The Ultimate Guide Showing How to Start a Clothing Line (March 2019)

I think we can all agree, the thought of starting a clothing line is pretty exciting. So, bite the bullet and do it!

Does creating an online brand and launching a digital store selling your apparel fuel you with excitement? If the answer's yes, then make it happen; it's as simple as that.

There are tons of success stories of people setting up an online store and making their first $1,000 in just a few weeks! It stands to reason if they can do it, then you can too.

Luckily for you, we're here to help. Let's dive into this handy guide on how to start a clothing line!

Step 1. First Things First, Choose a Winning Product

Firstly, you need to decide on the products you want to sell.

Chances are if you're finally living your dream and launching a fashion line; you'll have a rough idea of what you'll want to create.

However, if you're not settled on a particular product yet, never fear because the fashion industry opens up a whole world of opportunity.

You could consider selling any of the below apparel:

  • Tee shirts
  • Formal shirts
  • Sweatshirts
  • Leggings
  • Dresses

Just to name a few!

how to start a clothing line - winning product

It doesn't matter what product you want to launch; you need to pick an initial piece to build your business around. You can be sure that each article poses a new set of challenges and opportunities for your online clothing business.

Homework: Take some time and think about the kinds of clothes you want to design, create, and sell. Consider the style and vibe you want your brand to exude. How will your products reflect that?

Step 2. Which Business Model's Best for Starting a Clothing Line?

Now, you have a product in mind; you need a business model. There are four main options (as listed below) the expense and practicality of each of them vary massively; so you'll need to consider your options carefully.

  1. Print-On-Demand Clothing

Out of all four possibilities, this is by far the easiest.

Print on demand is when a company prints your design on a blank version of your product by utilizing a digital ink-jet printer. This allows them to print directly onto the garments with impressive accuracy.

This business model might be ideal for you, if:

  • You're on a low budget. There're no startup fees, so it's cost-effective for fulfilling small orders. In theory, you could hit the ground running within a few hours, for under $50!
  • You value automation in your business.
  • You want to produce printed clothing quickly (a matter of days).
  • You don't want to be limited by your choice of colors.
  • You want room for expansion. You can design a plethora of clothes; from tees to leggings and everything in between.

how to start a clothing line - blank tee

However, there are a few disadvantages to note:

  • Lower profit margins in comparison to the other two business models.
  •  You won't have much of a say when it comes to; the  quality of material, the stitching, the sizing, etc., because you're using standard wholesale clothing,
  • It's not cost-effective for fulfilling larger orders
  • You don't usually benefit from volume discounts
  • You'll have limited finishing options

Top Print-On-Demand Tips For Starting a Clothing Line

If you're unsure which e-commerce platform to use to launch your clothing line, then check out this article. Over there you'll find a brief review of six of the best platforms on the market. You won't go too far wrong with any of these!

If you like the sound of this business model, research both Printful and Shopify. They're both perfect platforms for laying the foundations for your online store.

When you get an order, the printing process automatically kicks in; they also handle the shipping for you.

You should note, Printful flawlessly integrates with your Shopify store, allowing you to get the best of both these services.

how to start a clothing line - Printful

2. Dropshipping Clothes

If you fancy trying your hand at drop shipping, check out this guide on how to get your drop shipping business up and running quickly. It's well worth a read!

Dropshipping is a popular choice of business model. It allows you to fulfill orders while entirely removing you from the process- how awesome is that?!

This is how works:

  1.  A customer orders something from your online boutique.
  2.  Your drop shipper handles, packages and ships the customer's order directly to them.

As you've probably guessed, the products you advertise and sell online are stored in your supplier’s warehouse.

Although you'll be responsible for customer service issues, your drop shipper usually handles returns. Meaning you've one less thing to worry about!

Dropshipping's ideal if you're on a budget. A lot of us don't have the capital to either rent or stock a warehouse, and this business model provides an excellent workaround.

Plus, if you want to market a new product, there's way less financial risk involved. You don't have to waste money stocking products to test them. Instead, you can hit the ground running with an array of apparel at your fingertips.

dropshipping starting a clothing line

However, there're a few cons to drop shipping you should be aware of:

  • You lack control over order fulfillment and shipping times: if your drop shipper fails to send your products on time, your customer's will have a poor experience. This can lead to complaints, poor reviews, and decreases the likelihood of repeat custom and referrals.
  • Lower profit margins: with dropshipping you're more likely to pay more per item in comparison to stocking an extensive inventory of products; making less room for profit.

Tips for dropshipping:

It's of paramount importance you find and use a high-quality drop shipper.

While conducting your research, check online reviews and see whether their customers are happy with the service they're receiving. If they're not, run for the hills!

Read more about how to setup your own dropshipping business.

3. Private Label Clothing Line

Setting up a private label clothing line is very similar to print-on-demand.

However, you need to buy blank clothing in bulk. Then, add your design using screen-printing, as well as inserting things like labels, tags, etc. So, it requires more of your time and attention than print on demand.

However, a private label clothing line boasts the following advantages:

  • A greater variety of customization over things like labeling, packaging, tags, etc.
  • The potential for higher profit margins. As you're purchasing items in bulk and upfront, you'll usually receive a volume discount. You can also add unique details which increase the perceived value of your product.
  • Screen printing produces high-quality results
  • It's cost-effective if you need to create higher volumes of your product because there isn't a minimum order.

However, you'll have to battle through the drawbacks below to reap the rewards:

  • The initial costs are expensive. Although screen printing provides a better quality finish, it's labor-intensive. You'll need to budget for around $2,500 to get up and running.
  • You can only print simple designs.
  • You'll need to organize warehousing to store and ship your products.
  • It takes more time to launch (weeks rather than days).
  • If you have plenty of designs, colors, and sizes, in your clothing line, this isn't a cost-effective option.
  • You can't fulfill smaller orders (typically ten units or less)

Our Advice for Launching a Private Label Clothing Line

Set up an account with either ThreadBird or Just Like Hero.

ThreadBird provides blank products, printing, and a ton of finishing options. Typically, you'll need a minimum order of 25 pieces to kickstart the process.

Just Like Hero also offer blank apparel, but for what they lack in variety they make up in quality. However, unlike Threadbird, you'll need to source a printer.

threadbird

4. Custom Cut and Sew Clothing Line

Last but not least, there's the custom cut and sew clothing line business model. This requires you to do everything.

From the initial sketches to sourcing manufacturers and everything in between. Put simply; it's hard graft. So there're a few drawbacks to consider:

  • It can take months until you're ready to launch.
  • Finding a manufacturer that'll accept smaller orders can be tough.
  • Sourcing and working with a pattern maker can be a hassle.
  • You'll have to find and test potential fabrics
  • You'll need to budget for thousands of dollars to get up and running
  • You'll need to fathom a warehousing and shipping strategy

Despite all the disadvantages, you'll enjoy the benefits below:

  • You're able to completely customize your product, which is fabulous you have a specific vision in mind.
  • There's a lot of potentials to increase the perceived value of your product, and therefore your profit margins.
Homework: Research these four business models and work out which suits your needs the best.
how to start a clothing line - fashion design

Step 3. How to Pick a Unique Selling Point for Your Clothing Line

Now you need to pick a unique selling point (USP).

This has a twofold benefit:

  1. Your clothing will be way easier to market online.
  2. It'll help you stand out in a very crowded marketplace.

It's very rare entrepreneurs are successful in selling to large groups of people, which is why a USP is essential for defining your brand.

For example, if you want to sell hoodies, think about how you'll specialize them to suit a specific audience. For example, super thick fleeces for people who enjoy camping. Or, lightweight sweatshirts for guys who spend their time hanging out on the beach.

You get the idea!

Ask yourself; who's my ideal customer, and how can I create a brand that speaks to them? This process starts by picking a unique niche.

If you're struggling to work out who your audience is, ponder the below questions:

  • What type of clothing do I want to make?
  • Who purchases these kinds of products?
  • How will I provide value to my customers?
  • What's my competition doing and how will I stand out against them?

how to start a clothing line - blank shirts

Once you've fathomed your target audience, you can tailor your brand to fit their precise needs; which leads us excellently to step four…

Step 4. Clothing Line Branding 101

Branding is key to your success.

It's the only way to separate yourself from your competition.

Every part of the branding process should focus on communicating your businesses values, message, and your story.

So, how do you achieve this?

Sit down. Grab a notepad and write a few words that spring to mind when you envision your clothing line.

In other words, what do you want your brand to embody?

Then, pin these words around your workspace to ensure every part of your brand persona reflects these attributes. This will remind you to brand consistently while starting a clothing line.

From website design to customer service, your brand should embody the persona of your brand.

What About Clothing Line Visuals?

By brand visuals, we mean things people see and associate with your brand. For example, your logo, choice of fonts, colors, etc.

Before you settle on anything, do some research.

Scour Pinterest and save ideas that inspire you. Look through magazines, catalogues, newspapers, etc. and cut out branding elements you like the look of.

Once you're done, refer back to them as you begin creating your visuals.

Now, pick a color scheme, and stick to it. Like we've said consistency is critical when it comes to branding. Look at all the inspiration you've gathered, and decipher which colors appear the most.

Use these as a basis for your color palette.

Once you've got a color scheme in mind, you can create a logo. Remember, simple is always more effective. If you're on a tighter budget, use software like Canva to make a professional looking logo.

canva design tool

Step 5. Pricing Clothing Products to Make a Profit

Before you consider the product development process, you need to get your budget in order. If costs constrain you, this will fuel your choice of fabrics, extra branding features, the quality of manufacturer, etc.

To help you out, we've compiled a list of things to include on your budget sheet (if you've opted for either a print on demand, private label clothing line or drop shipping business model, some of these aren't relevant to you).

  • Product development pros
  • Samples
  • Materials (fabrics, zippers, hook and eyes, diamontes, etc.)
  • Fuel to get to factory meetings
  • Labor
  • Shipping
  • Production

Once you've thought about this, you'll have a better idea of your budget, and what you'll need to price your products to make a profit.

This info is essential when it comes to communicating with potential factories.

how to start a clothing line - budget

Step 6. The Nitty Gritty of Clothing Line Product Development

Please note, if you're following the print on demand business model, this isn't relevant to you.

If you're brand new to the fashion industry, this is often the most complicated step. You might want to consider partnering with people who have experience in the below areas:

  • Pattern making
  • Tech pack creation
  • Designing

You get the idea!

When you get help from a professional, you'll find the whole product development process way easier, and your manufacturer will breathe a sigh of relief!

how to start a clothing line - fashion

Where Do I Find This Kind of Help?

Start by researching potential manufacturers.

Some manufacturers offer a handy product development service. Not only is this useful, but sometimes they won't work with you unless you've used their specific process.

However, not all manufacturers offer this, but they usually have a list of preferred partners, so be sure to make some inquiries.

What's the Product Line Development Process?

Here's a quick rundown of the product development process from start to finish.

#1. Design

To kick things off, you'll need an initial design crafted using software like Illustrator.

Top Tip: As you sketch your first ideas on paper, start annotating your unique features.

#2. Tech Pack

A tech pack is a fancy term for your product's blueprint. This gives your manufacturer all the technical specifications of your product. Be sure to include:

  • Your design and artwork
  • Measurements
  • Choice of fabric
  • Information about accessories
  • Trim
  • Stitching
  • Info for your labels and tags
  • Packaging Instructions

#3. Pattern Making

This is the stage where you transform your technical drawings into patterns for production.

This also includes grading, where you take a standard design and use it as a template for different sizes.

#4. Choosing a Manufacturer

This involves finding, researching and sampling multiple manufacturers.

Get a small batch of samples from each potential manufacturer to identify which provides the best product. It'll also highlight any potential issues with your line; win-win!

There are a few things you'll need to know about a potential manufacturer:

  • Their location (this is important for effective communication, if your manufacturer is the other side of the world, you'll need to bear that in mind when you're emailing and budgeting your shipping timeframe).
  • Their reputation
  • What other companies they've worked with
  • What they're capable of producing

Top Tip: Not all manufacturers offer the same services or have the same values. Do your due diligence and thoroughly research each potential manufacturer. It's the only way you'll source the best regarding both quality, ethics, and practicality.

how to start a clothing line - clothing factory

Any Advice for Contacting Manufacturers?

By this stage, you should have a shorter list of potential manufacturers. Before pingING off an email, there are a few things to bear in mind:

ALWAYS show a serious interest in their services. Otherwise, they probably won't get back to you. After all, time is money; they only want to work with people who're serious about using them. In your email, be clear about what you need by informing them about the services you require, and the timeframe you have in mind.


ALWAYS be courteous. If you decide to go with them, you'll want to establish a long-lasting business relationship. Be respectful in your email, and familiarize yourself with their processes. This will help you manage your expectations realistically.

Be prepared to follow up. If after a week or so, you don't hear back from them, follow up your initial email. In this industry, there's nothing wrong with demonstrating how serious you are about your venture.

DON’T give too much away. Always introduce your brand, as well as the kinds of products you want to produce, but don't fall into the trap of overcomplicating your inquiry.

#5. A Full Product Run

Last but not least, your product will be ready for mass production. This usually involves the creation of hundreds, if not thousands of pieces.

how to start a clothing line - the product line

Why Do So Many Clothing Lines Fail?

That last section can seem a little daunting.

Yes, setting up a clothing line takes a lot of time, and potentially money (depending on your chosen business model). So, naturally, you don't want your venture to fall flat on its face.

As cynical as it sounds, we can learn a lot from why previous clothing lines have failed:

#1. Failing to Test Your Design

Before you start printing, always get feedback on your designs; and no, family and friends don't count. Their opinion will naturally be biased.

Instead, if you have a social media following or an email list, why don't you ask for their views? You could offer them a freebie to incentivize people to provide their thoughts.

#2. Attempting to Crack Traditional Retail Stores 

This may seem like the aim, but trust us, it's not the most profitable way of running a clothing line.

Usually, the majority of profits go into slashing your prices to offer retailers a wholesale price. So, although you'll shift a higher number of units, you won't make anywhere near as much as selling your products yourself.

#3. Failing to Listen to the Facts

It's not enough to go with you ‘think' is right. You have to know.

You need to do plenty of market research before launching your line. It's the only way to know what people will spend their hard earned cash on.

#4. Failing to Prioritize Quality

Although you'll acquire a higher profit by opting for lower quality blanks and cheap screen printing, your final product will suffer.

When you compromise on quality,  you'll give your customers a miserable experience, which will affect your sales in the long-run.

high quality clothes - how to start a Clothing Line

Step 7. Package Your Clothes Like a Pro

Packaging is something we often forgot about, but it's a vital component for reinforcing your brand in the minds of your customers.

When done well, your packaging can add to the perceived value of your product; so it's essential you get this right.

What Are My Options?

You have a few choices:

Boxes: These are a great option because they're robust, which makes them ideal if you need to transport either bulky apparel or delicate goods that need extra protection.

Although they add to the weight and size of your package, which increases the price of shipping, it's usually worth it. This generally reduces the likelihood of customer returns and a bad experience.

Top Tip: you can create customized boxes to reflect your brand and to produce a more professional aesthetic.

how to start a clothing line - shipping

Poly Mailers: AKA shipping bags. These are fabulous because they hardly add any weight to your package. Therefore, they're a more cost-effective option than boxes. However, they're not as sturdy, so they're only useful for clothing that isn't prone to damage.

Just like shipping boxes, you can customize poly mailers to make them look appealing.

Bubble Mailers: If you're looking for something between a poly mailer and a shipping box, bubble mailers are a perfect choice. They're very similar to poly mailers, but they boast an extra layer of bubble wrap inside the envelope. This provides additional protection to whatever you're shipping.

Tissue Paper: This is wonderful if you're looking for something that'll enhance your customer's overall experience. It adds perceived value to your product; making it feel more like a present than a delivery.  Prospects love this! You can even personalize tissue paper with your logo and brand colors.

Packaging Tape: If it complements your brand, opt for a tape that reflects your brand's color palette, or has your logo printed on it. This is a fabulous way of decorating your package while adding a further layer of security.

Stickers: These are ideal if you don't require robust packaging tape. You can use labels to seal your mailers closed while promoting your brand with your logo and tagline. They're incredibly versatile, making them the perfect accessory for improving your customer's unboxing experience.

Our recommendation- check out this round up of independent fashion stores, and get a feel for what they're doing right! However, DON'T copy them. Merely, allow their work to inspire you.

Bonus Section: How to Start Your Clothing Line With 6 Digital Marketing Tips

#1. Use Shopify

Like we've already said, Shopify (read our Shopify review) is a fantastic platform for launching your online store.

With just a click of a button, you can insert all your brand visuals. This works wonders for strengthening your brand.

You can also craft an engaging ‘About Page,' this is a fantastic place for communicating to shoppers who you are, and what your company stands for. Be completely transparent with your story; this is a really effective way of building trust with potential customers.

With just a click of a button, you can insert all your brand visuals. This works wonders for strengthening your brand.

You can also craft an engaging ‘About Page,' this is a fantastic place for communicating to shoppers who you are, and what your company stands for. Be completely transparent with your story; this is a really effective way of building trust with potential customers.

Last but not least, you can also SEO optimize your store to rank higher on Google. Do some keyword research and fix your store, so prospects find you while they're surfing the web.

#2. Connect With Influencers

If you want an online following and fast, connecting with influencers, who're already established in the fashion industry is an absolute must.

All you need to do is to reach out to these authorities and see whether they'd post about your product in exchange for a fee.

Depending on their level of influence, just one post could send an influx of traffic to your site. This is amazing for boosting your following.

Homework: Make a list of potential influencers you'd like to collaborate with and drop them a friendly yet professional email. Always offer to send them a sample of your product for free, this usually sweetens the deal!

#3. Take to Instagram

If you're new to the digital marketing sphere, Instagram is one of the most accessible platforms, to begin with.

Typically, Instagram users are more engaged with brands, and therefore more responsive to what you post. Plus, you can insert a ‘buy-now’ button on your posts, which is ideal for promoting your clothing line.

Publish high-quality images of your apparel, and interact with both your following and other people in the fashion industry. This is a winning combination for generating an audience on Instagram.

#4. Prioritize Email Marketing

When done right, email marketing is incredibly useful. This is a fabulous method for gaining repeat custom. The people on your list are some of your most dedicated customers, so they're way more likely to purchase from you again.

Homework: Register with a marketing platform like Mailchimp to enable you to start collecting the names and email addresses of customers when they buy something. You can also insert a signup form on your site to capture the details of those who might be interested in purchasing at a later date.

mailchimp email marketing

#5. Content is King

Start a blog in conjunction with your online store. This is amazing for engaging and building a rapport with new customers by providing them valuable information.

For example; fashion advice, fashion hacks, top trends, etc. You get the idea!

Homework: start writing a weekly blog. Product reviews and listicles are both popular and easy to consume, so try drafting these kinds of articles. See how your audience responds to them and continue to tweak and improve your content marketing strategy.

#6 Launch a Facebook Ad

Other than influencer marketing, all of the above methods take a while to take off.

However, with Facebook ads, you can see results in a matter of days, and in some cases, hours. Facebook's algorithm allows you to target niche audiences (which is one of the reasons why picking a unique selling point is so important).

You can target people based on their:

  • Location
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Interests

start a clothing line - facebook business

This is honestly one of the most powerful ways of finding your ideal audience and marketing directly to them.

However, be savvy, and only invest a small amount of money, to begin with. Test different ads and compare to see which converts the best. Once you've got a winning ad, you'll then be in a safer position to increase your budget.

Still Thinking of Starting a Clothing Line?

If this blog post's given you the nudge you need to begin starting a clothing line, then we're over the moon to hear that! Contact us today and see how we can help you make the most of this venture.

P.S. you may also find this guide to running a successful online business helpful. Enjoy!

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Rosie Greaves

Rosie Greaves is a professional content strategist who specializes in all things digital marketing, B2B, and lifestyle. In addition to e-commerce platforms, you can find her published on Contena, Cake and Lace Blog, and Love You Tomorrow. Check out her website Blog with Rosie for more information.