“Clothes are like a good meal, a good movie and great pieces of music”- said the famous fashion designer, Michael Kors. This is what you must bear in mind before you decide to start your own clothing line. Yes, your clothing line should be SIMPLY GREAT!

Table of Contents

Section 1 - Reasons to start one's own clothing line
Section 2 - Starting a clothing line with success step-by-step
Section 3 - Tips to stay successful in the Fashion Business
Section 4 - Conclusion

But before you start, what made you think of starting your own clothing line? Were they these facts?

Reasons to start one’s own clothing line

Perhaps, these were the thoughts that ran through your mind when you hit on this brilliant idea of launching your own clothing brand or business.

  1. In 2019, the Apparel market had a global retail value of $1.4 trillion.
  2. The average fashion industry’s EBITA (Earnings before interest, taxes, and amortization) stood at 10.8%, the highest since the year 2014.

3.   As of January 2020, the top Apparel brand Nike made $34.7 billion

4.   Top brands like Nike, Gucci, Adidas, Louis Vuitton, etc have raked in millions at the beginning of  2020 as can be seen from Brand directory’s table below.

5.   The profit margins of fashion clothing in physical retail ranges from 30-50%  and varies, country-wise. In India, the profit margins for retailers in the clothing business stands at 45%, as stated by Technopak’s Singhal in the Economic Times. Look at what CNBC portrays as the profit margins in the U.S. clothing line business.

These facts must have influenced you into starting your own clothing line. And it is a good decision too. So, let us start building a successful clothing line for you step-by-step.

Starting a clothing line with success step-by-step

Since this is the first time you are starting your own clothing line, bear in mind the following points.

  • Since you are talking of your own "clothing line", this means you intend to create your own fashion brand.
  • Your fashion brand is unique and is different from others in some way - style, utility, material, comfort, price point, etc.
  • You must create your own niche or target audience for this fashion brand.
  • You must identify the other target markets to tap into and create your own business plan and marketing strategy.
  • If you intend to stick around in the fashion industry, you must launch your own online store.
  • To promote the store, you must launch your fashion brand full-steam on e-commerce and social media.
  • At the end of the day, you must not only have your own clothing line but your own fashion brand, complete with its distinct brand identity and brand name.

Lets look at the different step to achieve this:

Step 1 - Which type of clothing do you intend to sell?                                                Step 2 - Which business model do you wish to adopt for your clothing line?
Step 3 - What is the business plan for your clothing line?
Step 4 - Branding
Step 5 - Setting up your clothing line
Step 6 - Finding clothing manufacturers
Step 7 - The Production Process
Step 8 - Packaging and Shipping
Step 9 - Fixing the Price Points of your clothing line
Step 10 - Build your online store for your clothing line
Step 11 - Marketing your clothing line
Step 12 - The Soft launch of your clothing line

Step 1 -  Which type of clothing do you intend to sell?

The clothing business is diverse with an endless range of apparel. Regular wear, Casual wear, Designer Wear, Party Wear, Sleep Wear, Swimwear, Summer Wear, Winter wear, Lingerie - the list is endless. Of these, you must decide which type of clothing you want to sell and which has maximum profits.

Take a look at this 2018 report from Global Sources

  • Most of the inquiries in the clothing business were for Men’s round-neck T-shirts. This was followed by Polo T-shirts, Baby sets, and shift dresses or evening dresses.
  • When it comes to the fabric, there are several in demand - Spandex, Non-woven, Polyester, Organic cotton, etc.

So, decide which type of apparel you would like to deal with and start researching it.

Step 2 -  Which business model do you wish to adopt for your clothing line?

You have decided to start your own clothing company and fashion brand. You can do it any of these 4 ways.

  • Print-On-Demand : You can procure blank clothing from small business owners or retailers and custom-print designs on them after getting an order from a customer.
  • Private-Labeling : Here you are manufacturing and selling apparel under a specific brand or private label. You sell these private label products as “store brands”.
  • Dropshipping : Dropshipping involves taking orders for clothes through your online boutique and arranging their delivery directly from the supplier. Warehousing, packaging and shipping are done by the supplier.
  • Cut and Sew : You interact with fashion designers to create your own distinct style and engage clothing manufacturers to produce it. This involves manufacturing, brand-building, marketing and order fulfillment- all by yourself.

Let us explore these options well in detail. We shall gauge them based on the budget, profitability and ease-of-handling.

Print-On-Demand is ideal for you if you are trying to do something different in this clothing business for the first time. It is perfect for those operating on a limited budget as production costs are low and payments are quick.

Print-On-Demand is both easy to set up and handle. With Print-On-Demand, you are free from the worry of hunting for the right fashion designers to create your clothing. All you have to do is choose from the basic designs offered by the manufacturers and display them on your online store. Next, get orders and pass them on to Print-On-Demand (POD) companies. They customize or print your designs on blank clothing as per the requirement. The POD companies do the packaging and shipping as well. All you need to do is send them the customer’s address, pay them, and pocket the profits from the extra margins.

There are 2 ways to do Print-On-Demand for your clothing line - through branding or white labeling.

Branding

Brand your POD products with a tag bearing your brand name and logo. This helps you establish your brand identity even in your POD clothing line. This makes your clothing look refined and makes them stand out.

White Labeling

Print-on-demand companies help you create your own fashion brand with white labeling. They do this by concealing their manufacturing address and details when they ship to the customer. This allows you to maintain confidentiality in the process and establish your brand identity.

Pros of Print-On-Demand

  • Run the business with little or no inventory
  • Gain profits even on small orders
  • No order fulfillment or shipping worries
  • Minimal financial risk
  • Design flexibility - you can try out new ideas often at minimal expense
  • Quick processing of orders
  • Creative Customization on clothing using printing and embroidery

Cons of Print-On-Demand

  • Ideal only for small orders of low volume
  • Low-profit margins
  • No control on material quality or stitching as wholesale materials are used
  • Limited packaging options
  • Volume discounts are impossible as orders are taken on limited quantities.

TAKEAWAY : Print-On-Demand is ideal for clothing like T-shirts, Hoodies, Jackets, Sweatshirts, Pants, Hats, Kids clothing, etc.

Printful is an app that allows you to do Print-on-demand with ease and efficiency.

It is best integrated with many e-commerce platforms like Shopify, Wix, WooCommerce, etc. It allows both branding and white-labeling.

DROPSHIPPING Clothing line

For first-time entrepreneurs and beginners with no experience, dropshipping is best. It is even easier than print-on-demand. All you have to do is have an online store and display products on it. Once a customer places an order, you direct it to the manufacturer or wholesaler who handles packaging and shipment. It is a simple business model with guaranteed results.

Pros of Dropshipping

  • No warehousing
  • No order shipment or packaging worries
  • Even returns are handled by the manufacturer or wholesaler
  • Low overheads -ideal for a limited budget

Cons of Dropshipping

  • Totally dependent on the dropshippers
  • Poor control over the business process
  • Many inventory issues
  • Issues with returns
  • Shipping issues arise when a single customer orders from 3 different suppliers. This means you have to pay 3 shipping rates.

TAKEAWAY : Dropshipping is best if you are trying out a new product type for the first time. It works best during holiday or seasonal sales in promoting your business.

Dropshipping Apps

Several apps like Oberlo, Modalyst, Alidropship, etc help you execute dropshipping with efficiency. Oberlo is tailor-made for Shopify stores while Modalyst can work on many e-commerce platforms like Wix, Bigcommerce, etc.

DROPSHIPPING TIPS

  • Dropshipping can work well for you only if you choose the right dropshippers to do business with. So, read their online reviews and then choose the right supplier who can vouch for the quality and timely delivery.
  • When you try dropshipping for your clothing line, focus first on Quality. Poor quality and frequent returns may adversely affect your brand.

Private Label clothing line

If you want to give a brand name to your clothing line, you must opt for Private Labeling.

In Private Labeling, you buy blank clothing and not only customize them but also insert a tag or label with your brand name on it. This becomes your own private label with a brand name. These private-labeled clothing can be bought only at certain select stores. These stores can be your own store outlets or other departmental stores like Target, Macy’s, etc.

Private labeling involves a lot more effort than dropshipping or print-or-demand, Once you label your clothing, you must focus more on quality, packaging, shipping, etc.

Pros of Private Labeling

  • You have your own label for your clothing
  • Establishes a brand identity
  • Value addition due to the brand name
  • Best for orders of high volume
  • High Prices are justified by the presence of the exclusive label
  • Better profit margins with bulk sales
  • More options for customization in the clothing by adding labels and tags

Cons of Private Labeling

  • High costs for initial setup
  • Warehousing is a must
  • Not profitable for orders of quantity <10 nos.
  • Not profitable for a diverse range of clothing in many designs, colors, etc.
  • Order fulfillment and shipping is your responsibility.

TAKEAWAY : Private labeling offers you an opportunity to build your own fashion brand.

Private Labeling forums

  • Search for private label manufacturers on search engines like Google or Bing.
  • Online discussion forums like Quora, Reddit, WarriorForum, etc can also help.
  • You can also look for private label manufacturers on online marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, Alibaba,etc.
  • Sites like ScrappyApparel, BBStrend, and Thygesen, etc offer private labeling

Private Labeling Tips

  • Verify the quality of the clothing before you start labeling them.
  • Maintain quality at all costs to sustain your brand image.
  • Promote your brand with a clever marketing strategy on social media.

Private labeling takes time and effort but it is the first step in brand building. Make the most of private labeling by scaling it up with an online store.

CUT-AND-SEW Clothing line

For people with passion towards creating their identity in clothing, this approach is perfect. Cut-and-Sew Clothing is all about unique clothing customized in every way. The distinct quality of your clothing may be in the design, material, stitching or finish. But the end result is an outfit that is distinctly YOU.

Cut-and-Sew clothing offers an excellent opportunity to design your clothing from scratch and build a formidable brand. It gives you an opportunity to unleash your creativity to the maximum. It is no doubt a tedious task, but it offers you a niche product on which you have complete control.

Cut-and-Sew Clothing Line Process

Cut-and-Sew clothing line involves a lot of work like interacting with fashion designers, finding pattern-makers and manufacturers, etc.

To start with, you must create the designs for your apparel, select their materials, colors etc. You must offer the tech packs to the manufacturers along with the materials. You must get samples of the final products and check their quality before ordering in bulk.

Finally, the success of this approach lies in the clever marketing of the products.

Pros of Cut-and-Sew Clothing Line

  • Excellent option for fashion designers to start their own boutique on a small scale
  • Complete control over design, material and stitching of the apparel
  • An opportunity to build a high-end boutique product
  • Best way to create new clothing designs
  • Best approach to build one’s own clothing store or apparel line
  • Opportunity to mark up prices in a big way due to the exclusivity of the items.

Cons of Cut-and-Sew Clothing Line

  • Heavy setup cost and overheads
  • Requires warehousing, packaging and shipping facility
  • Time-consuming
  • Needs testing of fabrics and quality-checks of finished clothing
  • Requires knowledge of designing, pattern-making, manufacturing process, etc to get great results.

TAKEAWAY : If you are a designer dreaming of making your mark in the fashion industry, go the "Cut-and-Sew" approach.

CUT-AND-SEW TIPS

  • Boutiques are based on the cut-and-sew approach. A lot depends on the tech packs that they maintain with exclusivity.
  • Do a lot of research before you begin on designs, fabrics, etc
  • If you are not confident about this, go the FPP way. FPP means  Full Production Package where the manufacturers offer a complete package taking the responsibility of the designs, patterns etc until the garment completion.

To know more about the difference between the two, read about Cut-and-Sew manufacturers.

Now that you have learned about the 4 business models, pick the one you feel most comfortable with and move on.

Step 3 -  What is the business plan for your clothing line?

Whichever line of action you take, manufacturing or outsourcing and customization, you must have a strong business plan.

A business plan is a blueprint of your business ideas required to implement your business model.

Based on all this, your business plan will comprise of

  • Your aim or business objective - this should be quantified in terms of T/O or profits and ranking. For instance, you may commit to making $50,000 in the first year.
  • Your budget- This should be outlined based on the resources you have, the loans you plan to take. The expenses you might incur and the interest to be paid on loans must also be taken into account to gauge the actual cash flow that you will have to do your clothing business. Budgeting involves financial planning for the setup and running of the business.
  • A clever marketing strategy to promote your fashion brand both online and offline.

Before you kick-off your clothing business, let us brand it first.

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Step 4 - Branding

Branding decides the personality of your clothing line. It is what makes your clothing line stand out from others. Branding has a huge impact on the corporate image of your clothing company. And that is why branding has to be taken seriously after a lot of research and should be done by following these steps.

  • Deciding what type of clothing you would like to sell - Branded like Prada, H&M or Private label sold at Target or Macy’s
  • Boutique brands like SoHo in New York or Alex Eagle in London
  • Identifying your target audience or your potential customers - their age, gender, demographics, buying capacity, etc
  • Identifying your competitors in the chosen arena - This will help you know where they stand to lose and where you can gain.

USP and Brand Name

Using this information, try to form the USP or Unique Selling Point of your clothing line.

Your USP could be “wrinkle-free, office wear” or “cost-effective cocktail wear”.

Whatever may be your USP, this will be the foundation on which your brand identity and brand image are built. Choose a brand name that reflects your USP and devise your marketing strategy around it to establish your brand in the market. Coin this unique name after ensuring none in the market has anything remotely close to it. Always ensure that you have the copyright for your brand name by getting it registered legally.

Brand Logo and Visuals

To create a brand image, you need a visual representation of it and that is your logo. First, decide what you want your logo to look like - in color, form, and text. Note these points and discuss with a good illustrator or graphic designer to design your unique logo. While doing this, ensure that the logo is easy to be executed in screen printing, digital printing, and all other processes.

Remember, your logo is the face of your clothing line. Let it be bold, bright, unique, and resonate with your brand message or USP.

TIP- While you are in the process of branding, compile a corporate identity manual that will be the tech pack for your branding. Let it have all the font, colors, and size specifications of your logo and brand name. This will ensure that your logo will be rendered the same everywhere.

Step 5 - Setting up your clothing line

This is where you lay the foundation of your clothing business. And for a strong foundation, you must follow these steps.

Company Registration

To start with, you must register your clothing company legally. Decide how you would like to operate your clothing company. Is it an LLC, Sole Proprietorship, Partnership, or Business Corporation? This is vital for the legal and commercial aspects of your business. It will affect everything from taxation to profits. Get the business name registered with the help of a lawyer.

If you are planning for an LLC, be sure to get your DBA (Doing-business-as) certificate. This DBA certificate enables you to have a business name that is different from the registered name. For instance, if you have registered yourself as “Clover Apparel”, you can sell as “Clover Jeans” only if you have a DBA for it.

Brand name and trademark registration

Next, get your brand name and trademarks or logos registered legally to avoid plagiarism and copyright issues. Trademarks include not only logos but also taglines, captions and product names. Trademark registration serves in strengthening your brand identity by associating with the logo.

Calculating startup costs and arranging capital

Once the legal process is over, it is time to arrange for the capital needed to set up your clothing company. In order to get a fair idea of this, first list down the costs and overheads. These include

  • Registration, licensing and permit fees
  • Rent or property overheads
  • Infrastructural overheads like  furniture, software,etc.
  • Costs for equipment for sewing or pattern-making, screen-printing etc.
  • Brand designing costs
  • Marketing and Promotion costs
  • Material or fabric costs
  • Labor costs
  • Logistics costs for packing, warehousing, transport or shipping, etc.

Capital must include both your upfront costs for setup and operational expenses or production costs as well.

After totaling up all this, you can arrive at a figure and compare it with the funds you have. If there is a shortfall, apply and arrange for loans from banks or other federal or financial institutions. If you are bold enough, you can try crowdfunding too on platforms like Kickstarter or Indiegogo.

Step 6 - Finding clothing manufacturers

Depending on what type of business model you plan to adopt, you must start looking for clothing manufacturers. If you are going the Cut-and-Sew way, you must search for fabric suppliers.You can source them from China, Vietnam, SriLanka, India or Bangladesh. If a boutique is what you have in mind, look for a small-scale unit that can solely work for you.

You might have to personally visit the factories to inspect the quality of the clothing they produce. But if you are on a shoestring budget, email or phone will suffice for vetting the manufacturer.

Step 7 - The Production Process

This is where the action starts and this is how.

Tech Pack

First, compile a Tech pack for your products. Each Tech Pack is a blueprint of the product’s design. It might be in the form of a CAD drawing or an image or an Excel Sheet. Make sure you have the files in the format needed by the printers like .ai, .psd, etc for the visuals.

The Tech pack must include all specifications for fabric, lining, trims, zippers, etc. Size, Color and thickness of material are the parameters to be included. Also include all the guidelines for printing, embroidery, die-cutting, etc.

Pattern Making

Pattern Making gives the prototype for each clothing item to be fabricated. It gives you the idea of size, fit, sleeve size,etc.

Consider hiking a pattern maker for this. Or you can use pattern-making software like Tutka, Optitex, Gerber, or Lectra.

Sample Making

This is where your dream wear is taking shape. Don’t expect the first sample to be perfect. Look out for all possible flaws and get them corrected here itself. It is better to redo the samples again rather than get a faulty product returned.

Product testing

This is the quality control stage. Wash, iron, and wear the product. Wash it again and see if it shrinks or fades. Try it on another person and get their feedback.

Check its stitching, finish, and comfort. See if its printing peels off. Try the zippers again and again and see if they get jammed. Alter the samples based on the feedback and test again. Do not stop until you are thoroughly satisfied.

Only such rigorous testing in real life can ensure that your product has a high-quality and perfect fit and finish.

Grading and Sizing

Next, sort the samples and fix their sizes and grade them as XS, S, M, L, XL and XXL. Ask your manufacturer to grade the given pattern to other sizes and check them. If they match your size specifications, your product is good to go for mass production.

Step 8 - Packaging and Shipping

Packaging adds value to the brand equity by enhancing its perceived value. Bear this in mind while selecting the right kind of packaging for your clothing line from the options below-

  1. Boxes - Unboxing adds thrill and excitement to the user experience. This is the reason why packaging gains so much importance in e-commerce. Boxes are sturdy but add weight and cost to the shipping.
  2. Bubble-Wrap mailers - These are the best as they have an inner layer of bubble-wrap that protects your clothing.
  3. Shipping bags - Also called Poly-mailers, they are the most cost-effective option for packaging clothes.

TIP - Customize your packaging with your brand logo to gain visibility for your brand. Add tissue paper and additional items like discount coupons or return labels to enhance the shopping experience.

Step 9 - Fixing the Price Points of your clothing line

The next most crucial thing you must do is fix the price points of your clothing line. The price points include the range of prices between the maximum and minimum of any product. Calculate these price points, product-wise, after including your capital, overhead, and production costs and adding your profit margin. Always compare your price points with your competitors before fixing them. This will help you know where you stand in the race.

Earmark the CPU or cost-per-unit of each item before you sell. Aim for a profit of 30-50% while marking the CPU.

While selling online, you can add the packaging and delivery costs separately to the order.

Remember that your clothing has a perceived value based on the brand and this might indirectly affect your pricing. Pricing can also be boosted by advertising or slashed for seasonal sales or promotion.

Let your price points be an attraction to the customer to buy your product. Always ensure that the quality of your product more than justifies the price.

Step 10 - Build your online store for your clothing line

The basic prerequisite for doing online sales of your clothing line is an e-commerce website. Build it on platforms like Shopify, Wix or WooCommerce. Wix has an easy drag-and-drop facility while Shopify is structured and professional. Check out which suits you best after reading the Shopify vs. Wix blog.

Integrate your e-commerce website for your clothing company with payment gateways like PayPal, Stripe, etc to enable easy online payments. Enable credit card and debit card transactions on your site to provide flexibility in payments to your customers.

Step 11 - Marketing your clothing line

The next job is to promote your clothing line. This is easier said than done because there are many avenues to pursue here.

  • Multichannel Integration- Integrate your website with other online marketplaces like Amazon, Etsy, eBay, etc.
  • Social Media Marketing- Posts and Ads on FB, Instagram, etc
  • Influencer Marketing- Influencers have a great impact on the fashion business and clothing industry. They may be Instagrammers, YouTubers, or Bloggers. But their sizable community can add to the list of your potential customers by clever strategies.  Sites like Intellifluence can help you connect with successful vloggers and influencers in the clothing industry.
  • Email Marketing- Capture email addresses of visitors to your site through apps like Klaviyo and use them for email marketing. This helps you to build a considerable database of your potential customers.
  • Blogging- In the fashion industry, content counts. Write info-rich blogs on your website on a weekly basis to create user engagement with your target audience.

Step 12 - The Soft launch of your clothing line

It is now time to finally launch your clothing items into the market. Start selling a select range of items in minimal quantity on your online store and in physical outlets. Gauge the response and improvise. Understand the customer’s buying behavior and sell accordingly.

Once your sales are consistent for at least 6 months, you can think of scaling your clothing business.

TIPS TO STAY SUCCESSFUL IN THE FASHION BUSINESS

  • Like Coco Chanel said - “Fashion changes, but style endures”, create sensational and stylish clothes that always stay in fashion. You can do this by creating your own style for your clothing line and adapting it to the changes in fashion.
  • You can do this by staying updated with the latest styles in the clothing business. Watch TV fashion shows, read fashion blogs, or attend Fashion Shows and Style events.
  • Stay connected with your target audience and always respect their feedback. Make improvements in your products based on their reviews.
  • Maintain a loyal customer base by offering loyalty points and rewards to recurrent customers.
  • Incentivize referrals to expand your customer base.
  • Always be on the lookout for new fabrics, stitching styles, and suppliers to enhance your product range.
  • Promote your clothing line with seasonal offers, deals, and discounts
  • Create unique promo-events for your clothing line to enhance its perceived value.

Follow this step-by-step guide and launch your clothing line with success. Create your own fashion brand and watch it shine in the sky of the clothing industry.

Conclusion

Ralph Lauren said - "I don’t design clothes, I design dreams". And this is what you too must always bear in mind while starting your own clothing line. You are creating dreams for people to live in, in their clothes. And your clothes are going to transform them into reality.