- A cut-and-sew business model will help your brand stand out with new designs
- Increase visibility by creating an online store on an ecommerce platform
- Request samples from your clothing manufacturer to assess quality before signing contracts or making bulk purchases
Starting a clothing brand takes more than a killer fashion sense and great design ideas to be successful. You also need a business plan to keep your vision on track.
If you’re a first-time business owner, the thought of starting your own business can be daunting, but take comfort in the fact that the fashion industry is steadily growing. In 2021, U.S. consumers spent $1.5 trillion on clothing and footwear—and annual spending is expected to exceed $3 trillion by 2026, meaning there’s always room in the fashion industry for style enthusiasts and aspiring fashion designers.
Whether you’re dreaming of a brick-and-mortar location or an online store, follow these tips to get your own clothing line up and running.
How to start a clothing line
Launching a new clothing line takes more than selecting or sewing great designs. However, you don’t need a bottomless budget or a large team to launch a successful fashion brand.
In fact, you can even start your clothing company from home as a solopreneur. Use this step-by-step guide to nail the logistics of business ownership and take the clothing industry by storm.
1. Narrow your niche
If you’re a budding designer or fashionpreneur, chances are you already know what types of looks and apparel appeal to you.
Do you love runway-worthy dresses or interview-ready blazers? Or would you rather screenprint designs on comfy loungewear like sweatpants and hoodies?
Whether your style is more T-shirts or evening wear, successful clothing companies typically carve out a niche in the market. They’re known for a certain type of apparel and design aesthetic—whether that’s streetwear, business professional, or boho-chic—and they cater to certain demographics.
To identify your target market or demographic, do market research to discover rising trends or underserved communities. Your clothing brand should deliver solutions to them based on their needs or interests.
For example, you could create cute and comfortable maternity clothing with a sustainability angle, or focus on adaptive clothing for people with disabilities, which is often hard to find.
2. Solidify your brand identity
Since nearly 60% of consumers prefer brand name items to generic alternatives, creating a strong brand can lead to more sales and greater profits, contributing to a more successful business.
Make your clothing brand memorable by:
- Choosing a unique business name
- Selecting brand colors and fonts that align with your style
- Designing a logo that incorporates your name, colors, and fonts
- Developing a brand personality that makes your company feel more human
When marketing your business and designing packaging and clothing tags, refer to your brand guidelines to keep the look and feel of everything consistent.
3. Choose your business model
The next step to turn your clothing line into a profitable small business is choosing a business model that suits your goals. Some common business models for clothing companies include:
- Custom cut and sew: Sell clothing that you’ve designed from scratch. This requires a bigger investment of money and time toward creating and testing fabrics and samples; though you’ll be able to launch with apparel that no other clothing brands are selling.
- Print-on-demand: Print custom designs on blank clothes that you buy wholesale. This can limit your profit margins and ability to control your clothing quality, but it’s a cost-effective way to launch a clothing line.
- Private label: Buy existing clothing from private label manufacturers, then sell it under your own brand at a markup. You won’t be able to customize your clothes, but you’ll be able to rotate inventory as trends change and fully outsource all manufacturing processes.
While many clothing businesses sell directly to consumers, you can also sell wholesale to retail businesses like department stores and boutiques.
The upside? You won’t have to worry about maintaining a physical or online store—nor deal with customers directly. You can focus on building relationships with a handful of retail businesses and sell your products in bulk.
4. Tally your startup costs
When launching a new business, you’ll want to minimize unexpected expenses to stay financially stable. Start by itemizing all your startup costs, including what you’ll need to buy to launch your business—like a sewing machine if you’re making clothes from scratch.
Then, identify your monthly costs, which may include raw materials, inventory, manufacturing fees, and ecommerce platform subscriptions. You should be able to cover at least three months of these operational costs.
5. Fund your clothing brand
Many fashion business owners choose to bootstrap their company, which means to use their personal savings exclusively to bring their clothing line to life. If you choose this route, make sure to keep an emergency savings fund in your bank account. If your startup costs exceed what you can comfortably take from savings, you’ll need to explore outside funding options.
One of the simplest ways to raise money is by crowdfunding from friends and family members. This allows you to cover costs without worrying about repayment; though the average campaign only receives around $6,000.
After registering your business, you can apply for larger sums of money from business loans, credit cards, or lines of credit. Keep in mind that you’ll need to repay these with interest. You can also pitch to investors. Most investors and lenders will expect you to prepare a business plan before asking for funding.
6. Develop your first clothing line
Creating clothing designs is the fun part. This is your chance to flex your creative muscles and bring your fashion vision to life.
If you plan to purchase private label apparel, start searching for clothing items that fit your niche on sites like Alibaba. You can peruse thousands of private label products and purchase affordable samples from sellers to curate your own high-quality collection.
If custom cut and sew is your thing, narrow down your favorite sketches to turn them into sewing patterns. Or if print-on-demand is more your speed, you should digitize your screen printing designs. You can recruit professional graphic designers or pattern makers from freelancer sites like Upwork or Fiverr.
If you’re creating a 100% custom clothing line, you’ll need to create a tech pack—a document that outlines measurements, required materials, and other design specifications—for each clothing item. Tech packs act as instructions for clothing manufacturers. Test different materials (including fabric, zippers, and buttons), and get feedback from potential customers before finalizing your tech pack.
To start printing or fully manufacturing your custom clothes, use a tool like Sqetch to find the right manufacturers to work with. Consider production costs, turnaround time, maximum and minimum order quantities, shipping services, and other relevant details before partnering with a company—and always ask for samples to assess quality.
7. Finalize your pricing
Once you understand your clothing production costs, decide on a price point for each product. A solid pricing strategy can mean the difference between consistently profiting (or at least breaking even) every month.
Additionally, set prices for domestic and international shipping with your expected shipping costs in mind. Most clothing lines offer customers flat shipping prices, and many offer free shipping for larger purchases.
Deciding how you’ll handle returns is also a key part of building a clothing line pricing strategy. Determine if shipping costs will be refundable as well as who will cover shipping for returns.
8. Lock down a business location
When considering whether you’ll open an in-person location or just continue to solely operate online, you’ll need to evaluate your operations to see what best suits your clothing brand.
An online store can reach target audience members outside of your local area, but it might not drive enough traffic on its own. Only about half of apparel sales happen on the web, with many people still preferring to shop in person.
Consider a hybrid model with the following options to maximize your business growth:
Your own website. If you want an online store that doesn’t take a cut of your proceeds and fully reflects your brand, you can create your own website without any coding experience. Consider using an ecommerce platform like Shopify or Squarespace that offers professional website templates.
Ecommerce marketplaces. Additionally, you can set up an online store on ecommerce marketplaces like Amazon, Etsy, and Facebook Shops. You’ll reach potential customers through trusted sales channels, which can help your clothing brand establish credibility before you’ve built a loyal customer base.
Brick-and-mortar store. In addition to setting up an online business, a physical presence in your community can drive 50% more sales. Before going all-in on a commercial lease, soft launch your clothing brand locally by placing your products with artisan markets and boutiques that can carry your clothing line.
9. Register your business
To legally sell your clothing under your brand name, you’ll need to register your business within your state. The registration process will vary based on your chosen business structure.
Sole proprietorships and partnerships simply need to file a doing business as (DBA) designation, which states you’ll operate under a name other than your own. DBAs cost less than $100 in most states. Other legal structures require a lengthier registration process, which can be done online or via paperwork from your state agency’s website for less than $300 in most states.
Additionally, research to understand what local business licenses and permits you’re required to hold. Reach out to your state agency for help if needed.
Clothing business owners can also benefit from applying for an employer identification number (EIN) through the IRS. EINs are often required for opening business bank accounts and getting loans.
10. Execute your marketing plan
The final step in building a successful clothing brand is developing an effective marketing strategy.
Identify the marketing and social channels your target market uses most often and create a business page on each to promote your clothing line and interact with customers.
If you’re opening a brick-and-mortar, don’t forget to add or claim your Yelp Business Page to add even more credibility and visibility to your brand.
Also consider running social media and Yelp Ads to promote launch day, discounts, and partnerships with fashion influencers and create buzz about your clothing line. Yelp Ads allows you to show up above relevant search results and on competitors’ pages so potential customers are more likely to find your business first.
Start marketing your launch at least a month ahead of your official “opening day” so you can generate as many sales as possible from day one.
Launch a successful clothing line
When you have a passion for fashion, creating your own clothing line can be a profitable way to get into the apparel industry—and it’s doable with or without design experience.
Start by clarifying your business idea: what you’ll sell, how you’ll profit, and where you’ll operate—plus your startup costs. Then, bring your business to life by registering your company, designing or curating your first collection, and marketing your launch.
To keep the momentum going, check out how to market your clothing brand in eight strategic steps.