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How To Start A Clothing Line - The Ultimate 2019 Guide (Updated)

by Boris Hodakel  • February 16, 2019 • 23 min read

how to start a clothing line featured image

For some, starting a fashion business is the ultimate dream. Whatever route you take to achieving this goal, there is one defining factor that stands above everything else in realising it: your passion . This passion can lead to a successful career or business idea but there are some key points to consider when getting the initial idea off the ground.

For many new fashion designers, having little or no experience in actually running a business is no longer a setback. That’s not to say that it’s an easy process bringing your brand to fruition but with a solid plan and handy tools to help get you started, getting your label off to the right start is a lot simpler than you might think.

If you’re thinking about embarking on a new venture, take a look at some of our top things to consider when starting your own fashion brand:

  • Do your research
  • Plan and commit
  • Create a business plan
  • Create a brand identity
  • Production and sourcing materials
  • Marketing strategies

Part one - The business side

Creativity and passion are the driving forces of starting out in fashion but it takes a lot of business savvy to make your ideas work in the long term. There are a few steps to consider before you get to the production phase, so check them out below to build the foundations of your fashion business.

how to start a clothing line ideas

Do your research

So you have a brilliant idea that will disrupt the fashion industry, now it is time to start researching. It might sound time consuming but research will provide key data about your target audience and competitors, and give you the information you need to decide your niche.

This is also the time to find out more about the type of clothing you are planning to produce and get to know all your competition. Talk to experienced professionals, find out what people are looking for and identify the gaps in the industry that you can fill. Competition is fierce and you must have a secret weapon to set you apart from hundreds of other small businesses, be it original design, durability and functionality, quality or competitive pricing.

Don’t underestimate market research . Costs and price information must also form a part of this too. Considering the price and costs of producing your clothing will ultimately decide what place your product has in the market to make good returns.

When you feel confident you have covered the initial research, you’re ready to start the next stage - planning .

Plan and commit

Planning creates the foundations for your fashion business. There are several elements that go into this stage, starting with the first question - are you going it alone or create your brand with business partners? If you are not alone, make sure you and your partners are on the same page, you agree on the type of garments you will be producing and you share the vision of your company’s future.

After you’ve decided who has creative control, take a look at the types of areas to cover when completing your business plan.

Create a business plan

make a business plan for starting a clothing line

This might sound like an obvious one but creating a solid business plan will help you stay on track during the initial stages of development. Even if you have a basic idea in your head, look at everything in detail to highlight any potential issues or shortfalls. Deciding who your fashion business is suited to and building your identity around this, will tailor your clothing company to the target market and speak to the right people looking to buy into your style and brand culture.

The main areas to consider in a business plan are:

  • Startup costs and finance
  • Legal aspects and trademarking
  • Creating a brand identity
  • Production and sourcing
  • Marketing your brand

Consider start-up costs

Business owners must always have a clear understanding of the time and money that must be invested to ensure the success of the business. Long-term finance options, as well as initial startup funds are essential for planning ahead.

Think of the ways you can financially support your clothing brand. Make the most accurate forecasts of how much money you will need and how long it will last you. Set the goals and hire staff accordingly. Whether investment comes from your own funding or external investors, calculating the return element of this should also feature in your business plan. When financing a full-scale launch of a clothing line, make sure you are funded to at least finish a prototype or sample to show your designs to the world.

Without thorough planning, you will not turn your ideas into a profitable business. So always have a clear plan of actions, base spending of your capital on well-researched pragmatic calculations, not on an emotional whim. Make sure you control the expenses, not the other way round.

Legal aspects of your new business

Now, let’s legalise your business. Registering a new business is hardly an exciting task when you are eager to start manufacturing. However, it is best to set aside your creative impulses and educate yourself on trading technicalities.

Sole entrepreneur or registered company?

Will your company be a sole proprietorship or come under a ‘Limited’ organisation? If you choose the former, you have the sole responsibility for all your assets and liabilities accrued by the business. In the latter, you have to register the company legally with all of your partners to avoid any legal issues.

registering a clothing business

If you are going into the clothing business as a brand owner with one or multiple partners, you become stakeholders. Do not leave any loopholes and document clearly the benefits each company member is entitled to. Who is responsible for which area of the business and how much work they commit to putting in. Make sure you put this on paper when you incorporate the company. You never know how successful your brand might be and you don’t want to be left out or pushed out of your venture as soon as it picks momentum.

Have you chosen a name yet? Your company must have a unique legal name. To make sure it is not already taken you can resource to googling the word, phrase or a combination of phrases you want to use as your business name. If you are unsure, consult with a layer. In fact, find a good lawyer who is able to advise you on the most crucial aspects of setting up a clothing brand, like the tax structure. What are the benefits of setting one type of company over another? As a designer, you might not care, but as a business owner, you must do everything in your power to ensure you have the highest revenue possible.

Consider brand trademarks

Another issue that you might encounter down the line is people stealing your designs and ideas. To become successful in the clothing industry, good fit and unique design are key. The original ideas created by you and your team can be easily looted when your photos hit social media, ads and fashion shows. To avoid imitation, think of a way you can protect your unique designs. If you can trademark a logo or a concept – it may be a worthwhile investment.

Create a brand identity

During the planning phase and before you start marketing your brand, you need to establish your identity. This process involves looking at the research and data you collated in the initial phase to create personas of the type of people that will want to buy your clothing. You may have the basic idea of how you want your brand to look and they type of people it may appeal to, but tweaking this will ensure you grab that slice of the market.

A fashion brand isn’t just about the clothing, it’s about the people who wear them. Building your brand to fit this concept will help to immerse your message into their lifestyles as well as their wardrobes.

Production and sourcing materials

Choosing a suitable clothing manufacturer can feel like a daunting task for anyone starting out in the industry. By using Sewport, our innovative platform takes away the hassle of searching the Internet for fashion factories and fabric suppliers. With a simple user-friendly interface, you can filter requirements with the click of a button. A personalised dashboard enables you to send quote requests, ask questions and place orders to make the whole process straightforward from start to finish.

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This stage in your business plan enables you to the identify costs of production and factor in other elements such as lead times, quantities and margins for error.

Marketing strategies

Part of the planning process should consider how you will promote your brand to the right people. This intrinsic stage can make or break the future of your new clothing line before it has made it to production. Creating a buzz before, during and after launch is key to enticing customers with a new and exciting product. Plus, listening to consumers throughout this stage also helps develop the business in the long term.

There are several marketing techniques that are a must for new startups. Check out some of the areas you should invest in when spreading the word about your new brand.

Create a website

In the 21st century creating your own e-commerce website is a must . Your website will serve multiple purposes for your business. First of all, it is a face and business card of your brand. Secondly, having a website can instantly showcase your garments to the world, or even sell your clothes online straight away.

If you are on a tight budget an e-commerce solution like Shopify is a great starting point. You do not have to be a web designer or hire a team – they already have pre-prepared designs ready to use with a simple shopping cart feature, so you can start selling straight away. If you are starting off big or want something unique, hire a professional to create something individual to your brand.

Design wise, don’t get carried away. It is important to keep in mind your target audience. You want your audience to have a smooth user experience and easily navigate around your website without any extra effort.

Using social media to boost your brand

Social media is a must-use marketing tool for both new and established brands. There were 2.46 billion active social media users across the globe in 2017 and unsurprisingly this number is set to rise to around a third of the entire world’s population by 2021! So getting in front of the growing audience is vital.

Social influence

Top companies use popular influencers and celebrities for their brand endorsements which help to boost their sales. Famous athletes, singers and actors wearing the product on and off the red carpet definitely caught your attention at least once. This is smart marketing. Their ads keep playing on TV, the product gets mentioned in Youtube videos and appears on other social media platforms which attract their existing fans and followers to convert into new customers.

social media influence in the clothing line startup

The key is to identify influencers in your niche and pitch them your brand and styles. Influencer marketing does have it pros and cons, and it doesn’t guarantee new sales. However, with the right targeting you can use this effective tool to boost your presence.

By using top analysis tools, you will have a variety of insights to make the most of your influencer budget.

Social recommendations

Before people buy your product which is not well known yet, they will want to know more about it, and ideally, get a recommendation from someone they know or admire. Try to see if you, your friends or social influencers can do a short video review or post an online review of your brand or specific products. This way you can steer those people who are still hesitating about purchasing your new exclusive product in the right direction.

A recommendation is one of the most powerful marketing tools for business, and getting authentic and genuine feedback can build a loyal customer base.

Key points when marketing your brand

  • Define the age group of people you want to attract and create the marketing strategy accordingly. The techniques that you use will heavily depend on the type of audience you target, it must be relevant and effective.
  • Keep it simple! Use the language people understand. When launching a clothing brand do not neglect marketing, as promotions and advertisements will play a key role in the growth of your clothing line. More advertisements give more exposure and often lead to higher sales when implemented effectively.

Congratulations on tackling the planning stage. You are now ready to set up a new clothing brand! Take a look at how to take the next steps and start producing your first collection:

  • The ideation stage
  • Create a Tech Pack
  • Fabrics and materials
  • Screen printing, embroidery and labels
  • Pattern making
  • Samples
  • Preparing for production and ordering materials
  • Agree timelines with the factory
  • Packaging and quality control

Part two - Creating your product

clothing line creation

Knowing the exact steps you need to take from your initial idea to the final product will make your communication with the clothing manufacturers much smoother. It will also save you a lot of time, stress and money along the way.

Our simple guide will take you through the whole process to help you get started on your first product.

The ideation stage

First, create a sketch, a drawing with your design. If you already own a piece of clothing that you want to modify then take some pictures and make sketches on top to instruct the factory about the changes you want to be made.

how to start a business idea plan action

Create a Tech Pack and digitise your designs

A tech pack is a blueprint of your designs and includes everything about how you want your products to be made. This process may seem complicated, but in fact, it’s just detailed specifications of each garment style. This information is important in the production process and helps to translate your ideas to the clothing manufacturer.

If you’re unsure how to create a tech pack, you can search for a consultant or a designer on Sewport to help you finalise your idea and turn them into a computer-aided design (CAD) drawing. There is also the opportunity to create your own tech pack from the Sewport dashboard. This tool is simple to use and can be sent straight to clothing factories when requesting quotes and information.

tech pack size specification

Benefits of creating a Tech Pack for your garments are:

  • Accurate quotes
  • Fewer sample trials, since your idea is well documented and described
  • Less room for error or misunderstanding – you can always refer back to the technical documentation in the Tech Pack

Get your file formats right

Make sure you supply a design in the right size, dimensions and file type. The printing company doing printing or embroidery will not be able to work with standard files. Instead, you can supply files such as .ai and .psd in vector format. If you only have a .jpeg, do not worry, it is easy to find a freelancer who can cheaply convert raster to vector.

For more details on how to prepare a full Tech Pack, refer to our article - Eliminate Clothing Manufacturing Errors: How to Make a Tech Pack.

Fabric and materials

Consider what fabric, lining, zips and trims you want to use. Be specific about the fabric composition, weight and colour. Do not forget to add this information to your design specifications and tech pack.

Not all colour options are available when you are buying only a couple of metres for sampling. It will take longer to produce a custom colour of the fabric or trims than purchasing off the shelf stock options which are usually available with short lead times.

fabrics and materials for clothing line

Screen printing, embroidery and labels

If you are going to have a design on your garment, you need to decide where it should be placed. Measure the placement and record it in the tech pack. This placement forms an important part of the production process, as some logos and prints may not work well on different fabrics. Labels are also an important consideration and should include details of print or tag design based on your requirements.

It’s essential to give the clothing producer specific measurements for any artwork (height x width or diagonal) and its placement (for example, 30 cm down from the highest shoulder point and 20 cm left from the side seam, etc.). The best way is to make a visualisation of the placement in your tech pack.

Pattern making

Next, you need patterns cut of your designs. Patterns are construction blocks and blueprints for your garment. Unless you have experience of pattern cutting, searching for a specialist on Sewport will ensure you get the best results.

Imagine a plain basic T-shirt with all the seams. It has 4 panels – 4 parts: 2 sleeves, the front and the back. Now imagine you unpick all the seams from this T-shirt and put the pieces of fabric on the table. You have 4 pieces of a specific shape. The shapes are cut from fabric using the template shapes created by a pattern cutter. These are required for production to be consecutive so that each item has the same measurements and fit.

No great effort is required on your end, just find a pattern cutting professional who can help. An important note is to ask the pattern cutter about the ownership of the patterns before you engage. It is also good to know if your pattern cutter can supply you with patterns in a digital format. This will save you some time when working with a clothing manufacturer, as you will be able to supply the patterns electronically.

Most clothing factories can work with any pattern format, but more modern production companies prefer digital ones. Lektra, Assyst, Gerber are the top choices of pattern making software.

Samples

Sample making is the most important stage. Exciting as it might be, it often takes a couple of rounds of samples before you feel the garment is perfect. Do not expect the clothing manufacturer or sampling studio to get it right on the first trial. It is not something that happens very often. Keep in mind that you are creating a completely new product with the combination of fabric, design and fit that has never been done before. Some practise and adjustments will make it perfect.

Test your product

Test your sample rigorously. Wear it, stretch it, wash it, wear it again. See if the fabric shrinks or stretches out after washing and by how much. Adjust your next sample accordingly. If it is a sports item then test its comfortability and utility use. Do the seams hold? Does the print stay on or it washes away? Real life testing is important as you do not want to get a negative feedback from people after wearing your garment for a week or two.

Look at the details and finishing of the garments too. Pay attention to the finer details. If you notice something that is not quite right, or you see the room for improvement, raise your concerns with your apparel production company. They should find a way to improve your garment as long as you can explain what you need.

testing sample clothes

Grading to fit all sizes

When your factory completed the sample production process and the item is approved for bulk production ask the clothing factory to grade the patterns to other sizes. As the grading is completed it might be a good idea to see the sample in a different size, just to compare and see if it is consistent with your expectations. There are standard grading rules and grading steps a manufacturer will follow.

If you want custom sizing, it is generally a good idea to check what the grading steps are and if you feel they are in line with your vision for the fit of the garments across all sizes. This especially relates to the oversized items, tight-fitting items or items with specific design or purpose. In these cases, standard grading rules probably will not apply so check the measurements spec to make sure it reflects the uniqueness of your design. It is worth noting, anything outside of the standard grading specifications may not be as cost effective to produce, as they will require specialised tooling and production specific to your brand.

Preparing for production and ordering materials

When all sizes are approved and grading is done, give your clothing manufacturer the exact breakdown of the quantities per size and the total quantity. Based on that they will be able to give you the total order of fabric consumption for your desired quantity. Ask them to mention all fabrics (e.g. main, lining) and all trims.

Requirements for trims such as elastics, interlinings, straps, clasps and more are often overlooked. Ask your manufacturer to list the trims they need for production. Find out what factories can supply or source on their own, and what fabric and trims you need to source and supply to them.

Higher quantities will always have better margins and lower production prices. However, there are options for fashion brands looking to produce smaller runs. These may be a more expensive option, but for smaller brands, it avoids having high stock levels in the early stages of your business.

Further information: Fabric consumption toolbox

Consider minimum order quantities and fabric availability

Have a list of all suppliers for fabrics and trims and start negotiating the order pricing as soon as possible. Research the minimum orders and stock availability. You can easily find yourself in a situation when the minimum order quantity (MOQ) for a specific colour or article is more than you expected or can afford.

Getting a hold of this information early will allow you to adjust the production quantity or look into alternative suppliers. Fabrics and trims from stock can run out, be sure they are in stock by the time you need them. It may be a serious blocker for your production if you don’t make a solid enquiry and the fabric you were planning to buy is suddenly out of stock. You can avoid this by planning ahead with the supplier.

Custom orders and designs

Custom orders for fabric and trims may take a long time to process, weeks or even months. Make sure you are aware of that and once you know the exact timeline of production and delivery let your clothing manufacturer know. They carefully plan their production capabilities with allocated time-slots and will not sit around all day waiting for your fabric to arrive tomorrow, next week or next month. If you are ready to launch and have a slot booked but the fabric did not arrive on time, there is a high possibility your order will be set aside and you will have to wait for the next production slot.

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Agree on timelines with the factory

Make a timeline for production with your clothing factory. Agree on when the final product should arrive and ensure the manufacturer has everything to start production well ahead of the launch date, not after. Plan ahead and make a checklist with the factory if you need to.

Production lead times

Lead times on fabrics and production is often a fixed time frame due to sourcing and availability.

Remember, any sudden changes in your design will reflect in the lead time. It’s also worth noting that last minute changes can set you back weeks, as you will have to repeat the first steps again to approve the design with the new changes.

Packaging, quality control (QC) and delivery

Find out what packaging and delivery options you have. Specify your delivery address and try to get a ballpark estimate for delivery as well. Budget in the cost of delivery to your plan. When the items arrive thoroughly check as much as you can against your specifications and approved sample. The sooner you raise an issue with your manufacturer the better.

Above all, do not stress if things go wrong and not as planned. Production of garments is a complicated and lengthy process that involves an array of fashion specialists and departments within one or more companies. Having contingencies and considering margins of error is an important metric in your plans that will help keep you focused on the launch of your new products.

If you’d like more information on the clothing production process, check out our guide to working with clothing manufacturers.

Sound impossible? Well, with the resources, information and platforms available in today’s online sphere, starting a clothing line with absolutely no contacts and no experience in business is now a real possibility.

Before you even begin to work on your business and attempt to have your clothing created, there are several things you can do to prepare yourself for the journey ahead and ensure you make the best decisions for your brand at each step of the process.

Get Clear on Your Ideas

Research is one of the most important and necessary skills to refine when starting your own business . This is especially true when starting with no experience behind you. Ensure you are crystal-clear on your ideas for your brand. Be able to explain your brand and your products with confidence and assertion, which will make it much easier to secure partners to work with in the future.

Use your time wisely to ensure you have researched in full your product area, the industry as a whole surrounding your product area and the competitors within the market. Many start-ups make the mistake of spending days, weeks or months working on their idea to be told there is another brand doing exactly the same thing, possibly even better than your concept. Ensure you know every competitor in your field, what they do, their product mix, their price points, their suppliers, their customers and their marketing to ensure you start your process one step ahead of the competition.

Upskill

Experience counts for a lot when it comes to business. However, there is a plethora of information, both free and paid-for, available out there for you to upskill your abilities and learn about the business world, to compensate for your lack of experience. Dedication is key when setting up any business. However, if you’re starting from scratch without any experience and just an idea, you will have to work even harder to find success.

  • Business Courses

Taking an online business course is a fantastic way to give you an overview of what owning and running a business entails if you are starting your journey with no experience in this area. Learning skills in marketing, finance, branding and logistics, a business course will give you practical knowledge that you can use when launching your clothing line and well into the future.

  • Fashion Courses

Starting a clothing line does not require you to be a professional fashion designer. However, there are fashion courses available, both in-person and online, that will help you to learn the basics of the fashion industry from design and inception of ideas to literal e-commerce and sales. Studying a fashion course at a recommended and respected academic institution could also potentially set you up with contacts you would have no way of meeting otherwise.

  • Specific Skill Courses

Depending on your individual experience, there are many online courses to upskill what you know and get valuable information in areas in which you are less skilled. From digital marketing courses to pattern cutting or web development, gaining knowledge in as many areas of your business as you can, will only help you to develop your brand with a better eye and allow you outsource less, saving valuable funds and making better, more knowledgeable decisions along the way.

It may sound like an impossible task but starting your own clothing line without any contacts or experience is possible by using the available resources and working harder than you ever could imagine. Businesses take a long time to get off their feet and reach success, so be prepared to persevere through difficult times and ensure that you can financially afford to be patient when it comes to making profits.

Most importantly, reach out to people , network and use online resources and platforms available to you, such as Sewport , to ensure you are working with the best possible people for your business.

Find the Right Partners

When you are starting a new business, you will need to partner up at some stage, whether it is help with design or specific assistance with social media promotion once you’ve launched or anything in-between. If you’re starting your business with no contacts, this might seem like the most daunting aspect of the journey.

Sewport is an online platform, expertly created to help those in this position. Connecting designers and entrepreneurs with the professional partners and suppliers they require to launch their clothing lines, Sewport can introduce you to clothing line manufacturers and garment production factories that would otherwise be out of your reach .

An easy to use, consumer-friendly digital platform, Sewport gives you a login to a profile, which allows you to then input your job specifications. From creating patterns and samples from your initial ideas to souring your fabrics and trims and making your garments, you’ll find custom sewing services that can help with your exact requirements.

Clothing manufacturers will be able to contact you about your job and start a discussion about bringing your clothing line to life, allowing you easy access to some of the best fashion manufacturers and small batch factories in the UK and Europe through one streamlined platform.

Boris Hodakel , owner and founder of Sewport , suggested that the biggest mistake entrepreneurs and designers make when launching their first clothing line is “going into business with the wrong people” . Through using Sewport, you can connect with professional clothing factories, verified by the platform and benefit from secure payments through the Sewport system, which offers you a guaranteed level of service unavailable should you attempt to contact manufacturers as a solo business.

Using a platform like Sewport allows access to a range of dedicated and highly-skilled production companies, specialising in both small batch garment production and bulk orders. Without experience in the fashion production business or a circle of contacts to draw on, Sewport is a fantastic way to connect with the professionals you need to launch your business in the best possible way, giving your brand the highest chance of success.

For new fashion startups, using valuable resources like Sewport can help them create new connections in the industry. For example, here on the Sewport platform, you can do all of this in one place. Our innovative website brings both designers and suppliers together with easy ways to communicate and develop a business relationship. You don’t necessarily need prior experience in the industry or contacts, as you are able to create a free account, which enables you to talk first-hand to your suppliers and discuss options for developing your brand.

Benefits for fashion brands

Benefits for fashion brands

For businesses looking to break into the industry, these key introductions could provide a wealth of avenues for new brands. With the ability to tailor production and your working relationship with manufacturers, we give you the chance to focus on other aspects of the business, as you can be confident clothing will be provided on plan and at an affordable price. Our platform is great for designers looking to take the next steps in the industry. Create an account and gain access to a hive of resources and information to build your dream career.

Sewport is an online space where established brands and fashion enthusiasts can bring their ideas to life using intelligent tools. The path from sketch to product leads through layers of service providers – Sewport consolidated these companies to become a one-stop shop. By removing complexity around creating a piece of clothing and improving lead qualification we are speeding up the conversion in the fashion industry.

“Our team has years of experience in the garment manufacturing industry. During that time we witnessed how brands and manufacturers hit the same walls over and over again. Inspired to bring down the communication barriers we created Sewport. It is a unique space where Brands can effectively turn their passion into products, while service providers only get targeted orders and no time-wasters” – Boris Hodakels, founder of Sewport.

Brand development tools

Sewport offers you smart project development tools for brands and targeted business for the manufacturers. Both experienced fashion brands and newcomers without any links to the apparel industry benefit from a question guided enquiry process. The functionality of the platform ensures that each brand’s project provides full details that best describes the scope of work they require.

How it works!

Once a project is created, it is categorised and becomes visible to an array of manufacturers, while our intelligent algorithms match them with the companies that have the right capabilities. With all the necessary information in hand service providers approach the brands with quotas, bringing them one step closer to manufacturing their product.

All communication and attachment exchange conveniently takes place on the platform. As a result, the manufacturers get a unique opportunity to pool their capabilities to satisfy clients’ requirements.

We hope that our guide and innovative platform will inspire you to take the next step in your fashion business.

Sign up for a free account now and start your next project today!

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About the author:

Boris Hodakel is the founder and CEO of Sewport - an online marketplace connecting brands and manufacturers, former founder of various clothing manufacturing services. He is passionate about e-commerce, marketing and production digitisation. Connect with Boris on LinkedIn.