How to Start a Clothing Line

Learn about the benefits of starting your own clothing line, discover how to find your niche, review how to create a business plan, discover how much money you’ll need upfront, consider manufacturing and distribution, assess hiring practices, find out how to set rates, examine the best ways to market your line and view frequently asked questions about starting your own clothing line. 

 

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Benefits of starting your own clothing line

Everyone needs clothing, so you know that there’s huge market potential for your product before starting your own clothing line. Consider these additional benefits of starting an apparel business. 

  • Creativity: Designing and selling clothing is a fantastic pursuit for creatives. You get to use your business acumen and your creative sensibilities in this endeavor. 
  • Simplicity: The business model is straightforward — create clothing and sell it to consumers. 
  • Growth: It’s easy to scale your business from a small, part-time enterprise to a full-time operation as you gain more customers and capital. 
  • Niche: Customers have a range of styles and designs they want. You can find a specific niche to work in that satisfies an underserved group of buyers. 

Related: Tips for Effectively Managing a Retail Store

 

Finding your niche

Clothing and apparel is an enormous market. Statista estimates that the global value of the clothing and apparel industry has grown from 1.3 trillion dollars in 2015 to 1.5 trillion dollars in 2020. Look for gaps in the market where consumers have limited options and establish your brand there. You can narrow your focus by selecting one of each of the following categories:

  • Men’s clothing, women’s clothing or kid’s clothing
  • Petite, plus-sized or standard

From there, consider specialty items or designs within your chosen categories. 

Related: Planning for Business Success

 

How to create a business plan

Once you’ve determined your niche and know what sort of clothing you’d like to design, follow these steps to write your business plan.

 

1. Explain the opportunity

Start by explaining the need your company fills. Describe specifically how your clothing line will help solve the problem consumers currently face. You might include a competitive analysis from other companies in the same niche to show why your brand is better suited for the market. Also include information about your target market like its size and primary characteristics. 

 

2. Establish your marketing and sales plan

Describe how you intend to advertise and sell your clothing. Depending on where you are in the process of creating your company, you may have specific campaigns already designed and ready to execute or a broader idea of what you’d like to implement once your company takes shape. Be as specific as you can with the information you have. 

 

3. Describe the team

Provide information on each member of your company. In most cases, start-up clothing lines are small operations, so it’s easy to provide a bio for every employee. If you have a larger company, focus on providing bios and backgrounds on the executive level management staff rather than every single employee. 

 

4. Provide financial details

List any loans, investments or other income sources you’ve received. Provide a detailed budget for how you intend to spend the money you have and what profits you expect to make. 

 

5. Write an executive summary

The executive summary is a succinct outline of your business plan, intended to brief the reader on the key elements of your plan before they read the specifics. Aim to keep your executive summary to a maximum of two pages. 

Related: How to Write a Business Description for a Business Plan

 

How much money do you need to start your own clothing line?

You’ll absolutely need some cash upfront to start a clothing line, but the amount you’ll need can vary tremendously depending on the type of clothing line you plan to start. Consider a few of the primary expenses involved in starting a clothing line. 

 

Branding

You may choose to hire a designer to create a custom logo for your business. After paying for the logo, you’ll need to create a website, order business cards and create other branded accessories for your company. Logo design can cost anywhere from $50 to $200. 

 

Licenses and permits

Licenses and permits are state-based, so you’ll need to check with your local government about the requirements for registering your new business. More than likely, you’ll need to obtain a permit to sell goods and collect taxes. Seller’s permits are low cost, usually free or about $20. 

 

Rent and utilities

If your operation is small, you may work out of your home rather than rent a space. However, if you’re performing any part of the manufacturing process, you’ll probably need a larger workspace. Consider the cost of renting a commercial space in your city along with building utilities. 

 

Office supplies

Consider the cost of basic office supplies like a computer, internet, pens and notebooks. Factor in the monthly cost of maintaining your website and reordering frequently used supplies. 

 

Equipment

If you’re starting what’s known as a cut-and-sew line, you may perform the actual construction of the clothing in-house. For this, you’ll need sewing machines, templates and dress forms for structuring your garments. If you’re doing screen printing rather than from scratch clothing design, you’ll likely not need the same amount of equipment.

 

Marketing

Think about how you’ll market your line and the costs involved. If you don’t have a marketing department on staff, you might consider hiring an external team to handle your advertising needs. Even without hiring a separate firm to manage your marketing, you’ll need to set aside money to pay for your advertising. 

 

Materials

The cost of your materials will vary depending on whether your printing on pre-made garments or designing totally original articles of clothing. Bulk ordering t-shirts or hoodies for screen printing will cost less than ordering a multitude of fabrics to create original pieces. 

 

Labor

You’ll need to factor in salaries for any employees you may have. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, sewing machine operators earn an average of $26,610 per year while managerial workers in the fashion industry earn an average of $51,310 per year

Related: Creating a Business’s Code of Ethics & Professional Conduct

 

Designing and manufacturing the clothing line

There are four basic categories of clothing design. Which category your clothing line falls in will impact how you manufacture your clothes. 

 

Print-on-demand

Print-on-demand clothing lines entail printing designs onto pre-made, wholesale clothing. You can manage the printing yourself or outsource it to a manufacturer. Print-on-demand clothing lines are the least expensive and quickest to start, since you don’t have to create anything but a design. You partner with a clothing wholesaler and a manufacturer to produce your clothing. 

 

Custom wholesale

Custom wholesale starts the same as print-on-demand, with wholesale clothing purchases from a third party. However, instead of only printing a design on the clothing, custom wholesalers tailor and embellish the items to create custom designs. Custom wholesaling is more expensive than print-on-demand since you’ll need to stock inventory and perform the customization in-house. You’ll only have to partner with one manufacturer, though, which saves money. 

 

Cut-and-sew

With a cut-and-sew design model, you order all the fabric and materials, design the clothing and create sample pieces. Usually, cut-and-sew operations outsource bulk production to a manufacturing company to get the product to market as quickly as possible, but some companies manufacture the clothing in-house. Cut-and-sew has some steep upfront costs and takes months at a minimum to get up and running. 

 

Custom couture

Custom couture is a niche industry catering to the very wealthy. In a custom couture model, you create one-of-a-kind bespoke items for specific clients. You don’t keep merchandise on hand but instead, design and manufacture single pieces for customers. With this model, you’ll need to source your materials, but you’ll handle all other aspects of the manufacturing process yourself. 

Related: Defining Business Metrics: A Guide for Managers

 

Deciding on a distribution strategy

How you distribute your products if you sell online takes some thought. Generally, you have three options, each of which has its advantages and disadvantages. 

 

Ship directly from your shop

If you’re operating a custom wholesale or cut-and-sew clothing line, shipping from your workplace is a viable option. Your products are already there, so you can easily pack and ship them using branded materials for your customers. Shipping can be costly, so review pricing options with a number of vendors and determine whether you’ll build the shipping cost into the price of the garment or apply a flat shipping rate to each order. 

 

Ship directly from the manufacturer

If you’re running a print-on-demand or cut-and-sew clothing line that outsources the manufacturing of your clothing, shipping directly from the manufacturer can make sense. Rather than spending money to send the product back to you before shipping it to the customer, sending the merchandise straight from the manufacturer can save time and money.

 

Ship from a fulfillment warehouse

A final option is to ship from a fulfillment warehouse. These companies manage packaging, shipping and returns, saving you time to focus on production. However, this style of shipping can be expensive, so it’s best used if you have massive orders going out and need the full-time support of a fulfillment agent. 

Related: Writing a Mission Statement for Your Team or Business

 

How to hire employees

If you’re hoping to add employees to your team, follow these steps to find qualified and capable candidates. 

 

1. Write a job description

Begin by writing a job description. It should include specifics like:

  • The key job responsibilities
  • Necessary education
  • Previous work experience
  • Company description
  • How to apply for the position

Some job descriptions also include compensation and benefit information, but that’s something you can share later during job interviews and not strictly necessary for the job description. 

 

2. Post the job

After you’ve written your job description, post it on your company’s website, on job board sites like Indeed and send a copy of the posting to any professional organizations or industry contacts you have who might have connections to qualified candidates. 

 

3. Select qualified candidates

Review the job applications you receive to find candidates who meet your company’s needs. Compare their experience and skills to those listed in the job description. Select the best qualified candidates to move forward in the job application process. 

 

4. Hold interviews

Interview the potential employees to learn more about their backgrounds and to see if they’d be a good fit for your company. You’ll want to ask questions related to the position for which they’re applying. 

 

5. Negotiate offers

Once you’ve selected the candidates you’d like to hire, make them a job offer with a compensation package. Prepare to negotiate as they may come back with a counteroffer. 

Related: Company Policies: Necessary Policies for Every Business

 

How to set rates

Determining how much to charge for your clothes will help you establish profit projections. Follow these steps to set reasonable rates for your products. 

 

1. Consider costs

When pricing your clothing, you should consider multiple production costs:

  • Product development like pattern making
  • Sample making
  • Materials costs
  • Transportation costs
  • Labor costs 
  • Shipping costs
  • Production costs

The grand total of these disparate categories illustrates the actual cost of making the product. You should run this calculation for each item you sell, since materials, labor and production costs will vary from item to item. 

 

2. Factor in profit

You shouldn’t sell your clothing at cost because you won’t make any profit. Think about the margin you hope to maintain with each sale. Profit margins vary considerably in the fashion industry, from as low as 4% to over 15%. 

 

3. Establish pricing

Apply that profit margin, usually a percentage, to each item of clothing. For example, if it costs a total of $15 to make a pair of pants and you hope to earn a profit of 10%, you’d add 10% of $15, or $1.50 to the price tag, bringing the retail price to $16.50.

 

Best ways to market your clothing line

Marketing is the key to your business’s success. You need customers to discover your brand and make purchases to stay in business. Consider these traditional and digital marketing strategies for clothing. 

 

Traditional

Traditional marketing refers to any style of advertising done offline, including television, radio, print and mail. A few useful strategies for clothing lines include: 

  • Print ads
  • Television commercials
  • Catalog mailers
  • Billboards

You’ll want to use strategies where consumers can see your clothes to entice them to go shopping. 

 

Digital

Digital marketing strategies are fantastic for the fashion world. A few excellent strategies to consider include:

  • Influencer marketing 
  • Social media marketing
  • Emails
  • Blogs

Any campaign where you can show influencers or customers wearing your clothes will help potential customers picture themselves in the apparel and encourage them to make a purchase. 

 

Frequently asked questions about starting your own clothing line

 

How do I start a clothing line with no experience?

If you’re interested in fashion but have no experience making or designing clothes, you have a couple of options. 

  1. Team up with someone who has a background in design.
  2. Start a print-on-demand business.

With the first option, you’ll have the expertise of your partner to guide the creative side of the company while you manage the business side. 

If you choose the second option, you’ll only have to create designs to go on already made clothing items, releasing you from the need for any technical sewing skill. 

 

How do I make a high-end brand?

To create a high-end brand, you’ll need to follow these steps.

  1. Find a gap in the luxury space. Create a product that fills the need in the marketplace. 
  2. Curate the experience. One of the hallmarks of a luxury brand is the shopping experience. Find a way to make shopping for your clothing a luxury endeavor.
  3. Create symbolic value. The value to customers is the perceived value from others. Build a brand that people associate with luxury.
  4. Keep it exclusive. Ensure the entry point for your product is high to make it feel exclusive and hard for the average person to gain.

 

How do I design a logo?

If you want to create a logo for your brand, you have a few options:

  1. Design it yourself. If you have some hand or computer drawing expertise, you can create a logo on your own. 
  2. Use a website. Many websites exist to help create an original logo with the use of pre-designed elements and fonts. 
  3. Hire a professional. Find a professional graphic designer to make a logo for you. 

Starting a clothing line is an exciting endeavor with many options. Consider the business model that works best for your goals and skill set and prepare a solid business plan before embarking on the actual design and manufacturing of your products. 

 

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