How to start a clothing line
Are you thinking about starting a clothing brand? We've put together these handy tips to help you turn your idea into a reality.
Building a business from scratch can be daunting and starting a clothing line is no different. However, the first time you see someone walking down the street wearing your design, or flaunting your fashion on Instagram, will make all the work worthwhile.
To take your clothing line from an initial idea to market, follow our ten steps:
1. Identify a gap in the market
Some of the most successful fashion retail businesses have identified a niche in the market and created a product that meets demand. Have you found it difficult to find suits for petite people? Are you underwhelmed by the sportswear options available for your size? Look at other businesses who have done well for tips; for example, the founder of the Cambridge Satchel Company spotted that there was demand for good quality satchels for school children but the options available on the high street were low quality and not very practical. The business was founded with a budget of just £600 and has grown to record revenues of millions of pounds each year.
If you're directly addressing a gap in the market your clothing business could be a success.
2. Understand your core audience
It's vital that you know exactly who's going to be buying your product, so you can think about their needs in the product development and marketing stages.
This doesn't just mean 'women aged 18-30'. You need to know exactly who will buy your product, how much money they make, where they live, how they shop, what devices they use, what platforms they're on, what their other interests are and more. It's a good idea to create 'personas', summarising the ideal customer or group of customers, for your key audiences to ensure that the product you're creating fits their needs. You should also find people in your network within your target demographic and speak to them about what you're trying to do to gauge their reaction and thoughts.
3. Start small
You may be ambitious and want to build a retail empire within months, but it'll be easier to start small with one product, giving you the experience and knowledge that you need before scaling.
It's worth considering the 'lean start-up methodology', a practice for developing products which is based on 'validated learning' or getting customer feedback quickly and often, which helps eliminate uncertainty in the product development process.
However, you should still think big, and make sure that you have a growth plan ready in case your idea really takes off and you're faced with sky-high demand.
4. Build your clothing line business plan
Once you've decided on your product and you know who your audience is, you'll need to develop a business plan. It will need to include:
- A description of your idea, including the long-term ambition
- An analysis of the market and your competition
- A SWOT analysis – a study of your brand's potential strengths and weaknesses, as well as the opportunities and threats, will help you know your USPs and market inside out
- The costs and your financial forecasts
- Your marketing plans (see step 9)
There are no hard and fast rules about how long a business plan should be, but 20- 30 pages should give you enough space to lay out everything in the above, using bullet points, good images and charts if required.
A well laid-out business plan should offer readers a clear overview of its main points after a quick skim through – clear headings, white space and images to bring the plan to life do make a big difference. Make sure to avoid any mistakes as it will look unprofessional.
Profitability is fundamental to a successful business plan, so spend some time considering how to best finance your business. It's great if you're able to fund the enterprise with your own money but you may need to rely on other sources as your business grows. Check out these tips from Emma Jones, founder of Enterprise Nation, on how to go about this.
Even if you only have one design concept, get it down on paper or screen as a sketch. Once you're ready, turn your ideas into digital sketches that you'll be able to share with a manufacturer. Programs such as Adobe Illustrator and Digital Fashion Pro will be able to help you turn rough sketches into proper designs. If you don't want to do the designing yourself, use your social media channels to source recommendations from your network, or try using a site such as 99designs.co.uk or Fiverr.
Have a look at what competitors are doing. Even if you don't think you have any direct competitors it is important to be aware of what others in the industry are doing.
6. Create your brand
Your brand is one of the most important elements of your business. How many times have you decided to buy something because you loved the brand? Good branding doesn't just influence volume of sales, but also the price you can charge for your products. Are there items in your wardrobe you perhaps wouldn't have bought if it was from a brand you didn't like as much?
The core element of your brand is its name and logo (although ethos and personality are important too), and consistent use is imperative in building awareness. Think about Innocent Smoothies – their friendly and fun way of speaking runs through everything they put out there from their big TV ads and social media to the copy on their bottles.
Do your research and ensure that the name isn't already in use, plus check website availability. It's also a good idea to ensure your brand's name works in multiple territories if you're aiming for international expansion at some point. Some of the world's biggest retail brands have simple names that work in a number of languages such as Nike.
Finally, make sure you invest in a good quality and well-functioning website. If you're setting up a garment business from home, your website will be your shop window and your best chance to excite customers and drive sales. You could use WordPress as a content management system (CMS) – about 35% of the world's websites are built using WordPress and it's built to be easy for people without technical skills.
Manufacturing is a crucial part of any clothing business, so take time to do research and meet with manufacturers to discuss your needs and expectations.
There will be some companies who specifically specialise in manufacturing for small businesses, so this might be your preferred choice in the first instance. Manufacturing in the UK is very different from opting to work with an overseas company. Both offer benefits and disadvantages. While production costs tend to be less abroad, oversight can be far more complicated, so you need to weigh up what is more important to you. Never underestimate the value 'Made in the UK' can add to a brand.
Once you have chosen your manufacturer, give them a small batch of your designs and if able to, perhaps test them against another manufacturer. Always factor in time to discuss any adjustments you want made before going ahead with a full product run.
8. Test your product
A great way to get a feel for appetite is to test your product. Use the sample lines you did while testing the manufacturer and take them to a market.
Market trading spaces, school fairs and online platforms such as Facebook Marketplace are great avenues to get your clothing business brand and products out there and generate feedback without costing too much.
If you're unable to do this, try and get feedback from friends and family members that you know will give you their honest opinion.
Don't forget to have product liability cover in place. If a product you sell injures someone, or damages their property, you could be liable, even if you didn't make the product yourself. You should think about public liability insurance too, which will cover you against claims made by members of the public who suffer injury or damage to property in connection with your business.
9. Take it to market
You've tested your product so now it's time to put in your full product run. Before this, you'll need to make some decisions about pricing and how to sell your brand.
Look to see what competitors are doing and make sure you don't price yourself out of the market. Important questions to ask yourself are:
- Do you want to sell online or in-person, or both?
- What apps or social media platforms are available to sell on and are any relevant to you?
- Do you want to sell on an online marketplace like ASOS or Not On The High Street, which already has high volumes of visitors?
- How much does it cost to start a shop? Or would a pop up be more cost effective?
- How do you want to package your products?
- How will you deliver your products and will you charge delivery or bake the cost into your product price?
- What deals will you be offering, because once you start you might find customers expect to find discount codes?
10. Develop a clear marketing and sales strategy
Marketing is an incredibly important part of the process, because it makes people aware of your product and helps drive sales.
Your marketing strategy will depend on your budget, but there are a number of different things you can do from advertising in local media and online, to word of mouth and influencer marketing.
Ever bought a product because you saw someone wearing it and thought it looked good? This is one of the core tenants of influencer marketing, where brands pay influential social media users to showcase their brands in exchange for money and/ or free products. It can be an effective form of marketing for clothing brands (particularly for millennial audiences), with everyone from small start-ups to high-end designers getting in on the action.
Whether you use social media or attend local markets, once your marketing activities are set up and product is live, the key is to monitor performance and adjust your strategy accordingly. Make sure you invest more in the platforms that deliver the best return on investment to make your investment go as far as possible.
It can be daunting to know what cover you need and when, and we understand that as your business grows, your insurance needs will change along the way too. Read more about our flexible retail insurance.