How to Establish a New Clothing Line

Do you harbour secret (or not-so-secret) ambitions to be the next Calvin Klein, Stella McCartney, Tommy Hilfiger, or Coco Chanel? These days, it’s pretty easy to get started with your own clothing “line”...even if that means just a few custom-designed t-shirts utilizing one of the many websites (like Spreadshirt, for example) that exist for that purpose. We all need to start somewhere, right?

That said, if you want to aim a little higher, here are the steps for establishing a new clothing line. There’s a lot more to it than just having some decent design ideas.

1. The (Any) Business Stuff

Setting up a new clothing line, like setting up any new business, requires a business plan. You need to research your target market, your competition (don’t compare yourself to the big players just yet), and potential investors. Can you make a go of this? Can the market support another new player? Do you have investors (venture capitalist, angel, family, or otherwise) lined up? What type of company will you be (partnership, LLC, sole proprietorship)? You need to have everything clearly defined and answered before moving forward.  

2. Your Company

After completing your due diligence and a detailed business plan, you can start thinking about the fun stuff. What are you going to call your company? Will the clothing line go by the same name? How about a logo? A slogan or tagline? Have some fun with it...these things should reflect the tone and perception you want to create overall (fun, serious, mischievous, professional, sporty, etc.). Another consideration is your unique selling proposition (USP). What makes your clothing line/company better than your competition? If possible, go for a specific but strong niche, like only using environmentally conscious products, for example. Do some research. A few good and popular USPs at the moment include clothing lines that manufacture in country (wherever that is) vs. overseas, lines that do not use animal products, lines that donate a percentage to charity, and lines that are environmentally conscious.

3. Get Your Design On

Now that the business aspects are under control (they are, right?), you can finally focus on what likely attracted you to this in the first place: designing clothes. Assuming you are the main designer (if not, you’ll have to obviously hire or recruit a designer), you should think about the types of clothing you want to design (casual wear, formal, athletic, bridal, whatever). Then, get sketching! You can go the sketchbook route, or look at the many digital options available, like Digital Fashion Pro or others listed on the Top Ten Fashion Design Programs.

Design for your target market. Make it unique. Remember the USP that you identified in Step #2.

4. Produce Your Designs

Once you have a handful of designs that are going to turn the fashion world on its ear, it’s time to produce a few prototypes. Take them to a seamstress or local manufacturer and negotiate a price for making them. Prototypes are useful for a variety of reasons, for example; troubleshooting (Does the design work? Are there obstacles to its production that you didn’t see? Is it comfortable? Does it look great?). Prototypes can also help with investors, find design flaws, can be done locally, and it also means you have something to show to investors and buyers. Ask questions at every level of this stage. Establish a solid working relationship with the seamstress, tailor, or might not end up using them for larger scale production, but you might.

5. Find Manufacturers

You have a business plan, a memorable name and logo, investors, great (and flawless) designs, and a handful of amazing prototypes. It’s time to kick it into full gear. You need a manufacturer that can take your designs and produce the clothing, meeting your quality and quantity requirements. But far from jumping at the first one listed on your Google search results, you need to approach this systematically. Does the manufacturer produce everything locally (which might be your USP), or does it outsource overseas (which is not necessarily a bad thing, but overseas sweatshops are a major issue in the industry, and you don’t want anything to do with them)? Check out the worker conditions in their factory, if possible. Check out past customer reviews, their standing with the Better Business Bureau (or equivalent), and their employee turnover. You want to find someone capable of producing your clothing at a reasonable cost, yes, but also without taking advantage of people of the planet.

You can find a quick list of options by googling “clothing manufacturers” and the name of your country or city. A few quick links to get you started:

6. Establish Your Distribution Network

You need a way to get your clothes to your customers. Starting out, you have two real options (and a third that requires a LOT more startup capital). You can…

1) Create an online store, selling and displaying your line directly on your website and using an e-commerce service like Shopify to make it quick and painless, or

2) Sell your clothes in existing shops and boutiques (which obviously requires that you convince that owner or designer to share space with you, and for what compensation). The third but much more expensive option involves opening your own physical retail space. The online option is probably your best bet early on (fast, cheap, and far reaching), and it might prove the best overall. The number of people shopping online continues to grow by leaps and bounds each year.

7. Get the Word Out

As with any business, you need to market yourself. Create (or hire someone to create) a website that matches your desired tone and perception. Guest blog on other fashion websites and link back to it. Advertise (if you have the budget for it). Attend trade shows. Utilize social media (set up at least a Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ page for your line). Get involved with your local community, donating either your time, money, or some clothing itself to drum up awareness of your new endeavour. Investigate the possibility of having someone in the public eye (local athlete or television personality) wear some of your prototypes to increase their visibility.

It’s all about the designs, true. But you can’t ignore the general business requirements (investors, plan, and strategic thinking), or other concerns like your carbon footprint and environmental impact. It all needs to be considered and examined from every angle. Plan smart, start small, work hard, and grow slowly and steadily, and you just might be the next big thing.

Here’s a few more useful links that examine the process in its entirety:

job search
job search

Start a Clothing Line

How to Start a Clothing Company

Threads Not Dead (Guide to the Graphic T-shirt Industry)

Photo by Gia | Gudal Aydinli

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