How to start a clothing line
Start-up clothing brands are popping up more than ever these days, with many seeing an opportunity in starting a clothing business. But if you’ve ever wanted to start a fashion brand from nothing, then you may find this blog of use to make sure you understand every one of our ten critical steps in launching a clothing label.
Here at Rag Sourcing we have seen first-hand the success of Sik Silk, 11 Degrees, Judas Sinned and many more here at Rag Sourcing. And we can share with you the key to success for starting up your own clothing brand. From the initial sample run to that first sale, every step is tough but exhilarating. Here is our ten-step blueprint plan to success in starting your clothing business.
Start your clothing business in 10 stages
- Pick your niche
- Set your budget and business plan
- Get Organised
- Set timelines
- Get Designing
- Create a brand
- Start manufacturing
- Test your product with Market Research
- Start Selling
- Scale and grow
Bring these ten steps to life with our guide to starting a clothing business below.
1. Pick your niche
Starting a clothing business is a big move which needs time and money so you have to be fully committed to success. You need to be creative, driven and have trend direction to stay ahead in such a competitive and fast-moving industry. If you have seen a gap in the market or have some killer designs in mind, then it might be time to count the pennies and plan out your growth. It’s essential to know your niche from the beginning. Who is your target audience? Who is your competition? Do you have something that people will want to buy? Are you going to start with one specific item like the simple cotton tee? Or begin with shirts like Father and Sons? Or make your name with headwear like Fresh Ego Kid? Are you targetting the fitness sector or the casual streetwear market?
Your niche could be sustainable and ethical sourcing which is very current with the furore at the fast fashion industry. Know your niche, and work to this ideal. You can’t keep chopping and changing until you’ve got a presence and loyal fanbase. Sure you can bring out Menswear or Womenswear collections in the future, but staying true to who you are is essential.
2. Set your budget and create a business plan
Create a budget by separating your starter capital into realistic budgets for production (and transport costs), website, marketing and operational infrastructure. Look at all sourcing options, and contact us if you want to talk these through. You can buy stock items and brand these up, or go directly to the factories for lower unit cost but higher minimum quantities. You usually have to pay deposits to start sampling and pay the balance on shipping. There are very few ways to start a clothing brand for free in the current economical climate. Even if your starting small scale with a few designs, you still need a website to sell these. You will likely need to contact a website design company or build it yourself. You may be tempted by Shopify so be aware there are monthly charges to keep it active which should be factored in.
The fashion industry is notoriously tough. On getting your stock you have a limited seasonal window to sell it in, then it’s old news and will likely be put on sale. You are also in competition with other brands who are offering end of season clearance sale prices to generate funds and clear space for the new season. Styles and trends change quickly so you can be left with a lot of old stock if not careful.
Stick to your budget. There is no point over-spending on production if you have no money to advertise or have a website running. Feel free to create multiple designs and Pantone colourways, but equally be prepared to cut some out of your range plans based on unit cost and feedback. Your first designs will be your entry to the fashion industry and the creation of your clothing line, but also crucially your easy route to market. You will know the unit price to manufacture, retail price and the demand for the product. Sometimes wild designs catch attention but simple sells. Either way, start small and grow with the demand.
If cashflow is dry and you need a business plan to secure funding, it’s essential to start off by nailing the basics. You’ll need to give a breakdown of your business including price points, route to market, competitor analysis and a strategy for growth and scale. You should also be clear on who is involved with the business, their skill sets, who you will outsource any gaps too, and of course marketing and branding strategy. It’s also crucial to have clear operational plans including warehouse and postage.
Finally, the crucial financials. What will their investment do and how will it scale your growth?
3. Get organised
You will need somewhere to store the stock, to pick and pack and post. You will need to register with HRMC for tax purposes as all items carry VAT. You need to either have a website or a physical place to sell your clothing. Who is going to design the items? Who is going to pick and pack when they sell? Who is going to manage customer services, social media, marketing, etc? Do you need an accountant? Do you need to register the company with Companies House? Are you importing the stock and is VAT payable on arrival? Do you need insurance? If you have big plans it might be time to contact us for a free consultation to find out the key requirements.
All this needs to be mapped out or outsourced to a specialised e-commerce company.
4. Set a timeframe.
Make sure you know how long the process takes to be ready for launch. Are you planning on a summer range? Do you need to have your samples in January or February and your stock by April/May? Choose your season and work backwards. Demand for swimwear in Winter is low. Give yourself some margin for unexpected delays and getting the samples right. This can take months which can be frustrating but means a better end product.
5. Get Designing
For any start-up clothing business, this is the key stage, there is nothing like seeing your sketched design come to life on a CAD image and tech pack giving the manufacturer all the crucial technical information to make the item. If you cannot do this yourself on illustrator then our expert design team can assist. Try setting up a range plan and looking at the collection as a whole. Does it go well together? Are there enough signature pieces?
6. Create your brand
People don’t just buy clothes, they buy a brand. Do you want to be a big logo brand like Scar Tissue or be subtle branding? Branding is the key to success of any business, particularly in the fashion world. You will be able to instantly know many of your favourites by name. It’s not just the logo, it’s how you act, speak, and look. It’s your website, your packaging, your swing ticket and is the story you want to tell. You can’t fake a great brand, it takes time and has to be in everything you do. How you are perceived is crucial to success. Your brand includes customer services and quality of the product. Be consistent and deliver on your promises.
7. Start the manufacturing process
Now it gets real. You need product so can either make the clothes yourself or stock buy and get it branded up. But if you are working with factories, you have your CAD designs and tech packs, and it’s time to start the sampling process. Shop around and get quotes and look at international options like Portugal, Turkey, China, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. If possible, get samples from multiple factories and compare price vs quality.
Make sure you understand the details and how much it will cost to import the goods. What are the minimum order quantities and what size breaks do you need? How much will it cost for the full size break and is this within your budget if you include import duty and transport? How much does the sample cost and if you are doing the fashion shoot in the sample what size is needed?
If you are working directly with a clothing factory check the samples match your tech pack. Is the sizing consistent? Does the Pantone colour match the set and the jogger match the hoodie? Try things on and check the fit. Get others too as well, preferably of different body shapes.
8. Test your product with Market Research
Feedback is a gift. There is no point in having a fashion brand where you are the only person to like it. Use social media to showcase new designs and test reaction to design and price points, building a buzz at the same time. Sell your samples through Facebook Marketplace. Build relationships with customers and talk to them about what they like about your product. Understanding why a style is selling and what isn’t is crucial to success and that customer lifetime value.
User experience for websites is crucial. It has to be user-friendly and remove all obstacles. If you plan on social advertising, consider that 90% of the traffic will be on mobile, so make such you have a responsive website.
9. Start Selling
After months of planning, it’s now time to take the plunge and place that first order. Double-check your business plan and your price points. Make sure your sales platform is at least on schedule to be ready for launch. It’s time to start marketing and building that brand buzz. Get that product in and turn it around fast. The quicker it sells, the less chance of the clothing needing a clearance sale. Smell what sells and make sure you have the product to meet demand. Be prepared to order more, taking into account production and delivery timeframes.
Focus on your sales platform and make sure your users aren’t abandoning the site before purchase.
10. Scale and Grow
Your clothing line is launched, and sales are flowing. Perhaps you are already planning new products or bigger quantity orders?
It’s crucial to reflect on how your business is going before committing further. Sounds simple but don’t spend money you don’t have. It can take years to see profit and return on investment so scalable growth is crucial.