Starting a fashion line can be quite difficult especially if you are doing it for the first time. As a creative person, you can have great ideas about how to create something that you love that fits your needs and others like you. But this is not enough. There are a lot of practical aspects involved in fashion, much more than just sketching nice clothes.
Finding manufacturers, deciding what fabrics you should use for your products, buying them at a good price, marketing, delivery, advertising – all these can be overwhelming for a beginner. Despite all these challenges, there are still ways to become successful by doing the things that passionate you.
For this expert roundup, we asked Minuca Elena to reach out to 43 fashion designers and ask them:
What were your biggest challenges of starting a clothing line?
In this article, we will see not only the difficulties they faced but also how they overcame them and the lessons learned. It’s always better to learn from other people’s mistakes than from your own. So if you are thinking to start a clothing line, you must check out this post to know what issues you could face and how to solve them.
Erum Ilyas – AmberNoon
I started my own dermatologist designed sun protective clothing line last year. The biggest challenge was not only sourcing textiles but verifying claims made by the textiles chosen . I specifically choose textiles with UPF protection and only use ones that have sun protection based on the weave of the textile without added chemicals or coatings to achieve the UPF rating. There are many mills that have UPF textiles but it’s not always clear which ones are treated fabrics and also which retain their UPF after washing.
For this, I have taken the additional step (and huge cost) of having the garments tested at laboratories to verify claims. In seeking manufacturers, I have focused manufacturing within the USA and have found there to be many manufacturers that are not only qualified but also reasonable to work with. This has been a blessing given the fact that I am a full-time dermatologist and mother of 3 kids (2 teenagers and one tween) and simply cannot fit the travel abroad into my schedule to oversee.
I started as an online store for a little over a year and have had much success and publicity that has permitted me to gain the attention of large retailers. I find that the online presence has its unique challenges as I quickly learned that many people still need to see, feel and try products . To facilitate this, offering flexible return policies has helped to drive sales.
With a product such as mine, however, many feel the need to really feel the fabric to make sure there is a soft feel (there is) given the fact that many sun protective clothing companies have a very different feel.
Kaila Methven – Madame Methven
Starting a clothing line can be very challenging from the get-go. Things to consider are production costs , while still being able to sell items at a retail price and still being able to profit. Therefore, it is so important to create your own patterns and research the best production company that allows you to keep your costs low when you’re first starting off.
I was determined to find the best production team , I was researching day and night, visiting companies across California. As I was creating couture pieces I found it was more practical to hire a seamstress who I worked very closely with throughout production. All my fabrics were sourced from France, again It was thanks to my meticulous exploring I was able to pinpoint the perfect fabrics for my collection, and with every effort, I learnt a lot.
To conclude there are many obstacles when first starting off, but you have established brand identity it will be easier to research what manufacturers and suppliers are best for you. Most of what I have learned as a businesswoman is from trial and error, you won’t know unless you try.
Matthew Wignall – The Gentleman’s Tailor
The most difficult challenges starting a clothing line is finding quality manufacturers, who can deliver a high-end product and on time.
I have worked with dozens of manufacturers, all over the world, who all claim to be the best in their field, however, there have been many small mistakes throughout production, which has had a negative knock-on effect to our business.
In my opinion, the best manufacturers that I have worked with have been located here in the UK, where we now make all our suits. Intact all our suppliers, starting with the mills, who manufacture our luxury wools, our pattern cutters, who cut a classic silhouette, to the manufacturing of every bespoke garment is crafted locally in England.
Not only does British manufacturing stand up to strict guidelines to ensure the quality is superb, but also if there are any mistakes, we can rectify quickly and with minimum ease, to ensure our suits are finished at the highest quality, but in time, which is critical if we’re facing a strict deadline, such as someone wedding.
We work very closely with our manufacturers to ensure our brand identity is apparent with each garment and allows us to have full control of the production process, offering both peace of mind and the opportunity to create the finest tailored suits.
We are selling high-end bespoke suits to a discerning British clientele, who on-the-whole know how to identify quality craftsmanship and a well-fitted garment, the manufacturing is key to ensure that our customers are delighted with their purchase.
Mariatu Turay – Gitas Portal
The biggest obstacle I faced starting a clothing line in the mid-2000s that focused on using African prints to promote African fashion, was challenging the negative mindset around wearing Ankara prints, which are typically bold and bright.
I started at a time when African print wasn’t fashionable outside of Africa and potential customers felt self-conscious wearing the bright coloured and bold patterns in an environment where people’s default is to wear subtle colours and patterns in order to blend in.
However, the issue was more complex than this. The narrative around Africa has persistently and predominantly been negative and this played into the psyche of potential customers at the time.
Whether we are conscious of it or not, our fashion choices are either making a statement or leaving an impression; and at the time, African fashion wasn’t seen or perceived as ‘cool’ or fashionable. People weren’t keen to be seen wearing African prints.
Time has moved on and today African fashion is popular, with celebrities and major mainstream fashion brands having helped to pave the way for its ascension.
Within the European market it was difficult to find a broad selection of quality prints at the time and I had to source from West Africa. As African fashion has grown in popularity, there is now a plethora of options of ankara print but not other types of indigenous textiles typically produced by local artisans on the continent.
African fashion has somehow been hijacked by ankara print and a lot of designers use this for their collections. This has also created a side market of inferior quality prints from places like China flooding the market both in Europe and Africa.
On the manufacturing side, it’s always a challenge as a lot of factories have closed down over the years with production having moved to places like China, India etc. Though there are some benefits manufacturing in the UK, it’s a catch 22 for smaller brands like us as manufacturing costs are much higher in the UK but the production numbers make it less cost effective to go outside. In addition to this, UK factories prioritise manufacturing for bigger brands as there’s more money to be made.
Finding distribution channels outside of direct channels used by smaller brands still remains a challenge; as does marketing. A lot of it boils down to visibility and the financial cost associated with this in a marketplace that’s saturated with prints and has lost some of its charm and novelty, especially with poor quality imports.
Julia Goodman – Julia Jolie Beverly Hills
Starting a clothing line: I had a lot of challenges when I started my clothing line. I started my company on a low budget, so I didn’t have the means to fly to China and meet with manufacturers, which would have made the process much, much easier! I went to the website Alibaba and connected with manufacturers in China through them.
I also had to overcome a language barrier, a minimum order per dress requirement, and having to identify quality material from pictures . Sometimes, the sample dresses, that I had waited for months to arrive, turned out to be terrible and I wasted weeks waiting for them.
Paying your manufacturers can be tricky as well; they usually don’t accept credit cards and you have to pay through western union or do a bank transfer, which can be very risky!
Finally, your products can be held up for months in customs , and delay the process as well.
Marketing: As for marketing, I sell my clothing line in my online store Julia Jolie Beverly Hills. Marketing online is always a challenge : you need to find your target audience and spend a LOT of money on advertising. Best places to advertise are Facebook and Instagram.
I had to learn the hard way, that Google Ads usually don’t work for small start up’s, because you have to compete with big brands like Gucci for advertising space, and they obviously have way more money to spend!
Being a social media Influencer myself, I also tried influencer marketing. The challenges there are: finding the right influencers with the right audience and finding the influencers that convert their followers into buyers.
Katie Echeverry – Unique Vintage
I had many challenges (and still do!) when I first started my clothing line.
Finding a reputable manufacturer overseas that would accept small units was very tough . On top of that, it takes 6 months to a year to work out the kinks with any factory. In the early days, I had to accept whatever fabrics the factory would source for me, which left a lot to be desired!
Now I’m able to travel to the largest fabric market in Asia to source my own fabrics which is a lot more rewarding. We still are challenged with finding specialty factories that will work with our low minimums and finding people on the ground in Asia to source for us and do our quality control.
I’m not sure we’ll ever be challenge-free but we get more and more versed as well gain more experience.
Agathe Ngo Likoba – Likoba
The biggest challenge in starting your own clothing line and brand is primarily financial as it is extremely costly if you don’t do your homework, due diligence and coordinate a serious business plan. Most financial institutions consider the fashion business a risk. Fashion is always changing, you have to be able to produce a new collection every season and follow or beat the trends.
In my case, I am kind of breaking the rules and codes. Yes, sometimes you really have to listen to yourself and go through with your idea.
The challenge in having a solid line and brand is to offer a product and an idea that hasn’t been done. To be different, know your consumers and your market.
Then comes the challenge of remaining on top once you are known and renew yourself constantly while having your own signature and style that can be recognized and identified immediately with your name or logo appearing anywhere. That’s why I chose to be a jumpsuit designer and offer high-end jumpsuits and specialize in this area.
Another big challenge most designers will encounter is finding distribution , boutiques that will carry your garments but also simply finding reliable people.
Anthony DeVito – TORCH ELECTREK™
Three years ago I started my own clothing line of heated apparel. I started with one idea- The Torch Coat Heater- a battery powered heater designed to fit in your jacket. With the success of that, my customers began asking for other heated products.
Fast forward to today, I have designed, sourced, and manufactured my own line of heated apparel including a heated base layer shirt, heated gloves, heated insoles and a heated back brace.
I am kind of one-man show when it comes to all of this. I love developing products and designing outerwear, all of the products on my site were designed by me!
My biggest challenge right now is getting my manufacturer to deliver the products on time. My manufacturers are in China, and it’s somewhat easy to communicate through email and Skype and I often end up staying up until 4am as the time zones are so different here in the US.
I have a very seasonal line of clothing, and they are late with everything. Because of this, I will have to source new manufacturers next year. I relied to heavily on one manufacturer and my plan next year is to spread out to 3 or 4 manufacturers in case any of them encounter a problem.
As a fashion designer and couturier building two international brands, I work with a lot of international teams and professionals.
For instance, I am based in Hong Kong and Paris, my design and technology team is in Singapore, and my PR and marketing representation is in the United States, so it’s important to learn, understand, and accept the differences between diverse personalities, cultures, and customs to strive for constant balance and harmony between all parties.
Additionally, some of the other largest challenges are to be able to keep an open mind when it comes to designing new pieces and trusting instincts especially when it comes to bringing on new team members, sourcing materials, or production processes.
Bianca Dabney – BIDA Boutique
My biggest challenge in starting a clothing line was finding the right clothing manufacturer . For me, there were many aspects involved in finding the right manufacturer, my top being they must be ethical, help to promote sustainability, provide quality work, easy to communicate with and be trustworthy.
My manufacturer helps me to source fabrics and trims, but this process can take quite a long time. If you need low MOQs it can also be difficult to find exactly what you want at a reasonable price.
After finding the perfect manufacturer another challenge I faced was demand forecasting for my e-commerce sales . Prelaunch marketing really helped me to understand who my target market was but you can only know who will actually buy your garments when they are for sale.
Distribution also posed as a challenge as it was quite costly and time-consuming to find my niche target market and potential retail buyers.
Playing into this, marketing and pr brought on more expenses than first planned as launching a brand from ground zero takes effort in first finding who your target market is and then marketing to them . You may end up spending more money and giving away more product than originally forecasted.
With all this being said, you can overcome the challenges of starting a clothing line with enough research and preparation, but be sure to be flexible in terms of timeline, budget, and desired outcomes.
Ann Mahoney – Peeky Designs
1. Biggest challenges : For me it was finding materials. I found I had to create my own little fabric-seeking mafia. But it took me SIX MONTHS to find that source!
2. Finding Quality Materials : Ultimately, we decided that going with fabric made in the USA was the quickest and most efficient way to go about this. It IS NOT the most cost-effective way.
3. Cut & Sew Procuring : This was also challenging. As a new designer, having a pattern made by someone else, having the cut & sew work done out of town, that scared me. I had to see a guy about a guy who might have a cut & sew factory. After several phone calls to local boutiques, found out a company had been the head of cut & sew with Burberry! The samples were PERFECT and we immediately went into production. But it took me 6 months to find her!
4. Marketing continues to be a challenge . I am a successful actress, but I am nowhere near Kanye West successful, we still have not figured out how to get the word out to BUYERS. The people who have seen the brand and the Fall line LOVE it, and are always saying how we are a niche style that people WANT. But we haven’t yet cracked the code on how to get people buying.
5. Distribution : We are using a many-headed hydra approach to distribution right now. We sell online through our website. As the head of the company, and an actress from THE WALKING DEAD, I am bringing garments with me to the comic cons I attend as a celebrity guest. We are approaching boutiques in New Orleans, where we are headquartered, and boutiques in Los Angeles, NewYork, and Canada, about selling PEEKY in their stores.
Ruby Bhandari – Silk Threads
Creating a fashion line has been really fulfilling for me – however, creating the line is not for the faint of heart! You have great design ideas, but can you commercialize those? How would you do the production, and can you meet the deadlines? How do you guarantee the quality your clients expect from you? If you are doing production offshore, do you know the rules around importing and distribution?
I could go on, but these are exactly some of the challenges I faced when I was starting and growing Silk Threads, my line of custom dresses, bridals and menswear. I have learnt a lot about these challenges and more over the years, but pre-planning and working with experts can cut down the time spent in administrative issues – giving you more time to spend on creating those wonderful designs!
Olga Kay – Moosh Walks
Moosh Walks today are sold in over 100 stores, Amazon, The Grommet and our online store MooshWalks.com We are high quality, top rated 3D sock company.
However, starting this brand was filled with numerous challenges.
Being a Founder without previous connection or knowledge of the fashion and business world, every step was an uphill battle.
* SOURCING A MANUFACTURE . The hardest part in the beginning was to be able to find someone who can turn the art work into an actual product. We could not manufacture in the states so we took our first time production to China. No factories wanted to produce Moosh Walks because they have never made socks WITH ears before. After 6 rejections from potential factories, we finally landed 1. Alibaba express is a great resource for overseas and MakersRow.com for USA Manufacturing.
* MINIMUM QUANTITIES & QUALITY CONTROL . We were then faced with high minimums without even knowing that this new type sock style will resonate with the customer. We also opted into making the best quality product which naturally results in higher spend. (Thank you credit cards).
* DISTRIBUTION . Once we had thousands of units the next uphill battle was to convince store owners to carry the product in their stores. To overcome this hump we were offering the store consignment structure and once we knew which store did well we would offer their competitors 90 day by back guarantee.
Tara Sauvage – Two Neighbors
The biggest challenge for a contemporary fashion designer in the apparel world is, as a startup, they only want to produce a limited edition of apparel, but that means producing in NYC or LA where the costs are high.
New Designers cannot compete with fast fashion so they have to have a very unique look or a higher price post to produce in the USA and attain customers.
Overall, the biggest challenge is getting start-up money and dealing with production issues , to produce in China or the USA. Producing overseas affects the branding, the retailers, the price point and more.
The first thing to understand when creating a clothing line is, you need to have a vision. Before even starting, you need to know how you want your line to look and what message you are trying to convey to your consumer. Your line is the most important component of your brand. We at The Boyz from New York Streetwear knew exactly what we wanted our line to look and feel like. Our line needed to embody quality, comfort, and authenticity. Having this vision will make the material and supply search more efficient.
Manufacturing is one of the most important aspects to a line. A bad supply chain will lead to failure. You can find dozens of manufacturers, but finding the right one that fits your company’s goals, price points, and is in line with your brand’s message is a must. It also is highly important that the manufacturer is easy to reach/work with. These are the most important qualities to look for in a manufacturer. We met with half a dozen different manufacturers that claimed they could meet our goals and ultimately could not. Do not make a quick decision.
Marketing is what will make your company grow or fizzle out. The demographic that makes up our customer base is very present on social media, so it is important that @theboyzfromnewyork has a great and lasting presence on social media. Our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages stay relevant and continue to post fresh content. Daily updates are important to keep your followers interested, stay relevant, and stay in the mind of your consumer.
Starting your own line consists of many variables and challenges, but taking your time in the details is vital. Rushing decisions can lock you in an agreement that could affect your business in a negative way and ultimately lead to failure.
When it comes to manufacturing and supply, the wrong decision will crush your vision . The people you associate with and work with will determine your success.
Rusty Meador – Beach & Barn
When we started, we had a good concept, good branding, and a modest social media following. Our biggest challenge was clothing education. None of us had an apparel background. T-shirts and hats were relatively easy because we could source blanks, but moving to a cut and sew polo and sport shirts required a professional designer and the need for more sourcing options. Once we found the right designer, we had to find factories that could work with our small MOQ’s and quality demands.
Cash was always a concern early on. We tried a lot of “print on demand” options early on to alleviate the inventory demands. Ultimately that was inefficient, expensive and a poor option – so we rented a warehouse, bought some used shelving, and wifi hotspot. We went through 4-5 different t-shirt blank t-shirts before we settled on our standard. 50% of our distribution is direct to consumer via the internet and 50% is through a wholesale network – which is roughly 25 retailers and growing.
Jake Smith – Smithers
Given the popularity and global praise for Australian-made swimwear, you’d think it would be easy to start a new label, right? Wrong! The swimwear community here in Sydney is tight-knit, and this became very clear when I set out to build a men’s swimwear label. People are very precious with their time so gathering information and resources was a challenge of its own . Nobody was willing to give up too much unless they thought you were serious about pursuing a swimwear line.
I ended up leaving Sydney to meet with suppliers and manufacturers in Asia, however, I quickly realized that I’d have to make a lot of compromises, particularly on the quality of fabrics and raw materials. I returned to Sydney better informed and with a strong determination to make things work on home soil.
I spent the following months meeting suppliers, manufacturers, pattern makers, graphic designers, and printing houses. My determination had paid off, I was able to crack the industry and surround myself with the right people to bring my dream to life.
Before too long, I was faced with more bumps in the road. As the new kid on the block, I went straight to the bottom of the pecking order; delays, delays, and more delays. Initially, I was frustrated; my money was just as good as anyone else’s so why did I have to make way for bigger brands?
It is only now when I look back at my journey that I have come to appreciate the importance of earning your stripes in the industry. Remembering how intimate the swimwear community is in Sydney, you have to learn to respect the time and deadlines of those around you. From little things, big things grow so patience and persistence have to be part of your plan.
My biggest challenges of starting a fashion line centered around not living in a major fashion center . When I started my label, I was living in Portland, Oregon, and then later in Seattle, Washington. I was regularly flying to Los Angeles and New York City just to get needed materials and then all over Europe and Asia to get remaining fabrics and trims. I also had almost no colleagues in my industry back in the Pacific Northwest.
All of these problems were eliminated within seconds of arriving in New York City. Though this is a massive city, I have already made lots of other brilliant designer friends and learned all about various shops and resources in the Garment District.
I really suggest any fashion designers situate themselves in LA, New York, Milan, Paris, Mumbai, or London, because it’s extremely challenging to make professional connections and purchase needed supplies when you’re living farther away.
I wanted to be in Seattle because I love outdoor sports and the low cost of living, but I ended up spending triple my rent on flights alone and found that it’s actually much more expensive to live in a non-central city and fly everywhere. As much as I love the Pacific Northwest, I think it’s important to be in a fashion community.
I have already set up a fashion mastermind group for my new friends and I, and together we are all making our dreams come true in this field. There is a big media misconception that fashion is competitive; honestly, the nicest and smartest people in the world work in fashion and everyone is so collaborative and always gives advice and wants to help emerging designers. You learn so much more just being out and about than you do being isolated far from your colleagues.
It’s amazing to be in New York City and have the kind of creative community everywhere you go, from the whipsmart journalists to the friendly buyers, to managers giving tips and advice over coffee. I feel being around greatness makes you work harder and refine your vision and your message to your customers.
The trick is that you have to be in a fashion capital to take advantage of the opportunities on offer with people operating at the highest caliber. I am blown away by how easy it is to do things here compared to Seattle. I wish I had moved here sooner, and I would advise any other fashion designers to move here as well.
The City itself and the whole business community at large is so welcoming and it’s amazing—I’m so lucky to be in the best industry, with the best people, in the best city in the world. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else!
Sherri Dombi – Bee Yourself Apparel
I started Bee Yourself Apparel because a friend of mine could not find clothes that her dad wanted to wear. He was still attending church each Sunday and going out to eat with the family. His struggle was dressing with buttons and zippers.
She did find a line of clothing, but the fabrics were more like uniforms. They were heavy and not soft to the touch. I knew I could improve on what she found, but having no knowledge of the fashion industry, how was I going to even get started.
I finally found someone to make my patterns from the ideas I had. She made samples and I took them out and test marketed them to caregivers. It was well received so now how do I find someone to manufacture them.
I really wanted a Made in the USA label. Later did I find out that sewing is a lost art in the US. To manufacture here would cost me a fortune and my price tags would be out of reach for most of those needing this apparel. I hired a consultant to help.
We found a company in Columbia that could do pants, tops and my dresses. They sent samples and the quality was great. I think hiring the right people who know the industry is key. Also, be patient. Take your time and do it right.
Mehri – Maraley
I am a fashion designer in heart and in training. I love creating beautiful designs for professional women and that part comes to me naturally. An inspiration comes out of blue; I just see my designs in my mind before I sketch them.
The part that didn’t come easy is learning how to promote it. I do believe my pieces are gorgeous.
The question was how to make other women feel the same about my products?
Many fashion designers and e-commerce owners believe that when they design a beautiful website, upload their products, create their social media profiles and hit that launch button, sales will automatically start rolling in.
But the truth cannot be farther than this.
Actually, this is where it all begins. And this is where you need to push yourself even harder than before. Getting through that fear of not being liked, bothering too much, sounding too salesy. Regardless of whether you send out the weekly email newsletter to your customers, promote through social media channels or reach out to journalists and magazines, what helped me in my journey was my shift of mindset.
Getting over that mindset that people didn’t want to hear from me and know about my collection. And that became possible for me when I stopped assuming in my mind what they will think and acted in spite of my fear and doubts by just getting things done! One little imperfect action per day.
“Doing one little thing each day that scares you”,- as Eleanor Roosevelt said so well, is what will move you forward, push you out of your comfort zone and take you to the next level of success.
“Don’t let your fears stop you to become what you want to be! Because you have so much to offer to the world”, would be my advice to all fashion designer start-ups out there.
Consistency is one of the most important factors in longevity . Consistency in manufacturing, consistency in branding, consistency in customer service, consistency in pricing – all of this matters.
You don’t have to be perfect as long as you are consistent. But it’s difficult to get all of these factors right if you’re just starting out. When starting a fashion line, or any business, it is easy to get overwhelmed because you’re doing everything yourself.
Instead, focus on what you do best or love most. For those other areas, build a network of support as early as possible and start trusting the people who want to help you to give you the help that you need. The best help that you get comes not from paid services but from family, friends, and fans. Build up your believers before you spend on services, and use the money that you save to invest in staff.
Tamara Bodnarova – TAM ARA
Our brand TAM ARA is a young slow fashion designer brand from Prague, Czech Republic. The biggest challenges for us are the following:
The region of Central Eastern Europe – consumers and clients accept slow fashion and sustainability lifestyle trends slower comparing to Western Europe and it is hard to show them the importance and advantages of high-quality natural materials (we don’t have such problems in Berlin where we also sell our products in various boutiques)
Our target group, especially women 40+ are not active on social media or are less digital savvy than the same target group in the West, so our digital marketing efforts are not meeting the target group.
The inspiration of our designer is timeless and not dependent on the latest trends in fashion or fashion design. Since top designers boutique in the region usually copy paste these international trends and only selects those designers complying with the latest trends, we are sometimes struggling with being told how we should design our garments .
Since we only select high-quality materials and always reward fairly all people working for the brand, especially our tailors, the price of our models reflect this attitude which is often not understood by customers from the region who are still big-brand and consumerism driven and as a paradox able to spend much bigger money for products of big brands, like Gucci, M.Kors etc.
In general, our products have better acceptance abroad than in the country.
Nathan Walworth – CôVALENCE
Our biggest challenges included finding up-cycled and ethical materials for our accessories and apparel that we could produce at scale.
Although the fashion industry has a wealth of excess wasted materials, it has been difficult to track down sources that capture waste streams and consolidate them into a single platform.
The other most challenging component of starting a fashion line is balancing pools of funding for product development and brand creation/marketing strategy. Both have been very resource-intensive for a small collective starting out which has forced us to be very resourceful with creating content and strategy.
Often time, help has come from friends and colleagues in the space willing to lend a hand as we were starting out.
Tori Famuyiwa – Toriola
My motivation to design came straight from a deep, passionate love for clothing, colors and anything that was out of the box. From the age of 10, I felt compelled to create and modify clothes for myself and my siblings.
I started Toriola in the spring of 2010, where I taught myself how to cut, sew and manipulate fabrics. As a self-taught designer who is passionate about creating, my biggest challenges were meeting the demands of the business as it rapidly grew unexpectedly . I found myself sewing all day and night to meet order deadlines for clients both domestically and internationally. I immediately had bulk orders from small boutiques, so I worked to meet those demands while looking into cost-effective options to outsource the labor without compromising the quality of the product.
Starting a brand in NYC was great because of the opportunity for visibility, but sample makers were expensive given the high demand for their services. This became a challenge because I hadn’t factored in this cost when establishing Toriola. In hindsight, I should have hired a business manager to help me handle the business plan, finances, communication, and other logistics.
While in my second year of designing, I took some sample making classes to enhance my skills in order to produce more desirable garments. This is where I learned what tools were necessary to streamline my creative process. This helped produce a more refined and finished product.
Lastly, finding the right web team and digital marketing partner helped me achieve optimal exposure. Other challenges included managing administrative aspects of the business, handling inquiries from media sources, planning and executing lookbooks and editorial campaigns, and creating compelling fashion shows.
In the end, it was all worth it!
Heather Hadwen – HeatherLeigh Swimwear
Among the many challenges that come with starting a clothing line, the biggest challenge for us was understanding and adhering to import and export requirements. I’ve worked in senior-level positions as a Head Designer in the corporate world for nearly 10 years and never knew all of the small to major requirements it takes to manufacture in another country other than your own.
The first challenge was care and content labels, these have very special requirements. Not to worry so much here though, manufacturers are extremely helpful with ensuring a label has all necessary info.
The most complicated challenge was the import broker and courier whom you must line up to receive and remove your items off the cargo ships. During my first production run, I was clueless about this process and needed immense help. Thankfully I had a long-running partnership with the factory from all my years in the business and they were kind enough to guide me through and help.
The lesson learned and my advice to anyone with or without experience is to have the factory review a step-by-step guide of what a start to finish production run entails.
Brian Lim – iHeartRaves
In the beginning, one of the biggest challenges of starting a clothing line was having enough money to fund all of the expenses . I started out with $100 selling items out of the trunk of my car. I was able to grow that into a multi-million dollar business with over 55 employees.
Another challenge, in the beginning, was distribution . Once we had built our website we knew our distribution channels would have to be able to keep up with demand. We began as an eCommerce store and have remained that way because we’re able to handle our own distribution, rather than putting our products into physical stores.
Our third challenge was orking with good manufacturers . Finding reliable people who could handle producing our designs was quite a task, but we were able to do it.
One other big challenge is promoting our product lines . Marketing is responsible for a large piece of our budget and takes a lot of resources and time.
Patrick Morrison – Furious Goose
As a new silk accessories business, without the capital or business requirement to place large orders, it was initially very difficult to find a supplier in the UK who would help us achieve the highest quality digital print . Thankfully, after a search of about one year, we found our perfect factory.
We now work closely with our printers, tweaking each color individually to achieve the best ink penetration (where the front and rear of the scarf are the same – essential for our luxury scarves and pocket squares).
For most suppliers, this kind of color-by-color approach just isn’t financially feasible with start-ups. Thankfully our suppliers saw the potential in our brand and with their help, we are now producing some of the brightest and best silks in the UK. In the end, this was a good business sense on their part as our business is growing fast – in part due to the gorgeousness of the product.
Our advice is to keep searching until you are totally happy. Nothing is every perfect but don’t accept second best, even as a start-up. However, you have to be realistic and understand the factory’s point of view so an honest dialogue is essential. If ink penetration is the most important thing for you, discuss this with the factory before you proceed. You can then agree on tolerances with the supplier too so that you both know where you stand should things not come out as you’d hoped.
Natasha – JadeBlue
Starting a clothesline is rewarding that are fiscal and really intriguing venture but not without its ups and downs. There are lots of Individuals who have neglected in the industry because they did not plan adequately
Another probability of this clothes store business is fad evaluation. Trends in the fashion sector are ever-changing, unpredictable and elusive. When tendencies are on the decrease a shop capitalizes on the most recent trends and admits. One misstep undermined credibility might lead to excess inventory and confused brand identity. Every one of these mistakes may prove deadly. Those mistakes may be avoided by shops by buying brands hiring buyers and purchasing clothing rather than hit-or-miss items that are insecure.
Unforeseen Business Expenses
You should try to maintain some funds aside for unplanned expenses to ensure if any expenditures come up which you prepared for or weren’t informed about, it would not have to mean the end of your business.
To keep your clothing company running, you need to keep on turning out new designs all the time and sometimes, you might run into some kind of’designer’s block’ in which you’d find it tough to come up with unique new layouts of your own.
Karl Shaw – Mr. Shaw
From my personal experience, production quality in terms of the print or embroidery on my garments wasn’t to the standards I’m use to.
Being a graphic designer and running a brand agency, attention to detail is second nature. At the entry level into fashion I was more than frustrated with the finishing.
Also deadlines were never hit and are still the same. Finding out that there was a 10% reject rate within the order when you’re only ordering small quantities is just like throwing money away that we don’t have. That doesn’t happen in the design for print world. We are then left with stock we can’t sell…. It doesn’t make sense.
Katie Schmidt – Passion Lilie
There have been many challenges along the way while starting my own clothing line. One of the biggest challenges was getting widespread adoption. When you are starting a new fashion line, you imagine your product as becoming the new “it” thing, but in order to do that, you have to get people to start wearing your clothes, which can be hard when you’re first starting out.
My solution to this has been to use online partnerships and promotions as well as starting out with a brick-and-mortar location to help spread the word about my apparel.
Another issue I faced in the beginning was product quality . As a fair trade company using artisans located across the world in India, it was quite difficult at first to manage and maintain quality standards and consistency while being based half a world away. I’ve since worked out most of the production kinks, but this is definitely something to be aware of when first starting your fashion line.
Finally, one more big obstacle I faced when starting my line was funding . Because fashion is such a “now” type product, you have to constantly be innovating and expanding your lines in order to keep up with consumer trends. This is very expensive to do, so remember to have adequate financing lined up before starting your fashion line.
Melissa Scott – MODEFYwear
The biggest hurdle for us (and our peers) was finding a manufacturer that would work with us and understand that we needed small quantities at first . Most are looking for large orders and brands that have already scaled.
We needed someone that would scale with us and provide us a cost that would be win-win for both. We chose to do manufacturing local because we could have control over the quality and do last minute revisions.
When we couldn’t find anyone willing to work with us locally at cost, we had to start looking elsewhere. We found some manufacturers within a few thousand miles that would do small quantities with unlimited revisions and a quick turn around. Skype and Facetime were game-changers.
María Alejandra Bouvier – Maria Bouvier
I´m the founder and designer of MARÍA BOUVIER, a sustainable fashion brand for women based in Uruguay.
Natural dyeing is my passion so I made it the essence for all of my pieces. This handcrafted technique, that I develop myself, is applied to certified organic cotton fabrics that I use to produce our garments locally in collaborating with small sewing studios.
For me, the biggest challenge is to connect with my true audience, , with that dream client that understands and values the kind of product I do.
Even when social media is a great and democratic tool to make your brand known, we are so many out there that at the same time it gets very difficult to be discovered .
One of the most challenging obstacles that I encountered when designing the collection was finding the right fit for the garments, as I wanted them to be appealing to both men and women. As a designer coming from the manufacturing industry, I understand the obstacle of establishing a new collection from scratch and finding the right suppliers, as they need to believe in you and your potential designs.
When I first came with my original sketches oft he Wilde Vertigga collection, I met with different authentic Italian garment factories and manufacturers, and I must say that it was odd to me that they didn’t know what gender neutral fashion was. These companies have been around for generations, yet they had never heard of this concept before and weren’t willing to collaborate with me because they only manufactured clothing specifically made for men or women.
When I finally found a manufacturer that was excited about our idea, we scheduled a fitting day in which we had both men and women come for fittings.
The manufacturers were overwhelmed to see that we had created a piece of clothing that could fit anyone, no matter who they are.Everyone that was working in the warehouse that day wanted to sneak in and see our concept. That was the day I knew this clothing line is special.
Lillian Daniels – The Bali Bead
The biggest challenge is shipping costs and the second was being focused because we hope to make an impact in learning how we may not only partner with the women but provide even deeper value to the Bali communities way of life.
We value the culture and want to not only contribute economically but also ensure that we are helping to preserve the Indonesian culture.
Andreu Fernandez – Hockerty
At some point, you find yourself with a really good idea, a product that could fit the market, very little competitors, or at least, you can offer a better approach. Everything seems fine but you have to decide where to produce it . In our case, after 10 years of creating Hockerty, and the perspective we have now we are able to say that it was the key to our business.
By then, nobody was offering online tailoring services and we had to choose a place where we could offer the highest quality possible but keeping an affordable price. Shanghai was the perfect place. With a lot of experience on tailoring and being able to offer an affordable option to our customers that could fit the idea of the brand, which by then was still called Tailor4less.
Finding the right partner to manufacture was one of the keys to our success. We are sure that many good ideas have perished just because they couldn’t find the right manufacturer.
Jennifer Barajas – Desert Gloss
Starting a clothing line can best be described as a left brain/right brain battle. My inner artist/fashionista wanted to scream from the rooftops about this new adventure, while the pragmatic, business side of me said “Girl, wait. How? What? When? Why?”
The main challenges I encountered were deciding how to go to market, what type of clothing was the best fit for my designs, when to launch, and solidifying my why. Why my brand is different, and why this project is important to me. Not having a strong, unshakable why would give the challenges too much power.
There are many approaches for how to go to market. Like most small business owners, my start up capital is funded by my hustle. While not impossible to launch under those circumstances, it does require some creativity. I decided for year one I would launch my designs using a drop shipping model, and vet suppliers based on their ethical standards. Are their employees happy? Are their customers happy? Do they work with ethical or unethical manufacturers and wholesalers?
I decided those factors were non negotiable for me as I wanted my business to operate under high ethical standards. This model is currently working for me and as I grow and expand, I may decide to work directly with clothing manufacturers. Getting focused on the how helped to answer the what and when part of the equation. Dropshipping meant I could launch immediately and I fell in love with t-shirt and pillow design.
Why my brand is different is the attention to detail in the quality. Starting only with ethically produced products means they are typically higher value. I won’t design and sell a shirt that’s not soft enough to be one of my everyday shirts (and as a stay at home mom I wear a lot!) I also design with women in mind and our body types. Graphic tees look nicer on a woman when designed for a woman’s body.
My personal why is that I love sharing my creativity and I enjoy working for myself. It doesn’t feel like work when it’s your passion.
Mike Lindamood – Lamood Big Hats
When starting out forecasting demand for any item is one of the biggest challenges of starting your own clothing line. You don’t want to buy too much and have your money tied up in inventory or not have enough inventory on hand during peak times you will lose out on sales and frustrate your customers.
When dealing with multiple sizes, like we do with headwear, you do not know which will be the most popular size and therefore know what to have stocked. With most clothing lines you will be importing and it will take several months to arrive so you will need to keep that in mind while planning your inventory out.
If a new trend pops up, like dad hats, you will want to be prepared so when your customers come to your store they will be able to purchase the latest trends.. When first starting out this can be difficult so you need to keep up with your industry and what’s happening.
It gets a little easier as time goes on because you are able to look back at previous demand and your existing growth to come up with a pretty reliable forecast for your future orders.
Susan Gold – vyve
It’s been quite difficult in that I did not have a background in fashion but was an exceptional television producer. I could take an idea and manifest it to a reality repeatedly.
I went blindly from the need of having a Capri pant that would function in water but not give the cheat of neoprene for swimming. I just asked question after question and was led from one expert to another. My initial sketches were created by a 15 year-old artist who loved fashion. My prototypes were built by a friend of a friend who was a swimwear manufacturer. And voila, splashpants were born.
Then I made a mistake.
I allowed a consultant to convince me I needed an entire line to move forward, a marketing plan, connections, all of which he had access to or could create.
I made an investment I wish I hadn’t.
What I learned was it’s best to focus on a single clothing item – not a full line – and build an audience for that piece. And regardless of your mistakes, if you stay open, you can learn from everything and it all turns into positives.
I also learned there’s no simple fix and throwing money at experts isn’t always profitable. That I should trust my gut, use my own creativity and belief.
Jenni Graham – J Chic LifeStyle
As a clothing designer, there are great rewards but those rewards definitely come with some challenges. There are challenges to starting a clothing line that many may not know about. One of the main challenges is identifying quality materials to use for your designs.
A lot of times there may not be fabric stores in the area the designer lives in. This causes them to order online, which may or may not turn out to be successful.
It’s hard to know if the quality is good and how it may feel in your hands (for instance the stretch, flow, or content of the fabric). If you don’t order online, then you have to travel to those places to find fabrics, thereby incurring travel expenses.
Another challenge for designers is finding manufacturers for their designs. Some designers don’t sew their pieces and it’s important to find manufacturers that are able to successfully bring their designs to life. They want to ensure that the quality of the manufacturer matches the quality of their designs. This takes time, effort, energy, and funds to make sure it is done correctly.
One of the biggest challenges for clothing designers is distribution and marketing. You can have the greatest product in the world but if you can’t get it to potential buyers it’s not really going to make a difference.
It’s a challenge to find distributors because sometimes they may not shine the best light on your design as you would. That also brings us back around to the challenge of marketing. This can be a daunting task for designers because they focus most of their energy on designing and finding manufacturers, etc.
This can leave little time for getting the word out there about their designs and often leaves then with the task of hiring a marketing firm, therefore increasing their expenses.
Shannon Ashford – Tom Foolery
Marketing on a budget, has been my biggest challenge with Tom Foolery. It has roused an entirely new kind of creativity. I found guerilla marketing to be the most effective for money-conscious hustlers.
I found that simply dressing myself and friends in jumpsuits and walking around crowded shopping centers on weekends led to countless business cards being passed out.
Other simple ideas like taping flyers on the inside of bar bathroom stalls with the simple query, “is your jumpsuit around your ankles?” have been quite effective in spreading the word. When the money is tight you have to be willing to spend your time instead.
Making organic connections at pop up events, sharing the brand with hair dressers and baristas, and even buying a round of shots for a bachelorette party after slightly taking advantage of their inebriated state by encouraging all of them to impulse buy rompers.
These connections take time but are worthwhile when building brand loyalty. No one wants to hear that it just takes time and a lot of hard work so I’m sorry to disappoint.
But with a clear goal, a little creativity, and a lot of patience you will get there.
Ari G. – Shtettl
One of the greatest challenges we had starting our clothing line was finding the right manufacturer. The fashion industry is currently flooded with hundreds of thousands of manufacturers spread across the globe which make choosing one all that more difficult.
The one piece of information a clothing brand will never reveal to anybody outside their inner circle is the name of their manufacturer (understandably so). Until you nail the right source there will be a lot of trial and error, ie. buying samples or even buying bulk (after a sample test) only to realize later a seam or zipper falls apart after a second wash. Acknowledging in advance that it will take some time and frustration should normalize the process and make finding the right manufacturer that much more manageable, and yes even fun.
Lots of luck!
Rose Mae Behan – Love and Light the label
My biggest challenge starting my own clothing label was definitely marketing and trying to gain exposure and customers . At the end of the day I am a only a designer and have no experience in marketing or business administration. I’m self taught when it comes to the marketing and the business side of things and luckily picked up on how to use Instagram as a free marketing tool early on.
Previously I had focused on new designs and had my eyes fixated on the product and neglected the critical aspect of marketing which was a big wake up call. However I was fortunate enough to be gifted a business course which certainly helped me change my thinking to focus more on gaining business and marketing.
Since starting 4 years ago with no followers or connections I’ve slowly built my way up to nearly 15K followers which is where 90% of my customers come from.
We have also been fortunate enough to work with social media influencers on Instagram and Facebook which has driven a lot of brand recognition and helped us grow. This hasn’t been without it’s struggles, several times gifting multiple items to an influencer without recieving any posts in return. It has made us more switched on in developing contracts and agreements when sending products out.
Cash flow management has been and still is a challenge we face each month. Developing strategies with forecasting and making sure we use our money wisely.
Another challenge for us was branching into different markets. We started as purely festival wear which limited our share in the market but have since branched out into casual wear.
As a small business we are always learning day to day from every experience and the greatest thing has been this ability to learn from every situation on the run which has made us stronger and helped us grow.
Mieka Joi – Rich Girl Candy
The biggest challenge for me when starting my clothing line was identifying an efficient and trustworthy team of vendors. Working with a good team makes running any business much smoother.
I’m in my fifth year of business now, and happily I have a great team. Sorting through referrals in the early days, from graphic artists, to web designers to tailors to manufacturers, was all very challenging. I did a lot of hiring and firing!
Thank you so much to all the designers that shared with us their experience!
If you want to start a clothing line and you want to avoid all these troubles, contact us and we can help make your dream a reality.