Have you ever dreamed of being a fashion designer? Maybe you could never find clothes you liked so you made your own, or maybe you fell in love with your home-ec class in middle school. However this path started for you, it has the potential to end in a successful fashion brand.
You might not be showing your line at New York Fashion Week, but you can still create and launch your own line. The founders of independent clothing lines shared their secrets to success.
1. Do your research
Matthew Johnson, owner and designer at Seventhfury Studios and Seventh.Ink Shirts and Apparel, 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, which includes patches, pins, and art, he took the time to learn everything he could about the fashion industry.
"It really does pay to do your research," Johnson told Business News Daily. "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."
In an article for Entrepreneur, contributor Toby Nwazor said that knowing where to produce the clothing line is an extremely important decision because the clothing line's initial quality will be what the business' reputation is based on, for better or for worse.
2. Have something unique
The fashion market has always been a crowded one, so to stand out, you need something truly unique. Albam Clothing, a U.K.-based menswear brand started in 2006, started with co-founder Alastair Rae and his business partner designing with eight original styles, which 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 clothing 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.
3. Secure your startup funds and establish a pricing model
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. If you want in-house production, it could take as much as $10,000 in startup costs. Five hundred dollars to $2500 is usually where most indie brands land.
"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."
Nwazor wrote that to ensure a profit, the entrepreneur must establish wholesale and retail rates higher than the expenses. A target for these rates would be to earn a profit margin 30 to 50 percent higher than associated expenses, he said.
4. 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 enlisted 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 said. "They were not used to new businesses approaching them."
To prepare for manufacturing, Nwazor suggested securing capital through investments from others, typically loans, or from the entrepreneur's personal money. The initial investment will range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand, depending upon inventory and quality.
5. Learn how to market
Knowing how to market is critical for success. Having a good website for you brand makes it easier for customers to shop for your products, but advertising is what drives them to the site. Johnson quickly learned that paid advertising just wasn't worth it. [See Related Story: When Customer Loyalty Isn't Enough, Turn to Word-of-Mouth]
"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.
Nwazor agrees that a great online presence is important.
"You have a lot to lose if you don't move your business online, because the online commerce market is more important than brick-and-mortar location," he wrote.
6. Listen to your customers
"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.
"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."
Additional reporting by Nicole Taylor. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.