How to Set Up and Run a Fashion Label No matter how talented you are as a designer, if you are going to run a successful fashion label you also need to know about business—from marketing and PR to manufacturing your collection, and where to find the money to finance it all.
Your Complete Guide to Design, Sampling, Production & Packaging
After a few years in the fashion game, the team at The New Garde has a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t when it comes to starting a successful clothing line. We could write a book that would rival the Encyclopaedia Britannica we’ve got so much information to share. If you have a tingle of creativity, a love for fashion and some business nous, you’ve probably toyed with the idea of starting your own fashion label. We absolutely encourage you to follow your dreams, BUT (and that’s a big BUT) you need to be prepared. It’s not all beer and skittles (or Balenciaga and sewing miracles) – there’s a lot of hard work ahead, but we guarantee you, it’ll be rewarding and you’ll only grow from the experience.
Kick-starting your fashion brand in style starts with you understanding the do’s and don’ts. Even knowing where to start can be a bit of a nightmare – designs, sampling, product, manufacturing, packaging…there’s so much to think about! Whether you’re looking to create a simple line of printed T-shirts or you want to design an entire collection of garments with seasonal additions, we’ve got you covered with the Must-Do and the How-To. Bring these six steps to life with our guide to starting a clothing business below.
#1 Must: Find your niche
Let’s start at the very beginning: what do you want to create? Starting a clothing business is a very personal journey. It’s an expression of creativity, a contribution, a comment – it might be an enjoyable side-gig or your sole source of income. Whatever it is, make it original. You’re more likely to be successful if you find a gap in the market that your idea or style fits into. Sounds easy enough – but how do you find the niche? Ask!
Start asking. Ask people around, ask people on the internet, ask friends of friends. Ask friends of friends of friends. Your research should be among your target age group and demographic. There’s not a lot of point in asking a teenage girl what she thinks would suit her grandmother, and vice versa. Or asking someone who lives in a desert about what kind of scuba gear they recommend. Once you find out a bit more about your demographic and what they like to wear, find out if you have any competition. If the answer is yes, analyze your competitors and think about how you can ‘zig’ while they ‘zag’. When the coast is clear, you’ve found a truly unique niche and it will be easier and more affordable to market, you’ll have less competition and more customer loyalty. Think about how saturated the swimwear market is in coastal places – how will you be different when it comes to design, quality and price, customer service and branding?
#1 DO NOT
Don’t narrow your focus on your closest competitor or you run the risk of copying them in many facets from branding to product – remember the point is to be different and ultimately ‘better’.Don’t base your customer on yourself. There’s only one of you and you don’t need hundreds of T-shirts. Design for a group of people. Think about naming that group as a persona. Like ‘Yummy Mummy’ or ‘Budget conscious student’ or ‘inheritance spender’.
#2 Must: Build a budget (and a business plan)
A solid business plan and a watertight budget are great in theory, but is a budget ever really watertight? While the best intentions are laid, there are many unseen variables so in light of this – the next steps are unbelievably important, it’s also time to get real about the ability to read the future. Whether you’re quitting your 9-5 job to follow your dream of having your own label or simply having some fun creating fashion and working with a creative team, you need a budget. An idea without a business plan is just a hobby and losing money on a hobby isn’t much fun.
Setting realistic timelines, creating websites, working out your brand, packaging, advertising and more all need to be considered. You also need to work out how much you can contribute to setting up your own business in order to develop this all-important budget. Make a list of your first year of essential expenses. We’re talking software, subscriptions like Adobe and Xero, branding, contractors, travel, materials, stationery, machinery, fabric, insurances…
Being creative rather than business-minded is no excuse! There are loads of resources on the internet to help you get all of this done well, or you can hire a freelancer to put it together for you. Now’s the time to invest in the right people to help lay the foundations to your brand. It will save you time, money and sleepless nights and put you directly on the path to success.
#2 DO NOT
Don’t fly by the seat of your pants, tell your boss to stick it and tell your family and friends to saddle up! What you may not realize is that while the people closest to you will be your biggest fans, they may not realize that this will take up a lot of your time and funds. Involve them early on in the conversations and try to not let the professional goals interrupt the personal goals.
TIP: Sit down and map out your personal goals for the next 5 years then parallel that with your business goals to recognize any conflicts.
#3 Must: Create your brand
Your brand reflects who you are as a designer and helps the people wearing your clothes to express themselves. There are a few questions you should ask yourself that will get you thinking about what kind of design, logo and messaging will best show who you are to your customers.
- Who will be wearing your clothes?
- What are their values?
- What makes them want to wear your clothes?
- Also, why wouldn’t they buy from you?
- How do they like to be communicated with?
- What makes your clothing (and brand) unique?
More and more research is showing that people want to get behind a cause when they’re purchasing, so think about being environmentally friendly, aligning with a cause or using local resources. Brand values like this can really resonate with your customers, and create a groundswell of support not only for your brand but for the betterment of the world while bringing added value to your to customers beyond your products.
#3 DO NOT
Don’t be shady about sustainability because it’s good for marketing. Don’t call your label a sustainable brand because part of your collection is made from bamboo or if it’s designed in house but sourced overseas ethically (especially when you haven’t been to the source of the production of not only the garment but the componentry – we’re talking right down to the tannery or the casein buttons. While we celebrate the small wins in sustainable practice, there’s a whole lot of greenwashing out there that devalues the brands out there truly defining the act of being sustainable within the segments of sustainable fashion.
#4 Must: Create your designs
How you create your designs is going to depend on your level of expertise and what you want to make, but we can tell you is your first collection or first run of garments needs to show who you are as a designer and what your brand is all about. Go back to those questions you answered when developing your brand – maybe you have original sketches from before you answered everything on that list. Do your sketches really encapsulate everything you want to say and be? Tweak, re-work or scrap until you are happy with the range. Narrow your designs down until the collection has nothing to add and nothing to take away, allowing the customer a plausible ability to buy the entire collection and eliminate the opportunity for one style to cannibalize the other.
If you’re feeling frustrated or swimming in designs and feel you’re not moving forward, seek out an experienced designer to give you feedback and assess your collection. Approach a pattern maker to talk about functionality before you sample it. Over time your collections will reveal a design signature that is unique to you. It’s that design signature that will excite your customers and build a loyal following.
#4 DO NOT
Get lost in the sketching. Communicating your designs in a visual way is important, but sometimes you have to put the pencil down and just get started. There’s no point having 100 designs and trying to battle decision paralysis.
TIP: Get a second opinion from a fashion consultant or even a sewing machinist – they can give you great insight to how much fabric is required for some styles and this may impact on your affordability to produce it in the first place.
#5 Must: How to find a manufacturer
If you’re not planning on making custom couture or cutting/sewing/printing everything yourself, manufacturing is going to play a huge role in your fashion line. Choosing a manufacturer is one of the big steps you’ll be taking when starting up – this is the company that you’re entrusting to bring your designs to life. Again, a few questions that will narrow down your search:
- Do you want to create your garments domestically or internationally?
- What types of material do you want to use?
- Are you sustainable (in which way) or fast-fashion?
- What’s your minimum order quantity?
- What’s your manufacturing timeline/what kind of turnaround are you expecting?
- How old is the factory?
If you can’t book an appointment to meet manufacturers, do your due diligence. Does the company even exist? Check their website – do they have a street address and a contact phone number? Ask who else they produce for. What quantity can they handle or what are their minimums? Ask if you are speaking with a salesperson or someone that works in the factory. They’ll be asking questions of you too, and if you can easily answer those listed above, you can consider yourself well prepared. Once you’ve short-listed a few manufacturers, request samples so you can evaluate their turnaround time and the quality of their work. When you think you’ve found a winner, it’s time to commit to a full-scale run. But even then you need to be aware of the financial systems for that country. – A great way to hold and transfer currencies with immediate and guaranteed conversion rates is TransferWise
#5 DO NOT
Approach a manufacturer if this is your first time without seeing the factory or being referred to it personally. Talk to a procurement officer first. Definitely, don’t send them an item to copy and just ‘change the print’. You need to develop your style based on your sketch and work with a product developer or designer to bring it to life and generate a tech pack. Do not go into production before you approve a sales sample or pre-production sample. You shouldn’t expect that your print will be correct without providing colour standards (including an art page with pantones and fabric swatches).
#6 Must: To market, to market…
Marketing your fashion line is going to revolve around your branding – where does your target customer get their information? Are they trawling social media? Do they read magazines? Are they influenced by influencers? Are they shopping in department stores or weekend design markets? Research into your audience will tell you where they like to discover new fashion trends and designers, so you’ll know where to advertise or market to get their attention. If you’re stretched too thin, hire a freelancer who specialises in online marketing. Set a marketing budget that encapsulates the next 12 months and stick to it. Be realistic with the budget and include public relations outreach. Of course, don’t forget to do your own influencing via social media and having a strong website and online presence.
TIP: When you determine your marketing budget – divide it into the cost of your products so that you can afford to execute it. It will also give you a budget for outsourced marketers to work with.
#6 DO NOT
Don’t have a ‘build it and they will come’ attitude to your website as a sales tool. A website is just like a bricks-and-mortar store. You still have to advertise and be creative with promotions in order to bring customers to your store. Think of and treat your website as the front window of a shop. Change the display in the window. Make sure it’s not cluttered and keep it fresh with the latest promotions.
Above all, do not forget your customers. The reason your brand exists is because of your customers, so continue to appeal to them in a way that brings them joy or distracts them from their issues and concerns. Remember to be consistent with your brand’s tone and the quality of the visual imagery used to encapsulate its values: these are the roots of your brand, and what you can always come back to if you find your head in the clouds.
Still left wondering how to do it all or what you can do next? Sign up for our 1:1 Fashion Workshops