Two clothing line founders share their tips for success as an independent fashion brand.
Credit: "Burning Lies Re-Inked" shirt image via Seventh.Ink
Starting a clothing line is a popular aspiration for those with an interest in fashion. While you might not ever be Hugo Boss or Marc Jacobs, you can create and launch a thriving fashion brand with a few good designs and a great marketing strategy. The founders of independent clothing lines Seventh.Ink and Albam shared their secrets to success.
Do your research
Graphic designer and Web developer Matthew Johnson founded Seventh.Ink in 2007 as a way to showcase his artwork on clothing. Before he began producing and selling his shirts, hoodies and accessories, he took the time to learn everything he could about the industry he was about to enter.
"It really does pay to do your research," Johnson told BusinessNewsDaily. "Read articles and interviews from your favorite brands, talk to those brands and check out websites like How to Start a Clothing Company (HTSACC) to get as much insight as you can."
HTSACC is one of the largest resources for people looking to create a fashion brand. Aspiring designers can find articles on startup costs, design copyrights and licensing, manufacturing, and other information specific to the clothing industry. It's important to have this information before starting your line so you can be fully prepared when launch time arrives.
Have something unique
Albam Clothing is a U.K.-based menswear brand started in 2006. Co-founder Alastair Rae and his business partner came up with eight original styles for what would become Albam's line of high-quality men's fashion.
"The idea was borne out of a joint frustration that we had over the price and quality of men's clothes available at the time," Rae said.
Albam's success stems from its founders' dedication to producing something different than what was out there on the market. Similarly, Johnson stressed the importance of bringing something fresh to the table.
"If you squeeze out the same thing that everyone else is making, people are going to go with the existing brand instead of you," he said.
Secure your startup funds
To build up your initial inventory, you'll need the money to produce it. HTSACC defines an "indie" clothing line as one that wants to produce high-quality products and plans to expand in the future once the brand grows. The site estimates that indie brands need a minimum of $500 to get going, and if you want in-house production, it could take as much as $10,000 in startup costs.
There are different ways you can go about securing the funds you need if you don't have enough saved up. Since small business loans are often difficult to secure, crowdfunding has become an attractive option for many startups. Another possibility is implementing preorders to get money from customers before actually producing the clothes they're purchasing.
"I ended up doing preorder designs once I got the hang of the business," Johnson said. "I was able to get an idea of what was selling and have the funds up front to pay for production."
Find a manufacturer
Making your own clothes by hand is fine when you only have a few customers, but as your brand grows, you may need to outsource in order to scale your operation. Johnson was able to enlist the help of a screen-printing friend to produce the clothing for his Florida-based company. Rae, on the other hand, was developing new fabrics for Albam clothes and wanted to find local manufacturers right off the bat.
"A big challenge for us was convincing factories that we were serious about manufacturing in the U.K.," Rae told BusinessNewsDaily. "They were not used to new businesses approaching them."
If you do have friends in the business, you'll probably have an easier time producing your clothing line. If you need to approach a professional manufacturer, as Rae did, make sure you have a solid business plan to present to the person in charge. Seeing a clear growth strategy will make potential business partners more confident in your entrepreneurial venture.
Learn how to market
As with any business, knowing how to market is critical for success. Having a good website for your brand will make it easier for customers to shop for your products, but advertising is what drives them to the site in the first place. Johnson quickly learned that paid advertising just wasn't worth it.
"I realized that word of mouth was the best way to spread the news about my brand without dropping a lot of money," he said.
Although Johnson started his company before social media marketing became popular, Seventh.Ink is now on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr and Pinterest, all of which are used to engage and communicate with customers.
Listen to your customers
You may end up departing from your original ideas and designs, but it's important that any changes you make are in line with what your target market wants.
"Listen to your customers' feedback," Rae advised. "Don't be afraid to remake old styles that customers are asking for, or kill a best-seller if it feels like the right thing to do."
Johnson also recommended getting customer input before making major changes, and if you do modify your brand, do it slowly, over time.
"A sudden switch is not only going to make customers question [your brand], but it'll likely cause sales to plummet because people have a tough time with major changes when they have a good thing going," Johnson said.
Like any startup, clothing lines take a lot of hard work and dedication. You will meet some challenges along the way, but if you believe in yourself and your brand, you'll succeed.
"Owning a clothing line isn't an easy or glamorous endeavor," Johnson said. "It's tough work that pays off successfully if you give it your all and enjoy what you do."
Originally published on BusinessNewsDaily.