To start a clothing line, you need to understand the big picture. This will help you navigate each step of the journey. If you’re looking for a factory but haven’t decided if you’re making sweaters or sleepwear, you’re working against yourself!
The process of starting a clothing line can seem super complicated, but when you break it down into steps, everything becomes much easier.
But how are you supposed to create a checklist if you haven’t started a clothing line before? Maybe you’re even diving into this with no fashion experience.
Which is why after interviewing 100+ successful designers and clothing line founders on the Successful Fashion Designer podcast, I put together this 10-step checklist you can use to get your fashion business set up.
HERE’S A BIG PICTURE CHECKLIST FOR STARTING A CLOTHING LINE:
Have an Idea That Fills a Need in the Market
Do Market Research and Get to Know Your Customer
Set up Your Clothing Line Business
Create Tech Sketches and Tech Packs
Source Fabrics and Trims
Find a Factory That Can Make Your Products Right
Get Samples Made
Order Bulk Production
Launch and Get Your Clothes to Your Customers!
We’ll go through an overview of each step on the checklist to starting a clothing line, and I’ll link you to the best Successful Fashion Designer podcast episodes to learn more. (Because the best way to learn about starting a clothing line is to get advice from someone who’s been there!)
1. Have a Clothing Line Idea That Fills a Need in the Market
In the fashion retail market today, it’s hard to sell clothes on looks alone. A beautiful design isn’t enough! Your product has to fill a need in the market.
If your dream is to have the next huge clothing brand, don’t feel discouraged by starting small with one product that fills a need! Diane von Furstenberg started with wrap dresses. Stance started with high performance socks. Spanx started with control top pantyhose. These clothing brands are now giants, but they all began with one unique product that filled a need.
For more ideas on how to fill a need in the market to make sure your clothing line sells, listen to these SFD podcast episodes:
- Building a Profitable Baby Bag Fashion Brand with No Experience
- This Company Runs their Fashion Brand like a Tech Startup
- How to Predict Fashion Trends (and Work as a Trend Forecaster)
2. Do Market Research and Get to Know Your Customer
Once you think you have a great clothing line idea, you need to test it to make sure it will sell. This is where market research will save you TONS of time and money – so you don’t make a product that no one wants to buy!
Market research is pretty unsexy, but it’s the best way to test and refine your idea before spending tons of money on your clothing line. This is an ongoing process, where you’ll talk to your potential customer to get feedback on your idea and eventually your samples.
For more ideas on how to do customer research and make sure people want to buy your clothing line, listen to these SFD podcast episodes:
3. Set Up Your Clothing Line Business
You have a great idea and have done some initial research, now it’s time to set up a business! This step can feel super overwhelming, but it’s actually not that complicated.
Here’s what you need to do to set up your clothing line business:
- Register your trade name through the Secretary of State
- Set up an LLC or Corporation (depending on your state, one may be easier)
- Get an EIN (so you don’t have to use your social security number)
- Buy your URL (godaddy.com is the go-to)
- Get a business bank account (make sure it’s free with no minimum balance – you may have to call around. Credit unions and local banks can be friendlier than national banks. Whatever you do, don’t pay fees!)
- Set up a PayPal business account (if you plan to sell online)
- Grab Instagram and other social media handles
For more tips on setting up your clothing line business to make sure it’s legal, listen to these SFD podcast episodes:
- How to Copyright your Fashion Designs and Protect your Brand
- Accounting Advice for Fashion Designers and Businesses
4. Create Tech Sketches and Tech Packs
With a proven idea and a business set up, you’re ready for the first step in production: tech sketches and tech packs. These are like blueprints for your clothing line. Just like you’d need a set of blueprints to build a house, you need them for clothing too!
When you approach factories and other suppliers with professional tech sketches and tech packs, they’ll take you seriously! Factories get a lot of requests from people who want to manufacture clothes. If your inquiries have gone unanswered before, this is probably why.
For even more on what a tech pack is and why you need one to manufacture your clothing line, listen to this SFD podcast episode:
5. Sourcing Fabrics and Trims for Your Clothing Line
Now that you know exactly what you’re making, it’s time to secure fabric and trims. One of the biggest mistakes startups make with their clothing line is buying fabric at Mood or in the Garment District (or even at JoAnn’s!). These are retail stores, which means you’re paying retail prices!
To start your clothing line right, you want to source wholesale fabrics and trims. But you also probably don’t need to buy 100s of yards!
There are tons of places you can source low-minimum fabrics, and the Complete Guide to Sourcing Wholesale Fabric for Your Clothing Line will show you exactly where to find them.
For even more on how to buy fabric for your clothing line, listen to these SFD podcast episodes:
- The Step-by-Step Guide to Fabric Sourcing for your Fashion Brand
- Make the Most of a Fashion Sourcing Trade Show for Your Clothing Line
6. Find a Factory That Can Make Your Clothing Line Right
Now that you have fabrics and trims secured, you’re ready to manufacture your clothing line. Which means it’s time to find a factory.
(Psst! Before you start emailing factories, follow our Pre-Production Checklist to make sure you’re ready!)
Here are a few tips to help you find good factory:
- If they have good communication and are reliable from the beginning, chances are they’ll be reliable on other things (like making your product!).
- If possible, visit the factory to check on things that matter to you (like work environment, how they treat employees, etc). If not, ask for a Skype or Zoom call tour.
- Get a sample made to make sure the quality is good before agreeing to production.
- Keep everything in writing. Many factories won’t agree to contracts, so track details in email. If you discuss things on the phone, follow up via email with the agreement.
- 50% down and 50% at shipment is standard and fair (never pay 100% up front!).
- Go with your gut! If something feels off, it probably is.
Listen to these SFD podcast episodes with factory owners to see if they’re a match for your clothing line:
- Find a Factory in the Usa to Make Your Clothing Line
- Clothing Manufacturers in the USA: a Good Choice Vs Overseas?
And for more tips on the clothing line production process plus advice on working with factories and other suppliers, listen to these SFD podcast episodes:
- How to Get Your Clothing Line into Production
- How to Set Up Your Fashion Brand Successfully, from Samples to Production
7. Get Samples Made
With a factory selected, it’s time to order samples. Depending on how you plan to sell your clothing line, your needs may vary. For example, a pre-sell launch on Kickstarter has a different development needs than pop-up shops.
You’ll coordinate sampling with your factory based on your launch plan. Talk to them about possible timelines for bulk production too so you can let your customer know when designs will be ready. Factories are busy and need to schedule you in, so it’s important to secure your spot in the production line.
For more about how sampling and production work to make sure your clothing line launches on time, listen to these SFD podcast episodes:
- Production & Manufacturing Processes for Small Batch Fashion
- Behind the Scenes of an $87k Kickstarter Launch
8. Pre-launch Marketing
While things are underway at the factory, the best thing you can do is market and engage with your audience before your clothing line is actually available for sale! Building hype in advance helps get people excited and creates anticipation around your designs.
If you plan to sell your clothing line online, there are a lot of different ways to do this. Kickstarter, social media marketing, building an email list or hosting events are great ways to build momentum.
If you plan to sell wholesale, make appointments with retailers or attend a trade show to get pre-orders.
No matter how you sell your clothing line, two things are really important:
- Get great photos
- Get pre-orders before ordering bulk production
For ideas and inspiration on how to market your clothing line before you launch, listen to these SFD podcast episodes:
- Starting a Clothing Line: Why (and How) to Build Your Audience First
- How to Authentically Engage With Your Audience for Fashion Entrepreneurs
- Sell Your Clothing Line to Retailers, a Step by Step Guide
- Fashion Startup Trade Shows: Are You Ready (and What’s the Cost)?
- How to Plan a Fashion Photoshoot (Step by Step)
9. Order Bulk Production
Once you have pre-orders secured, whether through retailers or online from consumers, you’re ready to place your bulk production order. It’s a really exciting time, but it’s also a decision you want to get right!
Many brands over-order. As amazing as your clothing line is, it’s harder to sell than you think. Do yourself a favor and start small. It’s better to create scarcity by running out than to be left with too much product you can’t sell.
For advice and tips on starting small, listen to these SFD podcast episodes:
- Fashion startup advice on creating, manufacturing and selling your designs
- How to Build your Fashion Business with Festival Vending
- Discover How One Fashion Design Entrepreneur Created a Flexible Direct-To-Consumer Business
10. Launch and Get Your Clothes to Your Customers!
Along with getting the word out about your launch, there are logistics you need to have in place to get your clothes to your customers. How will you pack and ship your orders? What is your return policy? Make sure those details are taken care of!
It’s also important to continue marketing your clothing line after your inventory arrives! If you want to sell online, what is your strategy for social media or email marketing? If you’re going to do Facebook ads (which are EASY to mess up and burn a lot of money!), make sure you have a solid plan in place.
For more advice on launching and getting clothes to your customer, listen to these SFD podcast episodes:
- How to Authentically Engage With Your Audience for Fashion Entrepreneurs
- How to Launch a Shoe Brand Without Any Fashion Experience
- Why This Startup Fashion Brand Makes Clothes for Short Men Only
- How to Launch a Fashion Label: Part 2
Starting a clothing line is a big undertaking! Now that you have big picture steps and a checklist, listen to each SFD podcast linked above. Knowledge you’ll gain from fashion entrepreneurs who’ve been there is priceless. Learn from their mistakes so you can get your clothing line off the ground faster and more successfully.
You got this!
Bonus tip: Don’t feel ready to launch your label? You can get experience with branding, customer research, and more with almost no risk by starting a print-on-demand clothing shop!