- Introduction: The ultimate guide for aspiring fashion entrepreneurs
- Chapter 1: Your brand
- 1.1 Why is your brand important?
- 1.2 Create a memorable brand name
- 1.3 Write a resonating brand story
- 1.4 Design a logo
- Chapter 2: The business
- 2.1 The first steps to start your business
- 2.2 The finances of a clothing brand deconstructed
- Chapter 3: Your first collection
- 3.1 Your design
- 3.2 Your clothing
- 3.3 Quality
- 3.4 Labels & branding
- 3.5 Examples of a perfect starting collection
- 3.6 Photography
- 3.7 How to sell your clothing line
- 3.8 Marketing
- Chapter 4: Let’s start your fashion project!
How to start your clothing brand
The ultimate guide for aspiring fashion entrepreneurs
You want to start your own clothing label but you don’t know how? You’ve come to the right place! I’m going to explain you step by step how you can launch your clothing brand. This information is based on our experience as a design and production partner for clothing brands.
We collaborated with Storelaunchers, experts in both fashion consulting and e-commerce, to create a comprehensive guide for anyone who wants to start a clothing line.
What will you learn in this guide?
- A clear step-by-step guide to launch your own clothing brand.
- How to create a strong brand name, logo, style & story to reach your target audience.
- How to write a realistic business and financial plan for your fashion brand. You’ll get a complete picture of all open (and hidden) startup costs and what it takes to grow your clothing brand to the top 1%.
- How to market your brand before, during and after the launch.
- How to increase your sales figures.
- How to build a successful e-commerce store that sells on autopilot.
- How to set up your sales for retail stores and chains.
So why are we making this guide available for anyone & for FREE? Why didn’t we bundle this in a book and charge money for it? Well, we love young clothing brands with an amazing story. We noticed a massive transition in the fashion market from a couple of big multinationals to a lot of small niche brands. We want to give these brands all the necessary tools and support to make it in the big leagues. One day, we’ll walk into a random clothing shop and fall in love with an amazing T-shirt from a young brand inspired by this guide. That’s our goal.
Grab yourself a cup of coffee, sit back and learn from this 7000+ word guide on how you can start your own clothing line and make it successful.
Do you want an exclusive checklist of the extensive guide? In 1 page, you will have the most valuable information to launch your own clothing brand.
Chapter 2: The business
2.1 The first steps to start your business
Good resources are necessary to make a clear business plan. The fact that you are reading this article right now means that you’re already expanding your knowledge. Learn about the products, services and possibilities you will need. Find other clothing brands that are successful and write down their influential strategies. Know your options and summarize your ideas. Most important of all, know how you can deal with issues before they even come up. You’ll need to make 2 important plans before starting your brand: the business plan (the strategy) & the marketing plan (how to sell your apparel).
Before you even think about printing your first T-shirt, you need a clear business plan. Define specific goals for your brand. What do you want to achieve after 6 months – 1 year – 3 years – 5 years? Set up a strategy and plan your actions.
Set up your business plan right away!
How? Read this Business plan for a clothing label: a step-by-step guide and download our template.
The marketing plan determines how you will market your clothing brand. Simply put, how can you launch your clothing label and how will you sell it? How will you manage your social media results? We can help you with all of this. Write down your plans and structure everything what’s on your mind. In chapter 3 ‘Your first collection’, we’ll cover everything from A to Z in the marketing space.
2.2 The finances of a clothing brand deconstructed
Do you want to start a serious clothing brand? There is one big truth you need to know: starting a clothing brand costs money and time. There are exceptions to this rule but unless you have really famous friends or an incredible network, you are going to need a basic budget.
Finances are a very important part of building your own clothing brand. Your target is to earn money. Look closely at your finances and take into account the financial part of every decision.
Let’s continue to the practical side: how much money do you need?
It’s not easy to have a detailed overview of how much money you will need to start your clothing line. It depends on the type of fashion business you want to start. We do give you some possible costs that you need to consider, accompanied by an estimated budget.
Cost price for a clothing design
Next to your story and style, your designs are extremely important. If you are a creative graphic designer, you can ignore this paragraph. A great design sells. A bad design doesn’t. Yep, that’s logical. But designing for clothing is a completely different skill compared to general graphic design or web design. You need to calculate all production specifications & limitations. A skilled clothing designer can help you save a lot of money on your overall production fee. For example: a colorful design will be more expensive than a design with less colors. Anyhow, a good designer is an investment.
Designs easily costs € 200 per design.
At Merchandise Essentials we already offer designs at € 150 for 2 different examples of one idea. Discover how our design service can help you to create an awesome design.
Production of your first collection
We are ready with the design, now it’s time for the next step: the production of your clothing line. If we can give you a golden tip, don’t start with print on demand or dropshipping. Print on demand means that you only produce a clothing piece when it’s ordered. For example: a customer buys a T-shirt on your webshop, and then you produce it. Dropshipping is similar to print on demand. When you sell a product, you purchase the product from a third party and has it shipped directly to the customer. Then, you don’t see or handle the product. In both cases, you don’t keep the products in stock.
However, you will need a certain stock. The higher your volumes, the lower your price per piece and the bigger your margin. Determine how much you would like to invest to lower your production cost. Keep in mind, finding the right production partner is important in order to become successful. At Merchandise Essentials, we guide you through this process. We do not only design and develop clothing collections, we also produce it.
For your first collection, we advise you to start with a small quantity. Afterwards, you can determine which products and designs were your bestsellers. For the creation of your first clothing collection, you have to make these decisions:
- Which designs do you want to use?
- Determine the clothing products.
- Our advice: T-shirts and sweaters are absolutely essential items.
- Determine the quantity for each clothing product.
- Our advice: take a minimum of 25 products for one design. You can print one design with screen printing on minimum 25 pieces. You can combine clothing products to have 25 pieces: for example 10 T-shirts and 15 sweaters.
- Choose a decoration technique for each design.
- Our advice: the best and most used decoration techniques are screen printing, digital printing and embroidery.
- Determine if you want labeling: neck label, flag label, loop label, hangtag, …
- Our advice: you definitely need a custom label. Without a label, your clothing is not branded.
- If you choose for labeling: create a design for your label.
- Choose if you want your clothing to be individually packed.
The production for custom clothing requires expertise. Choose a reliable partner and verify if the textile and production methods are ethical and ecological. If you want to know more about the different production phases, you can read the article about our production process. You also need to know more about the possible decoration techniques. The choice of the decoration technique depends on your design. For a lot of designs, we advise you to choose for screen printing, it’s a high-quality printing technique. Of course, there are also other qualitative decoration techniques like digital printing, embroidery, … Discover more about the decoration methods.
There’s a lot of things that you have to keep in mind before you can make decisions, and these decisions are not made in a few minutes. Together with our experienced team, you can make all decisions based on your needs and targets.
Decoration Techniques – Reading tips
Perfect first collection: The California
Let’s illustrate the production cost of a starter collection. The California collection is based on an ideal example collection. The prices may vary, the cost summary below is a representative example.
The California – T-shirt men
- Color: citadel blue
- Decoration: screen print, polyester neck label, woven flag label
The Prince – Unisex T-shirt
- Color: white
- Decoration: digital print, woven flag label on the back
The California – T-shirt men
- Color: salty rose
- Decoration: screen print, polyester neck label
The Bowie – Unisex sweater
- Color: heather grey
- Decoration: polyester neck label, embroidery
The Camper Hat
- Color: navy
- Decoration: woven flag label
Costs to profit calculation
|Ideal order quantity||Production cost||Your selling price||Total revenue|
|T-shirts||150||€ 1.500||€ 30 / piece||€ 4.500|
|sweaters||50||€ 1.125||€ 60 / piece||€ 3.000|
|caps||30||€ 450||€ 30 / piece||€ 900|
|total||€ 3.075||€ 8.400|
Your profit for the first collection: € 5.325.
PRO tip: Why you should always go for quality
Fashion is changing. Quality is becoming king. This means that poor quality and non-ethical brands are pushed out of the market and stores. As a starting brand, you certainly don’t have the PR or marketing machine to counter bad press. That’s why it’s so incredibly important to always opt for premium quality clothing.
If you choose for good quality…
- You can charge more for your product, which results in bigger margins.
- Your audience is happy with the product and advertises for you.
- You can use the ethical & ecological labels in your marketing strategy.
Boost your fashion brand with marketing tools
Photography is an essential part of your branding. You can’t sell awesome, qualitative clothing if you use crappy photos. Work with a professional photographer to make qualitative pictures of your products. You need two kinds of photos: with models and packshots. It’s important to have great pictures with models for your website & social media. This has to represent your branding. Especially packshots, they’re necessary for your webshop. Clear product pictures massively increase sales on your webshop. Storelaunchers has a great service that makes qualitative packshots affordable.
Professional photographer costs about € 80 an hour.
And of course, it’s free if you do it yourself.
Newsletter: the #1 tool
Newsletters have never been more important. It’s the ideal way to reach your followers. If you send an e-mail to your customers, they will receive it. If you post on Facebook, not all your followers will see your post. That’s because Facebook determines the popularity of your post. There’s no doubt, a fashion brand must send newsletters to their clients and fans. It will boost your sales if you give promotions or discount actions. Discover why you send newsletters in the blogpost The power of newsletters for fashion brands. Mailchimp is a good tool for newsletters by the way.
Free for a new business (Mailchimp).
The ultimate experience: package branding
Packaging is everything. You want to be taken seriously, so you have to spend some money on branding. It’s essential to individually pack your products with size stickers. When a customer receives your product, it has to look nice and professional. Creating an amazing experience when the client receives your packages will get you a lot of free social media exposure, just think about unboxing videos. That’s why we advise you to personalize your boxes. Also, it’s a great idea to print a card with the message ‘Thank you for your order’. Your customer will be extremely happy with a personal message.
Around € 300 to € 500, it depends on how crazy you want to go ;).
Advertising to boost your sales
Your clothing line is ready to conquer the fashion world. Advertising helps you to boost your sales. An example is Facebook advertising, you can achieve great results with a small budget. Influencer marketing is also a great way to create brand awareness.
- How to launch a merchandise competition on Facebook?
- 14 amazing examples of brands killing it with Facebook ads
- How do I create a perfect Facebook ad for a new fashion brand?
Facebook advertising for a minimum of € 5 a week.
Instagram advertising with an average cost-per-click around € 0,70.
Influencer marketing depends on the cost of giving free clothing, or a percentage if you sell something because of the influencer.
Webshop: the power of e-commerce
A webshop really is a must for a starting clothing brand. Budget wise, you can go as far as you like but we always advise our clients to start small, get the orders flowing & then keep investing in improving the shop. That way, the shop pays for itself. A basic fashion webshop starts from €1.500 and a full-stack store with all whistles & bells goes for around €9.000. It depends on how fast you’re looking to invest your money in e-commerce optimization.
Besides the webshop, you have to think about the storage and shipping. Both are complex and have to be managed efficiently. Also, when your business grows, you may not have the capacity and time anymore to handle this yourself. In that case, outsourcing your storage and shipping is an interesting option.
Storelaunchers can help you to set up an effective strategy to build a successful webshop. Discover their services to know more.
- Boost your sales with the abandoned cart email
- Why e-commerce stores miss out on 75% of sales revenue”
Approximately € 1.500 for a basic fashion webshop.
Chapter 3: Your first collection
3.1 Your design
How to create a design
Your design has to be powerful and creative. It has to reflect your brand story. Even if you are a designer, it’s an expertise to create designs for clothing. Always choose an expert, and take into account that there are certain technical requirements and limitations to print a design on clothes.
Don’t choose a cheap design. You can ask your cousin’s girlfriend to make a sketch but there is a major difference between a great design and a regular design. So be selective, choose the best. We all fall in love with our own products but can you look at your own brand from a different perspective? What would potential customers think when they see your clothes? What looks unprofessional and what could be improved? Those are questions you have to ask yourself before presenting something as a finished product.
Pinterest is a great way to find inspiration. Below, you can see 4 inspirational boards, each with a different style.
The popularity of the product is based on your design. Merchandise Essentials can create your design in order to develop qualitative clothing.
How many designs
Create 3-5 different designs: 1 basic/subtle design, 1-3 iconic designs and 1 in your face or crazy design.
After the first release of your collection, you can evaluate which design was the most popular. You can check the reactions of your customers and eventually, you will see how many pieces were sold out the fastest.
Why do we advise you 3 types of designs? Well, your audience will vary: some people like subtle casual clothing, while others prefer special eye catching prints. It’s important to cater to the wishes of your audience. After your first collection, you’ll be able to determine the most popular style of your designs.
3.2 Your clothing
From essential clothing items like T-shirts, hoodies, polo shirts … to accessories like beanies, snapbacks, tote bags … which items, fabrics and colors fit your clothing collection? We always advise our clients to offer a variety of different items: T-shirt, sweater & cap/beanie for example. This way, you have products in every price range.
You need to know what products your customers want to buy. For example: when it’s summer, T-shirts will be popular. For winter, it’s likely that more people want to buy a sweater. Fashion always works in seasons, whether you’re a small brand or a global player.
Always choose different clothing products for 1 design. For example, the printing technique screen print is possible from 25 pieces. You can choose 1 T-shirt style and 1 sweater style with the same print to get to 25 pieces in total. This allows you to diversify your items in colors while still receiving the best price offer.
Quality is important. No doubt about that. If you are not making a qualitative product, why would people buy it? I don’t think you would want to sell something you’re not satisfied with. Spending money on quality is a must if you want to have success with your clothing label. Choose professionals for production, who understand that you are building your own clothing brand (and that you’re not just looking for a promo shirt). Some clothing brands want to print on their clothing themselves, which is a very bad idea. There’s still a difference between printing on clothing and building your clothing brand. Our advice would be to focus on your clothing brand and use your resources on your clothing brand, unless you want undesired results and lots of returns.
Conclusion: you need an expert who wants you to reach your goals.
3.4 Labels & branding
A lot of starting clothing brands make the mistake and print their brand name or logo on T-shirts, because they want to get their name out there. Okay, you can have 1 or 2 designs with your logo on it, but imagine every fashion brand in the world only printing their own logo on their T-shirts. That would be very boring, right? It’s a good thing that labeling was invented.
Clothing labels are the solution to your expansion problem. They help you to get your name out, while still leaving you the opportunity to be creative with your designs and art. Not only are clothing labels valuable for your brand, retail stores will never sell your products if there are no brand labels inside. So if you’re trying to venture into retail, clothing labels and even hang tags are a must.
From 50 pieces, we can offer you a custom label for your clothes. Also the use of hangtags and polybags will make your products more qualitative. Things like that give a great impression when your customers receive your products. You need to spend money to make money. It’s all about looking at your brand in an objective way.
3.5 Example of a perfect starting collection
In the previous chapter, we looked at the production cost of an example collection. This collection had 230 items (150 T-shirts, 50 sweaters & 30 caps). This is not the only option. Below, you can find an example of a perfect starting collection if you want more clothing items.
16 Red T-shirts + print 1 + label
16 Blue T-shirts + print 1 + label
18 White T-shirts + print 1 + label
25 black T-shirts + print 2 + label
25 navy sweaters + print 2 + label
25 white T-shirts + print 3 + label
25 white hoodies + print 3 + label
10 blue caps + embroidery 1
10 black caps + embroidery 1
With this combination you have 150 clothing items and 20 caps in 9 styles.
You have a wide variation, but also decent quantities for every print/embroidery so you’ll have a great start. All garments are also labeled (200 in total).
Photography, an essential part of branding that is overlooked by so many clothing brands. If you have an awesome T-shirt, you have to take equally as awesome photos.
The first important type of photography is product shots, they’re essential for your webshop because your visitors will get a clear visualisation of your products. Everyone likes to see a product before they buy something, whether it’s in a physical store or online, so make sure you’ll amaze them with just one single photo! You can discover the packshot service from Storelaunchers, they are experts in photography.
The second important type of photography is atmosphere shoots, these images are for marketing purposes. What style is your clothing brand, what vibe do you want your potential clients to feel … Atmosphere photos can be used almost anywhere, such as social media, banners on your website, your lookbook and other marketing tools. They have to represent your brand and attract people.
As a starting brand you can contact a photographer, a friend or hire a professional. These professionals are expensive, but as your brand grows they are worth it. If a € 1.000 photoshoot helps you to sell € 20.000 in apparel, that’s a great investment! Look for a partner you can trust with a certain skill level & always ask for a portfolio.
Again for packshots, we always recommend a professional photographer. Depending on the quantity, packshots cost between € 10 and € 20. So that’s a small investment that can drastically increase your conversion percentage.
Here are some examples of good photography
As you can see, the pictures in this webshop are very consistent, which is good. The background is the same in every picture and the models have more or less the same attitude. The clothes are in the spotlight and that’s also what you want people to see when they visit your webshop.
This is a good example because this webshop shows its products on a neutral background. Both photos have the same atmosphere and the focus is on the T-shirt and not on the model …
These atmosphere photos are professional and there’s attention to every detail. The focus is on the product and while the background is not neutral, it’s a perfect choice as it fits the atmosphere. Note: the T-shirt refers to California and even the licence plate is from California. Everything in this photo is linked with each other and it’s the small details that make this photo amazing! (Blake Seven)
3.7 How to sell your clothing line
Your e-commerce flagship store
If you start a clothing brand, you probably won’t have enough money to have your own retail store. And when you’re starting out, it’s very difficult to offer retail stores the big margins they are looking for. That’s why it’s very important to have your own sales channel: your own online store. We are living in a digitalizing world where e-commerce is becoming the norm for purchasing whatever we can think of. It’s a never ending trend.
- You can start out small
- You keep the margins for yourself, so you can build scaling capital
- On your own webshop, you can craft the perfect brand experience
Isn’t a webshop very expensive?
It depends! Building a completely custom e-commerce site (webshop) is quite expensive. But if you work with a specialised partner that knows everything about the fashion industry, you can save a lot of money on features that don’t work… Keep in mind that your webshop needs an excellent User Experience (UX) design and User Interface (UI) design because everything has to be user friendly. Most important of all, your webshop has to showcase your clothing products perfectly. If you want to sell your clothing brand, make sure that your clothes are highlighted.
We cannot emphasize enough how important a well built webshop is. Our partner Storelaunchers can help you to set up a highly converting webshop for your brand.
Sell in retail stores
The brick and mortar store still is the main place where people buy their clothes. I can imagine how starting brands dream of selling their clothes in physical stores, but how do you get your clothing in those stores?
Everything starts with prospection. From our own experience, we’ve learned that stores are most open to a commission based system when working with starting brands, so keep that in mind. A commission based system means they only pay you if they sold one of your products. Make sure you are well prepared before you start prospecting. Who’s your target audience and which stores match with that audience? What are your goals? Also, a good prospecting list can help you a lot when you start contacting stores.
Do you want to learn how you can sell in retail stores? Discover the Masterclass ‘Selling in stores’ from Storelaunchers.
When deciding on the price you want your customers to pay for your products, you have to take into account the retail margin. When you sell your products to a retail store, they will charge their customers your price times 2,5 (approximately).
Here’s an example.
Brand X pays € 19 for the production of one finished sweater and sells it to the retail store for € 27,60. That means the retail store will charge its customers € 69 (€ 27,60 x 2,5). Brand X has a profit of € 8,60 per sweater and the retail store has a profit of € 41,40.
Extra value of retail: Retail helps you to get your brand out on the market. It gives your brand the established added value and brings it to an audience that probably wouldn’t have found you online or in e-commerce. So even if your margins are lower in retail, it helps you to build volumes, which is good for margins and brand awareness, which in turn is good for sales.
Open a pop-up store
A pop-up store is an interesting concept for both bigger and smaller brands. You can use such a temporary shop to explore locations, increase the awareness and/or coolness of your brand.
Some of the advantages:
- Build up relationships with your customers
- Increase sales
- Boost the awareness for your webshop
- Reach a new target audience
- Create a sense of urgency
- Test a certain location, product or market
- Less expensive than a traditional store
We can conclude that the pop-up store is a powerful tool for clothing brands.
Keep in mind that you don’t necessarily have to wait until your clothing line is launched to start with your marketing efforts. Just start right away!
You have to identify your target audience and start building a relationship with them, long before the launch of your clothing line. Launch your social media channels, share relevant content and tease your audience with behind-the-scenes posts. That way you take them on your journey, even before they can buy your products. When you launch your clothing line, you will have customers who cannot wait to buy your products!
Let’s focus on social media, it turns out that it’s an effective and cheap way to launch your fashion brand. Start building your community and get likes on your Facebook and Instagram page. Ask your friends and family to share your brand massively. Also, post samples and digital simulations online to create some buzz around your brand. Your pages have to be alive by the time your collection gets launched.
Make use of general announcements to make your fans curious, such as “We are launching in two weeks” or “Limited edition”. That way, You create a feeling of urgency and scarcity. By offering pre-orders, you can already make money during the pre-launch phase. But to convince people to pre-order something you have to give them an incentive, like a discount.
Keep in mind, this phase is the ultimate way to collect feedback from friends, family and fans. This is very important. By paying attention in this phase, you already know what works and what doesn’t before you launch your collection. Your future marketing efforts will be based on these experiences and knowledge.
Rufus and Royce shares some knowledge (An example of pre-launch selling)
Rufus and Royce is an American clothing company specialized in embroidered shorts. This brand already started selling products in the pre-launch period, using digital examples. People who already believed in the brand could pre-order their favorite products, this created buzz around the brand and proved to be very effective.
Marketing will be very important during the launch of your fashion brand. Here are some ideas to start with.
Launch your brand with a giveaway campaign, this will be great for your brand exposure. However, it’s important to approach this in a creative way because you don’t want to be the brand known for giving away free things. Another approach is to give everyone who buys something in the week of your launch the chance to win something. You can boost this on social media, which will create brand exposure.
The most important thing when launching your clothing collection: make sure that everything works!
- Links to your site have to work
- People have to end up on the right landing page
- People have to be able to buy your products
- All payment methods have to work
Find something that makes you stand out, be different from other brands. What made Rufus and Royce different wasn’t what they did but their approach. No other brand is specialized in embroidered shorts. Also, take your time to take epic pictures. When launching your collection you need impressive pictures, this will have a big impact on your sales.
Another important thing is your service. You have to create an amazing experience for your customers, right from the start. I’m talking about nice packaging, excellent customer guidance, a nice gift…
Be true to yourself and stay realistic. Is there enough reach for a crazy launch? Or is it better to opt for a soft launch and come forward with something crazy later on?
The fact that your brand has already launched, doesn’t mean that you can stop communicating with your audience. Keep using social media to tell people your story. At the start, you created your brand story which gives your brand a personality, don’t forget about this. Every social media post you publish has to be aligned with your brand story. Keep your audience up-to-date about your brand: What’s new? What’s happening? What are the faces behind the brand?
Storelaunchers tips & tricks
As mentioned before, it’s important to continue your communication. If you communicated with your audience every day during pre-launch and launch, then you can’t stop doing that. Also, keep an eye on your online data! If your numbers tell you that most of your audience lives in the east-side of your country, then it would be stupid to boost your marketing efforts in the west-side.
Keep maintaining your social media, website, webshop… Change your banner once in a while, update your products, add new pictures… You have to keep moving forward. If a customer visits your webshop several times in two months, it can’t always look the same. Otherwise, your visitors will get bored.
Key message: keep listening to your audience, what do your customers want?
Reading tips: Launch your marketing strategy right away!
- 17 marketing strategies to launch your clothing line
- How to start with influencer marketing for my clothing brand
If you are committed in starting your own clothing brand, we highly recommend the masterclass of our partner Storelaunchers: Start your own clothing brand.
Chapter 4: Let’s start your fashion brand!
If you have managed to follow everything on this list, you will be heading for the top 1% of new clothing brands out there.
Summarizing everything we just looked at, we hope you understand the important action points:
- Create your brand name, brand story and logo
- Set up a detailed business plan
- Set your business goals
- Define the finances
- Create a design
- Choose your items
- Decide on labels and branding
- Find a reliable partner: service, production, advice
- Decide how you are going to sell your clothing
- Launch your webshop
- Contact retail stores
- Open a pop-up store
- Take epic pictures
- Think about marketing efforts
There have been brands that succeeded with a small budget, but they have epic connections or they just had just plain luck. If you’re seriously considering to be the ‘next big thing’, you better be backing your words up with the quality.
Good luck! You can do this!