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How to start a clothing line: 4 simple steps

A business for creatives with designer flair, read on to find out if you have what it takes to become a fashion entrepreneur…

A career path solely reserved for the creative, artistic and passionate amongst us, starting a clothing line can actually be done on a shoestring budget and often while still working, at least initially. However, with consumers constantly craving innovation and new designs, you’ll have to get your thinking cap on, because in the fashion world – imitation is not an option!

With over 34,000 people employed nationwide in the business of manufacturing clothes (5,000 people manufacture footwear) the value of Britain’s fashion industry stands at a whopping £66bn. Proving there’s certainly money to be made.

There’s also a number of options in terms of how you create your clothing line. While some fashion entrepreneurs design and produce their own clothes, others simply handpick clothes from designers and outlets to present them as part of a new, cohesive clothing brand.

Reckon you’re made of the right stuff? Well, then read our four simple steps before you roll up your sleeves and get started!

1. Keep your costs low initially

One of the main advantages of starting a clothing line business is that it certainly won’t burn a huge hole in your pocket.

Initially, your largest overhead will probably be the clothes themselves. If you decide to collate clothes from different designers, you’ll have to find some that sell at reasonable wholesale prices. Many of the larger designers will probably have quite a big minimum order so target smaller manufactures and see what type of deal you can negotiate.

If you decide to produce the clothes yourself, you’ll only need the most basic of equipment to start with. Only invest in more professional equipment once demand has increased and you have access to greater capital. Similarly, until you are dealing with a high quantity of stock, avoid renting premises and just manufacture from home. This will also allow you to be more flexible with working times and keep your day job.

The type of equipment you will need depends on what exactly you’ll 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.

The downside of this flexibility and scalability, however, is that it’s really impossible to predict how much you can make running a clothing line. By its very nature, the fashion industry is an unpredictable business. Having all the required ingredients is no guarantee your venture will be a long term success. To put it plainly, if a steady income and predictable growth is high on the list of your priorities, then you should look elsewhere.

2. Embrace your brand

With the industry bursting at the seams, authenticity is key if you want your brand to be noticed. Above all else, take inspiration from your own personality and environment. Consumers, particularly in the word of fashion, will immediately see through tacked-on, generic or insincere attempts at branding.

For example, if you are a besuited City banker you will probably have more luck starting a high-end business targeted at discerning professionals than a clothing line selling snapbacks and zip-up hoodies. Similarly, your social media accounts and website should also have the look and feel of your brand. Nothing will put customers off more than a poorly designed website and for many this will be your only shop window.

While imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, failing to innovate or deviate from competitors will only end in disaster. While you won’t always need to have the best production skills, a sharp creative mind is essential. Produce something too similar to your competitors and you’ll simply be dismissed as a cheap knock-off and wont earn much respect within the industry.

3. Know your market and have a clear marketing strategy

After settling on your brand the next step should be market research. Do an extensive google search of similar brands and look at their size, geographic reach, price and unique selling points. See if you can improve on any particular element, but remember, originality is still key.

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.

It is vitally important to have a clear marketing strategy when starting out. As the clothing market is congested and extremely competitive, it is always a good idea to build a strong social media presence. Visual and image-based sites like Instagram, Snapchat and Pinterest are 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.

Facebook and Twitter will also allow you to interact with brand advocates directly and develop a clear ‘voice’ for your clothing line. Once again, this voice should be entirely consistent with your product. So if you’re selling high-end suits, refrain from using slang.

4. Sell, sell, sell

As with many retail businesses, clothing is not a particularly heavily regulated space; you don’t need any kind of license or certificate to start selling clothing, and as long as you have the equipment and means to sell you can get started at the drop of a hat.

A fairly low-cost and straight forward way to start selling almost immediately is via market stalls. While working at a stall can be more flexible than operating a ‘normal’ shop, traders tend to work quite long hours with the working day starting extremely early in the morning. Markets will also differ in the hours or even days they operate with some running daily while others just every weekend, month and or even season. Make sure to bear this in mind as you may need to travel to different stalls every day to ensure you’re going to reach enough consumers and generate enough sales.

Once again, a flare and enthusiasm for both your clothing range and sales are vital to succeed and you should definitely do everything in your power to make your stall stand out from the competition. Customization is also a big draw for consumers, with more and more expecting rather than hoping to find bespoke items in markets.

Remember, however, to obtain a license for selling on the street (contact your local council as they all vary), adhere to the Trade Descriptions Act and sell, sell, sell!

For a bigger guide on staring a market stall, click here.   

Much like market selling, many people are now choosing to cut out the middle man and sell their clothes online by setting up their own website. You’ll need to choose a domain name carefully and select which hosting provider and shopping cart software you’ll use, such as Magento, Shopify, or Sellr. Take a look at our guide on how much a website might cost (or our specific guides to Magento websites and WordPress websites).

In many cases, you may need to initially pay a web designer to design and build the site for you to ensure it has a polished look and works properly. An amateurish looking site wont instill much faith in your consumer – especially if you’re supposed to be high end.

A quicker and more cost effective way to sell directly online is by using community marketplaces or third party sellers. Consider using sites such as eBay, Notonthehighstreet, Etsy, Amazon, and Red Bubble, which will allow you set up your own profile and sell directly to consumers – although it’s important to remember the competition within these sites (in some cases even to gain approval) can be fierce!

For more detail, read our comprehensive guide on how to start a clothing brand. 

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