How to start a clothing line

A business for the creatively inclined, learn what it takes to become a fashion entrepreneur here

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Creating a clothing line business plan

In any business, branding is important. However, as the owner of a clothing line, the mantra of ‘you are your brand’ is especially absolute; without a strong identity, story and ethos, your business will be crushed by the competition. Therefore, when working out your clothing line business plan, your first question should be “what is my brand?”

Choose your brand carefully

When working out your brand, draw on your own experiences and personality to make the designs reflect aspects of yourself. Consumers will immediately see through tacked-on, generic or insincere attempts at branding. If you are a besuited City banker, for example, you will probably have more luck starting a high-end business targeted at discerning professionals than a clothing line selling skate tees. “It is essential to get across personality, not only in the designs themselves but also across all other sides of the brand – so all of your social media platforms, webstore and company projects,” explains Harry Broster. “The industry is swamped with brands doing the same thing as each other, using similar designs and artists and so on. People like buying into a brand which they feel familiar with and close to, rather than a corporate-run business.”

Conduct market research

When you have settled on a brand for your clothing line, the next step should be market research. Use the web to find similar clothing brands, looking at their size, geographic reach, price and unique selling points, and work out how you can offer consumers something new, better or different.

As an example, Harry Broster’s business Timeless Clothing developed its USP on the back of a self-production ethos, with the founding pair doing nearly everything in-house – including photography, modelling, website design and production. “Clothing is extremely competitive,” explains Broster. “Whilst we just threw some designs down, liked them, then made them, if I was to advise someone starting a clothing company now, I would say market research is very important. This industry has come a very long way from when we started and a brand’s image is more important now than it has ever been.”

You should already have an idea of whether you plan to design and sell your own clothing, or source clothing from elsewhere in line with your brand. “Personally, I would definitely go in as a retailer first to learn how the business side of it all works,” advises Chloe Nicolls. “As much as you want it to be as personal as possible, there are so many things you can only learn about the fashion business by entering it yourself. If you test the waters as a reseller, there’s less at stake if it doesn’t work out.”

If you decide to go down the retail route, amass a list of designers and contact them to see if you can work out a wholesale arrangement. This may be a challenge in the early stages, as you won’t have a reputation to back you up, so explain to them clearly how their designs will fit in with your offering and the benefits of entering into a partnership. “You have to have quite a specific ethos and brand identity, as brands will want to know all about it,” explains Nicolls. “You have to seem like you know what you’re doing – even if you don’t – and tell them what you can offer them as a brand.”

Plan your sales Next, you need to work out how you plan to sell your clothing. E-commerce is normally an excellent option to start with – big retailers and distributors will be much more likely to talk to you with some sales and a reputation under your belt, and start-up costs can be very low. As mentioned above, your site should reflect the look and feel of your brand to the last detail; it will usually be the sole shop window for your product, and nothing puts consumers off faster than a poorly-designed website. For more on this topic, read our in-depth guides to selling online – covering legal issues, payment systems, web design and much more.

You should also consider listing on an independent fashion marketplace such as ASOS in tandem with your own e-commerce offering. This can help boost exposure in the early stages, and setting up a ‘boutique’ on ASOS in particular – which costs £20 a month in addition to a 20% commission on sales – has the added benefit of dedicated business support from a member of their team. “Someone will email you to give you advice on things like pricing and promotions,” explains Nicolls. “They can tell you how to generate more revenue.”

Have a comprehensive marketing strategy to help you stand out

It is vital to have a clear marketing strategy when starting out, as the clothing market is congested and extremely competitive. In general terms, it is always a good idea to build a strong social media presence through Facebook and Twitter; this will allow you to interact with brand advocates directly and develop a clear ‘voice’ for your clothing line. Visual and image-based sites like Instagram and Pinterest are also excellent options for free marketing; amassing a collection of professional, well-taken images involving your clothes can communicate the appeal of your brand instantly and generate interest amongst potential customers. “I think Instagram has been the most valuable social media outlet for me, but they all serve different purposes,” explains Chloe Nicolls. “They’re all important, but Instagram in particular is good for fashion companies as it’s image-based.”

“Facebook had always been the number one site back in the day, which helped us and nearly all brands alike,” adds Harry Broster. “Now the limitation has been enforced and brands can’t promote to their fans, we have had to find other ways to interact. A mixture of all social media platforms is key, as there are different people on Facebook than Tumblr and Twitter to Instagram.”

If you’ve been following the advice in this article, you will have already settled on a brand for your clothing line. The rest of your marketing efforts should focus on the target audience that will be drawn to your brand values – remember that clothing is an integral part of certain lifestyles, so think about how you can be creative and plug your clothing in unexpected ways. As an example, Timeless Clothing employs a music liaison manager, who works with bands and labels to jointly promote the brand and tie it in with a gigging/alternative music lifestyle.

Bloggers, in particular, carry a lot of influence in the fashion world, so try to identify the high-profile bloggers in your particular sector and work out how you can get them to promote or feature your products. This needs to be more involved than simply sending them free samples, as they will receive hundreds of these; try to cultivate a relationship with them and work out how you can stand out from the crowd. “I can’t afford to throw a swanky party in London and invite all the bloggers along – I’ve got to work within my means and send them stuff I think they would like,” says Chloe Nicolls. “You’ve got to take the time to get to know them properly – they are, in fact, a massive marketing tool, but they’re people at the end of the day.”

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