How to start a clothing line

Turn your dream of being a fashion designer into reality with our guide to launching your own clothing line.

Take advantage of your creative skills to launch a successful clothing line supplying fashion and clothes to a growing market. With more people than ever buying clothes online, combined with the ease of selling through personalised boutiques on well-known websites such as Not On The HighStreet and Etsy, setting up a clothing line is an attractive proposition.

Setting up a clothing business doesn’t have to be a scary, all-or-nothing proposition. You can start small – such as printing your own t-shirt designs at home or crafting one-off clothing creations in your spare time – expanding to a full-scale clothing business with overseas production and seasonal collections only if the market demands it.

There are multiple approaches you can take when starting your own clothing line, and it’s important to play to your strengths. Dressmakers and fashion designers may wish to design and produce their own clothes, while others prefer to source items from other designers and offer them as part of a single clothing brand.

How to research the fashion market

The fashion industry is swamped with brands competing for customers so it’s vital to develop a unique brand that reflects your personality and fashion style. Deciding what you plan to sell and knowing your customers will help you develop a strong brand identity for your clothing line.

As with any fledging business, first-hand experience of the industry is an asset. Working in the fashion business can provide valuable insights into how the business works including design and production processes and profit margins. Having established links with suppliers and retailers will help a new business – but you shouldn’t underestimate how much research and effort is required before you launch your business.

Amy Barker and her partner Michael founded Monks & Co, an online fashion retailer and shop, after three months spent researching the market. “I thought the business would work, but what the research came back with was always going to be the deciding factor,” says Amy. “A staggering 89% of people asked would shop in the proposed store and 40% of those even opted into marketing materials so we already had a small database to start marketing to.”

See if you can spot a gap in the market, catering to people whom the big fashion brands are ignoring. For example, Alexandra McCabe set up FittaMama selling a range of maternity fitness wear to health-conscious mums-to-be. Read her story here.

Go online to research clothing brands that sell similar items: look at the number of lines they offer, pricing, delivery speeds and charges. Consider what you can do to offer something different or unique.

For Monks & Co, quality of service was a defining factor. “The internet is riddled with online shops, but trying to contact somebody from them isn’t easy”, says Amy. “Our aim is to bring a personal touch to online shopping. That’s why at Monks Clothing there are real people behind the website, you can call us, tweet us, Facebook or email us and know you will get a reply from an actual person, not an automated service.”

Watch this: Amy Barker of Monks & Co talks about starting up her business with help and support from the Start Up Loans Company:

Choose a fashion brand name

The fashion industry trades on brand name recognition – so it’s important to have a strong name and story that resonates with customers.

Take time choosing a brand name before launching your clothing line. While other businesses can change their name later on, for a clothing line this can be disastrous as so much depends on brand recognition.

Many fashion brands are named after the founder such as Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Valentino and Victoria Beckham, but you can use an invented name. If so, choose a name that’s easy to pronounce and remember, and consider your brand’s emotional appeal – what comes to mind when people hear your name. Does the name have any negative connotations that are best avoided? For example, brands such as Quicksilver conjure up images of energetic extreme sports while Wrangler evokes images of cowboys, the old West and denim.

Check whether someone else is already trading with your preferred brand name or if it’s trademarked. Perform an internet search for businesses in your area with similar names and check Company House’s register to see if a business with that name already exists. You can also search the Intellectual Property Office  to see if a name is registered as a UK trademark.

Learn more about choosing the perfect brand name.

You’ll also need a website to represent your business and sell clothing online, so it’s essential that your company name is available as a domain name too. Make sure it matches your business name exactly, don’t settle for something close as customers will struggle to find you online.

Create a clothing line business plan

Creating a detailed business plan will help get your clothing line off on the right foot and make it easier to raise capital to finance your business. It should include:

  • Brand statement and aims – explain what your fashion brand stands for, its mission and values, and how it is different.
  • Target customers – identify your customers including age, gender and characteristic and explain why would they wear your clothing? How does it make them feel, and what does it say about them? What brands do they currently buy?
  • Clothing range – what clothing items will you offer? What is the range, what sizes do you offer and in what colours. A good understanding of your audience will help here.
  • Start-up funding – calculate how much funding your clothing business needs, including interest repayments.
  • Supply chain and distribution – how will your clothes be made? What raw materials is needed such as textiles and packaging, and how will these be sourced? What suppliers do you need and where will you find them? How will you distribute your clothing, and what arrangements will you need with distributors?
  • Marketing plan – create a marketing plan showing how you’ll advertise your clothing range and the expected ROI for your marketing spend, if selling direct. If distributing via retailers, you’ll need to research business-to-business (B2B) marketing to convince retail buyers to stock your clothing.
  • Materials and overhead costs – detail all costs including staff, premises, utilities and both fixed and variable costs, such as materials.
  • Financial forecasts – forecast revenue projections and costs for the next three years.

Create the perfect business plan with our free guide and template.

How to get funding for a fashion business

A small fashion start-up business can be boot strapped – started for very little money apart from what you invest yourself, and then grow organically without taking on debt. If making clothes yourself, you’ll need some basic of equipment to start with, including a sewing machine, thread and material.

Many fashion brands kick-started their business by selling t-shirts printed with their own designs. Printed T-shirts or tops can be easily made at home with a screen printing kit, specialist ink and some blank t-shirts, which can be sourced wholesale for as little as £1 a piece. Alternatively, you can find a commercial screen printer to produce your designs for you. By starting small, you shouldn’t need to find money for suppliers, production costs, premises rent, warehousing or distribution.

As your business grows – or if you plan to expand quickly – you may need access to greater capital to expand your business. Raising finance for your clothing line can be tricky as it’s an intangible business and difficult to predict how much profit you’ll make. Traditional bank loans may be hard to come by, so look at small government grants, small business loans, angel investors and crowdfunding to raise finance.

How to get your fashion business started

When starting out, it’s sensible to produce just a few key pieces, keeping production costs low until you generate interest in your clothing range. Concentrate initially on one area such as womenswear or slogan t-shirts. Let demand be a determining factor – if these pieces sell, you can increase production and expand your line.

Alternatively, create a portfolio of sample products to send to retailers and distributors, along with details of manufacture, potential demand and scalability. Distributors will be looking for reliable suppliers who can scale to meet volume demand, and offer discounting for bulk orders.

A dress by 8th Sign

If selling direct to consumers, you’ll need to plan how to market, sell and distribute. A cost-effective route is to sell at festivals, gigs, markets and school fetes. Alternatively, sell online through community marketplaces and third-party sellers such as Amazon, Etsy, eBay, NotOnTheHighStreet, and Asos Marketplace. Setting up a shop on these sites typically involves a monthly fee in addition to a percentage commission on sales. It’s a great way to showcase your clothing line to a millions of shoppers and build a customer base.

Read our free advice guide on how to set up an eBay shop.

Once you’ve a production line operating with the ability to produce clothing in volume, you can then sell direct to consumers via you own branded website. You’ll need to choose a website hosting company and create a website with shopping cart software, a secure payment facility, and a way to collect payments. You can build a website yourself, buy an off-the-shelf solution or hire a website designer to create one for you. Whatever route you take, make sure your website design echoes your brand identity. Great photography is essential to showcase your clothes, as are detailed descriptions, sizing information as well as shipping and returns.

Make sure that you’re aware of UK online selling regulations regarding refunds, returns and delivery terms. The government offers guidance on the rules and regulations that online businesses need to follow when distance selling.

Running a fashion brand as a business

Setting up a clothing line is exciting, but don’t overlook the administrative side of your business. Your business will still need to manage cashflow, pay suppliers, expenses and tax, hire and manage staff, and ensure it makes a profit.

You’ll need to register as a self-employed sole trader with HMRC – unless you decide to set up a limited company or partnership – so you can pay the correct amount of income tax and national insurance. It’s important to register even if you design and sell clothing on a part-time casual basis.

Keeping records of all your business transactions and expenses in one easy-to-find place, will make filling in your self-assessment form much easier. Alternatively, hire an accountant to look after your books as you’re likely recoup the upfront expense of this by paying less tax in the long run. Read our guide on how to find a good accountant.

Product design and manufacturing

When starting a clothing line, one of the most crucial aspects to consider is the manufacturing. It can be a mine field working out which type works for you, or even how to convey your ideas to a manufacturer correctly so they understand exactly what you want.

Tech Packs

A technical pack, or tech pack as they’re often called, is an integral component when starting a clothing line. A tech pack contains all of the information a manufacturer would need to create your items. They would usually contain views of the whole product, and information like sizing, colours, fabric weights and artwork for logos.

Tech packs are essential because although an idea may seem very clear in your head, if you can’t convey it accurately to the person who you’d like to make your items, there is the opportunity for information to me misinterpreted.

Tech packs also mean that your first sample will be as accurate as possible, meaning they will save a lot of back and forth in the long run.

Depending on your direction you want to take your brand, there are different ways to produce your clothing.

Manufacturers

Some will take your idea completely from concept to reality and they’ll include things like sampling and fabric sourcing. These are known as full package production (FPP) manufacturers.

Others will create custom clothing for you, but they’ll require you to do a lot of the leg work by supplying fabrics, patterns and materials. They essentially just do the labour part of manufacturing and they’re known as cut/make/trim (CMT) manufacturers.

The third option would be to use a print on demand (POD) manufacturer, but their services are usually limited by the products. POD manufacturing generally means using stock, pre made items and therefore the customisation levels are minimal.

London-based clothing producer Hawthorn, who mentor Start Up Loans recipients via delivery partner Transmit Start-Ups, go into detail about the pros and cons of these three manufacturing types in their own comprehensive guide to starting a clothing line.

How to market and promote your clothing line

Promoting your clothing line is key to its success. If you’ve the budget, hire an independent fashion public relations person to help with the push for publicity. Agree a results-based fee where you pay depending on the success of their PR activity. Other marketing tips include:

 

  • Be a walking billboard – wearing your own clothes and getting friends and family to do so too is free advertising.
  • Use social media to create a buzz about your brand – Build a strong Twitter and Facebook presence, and pepper Instagram with professional shots of your clothes. Use social media to talk to customers, communicating your brand’s identity. Read our guide on using social media to market your business.
  • Make friends with fashion bloggers – Many are highly influential, and being heralded as the next big thing or someone to watch can give your clothing line a real boost. Don’t simply rely on sending them free samples however – get to know their blog and what excites them. Look for other opportunities to directly connect to their web audience such as competitions, giveaways, sponsored posts and ads.
  • Showcase your clothing line at a big fashion show – hiring even a small booth at a trade show may be expensive but the opportunity to promote your brand and network with fashion buyers, fashion writers and others designers is priceless.
  • Use professional photography – Most new start up brands are online based, meaning that your social media and websites are essentially your shop window. Because customers aren’t able to see or feel your clothing in person, it’s important to make sure your images show them in their absolute best light. Your images are the result of all the hard work you’ve put in to starting your business, so it’s a good idea to find a professional fashion photographer who can help you. Having professional photography also helps you to stand out from the competition as a credible brand.

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