How to start a clothing line
A business for the creatively inclined, learn what it takes to become a fashion entrepreneur here
Key steps to starting a clothing line
- Work out your brand and business plan – what will your identity be?
- Conduct market research – look at what other fashion brands are doing and where
- Develop your clothing line marketing strategy
- Check any rules and regulations
- Understand start-up costs for starting a clothing line
- Find industry contacts for clothing suppliers, funding, events and exposure
How much does it cost to start your own clothing line?
One of the key advantages of starting your own clothing line is that you can start very lean. Your largest overhead will be the clothing itself; if you are purchasing your own clothing, you will need to find designers who will be willing to sell at wholesale prices. “Some of the bigger designers I deal with have a minimum order of around £300,” Chloe Nicolls says. “But smaller ones tend to be more flexible, so email them and see what you can work out.”
If you are designing your own clothing, you only need basic equipment to get started; you can invest in more professional equipment and manufacturing capacity once demand has grown and you have the capital for it. You won’t need dedicated premises until you are dealing with a high quantity of stock, so this is a business you can easily work from home on.
The type of equipment you will need depends on what you will be producing. For example, if you decide to make dresses, you need a sewing machine, some material and a lot of practice. Many clothing lines start off selling printed T-shirts or shirts, for which you will need a screen printing kit, some specialist ink, and some blank shirts to print on.
A typical one-colour screen printing kit will cost you around £40, although two- or three-colour kits will produce more varied, professional designs (and set you back considerably more). There are many online stores selling blank shirts and other wholesale clothing for as little as £1 apiece. “We started on £150, which bought us a beginner’s 2-colour screen printing kit and a handful of tees,” recalls Harry Broster. “This set us up and we were able to use the same kit for about a year, before we upgraded to the professional equipment needed for higher quality production.”
Aside from the cost of production, your start-up costs will include setting up a website and e-commerce store to sell your products, any marketing costs, and the cost of going to shows and trade fairs to showcase your products. Chloe Nicolls advises using one of the many do-it-yourself website builder kits to create your website, as opposed to hiring a dedicated web designer. “I made a mistake in the beginning by spending a lot of money on a web designer, who built me a site I couldn’t use because he wanted to be paid every time I made a change,” she explains. “I ended up building my own on Wix [free website builder] and I think it looks pretty good.”
All of this can be as expensive as you want, but if costs are tight, there is no reason why you can’t set up a basic clothing line for well under £1,000. “Over the past eight months, I think I’ve spent between £2,000 and £3,000 on everything” estimates Nicolls.
How much can you earn running your own clothing line?
Unlike, say, running a day nursery, you needn’t quit your day job to start a clothing line. Indeed, it is the kind of start-up that you can dedicate as much or as little time to as you want (in the early stages at least), scaling up in line with demand. “When we started, we had just finished uni so there was a mixture of part-time employment and sitting in limbo – never did we think we could do this full-time,” explains Michael Palmer. “I decided to go into full-time hours towards the end of last year, to really push the brand and give it the best opportunity to progress further. I am actually primarily a freelance photo/video/designer, so my week is flexible enough to dedicate the necessary hours in both jobs.”
The downside of this flexibility and scalability is it is really impossible to predict how much you can earn running a clothing line. By its very nature, the fashion industry is an unpredictable business, and even if you appear to have all the ingredients in place your venture could stall or fail altogether. In other words, if a steady income and predictable growth is high on the list of your priorities, then you should look elsewhere.
In general, the best advice would be to start lean, gauge demand as it grows and tweak your offering as appropriate, and have a plan B at all times. “I’d avoid making any kind of predictions about how much you can earn,” says Chloe Nicolls. “You’re at the hands of the gods a bit!”