How To Start a Clothing Brand in 2022
Today you’re going to learn how to start a clothing line.
In fact, the strategies covered in this article helped us start, scale and then sell a clothing brand before we moved into the manufacturing sector.
Let’s get right into what you need to know about starting a clothing brand:
Understand The Commitment
Starting a business isn’t a career choice, but rather a lifestyle one.
Launching a clothing brand should come from the passion of the industry, wanting to innovate and provide customers with great quality and value for money.
Staying prepared for every outcome and being persistent is one thing and falling repetitively yet not giving up on your initial idea is another. Any successful brand, or business has endured a lot of failures along the way and being prepared for these is paramount to success.
Building a clothing brand, like any business should be around longevity, not making a quick sale. Ensure you revert back to this when making crucial business decisions.
Getting into business is a long-term, lifestyle decision over a career choice. Those who start and run businesses of any size need to be ready to sacrifice a lot, work long days and reinvest back into the business at the beginning to ensure the business scales correctly.
Managing Funds for a Startup
There’s no two ways around it; starting a clothing line costs money and can be expensive. This is because the business model requires you to invest into inventory before you sell it.
Although there are ways you can minimise expenditure at the beginning, you need stock to sell in order to make money. This stock needs to be purchased upfront from clothing manufactures, thus the cost being high initially.
There are a number of different ways you can raise money for a business, but they ultimately boil down to two main types; the first is money borrowed to be repaid later and the second is money raised for equity sold.
So, what is equity? In short, equity is the value of shares issued by a company. Equity can be valued in a number of different ways; depending on the business sector, years of trading, profit/ loss statements and so on.
Below are some of the main ways you can fund your clothing line startup:
1. ANGEL INVESTMENT
Angel investors are usually high-net-worth individuals who invest in early stage businesses. This can also be referred to as “seed funding” and can generally be investment up to the region of £1 million. Angel investors tend to take equity (as explained above) in exchange for the investment. They often invest into the entrepreneur themselves and offer good value, experience and assistance along the way.
Check out the best angel investment network here.
2. VENTURE CAPITAL
Venture capital is the next stage after angel investment. This is usually investment north of £1 million and is from Venture Capital Firms. Similarly to above, this process usually involves selling off equity shares in exchange for the investment but this is usually on offer to hyper-growth companies, opposed to startups.
2. BANK FINANCING
Having solid credit reports from the past or a few prevailing assets that you can present as collateral, along with an adequate business plan, can get you a large amount from a bank that can earn you a lot of credit. But if the odds go against you, the same money can lead you towards bankruptcy. Having a backup plan is a must if you’re opting for a bank loan and nowadays, bank loans don’t come easy.
You can also raise money via online crowdfunding. This is best for consumer facing businesses of convenience, where your average person can get behind the vision and want to be a part of a business concept. One of the best examples of a successful crowdfunding campaign is a client of ours, Delivrme who successfully raised £2million in crowdfunding over 2 weeks.
Learn more about crowdfunding here.
Self financing is a pretty obvious option - you use savings to invest into your own business. This is the preferred method by most, as it avoids the need to sell off equity, or pay back loans with large interest rates.
Before you jump on the bandwagon, first conduct thorough research on the market - pay attention to what is currently on offer, if there are any gaps in offerings and where you can provide a better product, value for money, or service for customers.
This can be in the form of primary, or secondary market research, questionnaires and so on.
Once you’re done with your research, make sure that you’re bringing a product that stands out from the rest of the market and promotes inclusivity.
Many clothing brand owners get carried away focusing on the complexities of launching a business without first ensuring that the very product they’re working on is actually something that the market needs and/ or wants.
Choosing Your Niche
A market can be subdivided into niche markets. The definition of a niche market is a “small, specialised market for a particular product or service.”
You may wonder, well how can I possibly do well in business if I target a small, niche market?
Consumers love a sense of exclusivity and personalisation. Further to this, it’s much easier to establish your brand as an industry leader when you hone into a specific section within a mass-market.
“People buy into brands, not businesses”
If you can't come to a conclusion about your niche or you've got something in mind but don't know if it would sell or not, then identifying your target audience and analysing the market trends thoroughly would be the best thing to do.
First, decide who you want to work for, their requirements and what's not available for them in the market, then proceed to provide exactly what the market's lacking to stand out from the rest and immediate attention from the masses.
Most brands tend to create products they’d personally use - whilst this isn’t the be all, end all; it certainly is a good way to become accustomed to what the market wants. If you do decide to go down this route though, ensure you’re not basing everything off of your own assumptions but instead conducting market research properly.
Developing a Brand
After adhering to all the basics, it’s the time to develop your brand, and it might take some time. In order to keep the brand identity rare yet compelling, there are a few barriers that one needs to breakthrough:
1. BRAND IDENTITY
To promote a great first idea about a Small Clothing Brand, the most important characteristic is its identity. The words “brand” and “logo” are often used interchangeably, but there is a key distinction between the two.
A brand identity is made up of what your brand says, does, what your values are and how these are communicated through your products and marketing to consumers. Picture your brand identity being the personality of the business, whilst your logo is merely your looks.
Brand identity will be what you often refer back to when making key business decisions. How to Develop a Unique (& Memorable) Brand Identity in 2022 is a great article by Hubspot which breaks down examples of the most common brands you’ve heard of and how they’ve developed their identity over the years.
Brand guidelines are a great tool used to ensure your identity is clearly and consistently conveyed across all forms of marketing. Learn How to Create a Brand Style Guide here.
2. CONVINCING SLOGAN
A captivating tagline about what the brand intends to offer is an added bonus for the marketing of the brand. It is exactly what gives Small Clothing Brands an ultimate boost instantly. It’s one of the primary features of a brand that stays in mind and helps recognise the brand almost instantly. So, a great catchphrase can do wonders for a brand.
Enticing representation is exactly what captivates the mind of a customer. Whatever marketing strategies that you see fit for your company, make sure they’re attractive yet worth the time of the customer. If a person visits your website, the captivating graphics and top-notch visuals should convince them about the professionalism and authenticity of your brand.
Designing a logo for your brand is a very important step.
Clothing brand logos, unlike other marketing materials, are ones which can and often are used as a design tool when releasing collections.
Including your logos on items not only adds to the brand's visibility (as people wearing those items are effectively marketing it for you) but if done well enough, it can be seen as a status symbol.
Investing in a proficient and skilled design team is advised here - whilst there are plenty of more cost-effective options on marketplaces like Fiverr, the reality is that you get what you pay for… but we wouldn't recommend spending thousands of pounds on a logo design for your clothing brand!
Registering a Company
Your company would have to get registered sooner or later due to legal purposes, and there are many details that you might have missed during the process. Getting a business name registered requires the existence of a company as well. Hence, filing a DBA for an existing company or submitting an amendment to the legal name of an existing business would be sufficient.
You’ll want to decide whether you intend on registering as a Private Limited Company, or a Sole Trader when starting your business. If you’re stuck on which would be a better option for your brand, then check out Limited Company Or Sole Trader. Which is Better?
Websites like Domain.com will help you generate a new and unique brand name to avoid any legal consequences. It is always a good idea to consult with legal representatives around Trademarks, and Intellectual Property if you have any concerns.
Designing for a Fashion Brand
The most crucial process of building a Fashion Brand Company is the designing and manufacturing. It’s very easy to get carried away with branding, website development, social media marketing and other more “appealing” avenues of business without first nailing your product.
The first thing you need to do is establish what you’re looking to bring to market and then approach clothing manufacturers to assist you in the process. This likely will be your first hurdle as a brand starting out. We’ve created a list below of some of the best clothing brand designers to help you launch your clothing line;
- White2Label Manufacturing
- The London Pattern Cutter
- Thread and Butter Design Agency
Every design agency will be able to offer something similar, so focusing on finding one who you can build a long-lasting relationship with would be key here. Once you’ve located the appropriate design agency to assist your brand, the next stage is to source a clothing supplier.
Manufacturing for your Fashion Brand
Approaching clothing suppliers can be difficult, but we’ve created a little step by step guide for you to tick off and make sure you have everything ready to start properly looking for the appropriate manufacturer for your brand.
One of the most common mistakes we see clothing brand startups make is they aren’t 100% sure on what they actually want - they rely too heavily on the manufacturers expertise, which isn’t an issue but giving a good amount of direction, alongside taking on feedback and being adaptable is the best middleground when it comes to working with custom clothing manufacturers.
Domestic vs Overseas Clothing Manufacturers
The very first hurdle to tackle is deciding whether you’d like to manufacture locally, or overseas.
“A lot of brands post-pandemic are looking to bring manufacturing back into the UK to promote the British economy and have greater control over the process.”
That being said, there are pros and cons to doing this, and whilst the idea of manufacturing in the UK may seem appealing, this comes at a higher cost in terms of price per unit and in some cases, minimum orders.
There’s a great article - Custom Clothing Manufacturers: Should I Stay Local, or Go Overseas? which breaks down arguments for both sides of the argument on where to produce your clothing.
Research Your Supplier
There are many variations of suppliers themselves in terms of what they specialise in, can offer your brand and their process. Most, if not all will fall into one of these categories;
CMT stands for Cut, Make, Trim. This type of manufacturing involves you sourcing fabrics and sending this to the supplier where they’ll cut it into patterns and construct the item. This means you would need to purchase fabric, arrange dyeing, pattern creation and branding thereafter.
This method is great if you already have some experience with product development, or have someone who can assist you with this.
FPP stands for Full Production Package. This type of manufacturing involves the supplier managing all aspects of the production process. From design, to patterns, sourcing fabrics and all branding on the garment.
This method is the most commonly used by overseas suppliers and the benefits are clear - there’s one point of contact for entire management, over CMT where you’d be relying on multiple parties to complete a process.
So, you’ve designed your clothing, decided where you’d like to manufacture and now are ready to proceed onto the next stage. This is probably the most important step and one that requires due care and attention and cannot be rushed; that is sampling.
What exactly is a sample?
Sampling is the creation of a prototype. It provides you the opportunity to assess the clothes factory from start to finish - from management of expectations, to workmanship and everything in between. The idea is that post-sampling, you’re 100% satisfied to proceed with this manufacturer and everything is signed off. Sampling can come in many forms and also has its limitations - it’s best to discuss exactly what you will receive from the clothing supplier you’re working with, but as a rule of thumb most samples will fall into one of two categories;
- Usually follows specifications as much as possible,
- Often excludes custom trims and hardware due to MOQs,
- Will comprise of either stock fabric, or stock colours (i.e. won’t be custom dyed to match a pantone reference)
- In some instances, may exclude certain features (dependent on suppliers capabilities)
- This is usually the piece which resembles how the bulk units will look
- Comes after initial sampling, feedback and is the final unit to sign off
- Once this is signed off, production begins
- Can include custom trims, hardware, labelling and even dyeing
Some suppliers may try to convince you to proceed without first sampling and whilst this can work in certain situations; for example, re-orders with the same supplier, we wouldn't recommend it.
If you’re working with a supplier who is ordering stock fabrics, it’s always good practice to order samples on re-orders to ensure fabric consistency - whilst it’s rare for it not to be the same, manufacturing is all about minimising the risk.
PRODUCTION & SHIPPING
Once you’ve signed off sampling, it’s now time to proceed with the bulk order.
Most clothing factories will allow payment terms (meaning you pay a deposit upfront, then balance post-production, pre-shipment or some even post-delivery) - the specifics of this will be dependent on the supplier you’re working with, but definitely ask about payment terms as they favour you; easing the cashflow burden of mass production.
Which shipping method to use?
If you’re importing goods from overseas, the variety of different shipping methods might seem quite overwhelming, so we’ll break down each below and exactly what each means.
Around 90% of the world's trade is transported by sea. In short, this method of shipping involves loading large amounts of product into containers which are then put onto a sea vessel and transported, well, by sea!
The benefit of such a method is the lower cost, in comparison to faster methods but one downside is the time it takes. Depending on the country of origin and destination, sea freight can take anywhere from 30-90 days which is a long time to tie up your products.
Air freight is the carriage of goods by aeroplane. Loaded underneath the cabin on commercial airlines, or in some instances (for larger couriers like DHL) - the entire aircraft being loaded and transported for the sole purpose of moving goods.
This service has one obvious advantage - speed. It’s much faster than the sea freight alternative but comes with a large premium.
Import Duties & Taxes
“In this world, nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes”
If you’re importing goods from overseas, you’re going to need to pay import duties and taxes. It’s therefore important to know the shipping terms of your supplier and who is responsible for the payment of these taxes.
DDU stands for Delivery Duties Unpaid. This means you will be responsible for any import duties and taxes on the shipment and it is not prepaid.
DDP stands for Delivery Duties Paid. This means you have already prepaid the import duties and taxes on the shipment and will not be liable to pay any more.
Marketing Your Brand
Nowadays, brand promotion is the most significant and vital weapon used widely to conquer the market. The main cause of the immense progress of numerous fashion giants is how they portray their product and how their audience perceives it.
The company's reputation, sales, investors, product range, customers, literally everything, rely on the marketing team. Social media also plays a huge role in promoting products and is also a part of brand marketing.
Marketing avenues spread far and wide within business. The main areas of marketing you’ll likely hear about are social media-led marketing tactics; things like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat ads and Influencer Marketing.
The question is, are these marketing techniques still effective in 2022?
Yes, of course they are - provided they’re done properly.
If you’re just starting out, chances are you’re the person who designs, picks, packs orders and also runs marketing campaigns so we’ve created a brief guide below on how to get started.
Facebook and Instagram Advertising:
The most common form of marketing in the D2C (direct to consumer) space is Facebook and Instagram marketing. This can seem like trying to study chemical medicine at first and complicated with all the types of ads, audience metrics and way in which you present it but the fundamental formula to a successful paid ad campaign is pretty simple;
- What is your offer - think like a consumer. You need to have an incentive to click on an ad but this doesn’t have to be in the form of a discount. It could be free shipping, announcing a new product, or collection.
- Track sales, not vanity metrics - a vanity metric is a metric of data which has no tangible value to performance of a campaign, or a business. Examples include website traffic, CTR (click through rate), newsletter sign ups and add to carts - provided none of these are one of your KPIs in the campaign. Focus on the bottom line; sales.
- A/B test everything - the only way to build a successful campaign is to split tests and see what yields a higher return on investment.
- Don’t be afraid to spend - sorry, but spending £5 a day for 7 days just won’t cut it. You need to invest a good chunk of your marketing budget into ads to ensure you’re getting reliable data back. Here is a Guide For How Much to Spend on Facebook Marketing
- Review product and market fit - go back and review your niche market if necessary. Make sure your product is built off of a real need and not just personal assumptions.
Did you know that 40% of consumers had purchased something after seeing it on an influencer in 2021? That shows the power of influencer marketing!
In fact, interest in Influencer Marketing has risen by more than 90X from 2013 - 2022. This is based on Google Trends and Keyword Analysis. But why is this important?
To put it simply, it shows the power of influencer marketing and how this can be an effective driver of sales for any brand, so it can be for yours too. That being said, 76% of clients we spoke to said that influencer marketing can seem overwhelming and one client said it was like a “landmine” - you simply don’t know who is authentic and who isn’t.
We’re therefore going to break down some top tips for guiding you through this space and ensure you maximise your chances of finding the right influencers and converting heavily within this form of marketing;
- Set goals - what are you trying to achieve with influencer marketing? This might be obvious.. Sales, right? Sure but you can also set goals like increasing traffic to gain data for conversion optimisation, increased brand image and perception and so on.
- Define a target audience - you need to know who you’re targeting in order to find the appropriate influencer(s) for your campaigns. Revert back to section 4 if you’re unsure - Find your Niche.
- Research your influencer - due diligence is key here. There are plenty of influencers out there who purchase followers, likes and comments so go through a handful of posts at random and check the engagement - make sure they’re real people, showing a real sign of interest in their content.
- Set the parameters, but don’t be afraid to give up control - make sure you inform the influencer of the campaign's KPIs (key performance indicators) but let them take their creative twist - after all, they create content for a living!
- Build long-term relationships - put yourself in their shoes. They probably get hundreds of messages every week from brands who want just one post and any good influencer would be selective with who they work with to minimise overexposing their audience to promotion. Make it clear this is a long term play; you’re in this to work together.
Beyond product marketing, there are also some things you’d need to consider as a startup to establish your brand within a saturated market; these main elements will help you;
1. EMPLOYER BRANDING
When you’re fortunate enough to be in the position (and if you’re reading this blog, we don’t doubt you will be) to start looking towards hiring, employer branding is crucial. Employer Branding enables you to attract the most professional set of people who'd be willing to take your company to a whole new level. This might seem easy, but in reality - hiring skilled individuals is very hard and good staff are hard to come by.
But how does Employer Branding actually work? If you’re hiring, make sure you explain why you’re different from other companies, explain all benefits and pay clearly in the job posting and focus on selling your company's vision to employees. Once you have them in the business, ensure you focus on processes and systems to maximise operational efficiency.
The most attractive perk of professional branding is that it helps attract customers and draws the attention of many investors and Sponsors. The more creative branding, the more people would be willing to invest in the brand. If the company has been focusing on building a good reputation in the market since the beginning and has always stood out among the competitors, then such companies always stay in the eyes of investors. Some of the most famous partnerships within the fashion industry have been LV / Supreme and GAP / Yeezy.
3. CONSUMER CONVENIENCE
Your role as a business is to solve a pain point of a consumer. This could be trying to access high quality fabrics that don’t break the bank account, or sourcing an innovative style of clothing that appeals to a niche market. Whatever that may be, don’t lose sight of consumer convenience in everything you do.
This is exactly why most popular brands focus on designing a user-friendly and convenient interface that anyone could easily use without any hassle or inconvenience. And to achieve that, they hire the best web developers and tech experts that create such apps and websites that are easily functional and guarantee an amazing shopping experience. Hence, such companies always strive further and stay in the good books of their buyers.
The fact that you made it this far and have gone out of your way to research this article shows you’re on the right path. Starting a clothing line, like any business, is difficult. It involves a lot of very unique skills but one that must always prevail is perseverance.
Take each step as it comes and make sure you remain focused on the overriding goal. Use this article and those tools linked to help you create a plan from start to finish and guide you through the process as you build your business.
Before we wrap this up, we’ve left some commonly asked questions below to help you with any you may have after reading this ultimate guide to starting a clothing brand in 2022.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- How long does it take to start a new clothing brand?
There is no set timeline for this process - it can be a matter of weeks, or months depending on how much time you allocate to developing the business, budget and financing and market.
- How do I decide my targeted clientele?
First, determine what community would be interested most in your apparel. When you're done, make sure to market your brand exactly in the way you want your target audience to perceive it.
- How do I find the best clothing manufacturer for my brand?
The world is not short of clothing manufacturers, but finding any old supplier and finding one who is reliable, holds good communication and delivers great quality are two very different things.
4. How can I determine my cost strategy?
Determining target cost prices, RRPs and margins should be something you do well before approaching clothing manufacturers. As a rule of thumb, you should always strive for at least a 50% gross margin per sale.
- What should I keep in mind before pitching my idea to an investor?
- Make sure to have a personalised domain email for the company instead of a regular one to keep things professional.
- Prepare an enticing pitch deck to convince the investor.
- Show your potential to the max and how the company will influence the market.
- What is the key factor for a successful clothing business?
Continuous production along with top-quality maintenance and convenient prices are just to name a few. You can check out a detailed guide on major factors for a successful business here.
- Should I build the business as a side-hustle initially?
This is a question that is very much dependent on personal circumstances but as a rule of thumb, starting a business as a side hustle is a safer option and helps you focus on growing the business, rather than panicking about surviving as you still have the safety net of a full-time income.
This would require work though. For some real life, practical examples of how side hustles can develop into large businesses, you should check out The Side Hustle Podcast.
Anthony Mellor is a fashion entrepreneur, writer and consultant. Anthony writes in-depth articles about topics related to fashion, business and supply chains.
Anthony successfully scaled and exited a D2C fashion brand at the young age of 20. Since then, he's gone onto start and successfully operate two multi-6-figure clothing manufacturing businesses and currently offers up one-to-one constancy to brand owners.