The dream goes like this: You’ve perfected your designs. You’ve sourced amazing fabrics, found a great factory, and navigated all the details to get your clothing line produced, or help your freelance clients get their fashion designs into production. And finally, the day comes: Your inventory is in, your website is live, and it’s time for the sales to start rolling in!
If you want that dream to become a reality, there are a lot of steps. But there’s one step people often gloss over when they’re starting a clothing line. It’s something you should do–or encourage the brands you’re freelancing for to do–before you get too deep into designing or start looking for a factory, because it can make or break your success.
It might not be sexy, but if you want to know how to get people to buy your clothes, it’s the MOST important thing you can do. And when I asked the 23,646 people on my email list what their biggest struggle is with starting their own brand, finding customers was one of the top replies! So I created this guide to help you get it done.
Don’t worry–this isn’t just some general marketing article on finding your avatar and making sure you know their age, income, etc.
I’m going to show you how to have real conversations with your customers so you can really UNDERSTAND their clothing needs.
This way, you’ll almost guarantee your designs will sell.
And if you’re a freelancer working with startup fashion brands, you can provide more value by helping them with the customer research process.
If real conversations terrify you, don’t worry. I’ve included some BONUS word for word scripts you can swipe so you know what to ask to get the answers you need. Keep reading until the end!
Why customer research matters for your clothing line
To start a successful fashion brand, you have to know how to do market research for a clothing line. Market research includes industry research, competitor research, and customer research. All those parts are important, but understanding who your customer is and what they want is KEY to getting it right!
Here’s why customer research for your clothing line is so important:
- It will save you time, because you’ll know exactly what your customer wants and needs BEFORE you try to sell it to them. You’ll also know how to price your clothes so your customer can buy them.
- It will save you money, because you won’t produce designs that no one wants to buy, or advertise to people that have zero interest in your product.
- It will help you retain your customers and grow because, whether you’re a brand or a freelance designer, happy customers come back–and they tell their friends!
Customer research is one of the first steps to start a clothing line
Before you even think about production or get too far into designing, you have to figure out your niche. Building your audience at the same time you’re developing your clothing line doesn’t just help you refine your designs, it means that you’ll have customers waiting and excited to purchase when you launch.
And let’s get one thing straight: Yes, you have to niche down. No one, and I mean NO ONE, is successful when their target customer is “everybody.” Narrowing down your target market doesn’t limit your customers–it helps them easily find you!
You have to niche down. No one is successful selling to everybody.
It’s pretty hard to be too niche. Take Erika Neumayer from Rare Dirndl, who I interviewed on the Successful Fashion Designer podcast. She was terrified of being too narrow by making dirndls for Oktoberfest fans. Turned out, it’s the reason her brand exploded and her designs sell out within hours of launching.
If you’re further along in the process of launching your clothing brand, don’t panic–it’s never too late to start doing customer research! Even if you’ve been selling for a while now, understanding your customers better will help take your business to the next level.
😬 Is starting a clothing brand even a good idea? The answer may surprise you. 😬
Where to start finding your clothing brand’s target audience
Many designers start off with the assumption that they are their own target customer. And there’s usually a lot of truth to that! Take Steve of Otero Menswear, who I interviewed on the Successful Fashion Designer Podcast. He knew that short men needed better fitting clothes because of his own struggle with finding them. Or Erika Neumayer of Rare Dirndl, who I mentioned before. (And when you listen to Erika’s interview, take note again of how tiny her niche is. Don’t be afraid to niche down!)
To find other people who fit in your niche, start with what inspired you to start your own clothing line. What hole in the market does your brand fill? What specific need does your product meet for you, and for your customers? This is the foundation you’ll build your customer avatar on.
What is a customer avatar for a clothing brand?
A customer avatar, also known as a customer persona, is a detailed description of your target customer. It includes things like their age, interests, and what their pain points are. You don’t want generic answers–you need to tailor your questions to understand where their needs and your clothing line intersect. The better you understand the target market for your fashion brand, the easier it will be to find them and make them happy–and keep them coming back to buy from you.
The specific things you should include in your avatar will vary depending on your niche. But here are some great things to start with:
- Age range
- Income level
- Where they live
- Where they work
- What they do for fun
- Their media habits
- Their shopping habits
- Their goals
- The challenges they face
- What makes them happy
Remember, it’s important to relate this info to your product. For example, you wouldn’t just say, “Where do you shop?” Instead, if you’re making yoga pants, you could ask, “Where’s the first place you look when you’re shopping for yoga pants?” You can definitely get creative about the questions you ask. Where do they vacation? Are they single or attached? When you make them relevant to your product, you may be surprised at the ideas these questions can spark–both for your designs and for marketing your clothing line.
You have to get in your customer’s head to understand WHAT they want from their clothing, and WHY.
Here’s the most important thing to remember when you’re talking to your clothing brand’s target audience: More than just general information about who they are, you want to get in their head to understand WHY they might want your product and WHAT they want out of it. All of this info will help you market more effectively and sell more.
So where do you get all that juicy info about your customer? You have to reach out to real people… and ask them.
(Dun-dun-dun! Cue the dramatic music.)
For lots of creatives, this part feels really hard. Especially before you have a product to offer them, it can be daunting to reach out to strangers. But there’s no substitute for connecting with real people!
“Can’t I just use myself as my customer avatar?”
Nope! You are one customer, and that’s a great place to start finding people to talk to. You just look for people who share the need you’re trying to fill. But if you don’t get more data, you’re going to miss important details that can make or break your marketing strategy.
When you only have yourself to learn from, you end up making huge assumptions about your customer. You and your friends may all love the same restaurants, but that doesn’t mean you all want to buy the same pair of jeans. You don’t want to waste tons of money marketing your clothing line to twenty-somethings, only to find out later that your best customers are actually in their late 30s.
How to find people in your target market to talk to
Go back to that problem your fashion brand is going to solve, and ask yourself these questions:
At the very beginning, you’re going to have to make an educated guess.
- Who else has that problem?
- What else do they have in common?
- Where do these people hang out?
Once you’ve nailed down some places to connect with your target customer, you’ve got to do the legwork. If it’s a business, contact the owner to ask about collaborating (and make sure to tell them what’s in it for them, like more traffic to their business). If it’s a public place, figure out when people you want to talk to will be there, decide what to bring, and make a plan!
Many SFD podcast guests who’ve built successful clothing brands talk about the difference this step made in building their businesses. Like Kimberly of Wild June, who gained major momentum when she took her sample run of boho-inspired belt bags to the Burning Man festival (and pretty much sold out). Or Aaron and Carmen of Caraa, who hung out outside upscale gyms to talk to women about what they wanted in a luxury gym bag–then developed their best-selling products based on what they learned.
If you strike out on your first attempt talking to customers, don’t give up! Take what you learn from the people you talk to and refine your approach. If your assumptions were off, you’ve still gathered valuable data! Use that info to guide your next move.
Getting creative with your customer research will give you the best info about your clothing brand’s target audience.
You can get creative with your research! Lila & Jeremy of HariMari Shoes did focus groups on college campuses. They put up fliers offering free pizza and beer in exchange for people’s honest opinion on what they wanted out of their flip-flops, and their resulting product was soon selling in Nordstroms across the country! And Kristen of Exclusively Kristen held pop-ups at specialty lingerie stores serving full-busted women–the same women who would want to buy her full-bust button-up shirts. That’s how she learned that her initial concept was too expensive for her target audience. And when she changed her production to lower the cost, demand for her product went way up!
Finding your clothing brand’s target audience online
While talking to people face-to-face is super important, you can add to your research by talking to people online. The two main ways to find the target customers for your clothing brand online are through your email list, and social media.
You can build your email list just by asking! Whenever someone shows interest in your clothing brand or product (in person OR online!), ask for their email address. You can say something like, “I’d love to keep you updated so you can be the first to know when we launch!” or “I’m planning to offer a pre-order discount to everyone who’s on my email list.” Make sure they know what’s in it for them.
Stay connected with your email list by sending a regular newsletter with content that’s valuable for your target market (like an Asana of the Month for your yoga brand). Keep your customers happy and engaged, and you’ll get more responses when you send out surveys and research questions!
(By the way, fashion freelancers can use similar strategies to find brands to freelance for, and turn cold leads into warm ones!)
Social media allows you to connect with even more people in your clothing brand’s target audience.
Quick tips for using social media to market to your clothing brand’s target audience:
- Start your social media accounts as early as possible. This helps build your audience, creates anticipation for your product, and allows you to get more feedback from customers.
- Align your posts with your clothing line’s branding and image. Reflecting your brand image in your posts helps you connect with the right audience. You can’t please everybody, so show your brand’s unique aesthetic and personality!
- Keep selling and discount posts to a minimum. Constantly selling turns people off, and you’ll lose the interest of even your best customers.
- Post things that are useful, interesting, and entertaining, and make it relevant to your clothing brand’s target audience. Keep people interested by providing value!
- Always include a Call to Action. If you don’t ask people to like, follow, subscribe, or share, you’re limiting your reach and missing out on more customers!
😬 Is starting a clothing brand even a good idea? The answer may surprise you. 😬
What do you actually ask people during customer research?
You can connect with all the customers in the world, but in order to find your clothing brand’s target audience, you have to ask the right questions.
When you talk to people in your target market, you first want to ask if they have the problem your fashion product solves. Do they want a solution? If so, keep asking questions! What else can they tell you about their wants and needs for your clothing line idea? If you show genuine enthusiasm about your idea, you’ll connect with others who feel the same. Go beyond the general demographic questions. You want to know WHAT your customer wants from your product, and WHY they want that!
BONUS! Scripts for clothing line customer research
Ask questions that get into the nitty gritty of what your customer wants, and why. Replace the sample product (yoga pants) with your product, and adjust the verbiage to make sense for your brand!
For example, if you were making yoga pants you could ask things like:
- “What do you love about your current yoga pants?”
- “If there were no limitations, what would your perfect pair of yoga pants be like? Tell me about the fabric, fit, function, etc.”
- “Tell me about all the places you wear yoga pants. Why do you choose to wear them there?”
- “What’s the most important thing about how your yoga pants fit? How does the right or wrong fit make you feel?”
- “What feature do you hate in yoga pants and why?”
Remember, when they answer, ask them WHY they want that fabric, WHY they want that fit, WHY they want that feature. When you find people who are a good fit for your idea, they’ll be excited to share their opinion and ideas. The conversation will start flowing naturally and you’ll gain tons of valuable insights.
One of the most important questions for your clothing brand’s target audience is “WHY?”
Track answers and look for patterns and themes. If only one person wants an elastic-free waistband, keep it in mind. But if most people want that, you know you’ll sell more by marketing that feature!
This will really get you deep into the EXACT product that they want so you can not only make it, but you know how to SELL it!
Your clothing brand’s target audience will help you with product development
During the development process, talking to your customers will help you refine your designs. On episode 39 of the SFD Podcast, designer Kristen shared another great idea: When she was getting size samples during pre-production, she used the customers she’d met in the early days of researching her brand as fit models. That got her customers excited, leading to a bigger launch, more sales, and better customer feedback! And when Colleen started her brand for active professional women, she got customer feedback on ten+ iterations of her prototype before she was finally satisfied–and that final product resulted in her almost doubling her Kickstarter goal.
Getting your samples on real people will help you with more than fit. Your customers can give you feedback on wearability, fabrics, manufacturing quality, and more, so you know you’re creating something your target market will love.
Continue fashion market research as your business grows
Customer research continues for the life of your brand! Your customers’ needs and wants will change over time, and you have to communicate with them continuously to keep them happy. This is where your email list and your social media followers come in.
The most important way to do continuing customer research is asking for feedback! (This is super important to do with your freelance clients, too.) This is easy to overlook, but it’s a big deal. Whenever someone buys something from you, wait until they’ve had a chance to wear it, and then follow up with them!
BONUS! Scripts for customer follow-up on your clothing designs
Here are some questions you can use to ask for customer feedback on your clothing line:
- How did you find out about our brand?
- What made you decide to make this purchase?
- What is your favorite thing about your purchase?
- How could we improve this product?
- How could we improve your experience as a customer?
- What other products do you hope to see from us in the future?
And don’t forget to ask WHY! There are so many more questions you can ask your customers, and they may change as your clothing business grows.
Following up gives you great insights on your clothing brand’s target audience, AND it helps you stay connected with your customers (so they don’t forget about you)!
Important takeaways on finding your clothing brand’s target audience
This may seem daunting, but don’t get overwhelmed. Here are some key points to help you conquer customer research for your clothing line, or help your freelance clients take theirs to the next level!
- Don’t skimp on customer research. Start early, and never stop!
- Start with the need your fashion product meets, and whose problem you’re solving.
- Talk to real people and ask questions to build a customer avatar.
- Start posting on social media before you start production to build momentum.
- Get feedback from your customers through the development process to perfect your line.
- After you launch, stay connected to your customers, and keep asking questions.
When you’re starting a clothing line, or supporting a startup brand as a freelancer, there are few things more important than customer research. It allows you to build your brand to fit your audience. And a customer who feels understood is a customer who wants to tell their friends, and buy from you again and again!