How to Start a Clothing Line Business

Despite of the weather, current trends, leading brands or any other external factor, to start a clothing line of your own always means to achieve a runaway success, within a short period of time.

Why, you may think.

The deal is simple: clothes represents a universal language that is spoken by the whole world – from kids to elderly (kind and women especially, statistics show), so clothing never goes out of style. An average family in the US may spend roughly $2000 on clothes which means that this market seems to be thriving and growing bigger every minute. Some would explain the phenomenon by the fact that clothing is just as essential as food: we need clothes even to survive.

And though loads of entrepreneurs believe the market is way too saturated since new clothing lines are popping up with the speed of light, there’s plenty of space for every business. Besides, starting a clothing line doesn’t require you to be a recognized expert in the fashion industry or a proclaimed designer – world’s best clothing companies weren’t established by professionals. Long story short, you can make good clothes without much experience.

But how, you may ask.

Luckily for you, you’ve come to the very right place. We’re here to help you start your first and nonetheless successful clothing line that could outpace major brands and biggest names. And we mean it!

What Constitutes A Good Clothing Line?

The first question before we’ll move on to keys like branding, designing and manufacturing is how to find your voice in this niche. Yes, as we briefly mentioned, the market structure is quite flexible for newcomers, but it doesn’t change the fact that there’s a certain amount of competition you’ll face as soon as you enter the market. And your brand has to be different if you want to beat all these Top Shoppers.

In a nutshell, your clothing brand is to be healthily trendy, reasonably classic and undoubtedly quality.

First off, clothing business is about trends because it’s seasonal in its nature. Before spring, you know what colors are hot. Before winter, you know what designs are going to draw most attention. So, being in this business means keeping up with trends. One way to detect a trend is to make friends with glossy magazines. Style Caster, Vogue, In Style, Harper’s Bazaar – all of these keep an eye on the current fashion and define trends. Fashion icons like Taylor Swift are of great help, too, because fans follow their idols sometimes dutifully, sometimes obediently.

Secondly, your brand must cater to classics. Trends rotate like planets, but there’re huge numbers of people who would never trade their crisp white skirt for fashionable denim. Make your brand versatile by making versatile styles of clothing. Your clothing line must cover all categories of customers, and devotees to classics should be in the list as well.

Finally, whatever design comes into view, it has to be quality. You can sacrifice on marketing, advertising or even branding, but you cannot sacrifice on quality. Make sure composition of the materials you choose allows your clothes to ‘last’ for a long time. Educate yourself: get to know best textiles or simply find a technologist that could help you choose.

Branding 101

When it comes to branding, barely anyone is able to provide a comprehensive definition, to say the least about understanding. Marketers are talking about branding every time. Well, everyone is talking about branding… but what is branding anyway?

Let us tell you a short story.

Back in the days, when people lived in wooden houses, there was a popular practice to brand livestock so that ‘medieval farmers’ might differentiate between cows or sheep or any other stock animals. Too many creatures, too little difference. Since then nothing has drastically changed. People still ‘brand’ things to outline some sort of individual identity. Dairy manufacturers brand their milk, car manufacturers brand their cars, clothing lines brand their clothes. And now it’s time to brand yours.

Consider this as some image that conjures up when customers think of a specific product. Thanks to branding, when we think of Louboutin, we draw a picture of luxurious red-lacquered soles. In a similar way, when we think of H&M, we imagine something both affordable and youth-spirited. You ought to do the same. Start a company that can be distinct from other businesses. Make customers remember you.

How To Create a Brand

There are some popular techniques that are usually used by companies to shape a brand:

  • visual identity;
  • packaging;
  • product design;
  • partnerships;

HOW TO DEFINE VISUAL IDENTITY. Your brand’s identity includes logo, colors, imagery aesthetics, design, style and type. Start with the latter. The type is about the way you convey words. Find the right font and scale, some interesting arrangement that differs from your competitors. Right after that define a color palette. It has to fit what you are trying to sell. For instance, if you’re going to promote premium products, a combination of black, white and gold would codify the right attractions. Then come up with a logo. It must convey imagery that sticks into people’s minds instantly. Like Chanel or Supreme.

HOW TO PACKAGE PRODUCTS. Your packaging should include two elements: the things you use for the packaging itself and some extra elements that you add to the package to make the unboxing memorable. Try poly mailers as they are relatively cheap in terms of shipping costs and relatively light in terms of weight. As an alternative, you can use kraft paper bags, fabric, tin cans for accessories, paperboard boxes, plastic boxes and bubble mailers. Anything unusual and outstanding would be perfect. Speaking of extras, you can include interesting ‘items’ with the package like booklets containing personalized messages, small gifts, discount coupons and vouchers, business cards, samples to promote new products if possible.

HOW TO DESIGN PRODUCTS. When customers unbox your package and finally see your item, there has to be something remarkable to some extent. Design or style doesn’t count because, anyway, any other mass-market apparel companies may offer a similar item. The only way to make sure your clothing company has a unique appeal is to add custom labels. These are pieces of fabric that you attach to the inside of your items, and sensibly that most labels include a stylized logo. There’re various label materials – satin, leather, cotton, nylon, woven, silicon, damask – so you should choose the one suiting brand’s identity. You can play with the types, too, and try mitre fold labels instead of straight cut ones, for example.

HOW TO BRAND THROUGH PARTNERSHIP. Co-branded products are everywhere. Look at quite successful collaborations of Nike and Apple, Louis Vuitton and BMW, Alexander Wang and H&M – companies establish partnership for multitudinous reasons. If you know a thing or two about SMM, then you’ve probably heard of ‘shoutouts’. Two profiles leave a backlink in the description to draw some new audience to one another, they ‘swap’ their customers. The same goes with co-branding which is a marketing strategy between two companies when one brings attention to its partner. It surely helps companies enter new markets.

HOW TO BRAND THROUGH ADVERTISING. An advertising campaign, when it comes to branding, usually involves three indispensable things: you have a clear message delivering brand’s identity, you connect with people emotionally, you establish credibility. But, most of all, good advertising inspires trust and emotions in people. When customers see, whatever it is, a promo video, a leaflet, an article or your social media post, they must feel something positive toward your brand.

What Should I Choose?

No wonder if you’ve gone through all these techniques and got more questions than answers like what package exactly you should choose, satin or leather, or prud you would find the right visual elements contributing effectively to your clothing line. The reason why you may have all these questions is that, at this stage, you know nothing about the market you’re going to break into. Defining the market for a brand is essentially important because it determines what you’ll be doing from the very beginning.

There’re four critical questions you need to ask yourself:

  1. What types of clothing do I want to sell? Am I going big and should target wholesale or I’d rather stick to a private business model? How much time and money do I have? Once you find answers to these, you’ll understand what clothing it’s going to be.
  2. Who is my target audience? Who is going to purchase this type of clothing? Who is my ideal customer? Do some research and translate everything in numbers and facts. Say, for example, you want to sell print-on-demand products. Then you target groups of youth, age 14-25. The way your future customers look like define any aspect all the way down to fonts or colors.
  3. What unique will I bring to my customers? What is my differentiating factor? What makes my clothes unusual? Famous Nike’s slogan ‘Just Do It’ stems from a definitive attempt to differentiate products from the direct competition. While other sports brands aimed at sportsmen, Nike targeted anyone delivering a unique at the time message that everyone is an athlete.
  4. Who are my competitors? What do they offer? How many markets might they take away from me? You can learn about your competitors through questionnaires, searching on the Net, press reports, marketing literature or flyers, advertising, social media. Find the method to act on this competitor information.

Manufacturing Equipment

Wholesale or private, you’ll have to make clothes. Technically, you’ll have to manufacture them. So the next vital step for your future brand is to purchase equipment to open a clothing factory of your own. Even if you have no plans right now on building or leasing a garment factory, it’s a matter of time when you’ll finally grow big enough to produce clothes in an industrial scale.

In any case, the basic equipment list includes:

  • Knitting machine – a textile machine that makes knitted fabrics.
  • Cotton-spinning machine – a textile machine that spins raw cotton into yarn or thread.
  • Weaving machine – a textile machine that interlaces two sets of yarns or threads at right angles.
  • Sewing machine – a textile machine that sews fabric together with thread.

In addition you may need two more types of garment manufacturing machines – pressing and cutting. The latter allows to cut fabric into various shapes, either manually or automatically, but computerized knives are considered the most accurate. If the quantity of your fabric is relatively low, a straight knife will suffice. Pressing machines are utilized in the final stage of manufacturing – they finish clothes.

Spinning machinery requires an operator to handle raw materials and prepare them for spinning process. An average made-in-China spinning machine would cost you around $35,000, yet the price may vary depending on the quality you want. This equipment can produce multi-layered fabrics, which is important for hosiery garments, blended fiber and three-layered fiber. Spinning machine can process either synthetic or natural fibers.

And then it all comes full circle back to the type of clothing you are going to produce. The thing is about manufacturing is that you’ve got to find the prefect balance between raw materials and finished products. In other words, you manufacture everyday products at minimal cost to use as little raw material as possible. Everyday products constitute items that people wear ubiquitously. Socks, underwear, pants, t-shirts are all a good example of products with high demand. These are wardrobe essentials.

An average made-in-China knitting machine costs about $12,000. Hosiery knitting machines, making approximately 350 pairs of socks, cost around $4,500.

To sum up, a clothing factory having the full set of basic equipment may cost $50,000-$60,000, but there’s always a chance to invest more to enhance clothes quality.

Step-by-Step Guide to Starting a Clothing Line

Let’s wrap it all up. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Do clothing market research and analysis. It’s a good idea to get a part-time job at some clothing store to find out what’s actually happening in the market. Consider this a ‘spy’ trip – you’ll have an opportunity to learn more about your competitors and thus to see what your real chances are.
  2. Identify the list of priorities and make your clothing company’s finance a top one. First off, gather all the information to learn how much it’ll cost to you to begin, including equipment, staff, branding. Try to find the way where benefits outweigh the costs. But, at the very outset, you have to make sure your business is able to make a profit in the long run.
  3. Create your clothing brand and logo. Concentrate on crafting a brand since it’ll be required during registration. Then think of a logo that represents your brand’s voice, style, message and uniqueness.
  4. Come up with a perfectly written business plan. The business plan is a direction for your whole company. Usually, a typical plan includes products you offer, sales strategy, financial projections, market analysis, company’s management and organization, funding and a strategic marketing plan. Never overestimate, but don’t underestimate.
  5. Become a legal entity holding licenses and certificates. In order to register your business legally, first you need to choose a business structure for your clothing line. Keep in mind that you’ll have to obtain a Tax Identification Number and register with the revenue services of your country.
  6. Develop a design concept and your product. Hire specialists to discuss and determine the product development process of your clothing. Then hire staff and make sure they will be able to keep up with your company’s standards.
  7. Find clothing manufacturers. If you’re not going to make clothing yourself, then you need to find manufacturers. Quite an option is to search through the Net. A great deal of clothing companies prefer to work with foreign manufacturers as it could be cheaper than working with the locals. But don’t seek price over quality. Remember that your brand’s quality is of major importance.
  8. Open an online store or create a clothing line website to display products. Opening an online store helps you attract more people to your product, but even if you don’t want to sell clothing online, consider starting a business website – some sort of a landing page.
  9. Draw an audience. Contact blogs, clothing websites, online stores that could drive traffic to your website in order for you to pull in more people and expose your company to a bigger audience. You can also contact local stores and collaborate with them in terms of mutual promotion. Also, you can prepare a catalogue of your clothing and distribute it to local stores and customers.
  10. Keep advertising and promoting your clothing company. There’re different options to advertise your clothing – fashion shows, billboards, social media, blogging, positive reviews, videos. As an extra option, you can give away ‘freshly-baked’ clothes for free to grab attention.

Rules and Tips + Video

However, it may sound simple in theory, but when it comes to practice, things really change. You should think of what you’re going to sell or produce even before starting a business in general. But even bright ideas or solid plans might fail in the long term, so there are several basic business rules that can help newcomers maximize their performance and lose as little money as possible.

Simplicity. The first rule of the clothing industry is to keep it simple. Your clothing line doesn’t need problems from the very start because you’ve chosen complicated manufacturing processes. From the manufacturing perspective, multi-layered garments entail a sophisticated technological process that requires not only large experience in the field, but also real pros by the sewing machine. Of course, you want to break into the market with something unique, but you’ll need to purchase different sets of expensive equipment, do more market research, expand your clothing line for that. It costs a penny and it needs certain experience. So, go into difficult projects as soon as you’ve gained more experience and balance the budget. A factory is a whole lot of a different story because they process a small number of production. You need no special knowledge or training because everything is clear.

Don’t rush. Your final goal is to open a factory and make every item without third-party suppliers. But since even hosiery production requires great expenditures, you shouldn’t make haste. In fact, a large number of clothing lines didn’t start from scratch – they entered the market through existing marketplaces and walked well-trodden paths. Some clothing lines began from retailing, not manufacturing. In many instances, collaborating with an Asian garment factory to produce clothing turns out to be more profitable than opening your own production line locally. The right time for you will come for sure. But for now there’s no hurry.

Few products, few problems. The third rule to successful clothing brands is that you’d rather stick to a narrow product line for some time. When you are a complete beginner, you need to start with the basic wardrobe that is always sold easily. If you want to complicate the production even a little, you’ll have to again research the market, catch up with the latest trends and be ready to react quickly since trends tend to change in the twinkling of an eye. Red today, green tomorrow, but your raw materials weren’t prepared to ‘adjust’ to that trend. Besides, some fashion trends might even require you to buy a new set of equipment. So, the narrower the production, the faster you’ll grow.

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Luke Smith
Luke Smith
8 years ago

I see a lot of good clothing lines that are more formal to clothes regular joes could wear. I didn’t know that so much went into a clothing line like knowing what type of clothes are popular, or how to make prototypes. It makes me think of all the hard work that went into making clothes now.

Zega Apparel
Zega Apparel
5 years ago

Thanks for this detailed content. Each and everything is explained very perfectly.

Mindy Jollie
Mindy Jollie
4 years ago

I like what you said about finding clothing manufacturers and specialists to help develop and make the clothing. My friend has been thinking about starting her own clothing line for plus-size women. She’ll have to make sure she think all these steps through and gets the proper creative help in the process.