Business of fashion jobs: Owning your own clothing line sounds like a dream, but how do you make that dream a reality? Even if you have no experience, starting a clothing line is totally achievable with a clear concept, a detailed business plan, and the creativity that got you into fashion in the first place. We’ve put together a list of the must-do’s to launch your clothing line and get your business running. If you’re ready to see your fashion sketches walking down the street as real outfits, keep scrolling!
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1. Do market research to determine what consumers need or want to buy.
Use free resources like Google Trends to track what searches are trending, and check out the websites of your soon-to-be competition to see what buyers like and don’t like. Once you know there’s a true need for your product, you can start your clothing line with confidence.
- Read product reviews on other brands’ websites. Negative comments are very helpful—they tell you what consumers need that other lines aren’t providing.
- There are sites and resources that provide marketing data for you. However, it’s costly to continuously buy data over time.
- Research specific terms and items. For example, data for “casual tank tops” will be more helpful than “summer clothes.”
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2. Describe your ideal customer in detail.
Who would wear your clothes? How do you reach them? Create an in-depth profile of who they are—what their favorite brands are, which trends they pay attention to, and how often they shop. Understanding your customer base helps you strategically brand and market your line. Ask yourself things like:
- Where do they shop (online or in-store)?
- What are they willing to spend on clothes?
- What factors influence their purchase decisions?
- What are their demographics? (age, gender, marital status, location)
3. Write out a detailed plan for the first 3 to 5 years of your clothing line.
Outline what you want to accomplish with specific and measurable goals (for example, “I’ll earn 50% of my income from my clothing line by 2025”), then detail actionable steps and strategies to meet those goals. Include information that’s appealing to potential future investors, like:
- Your business or brand’s name (decide whether to use your own name or something else).
- Your mission statement (who you are as a company and what you do).
- Why you believe your line will be successful (cite your market research).
- Your business goals and ambitions (refer back to these as your line grows to stay true to your original mission).
4. Choose a name and logo that appeal to customers.
Pick a brand name that’s memorable, unique, and says something about what your mission is. Design logos and visual assets with colors, fonts, and imagery that elicit positive responses from your customers, and use these elements consistently across your website, social media, and printed materials.
- The name of your line can be different from your legal business name. Your business might be your name (Jane Smith), but your line is Mittens by Jane.
- Your logo might end up being part of your designs in addition to a memorable image for marketing.
- Get active on social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok to promote your brand and interact with customers.
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5. Source enough capital to purchase materials and register your business.
First, take stock of whatever money you already have and ask friends or family if they’re willing to lend money to your cause. Use crowdsourcing sites like GoFundMe to gather money from other supporters online, too.
- If you need significant capital, consider a loan or overdraft from the bank. You’ll need a solid business plan and strategy for repayment.
- Research grants and loans for small businesses through your local, state, or federal government. You’ll need a business plan and initial profit projections.
- Consider equity finance if you need a backer to purchase a stake in your business. Know that your backer might get some decision-making power.
6. Register your business name with state and local governments.
By registering, you receive personal liability protection, plus legal and tax benefits. The exact process depends on where you conduct business and how your company is structured—most clothing lines register as an LLC (limited liability company) or single-owner sole proprietorship (“sole prop”) through online registration or paper documents.
- If you do business under your legal name, registering isn’t necessary. However, you won’t receive the benefits or protections of a registered business.
- Once your business is legally formed, file with the United States Patent and Trademark office to trademark your business, brand, or product name.
- Register with the federal government if you want additional trademark protection or tax exemptions. Otherwise, just file to get a federal tax ID.
- Visit the U.S. Small Business Administration’s website for more information on registering your business, tax information, and more legal details.
7. Focus on what inspired you in the first place—the clothes!
Use quality materials and construction techniques (customers know if you compromise quality to save money). Create your own samples, too. The intimate understanding of how each garment is made helps you negotiate costs with manufacturers and run your line smoothly.
- Carry a sketchpad with you to write down new ideas or make quick drawings whenever inspiration strikes.
- Find balance between the technical side of designing (manufacturing, costs) and the creative side (making new pieces, finding inspiration).
- Create a “tech pack” to give manufacturers. Include technical specifications, measurements, materials, accessories, and other product details.
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8. Work with manufacturers that execute your vision and support your values.
Ask your contacts for recommendations and consider your needs—do you prioritize speed and quantity, or quality craftsmanship? Is ethical or sustainable production important to your customers?
- Request sample runs from multiple manufacturers and compare them. Discuss adjustments and improvements before committing to one.
- Take your time asking questions and vetting manufacturers. They’re going to make your visions a reality, so it’s worth the extra time and thought.
- If you’re starting very small, make your clothes yourself or with a hand-picked team until you can’t keep up with the demand anymore.
Consider the cost of the materials, labor, and time it takes to construct your garments—many clothing lines double this amount to determine prices. If your customer base is very high-end or niche, increase the price further to suit the market.
- Luxury items that take special care and extra time should be priced higher than everyday, mass produced garments.
- If you’re focused on high volume over quality, lower your prices. Offer deals and sales to incentivize your customers to buy even more.
10. The more places you sell, the more exposure and sales you’ll receive.
When you first start out, sell directly through your own website or through third-party sites like Etsy or Amazon. If your target demographic prefers in-store purchases, connect with local retailers or national chains.
- Make sure you have a website regardless of whether you use it to make sales. Retailers will look at it to evaluate your products and your brand.
- Use an e-commerce platform to make online sales if your website doesn’t have the ability (or if you just prefer to keep sales off your website).
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11. Build awareness with social media, digital ads, and email campaigns.
First, create engaging social media posts that convince people to buy your clothes or visit your website (this is called organic social media marketing and is free). Offer influencers free items or discounts in exchange for posts that highlight your line to their followers.
- As you earn money, pay for targeted ads on platforms like Facebook to build your customer base and reach more people.
- Collect customer email addresses and circulate a “sign up” form to build an email list. Send news about sales, new items, and exciting updates.
- Reach out to other websites or blogs that appeal to your customers and negotiate web advertisements to expand your marketing reach.
- If your demographic is less tech savvy, run print ads in local newspapers or in magazines that appeal to your customer base.
12. Hire employees or take on new projects as your line grows.
First, take a season or 2 to get used to business operations—your knowledge of production routines, order fulfillment, and advertising will help you navigate management and partnership opportunities. When you can no longer do everything yourself, it’s time to grow your team.
- Depending on your goals, expansion can mean hiring additional employees, partnering with more retailers, or designing and producing new products.
- Refer to your original business plan as you grow. Decide whether to stick to your original ideas, or to explore new opportunities.