STARTING A CLOTHING LINE
- THE BASICS -
The fashion industry, in general, is intimidating. This makes starting a fashion label scary for any aspiring designer or entrepreneur. Thoughts of a steep learning curve, constant all-nighters and failure can be discouraging for those considering entry into the business. But the truth is, starting a fashion label doesn't have to be scary if you know how to take the right steps to begin.
Technically, you don’t need a degree from fashion school or business school to start a label of your own, you don't need to be a prominent artist or a creative genius and you don't need a large capital (for the early stages of a small label), which makes the barrier to entry relatively low.
But as with anything and especially with starting a business, making an informed decision before you take the plunge is necessary. I am hoping that this long blog post will be able to help people who were like me when I first started my clothing line.
Read on to find out what are the basic steps on how to start a clothing line gained from our experience as a young Singapore-based company who helped to manufacture clothing for more than 300 clothing brands in United States, United Kingdom, Australia and other countries around the world.
Failing to plan is planning to fail. It’s very important to define a go-to plan that includes strategies for marketing, distribution and budgeting for your clothing line. The good thing about having a plan on the drawing block is that you’ll be forced to think about how feasible it is to execute things with your current resources.
In my role as Founder of Bryden, there were times where I had to fight with myself to scale back on some great ideas by breaking the big plan up into smaller and more manageable parts in order for it to be executed efficiently. I realised that trying to do too many things at once would have been more detrimental than beneficial. I learnt that there is nothing wrong with reshuffling your priorities, and executing a plan in smaller parts and in gradual progression as long as the goal is eventually reached.
Any self-help guru or business book will tell you this, but in the fashion industry, this is especially critical. The price of your product, style of clothing, shopping experience (retail or online) and even the colours you use are dependent on your market. This makes conducting comprehensive market research essential in order to get in the head of your target customer and understand their consumption behavior as thoroughly as possible.
Determining your customer’s lifestyle is vital to realising their consumption habits. Ask yourself questions like ‘What country does he/she live in?’, ‘Where does he/she work?’, ‘Where would he/she like to go to relax?’ and ‘Will your designs allow him/her to wear them to the places or events they have to be at daily?’. Talk to store owners, store managers, sales assistants and customers as well, the more questions you ask, the better you understand your target customer and whom you’re designing for.
Once you have a good grasp of what your customers wants, go out and observe what is already out there. Source out competitors, if any, look at their products, the prices and how they are selling them to their customers, then figure out how you can differentiate your brand and shopping experience from theirs. Study magazines, blogs, websites, Instagram accounts that cater to your market, TV shows, even your own closet and ask yourself why you spent the money you did on your clothes. It’s also worth considering having a coffee in areas where your target market would typically be just to people-watch and study what they’re wearing.
Before I started my graphic t-shirt label, Ardentees, I remember rushing home to my computer everyday after university just to go online and devour any information that I could find about creating the best t-shirts. Sites like Emptees (now Mintees), T-shirtforums, Threadless and Behance were my daily go-to sites for inspiration and ideas for the label.
Exhaust every possibility that helps you to learn something about your market – these will give you a much clearer idea of how to design for and sell to them.
THE TYPE OF CLOTHING LINE
Think about what category of apparel you want to make – is it streetwear, swimwear, women’s corporate wear, activewear etc., then consider the number of styles and pieces you’d like to produce. Bear in mind that the more styles and pieces you have, the more expensive it will be to produce your collection. Keeping to a smaller quantity can help to avoid high overhead costs for a label that’s just starting out.
One of the most important things that I can’t stress enough is creating a concept for your clothing line. The concept is what gives the brand life and serves as the guiding principle for the brand’s identity, visuals, aesthetics and core. The story and the lifestyle that surrounds it will allow your customers, suppliers, and employees to resonate with the brand and feel like a part of it.
If you are not designing your own collection, you would need to hire a fashion designer to produce sketches and a graphic designer if you require prints to produce illustrations and pattern designs. As a start-up label, hiring extra hands means incurring more costs, but it will be worth it and necessary if you are short-handed and/or not a domain expert in certain areas like designing or accounting.
You can start by looking for assistance on sites like Fiverr, Crew, Behance, Creative Market and Upwork, which connects you to a large pool of freelance designers that could help with keeping these costs to a minimum.
One of the more challenging stages of starting a clothing line would be production. Finding the right manufacturers is a difficult task for most start-up labels – costs, minimum order quantities and quality control are all common concerns amongst many other variables that directly impact the end product.
This is why there is often a trial and error process before a label finds the right manufacturer that works best for their business model. As the business essentially revolves around the product, getting the right production partner is one of the most vital parts of the business.
In my first business at Ardentees, I tested with blank t-shirts from different brands like American Apparel, Gildan, Alternative Apparel, Continental Clothing, Alstyle and Hanes to name a few and also cut & sew tees from different manufacturing partners. I decided to go with full cut & sew in the end as it allowed me more flexibility to showcase the creativity of the artists I hired. This also allowed me to better understand the manufacturing process, which in turn opened other doors for me to create different product lines.
When I decided to go with cut & sew production for Ardentees, it took me a whole year to settle on a manufacturing partner. I had to deal with a lot of rejections due to my small orders, experienced samples done wrongly and had to constantly travel around to visit more factories. Throughout the entire process, I thought to myself, ‘why was it so difficult to start a clothing line?’
That episode inspired me to start Bryden with the vision of helping our clients streamline this costly trial and error process by making it a fuss-free experience.
At Bryden, one of the most important things that I push my team to do is to work together with our clients in developing their creative ideas by providing the right advice and consultation on the best fabrics and methods to have their designs materialised, and subsequently translate them accurately into technical packs for the factories to execute.
MARKETING & SELLING
And that’s not it – after crossing the initial hurdles of market research, design, planning and production, there is a secondary stage, a crucial part of the process that will serve as a springboard for your business – marketing; creating awareness for your brand and converting that into product sales.
Owning a fashion label requires you to think about ways to anchor your brand identity across all facets of your business – retail concept, website, packaging, online presence etc. This allows customers that come into contact with your brand to remember your identity better and feel more inclined to make a purchase if it resonates with them. Retailers upon seeing your marketing efforts will also feel more confident in having your products stocked at their stores.
Many fashion brands start out by marketing at local events and tradeshows, advertising on social media, sending out press releases and even organising pop up events or trunk shows to gain publicity. These are a few ways to do it, but there is no hard and fast rule in the way a brand should market itself, just get creative. Marketing is very much a creative exercise as is designing.
When you’ve built a network of customers, ensure that you keep them constantly engaged, via social media and newsletters or even postcards, update your promotional methods and always stay relevant to the market’s needs at all times.
MANAGING YOUR CLOTHING LINE
If you’ve managed all of the above, you’re off to a great start, but don’t forget to be prudent about how you manage the overall business. There should be consistent reviews to monitor progress and pitfalls of your business so that you can always be one step ahead of any potential obstacles. Cash flow, production, inventory, retail orders and execution of all facets of the business are just some of the few things that need to be consistently analysed to ensure your business is continuously moving forward.
Starting a clothing line may seem daunting, but if you take the necessary steps to build the right foundation for your business, the rewards you can reap are immeasurably fulfilling. The above steps are by no means exhaustive and we will delve deeper into the many segments of running a successful clothing line in the upcoming posts, but hopefully, for starters, this helps aspiring designers and entrepreneurs to feel more confident in kick-starting their business. Remember, if you’re hungry enough and have a strong will, you can do anything.
As my business partner Kai always says to all questions on whether something is possible: “Can is can”.
Are you ready to start your own clothing line? Click ON THE BUTTON BELOW to get in touch with us!