Finally ready to launch and grow your own clothing line?
Going from idea to design, manufacturing and marketing is enough to make anyone’s head spin. Trying to start without enough information will make it more time-taking and back-breaking than it should be.
Even if you don’t know how to sew a stitch, you can still launch a successful fashion business. In this guide, you’ll learn how to start a clothing line. This step-by-step resource includes tips from over a dozen fashion pros and CEOs.
How To Start a Clothing Line
Fashion Business 101
Before learning how to start a clothing business, you need to know the prospects. Sure, the fashion industry seems to be in-demand, but you have to get stats to ensure that whatever you choose is still viable in years from now. Look at the trends, the growth over the years, and predictions.
The State Of The Apparel Industry
The fashion industry has recorded steady growth over the years. We’re looking at an upward trend of a CAGR of 10.6% from $408 billion in 2017 to more than $706 billion by 2022. Even conservative reports still show growth. On Statista, we see 4% in overall global growth.
Specifically, ecommerce is looking great. It has a CAGR of 15.3% in 2018 to 7.6% by 2022. It has the most popular online shopping category, taking about 57% of online shoppers.
The market keeps changing because of customers’ tastes and environment. Keep that in mind before choosing products. Decades ago, you needed to suit up to work then have casuals for the night out, and so on. Now, many companies allow casuals on all work days.
Habits have changed. People want better quality clothes that they can wear at work, going out, or home all in one – and then just general comfy clothes they can chill in or work out in.
See Some Of The Leading Sectors To Get A Starting Point For Research
- Activewear: The global activewear market is growing at a 6.5% CAGR rate from 2018 – 2024. By 2024, it should be almost double the value of 2017. If you’re looking for smaller pockets in this industry, the female market is growing well, showing a 7.7% CAGR.
- Streetwear: In the last decade, streetwear has become a steady trend. It’s not just in online searches. The entrance of top brands like Louis Vuitton has made this expand from just the streets to become a luxury market. As a result, it’s contributing a steady $15billion to the luxury fashion market. That’s only one side of it. Many small businesses in the streetwear niche are getting millions of dollars from investors because the potential is enormous.
- Baby Clothes: Despite a lesser number of people wanting kids, the increase in materialism, trends like “mini-me”, and more parents allowing kids to move their purchase decisions has caused this market to keep on growing. Predictions place it at a 5.4% CAGR (2019-2023), with revenue amounting to $58, 521,000,000. The US market is currently the largest revenue source despite not having the highest number of children. Source.
- Shapewear: Shapewear is another product niche that’s winning. Research shows a 7.1% CAGR from 2018 – 2028. Given the $4,211.1 million in revenue that came in 2018, we’re looking at more than double of that over the next ten years. Source.
- Footwear: The market is expected to generate around $320.44 billion by 2023 from the $246.07 billion that was recorded in 2017. The market is tilting towards comfortable athletic shoes and casuals – the sneakers market alone is predicted to pull in $95.14 billion. Source.
Clothing Lines Business Models That Work
Starting a clothing line is more than knowing how to design clothes – you need to familiarize yourself with the ecommerce business models that are available for clothing lines. This will determine how you handle your inventory and finding product & suppliers for your clothing brand.
For me, the important aspects of starting a clothing brand are being knowledgeable about the fashion industry and understanding how the business works. Doing your research to identify a market need for your product, knowing your competitors and creating a business strategy that will help to stand out. Being open to learn about how other brands became successful helps to avoid certain mistakes and to see what has worked for them. It is essential in the beginning to find a mentor in the field to provide guidance, resources and support.
Print On Demand
If you’re into words/small designs on clothing, or you’re not too much into drawing styles all the time or selling someone else’s, print on demand might work for you. Some stores mix it up with other print on demand products like mugs. You could print by yourself or use apps like Printful.
Print on demand absolutely works when your target down. For example, you can niche towards lifestyles.
Inkitout is one brand that has gotten this down. It targets tattoo-fans.
There’s regular wholesale; then there’s custom wholesale. With regular wholesale, you stock up the clothes and sell as orders come, but with custom wholesale, you customize the pre-made clothes to fit your vision. You can embroider, print, tweak, as long as it suits what you’re going for.
This requires more capital (than print on demand) to start, and you’ll have to store inventory. However, it’s cost-effective to get products because of the bulk.
Perfect Sculpt is an ecommerce wholesaler that sells in the shapewear and lingerie niches. The strategy that works for them is selling to retailers (with and MOQ) and selling directly to the general public.
“If you go wholesale, it’s great to be able to use the famous multi-brand stores to build awareness and trust amongst consumers, but you will have to peg your prices to theirs, including their 300%-400% markup on your wholesale prices. As you can’t undercut the retailers on your own website, you end up with top-end prices for an unrecognized brand which can be challenging. The alternative is to promote and sell your product solely through your own channels. The benefits are complete freedom to price as you see fit and no worries about maintaining external business relationships with retailers.”- Patrick Morrison
Cut And Sew/Private Label Ecommerce
If you want to differentiate your clothing line completely from other brands, then this is the way to go. Arika Sato has her own private label clothing brand.
For cut-and-sew, you design, sketch, source fabrics, sew, plus ecommerce marketing. The process of getting designs turned to clothing might take months, especially if you want to sew more of them. It’s hard work, but you’ll benefit from these tips from other fashion business owners.
For private label, you do the designs or tweak those of the manufacturer. Here, you have to find a manufacturer to cut and sew the fabrics into the clothing design that you’ve specified. So, you’re paying for full production. There’s potential for higher perceived value from your audience.
Custom couture fits each garment to the individual customer. People like custom designs, so the passion is there, but it will most likely cost you a lot to create, meaning that you have to charge more than the average ecommerce clothing company.
Hockerty does it. It creates and sells custom suits by providing many options for customization to website visitors.
Understand The Market Landscape & Competition
You need a product AND a specific target market. Casting a wide net will not increase your probability of success; targeting everyone will leave you with a hard business to market and much more competition. Instead, find your niche so that you can market easily and get through to a passionate audience.
Broad Niche For Clothing Lines
A broad niche is a sector in your industry that you want your business in. Selecting a broad niche is usually easier than getting a micro-niche, especially once you have a general idea of the type of fashion business you want to go into.
These are some of the broad niches in the clothing market:
- Women’s corporate clothes
- Men’s corporate clothes
- Female casual clothes
- Male casual wear
Your micro niche places you in the exact spot of your target audience. It’s your specific target audience + the specific product, for example, casual clothes for tall women. It’s crucial to have an idea of this as an ecommerce startup. Once you develop your personas, you can drill down even further.
Some of the clothing microniches are:
- Creative workwear for plus size women
- Print on demand dog lovers apparel
- Fast fashion for men
“Start with a niche market in mind and preferably immerse yourself in that market before even brainstorming designs. It’s much easier creating winning designs if you truly understand your target audience vs. just designing solely on your own preferences” – Brian Lim
Discover Market Problems
Make a list of problems that you want to solve and research. You might think that you have found an in-demand market, but if you don’t get data to validate what you have discovered, you will miss key points that should influence growing your business.
“With so many clothing brands in the market, it is essential to solve a problem people are having. This will put you in a niche so there will be less competition. Start with a problem you have. This way, you will have a unique and interesting story behind your brand.” – Mike Lindamood
Your research will help you narrow down your ideas to the best one. Also, some markets are so saturated that gaining traction will be so hard compared to others.
Research Manufacturers And Explore Your Product Ideas
It’s hard to truly dial in your products without first exploring what’s out there. You need to research clothing manufacturers. Before you do that, you need to know the capabilities you’re looking out for. If you choose to private label your clothing line, then find those that provide custom changes and not only sewing your label in.
Also, get pricing from many and compare. Check out what they have done previously to get inspiration. You can also check out Alibaba and other marketplaces to see similar apparel that manufacturers are making to have an idea of their finishing, processes, and factory. Then get initial samples.
Research Your Competitors To See What’s Working
Every market has competitors. Even if you’re bringing a new idea, there are still competitors – probably selling the old style.
Research your competitors, check the price point on their products. Many people are not willing to pay higher when there are many lower-priced options, especially if you’re just starting a business. Also, check out their designs and products, see the reviews customers are leaving. This should give you an idea of extras that your target audience is looking to see.
Look at their brand messaging. The more you know about your their messaging, the more you can differentiate yours from it and make your brand unique.
Find out their traffic strategy.
- Where they get backlinks from
- The topics/keywords that they rank for
Ahrefs and SEMRush make getting this information easy. Put in your competitor’s URL. You don’t need to know many – just know one. Both tools can get you the others.
Develop Your Personas To Tailor Your Messaging And Brand Right
“The number one important thing for starting a fashion clothing line is like any other business, clearly define your core target market and your DNA. When I say CORE target market, I mean describe your customer down to their demographics and lifestyle, what they do for fun, what are their shopping habits, their income level, etc.? I actually recommend a new entrepreneur describe her ideal customer like she is describing her best friend” – Tara Sauvage
You can’t effectively market your products without understanding your target audience. You need insights into who your customers are.
There are many ways to research your TAs. You can use Facebook audiences, online forums, surveys. Collect information that allows you to build a fictional person that you’re selling to.
Get these to build your persona:
- Pain points
- What they need/want your product for
- What’s important to them when buying
- Concerns they have before buying
You can take an educated guess for some of the information here, profession and name, for example. Build more than one persona.
With effective target audience research and buyer persona mapping, you can tailor your messaging, product, behaviors, and concerns to the groups in your persona that you are selling to.
Listen to and study your customer, look into what they do and how your products made it easier for them to function better. This will help in saving time in R&D and get right to the point in creating products that more people are delighted to buy.” – Lillian Daniels
Draft Business Plan and Gather Costs
A business plan is not only for brick and mortar businesses. Drafting your business plan will prepare you for potential challenges and opportunities in your market as a startup fashion designer. While drafting it out, pay attention to:
- Your value proposition
- Your business model
- Market analysis
- Marketing and Sales
- Start-up costs and financial management
As you prepare your business plan, ensure that it’s flexible because market and customer behaviors change. I chose not to go in-depth into the business plan because I did a step-by-step in this article.
Understanding how much it costs to get your products, set up your store, and keep it running will help you set the right pricing point, plan your marketing, and reach your break-even point at the right time.
These are the costs to consider:
- One-time Fixed Costs: These costs do not change regardless of your inventory. It includes business registration, website setup, and branding.
- Monthly Software Costs: You’ll need marketing automation and cross/upselling apps. Most great ones aren’t free.
- Production Costs: This includes the cost of producing it (yourself) or getting it from your manufacturer, and also the price you’ll pay to get it shipped to you/fulfilling center.
I have prepared a free startup checklist and business plan. It’s totally free. Enroll for Ecommerce CEO Business School (for free), and you’ll get it in your email.
Set Up Your Business and Get the Legal Stuff Out of The Way
Before you set up your online store or get products from manufacturers, there’s one thing you should do – set up the legal part of your business. Check if the brand name you have in mind is available.
“My number one tip before doing anything else is making sure your brand name URL and socials are available, and your chosen brand name is not infringing on anyone else’s registered mark or copyright.” – Jessica Louise
You should at least incorporate your business and get your licenses before contacting suppliers. You might also need to trademark your concepts.
Do the following:
- Choose a business name
- Register your company
- Get your business licenses and permits
- Get your Employer Identification Number
- Open a business bank account
Design and Source Products
Having your designs in your head and on paper are two different things. Except if you plan on being the sole fashion designer, tailor, and all in all, you need to transform your design into things that your manufacturers can understand. It will save you a lot of time in back-and-forth.
This is where you make sketches or take pictures of what you want to design. The designs will help the factory know what you want. You’ll need to get a designer to digitize your ideas using software like Illustrator. If you’re going to do it yourself, learn how to design clothes on digital.
Create A Tech Pack
A tech pack is your product’s blueprint. It minimizes errors in sampling and production because it shows your manufacturers the exact steps and materials that you want, and helps you track production development.
It should have:
- Detailed explanation of your concept and artwork
- Fabric type
- Color of material and stitching
- Accessories (if any)
- Label and tag information
- Packaging and tracking instructions
It’s a whole lot of work, but you can either get a consultant, designer or use online tools to do it.
Source The Fabric And Materials
You need to give your manufacturer’s details on the fabric, zips, elastics, interlinings, straps, claps, and other materials that you want. These tiny details are often overlooked.
Explore materials first to get the quality, composition, weight, and color that you want. When you launch, you want your products to impress your customers so that they spread the word and come back. Find out from manufacturers the materials that they can get on their own and the ones that you need to source for them.
Screen Printing, Artwork And Labels
Know the options available for tags, labels, artworks and such. Also, before recording it in the tech pack, measure the placement of the designs, and your labels (print or tag), then record the exact measurement and placement down, be explicit.
Make Both Digital And Physical Patterns
For the sake of consistency, cut your design into patterns that can be used for production. For example, a sleeveless shirt will have the bodice pieces and shoulder straps. Do it on the digital angle to send to your manufacturer electronically in your tech pack, and physically as well.
Ensure that you grade it up and down for the other sizes in your clothing line.
From the initial samples that you received earlier, pick out the ones you like best, update with your tech pack, and get final samples from the manufacturers. Ensure that you look closely to check for improvements and potential issues to filter out the manufacturers that don’t get your concept right.
Test Your Product
Always test your product before you go for mass production. Test it yourself and get extra eyes and hands as well. Get feedback from family, friends, and other third parties – possibly, potential customers and influencers. Get the thoughts of people and make necessary changes.
“It’s ok to fail, it’s ok to make mistakes, it’s all part of a journey, and if you love doing it, it’s not a chore, it’s a hobby! I definitely have tested the waters and tried different things when it comes to designing and selling online!” – @ArikaSato
Agree On Timelines With Product Suppliers
Agree on the production time with the factory. Ensure that there’s enough time between the end date of manufacturing and the launch date. You should have a section in your tech pack on timelines and following up.
Find Out The Production Lead Time
Production time is one thing, the lead time is another. Your items can be produced today but shipped in six weeks. Find out what the lead time is. Beware that any changes you make later on will affect the lead time.
Inquire About The Packaging And Delivery Options
Your packaging can add to the perceived value of your product. You could re-package each item yourself, but wouldn’t it be easier if the manufacturer does it for you? Find out the packaging options that they have as well as the delivery.
For the first set, you might want to have it delivered to you instead of your Amazon fulfillment center. Find out how they deliver to your country and get the prices for delivery, and the potential customs you might need to pay.
Don’t forget to check the apparel and raise any issues fast if things don’t look as you specified.
Consider A Sourcing Agent
If all the steps of finding the right manufacturer and making sure things don’t go wrong seem like a back-breaking task, get an expert. There are sourcing agents and tools like Sewport to help you get through it.
Craft Your Brand
Beyond the product, what will be the cornerstone shared interest with your target market?
Your customers will position you in this pyramid, and your relations and communication with them will influence where they place you.
It helps to study the brand positioning of some of the top clothing brands to get inspiration of qualities you want to incorporate. People are most likely to buy from a brand whose story they can relate with. It’s even more important in the apparel industry because people buy clothing that connects with their identity so your brand will become an extension of how they see themselves.
Brand Differentiation Strategies
Beyond the difference in color and fonts, what else do you have? If you think that just showing a lifestyle is enough, then you’re wrong. I can’t count how many businesses are in athleisure. If you can’t differentiate and evolve out of the same box most of them are in, you won’t sell as much.
“What is setting you apart from your competition…really think about what your brand represents, what it looks like, the vibe, the DNA of your brand. The number one reason so many new brands fail is because they try to be everything to everyone, and they lack direction.” – Tara Sauvage
Think of the points of differentiation that you have against competitors and choose the top three to focus on. Your strategy might fall in:
- Service value, like quick help through live chat, exceptional customer service, etc
- Your brand personality/mage
- The people that represent you (employees, influencers, etc.)
Product Differentiation Strategies
The most popular product differentiation strategy is price and features, but those two are very easy to copy by your competitors, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t useful. Other product differentiation strategies are:
- Looks (luxury, vintage, etc.)
- Better buying process (personalization, experience)
- Better fabrics and other materials
- Better packaging
- Pain-points that only you remove
Customer Value Statement
Your value statement describes why people should buy from you. It incorporates your value proposition, which should be the desired after-state that people should have when they buy clothing from you. What psychological or self-fulfilled needs are they getting from wearing the apparel that you produce?
Your value proposition should be simple, memorable, desirable, and unique, encompassing:
- Your target customer
- Statement of need
- Your products
You can also use community, for example, if you sell to petite women, you can create a community sharing how hard it was to get dresses that fit until they got to you, that’s good. Not only are you showing value, but you’re also creating a sense of belonging for potential customers.
Brand Positioning Statement
One way to look different is through a unique brand proposition. That will have your:
- Brand’s outlook
- Why people should buy from you
Brainstorm what should motivate people to buy, create a catchy tagline, and think about a short mission & vision.
“Figure out your mission, and what it is that sets you apart from everyone else. There are enough clothing companies out there. Why should anyone buy from you? What problem are you solving? How are you making anyone’s life better?” – Shannon Ashford
The mission should be focused on how you want to get to your vision, what you do, who it’s for, and how you do it. Your vision should be focused on why you’re in business and what the ideal future is like for the brand.
Product Marketing & Pricing
Product marketing and pricing both go together because this is how your products will be presented and sold. You need a solid plan in place.
“Designing and producing is the easy part, go into it with a strong marketing plan and budget. You can have great products, but without a solid plan to get the word out there, no one will know!” – Heather Hadwen
I’ll show you the basic offers that you should have, how to set pricing, and take photos.
Have Offers And Promotions To Get Sales
You should have the basic offers and promotions set before you launch. Have a loss leader/tripwire product that you use to get the first sale. For those products, you’re not thinking of profit, but ways to get people to try your clothes, get their emails to market to them, get money through down/up/cross-selling, and score a second sale. iHeartRaves runs seasonal storewide promotions on their Rave Gear.
Margins (Floor And Ceiling Prices)
To set prices/margins, calculate how much it costs you to get your product. That includes how much your manufacturers/suppliers charge per item and the price to ship each item from the factory to Amazon or whatever fulfilling partner you use.
Also, look at competitors’ stores to see what the ceiling and the floor prices are for the exact same benefits and (possibly) quality of fabrics. The ceiling price is the highest, and floor is the lowest. Set the most that you think you can sell yours within those two ranges while still having a 70-100% markup on your expenses.
Set your floor prices as well. That’s discounted rates. Make sure that you’re still making a profit from your core products. If your initial markup was 70%, you could set 30% markup as your discount price. So, you’re still showing customers that there’s a 40% discount while still making a profit.
Get White Background And Lifestyle Product Photos
Get a photographer or learn how to take professional pictures, and use this product photography guide and take candid product photos. Have different angles – back, front, side, seam, closeup, each color/variation, etc.
Have the clean white/blank background so that your clothing will pop-off and be the center of attention. Also, take lifestyle photos; someone wearing the clothes on a typical day with an appropriate background. For example, activewear while running or in a gym.
Also, have promotional apparel together. If you’re giving bundles as your upsell, get a picture of the whole look together.
- 19 Persuasive Marketing Techniques For Product Descriptions That Sell
- DIY Lifestyle Product Photography For Ecommerce Sellers
- Ecommerce Product Image And Video Tips to Increase Trust, Engagement and Conversion
- Apparel Industry Price Point Definitions – Terms of Interest to the Fashion Industry
Launch and Promote Your Online Store
Choose the right ecommerce platform for your business. WooCommerce and BigCommerce are at the top of my list, but you might want others. Something highly customized might need an open source platform like X-Cart. When designing your store, make sure that your images and colors are rightly placed to give off what you stand for.
Many stores still have product photos that are difficult to see on a small screen or a lengthy checkout process. In fashion, people are going to be coming in from Instagram to your website.
You want to make sure you design for mobile screens – mobile-obsession is the most important trend in ecommerce now. Make yours seamless and compelling. Responsive design isn’t enough, you need to cater to mobile users.
Learn how to promote your brand using content marketing; produce content, get links from other sites through guest posts, sponsor a fashion show, and leverage social media. Also, reach out to bloggers and influencers – IG is the place to be now.
On average, you might spend between $130 to $1,400, or more depending on who you contact., but the good thing is that users are ready to buy. It’s a ripe market that you can gain from.
It doesn’t end there. Once you start getting orders, study your customers to see what they like and don’t.
- 25 Successful Marketing Strategies From The Fashion Industry
- 15 Instagram Marketing Tips to Spread Your Ecommerce Brand Like Wildfire
- Instagram Influencer Marketing
Ready To Start A Clothing Line?
I hope these tips on starting a clothing line answered the questions you have. Starting clothing lines isn’t a walk in the park, but consistent hard work can get your a successful clothing business.
Start researching the niches that you like and getting your designs digital. Don’t forget – having a site with products doesn’t mean you have fully launched. Promote it and work hard to keep customers coming back. Also Remember that your customers are more likely to find inspiration from external sources like influencers and bloggers than directly from you, so use them.
Do you have any concerns that I didn’t address? Reach out in the comments, and I’ll reply ASAP.