing designs themselves.
But following these recommendations will better get your foot in the door in the immensely competitive fashion and apparel industry.
Katie Lundin is a marketing and branding specialist a Crowdspring, a crowdsourced design multiservice company. She aids entrepreneurs and small businesses on Crowdspring’s award-winning small business blog.
If you enjoy this article, take a look at our comprehensive, 7,000 word 10-step guide on how to start a successful clothing brand or clothing line.