How to Start a Clothing Line: Your Step-By-Step Guide

Dear Designers,

Even in unfamiliar times, your dream and goal of starting a clothing line is worth pursuing.

Does it surprise you to hear that?

Listen, I get it. This industry is changing and that’s scary. And starting, running, and growing a clothing line is not easy. It requires time, money, and a lot of dedication and determination. You’re working on finding the right factories who will do low minimums, learning to speak the fashion industry lingo, sourcing the right fabrics for under 100 yards, figuring out how to get the word out about your products in a very saturated market, lacking access to capital, and the list goes on.

But here’s the thing. There is no secret to fashion business success. And that’s because there is no one way to do it.

With the right mindset, tools, support, and guidance you have everything you need to not just launch a clothing line, but grow it into anything and everything you want it to be.

Whether that’s an international powerhouse or a smaller scale operation, you have to get intentional about what you want to do, commit to dedicating your focus and energy on specific goals, be open to learning what you don’t know, and be willing to implement what you’ve learned.

Will you do that?

Awesome! Then here’s what I’m going to do.

I’m going to break down each of the areas of business that you need to focus on in order to take a giant step forward.

I will list out what you need to focus on, tools you should consider getting to make your life easier, programs available to you to learn what you don’t yet know, where you can get help from experts, and any other bit of information I can think of to give you direction.

Pro Tip: Bookmark this page and refer back to it as you’re working on launching your fashion business! 

Step 1: Make Your First Decision

Time estimate: Minimum 1 Hour

Before you do anything else, you have to ask yourself a question. The answer to this question is the foundation for everything that you’re going to do in your business. It’s going to inform the kind of business you build, the type of customer you serve, the brand you create, the team you assemble, the collaborations and projects you accept, and so much more.

OK, are you ready?

Answer this question: What kind of life do I want to live?

Anti-climactic? It shouldn’t be.

This question seems subtle but I promise you it isn’t. Your response to this question is the most important piece of the successful fashion business puzzle. And therefore deserves time, thought, and attention.

Don’t just jot down a few things and call it a day. Get detailed. 

Resource to help you accomplish Step 1:

Am I saying that your life will look exactly like this and be perfect? Of course not. What I’m saying is that you will never build a truly successful business if you’re living a life that doesn’t make you happy.

Start with the life you want and then build your business around that. Don’t try to cram a life into the business you think you’re “supposed” to build. 

Now, go do it. Seriously, don’t just read this, implement it!

Step 2: IMPROVE Your Mindset

Time estimate: 2-4 hours to start (and an ongoing practice!)

I’m going to admit to you that I used to think that the need for a strong mindset was some woo-woo, silly advice tossed about but was ultimately meaningless.

I was wrong.

I’m embarrassed by that because nothing has had more impact on my ability to grow my business than changing my mindset to believe in myself.

Two areas where I shifted my mindset and saw the most impact in my business are patience and confidence. Having the patience to understand that things can and will take time and having the confidence to believe that I’m completely capable and deserving of all that I want to accomplish has made it possible to set goals, do the work, and find success.

Resource to help you accomplish Step 2:

Step 3: Create Your Fashion Business Plan

Time estimate: 2 Hours

There are two kinds of business plans- one is really involved, asks for financial projections, in-depth research, and a decent amount of time. This is used if you have decided that you want investors. To be honest, getting investors for a fashion business that has no tech component is not an easy thing to do.

That’s why I’m a fan of the second kind of fashion business plan. The kind where you get your idea out of your head and onto paper. This doesn’t involve fancy projections and 15-year goals.

This involves the who, what, how, and why that you need to create a mission and a plan for taking action!

Resource to help you accomplish Step 3:

Step 4: Find Your People and Support System

There is nothing more powerful than connecting with a community that gets what you’re going through, because they’re going through it too.

Asking questions, getting feedback, and having the support system in place to help you deal with the ups and downs, good and bad, is one of the best things you can do for yourself if you’re in this business ownership game for the long haul.

Resource to help you with Step 4:

 

fashion business support system

Step 5: Register your business

Time estimate: 1 Hour

I think a lot of designers are guilty of deciding to be in business and then stopping there. The act of registering your fashion business is a good idea early on in the process for a few reasons.

First, it gives you confidence and makes you feel more legit. And that’s important. Remember in step 2 when I discussed mindset?

Second, it’s a good idea because once you are a business entity with an EIN, you’re better able to order wholesale from suppliers, and attend professional business events like trade shows.

Resources to help you accomplish Step 5. If your country is not on this list, google “register a business (country name)”:

Step 6: Understand Fashion Pre-Production + Production Processes

Time estimate: 5- 10 Hours

One of the biggest surprises and subsequent pain points I hear from designers is the challenge of sourcing low minimum fabrics and finding low minimum production. I get it. But what you need to understand is that production companies are businesses too and you need to be realistic about production.

I’m not saying that you need to order thousands or even hundreds of yards of fabrics or that you have to produce 500 units.

But I am saying that it’s best not to go into it thinking you will repeatedly buy 10 yards of fabric and get a factory to produce 8 pieces over and over again, when you need them.

You need to understand the process for getting from an idea in your head to a sample product in your hand.

You need to understand pre-launch inventory and margin planning.

You need to understand how to source a factory, the questions to ask, the things to look out for, and how the whole process works.

Take the time to learn all of this, is will make a huge difference in your ability to move forward in a timely manner.

Resources to help you accomplish Step 6:

Step 7: Figure Out The Money Part

Time estimate: 2- 3 Hours

While I do believe that there is no need for hundreds of thousands of dollars to launch a fashion business, you do need some money. There’s no way around that. You’re launching a physical product that requires money to bring it to life.

You have a few options, including (1) borrow from friends and family (2) use your own savings (3) raise the money with pre-orders and/or crowdfunding (4) take out a small business loan. Just FYI, if you go with the small business loan, you’ll need to start creating those financial projections and in-depth business plan.

What needs to happen with the money is to understand how much you’re going to need to do what you want to do. Refer to your basic fashion business plan from Step 3.

  • Will you be starting with a full collection? A signature piece? A small 5-piece collection? What are you hoping to launch with? Refer to your fashion production research from Step 6.
  • What will you need to spend on fabric and manufacturing?

Keep in mind that you’ll also need to put some money into a website, logo, and other visual branding elements. So be sure to pad your numbers to take this into account. Don’t make the mistake of spending all the money you have on creating the product and then say “I have no money for marketing.” It doesn’t work that way.

Now decide how you’re going to get this money.

Are you going to create a plan and a calendar with goals and targets for saving what you need? Or are you going to crowdfund what you need with pre-orders?

Resources to help you accomplish Step 7:

Step 8: Create Your Sales Plan

Time estimate: 1-2 hours to create plan

A sales plan may sound more complicated than it is. When it comes to sales and distribution, a common mistake is to feel the need to sit and create an overly detailed and overwhelming plan.

Instead, a better use of your time is to take all the craziness in your head – all the “Should I…? How Do I…? What About…?” questions you have and put them on paper. The brand that is laser-focused on a basic plan for what they will sell is the brand that will succeed in their business.

Sales channels and distribution channels are different. You can decide on one sales channel with 3 different distribution channels. Or something else entirely.

Here’s a quick breakdown…

Your possible sales channels to consider are:

  • Wholesale
  • Direct to Consumer (D2C)
  • Third Party

Your possible distribution channels to consider are:

Under Wholesale (you’ll need a line sheet!)

  • Showrooms
  • Sales rep/road rep
  • Selling to stores yourself
  • Trunk shows (the boutiques usually take a 50% cut)
  • You also can decide between boutiques and department stores

Under D2C

  • Your website
  • Pop up shops
  • In-Home shows
  • Markets and fairs
  • Catalogs

Under Third Party

  • Drop ship on another website

Clearly there are a lot of options and it can certainly feel overwhelming to figure out which ones are right for you. There is no “right answer” to this question. You can work through the process to come up with what feels good to you.

Look at your margins, assess your brand values, and come up with how you’d like to start.

And remember, you can and will adjust your sales and distribution channels as your brand grows and evolves. So spending too much time creating a plan that is overly detailed and way too thoroughly researched will just work against you in the long run.

Resources to help you accomplish Step 8:

fashion business sales plan

Step 9: Create Your Fashion Brand

Time estimate: 5-10 Hours (and ongoing updates!)

The big thing to remember about a brand is that it’s a feeling, an association, a point of view, and a personality.

A logo, color scheme, and fonts are important, but you can’t start there. These are the things you create after you have figured out the personality of your brand, because how do you know what your visual branding is when you don’t know what you’re trying to communicate about your brand? You can’t do it. At least, not effectively.

So what should you spend time on when it comes to building your brand?

  • Brand personality– What characteristics make up the personality of your brand? Just like with people, we need to think of brands as having a tone, a voice, a vibe, and a point of view. And we need to be consistent. It’s this personality that will help you connect with your customers. They will recognize themselves in the brand and feel attracted to the personality. And those who don’t feel attracted to your brand’s personality are not your customers. See how that works?! A strong brand personality is how you zero in on your market and weed out those who are not part of it.
  • Brand visuals- Once you have determined the personality of your brand, then you’re ready to jump into the fun stuff! Colors and fonts and photo shoots, and model selection, and website design, and promotional graphics . . . these are all the things you get to spend time on once you know the personality that you’re trying to communicate. But if you do these too soon, then you’re often left feeling like you missed something, like these things are not really communicating what you’re trying to say. And most likely you’ve wasted time and money.

Resources to help you accomplish Step 9:

Step 10: Create your customer profile

Time estimate: 5-10 Hours (and ongoing updates!)

If you don’t know who you are trying to attract, how will you be able to attract them?

It is incredibly important to get to know who your ideal customer is so that you can serve them the best way that you know how.

Here’s what that means:

  • What do they care about?
  • What do they value?
  • How do they spend their time?
  • What problem do they need solved?

You need to start collecting as much information about them as possible, in as much detail as possible, so that you can not only provide them a product they want and/or need, but also so that you can speak their language and create a real relationship with them in the process. So that you can truly serve them.

To do this, spend time on the social media profiles of your competitors and aligned brands. Who’s following them? What are those people all about?

Take notes on the details of these people. Be a sleuth. Develop a character who is your ideal customer and use this character whenever you are developing any copy or any assets that will be experienced along the customer journey.

Just remember this: it does not have to be perfect!  There is a lot of guessing and assuming happening in the beginning. That’s OK! As your brand develops and your business grows, you adjust and refine your customer profile.

Resources to help you accomplish Step 10:

Step 11: Plan Your Website

Time estimate: 20+ Hours (depending on which route you take)

When it comes to your fashion business website, you can go a few different routes: (1) do it yourself, (2) hire someone to do it for you, (3) a mix of the two.

Usually the decision on this is based on budget. Here are some things to consider when planning the creation of your website:

  • Do you have the technical savvy to build it? This doesn’t mean you have to know how to build something from scratch but you do need to have enough technical sense to navigate the backend of Squarespace or Shopify or WordPress.  If this is super intimidating to you, you may want to consider hiring someone for the technical stuff.
  • Do you have some graphic design skills? Listen, your website needs to look good. There’s no way around that. There are far too many brands out there for customers to buy from, for you to get by on an ugly site. If you’re not confident in your ability to design a really nice website (logo, fonts, colors, graphics, etc), then you need to hire someone. Use a template to keep costs down.

Resources to help you accomplish Step 11:

Step 12: Plan Your Pre-Launch Marketing + Launch Your Business

Time estimate: 20+ Hours for set up (with ongoing hours as you market prior to your launch)

Too many brands I see “launch” by simply making their website live. The problem with this is the complete lack of build-up and community creation that is needed in order to make a launch successful.

Your goal is to start building buzz months (ideally 6 months) prior to launching. That means you want to be collecting email addresses, sending emails to your list consistently, and posting regularly on social media as soon as you’ve decided to launch a product.

Build a community, get them excited about what you’re doing, show them that you get them and are making a product that is perfect for their needs. Talk to them, build trust, and make a connection. Then launch. Not before.

So that means you need to:

  • Create an email marketing plan
  • Sign up for an email marketing platform.
  • Set up a landing page on your website.
  • Start a blog documenting your process that your community will love
  • Set up your social media handles and create a content plan
  • Possibly run some pre-launch Facebook ads to get people on your list
  • Host or attend events in your local community

Once you have your product ready, your brand personality created, your website underway, and your pre-launch marketing happening, you’ll be feeling ready to launch. See how it’s less about the actual launch and way more about the pre-launch marketing?

Once you launch, there will be ongoing marketing efforts (see more in step 13) but unless you do the pre-launch work, you won’t make the sales during your launch that you need to fund that ongoing marketing.

Resources to help you accomplish Step 12:

fashion business marketing plan

Step 13: Create Your Marketing + PR Plan

Time estimate: 2-3 hours to create plan (with 15+hours per week as you market)

Once you’ve launched your fashion business, you’re done. Sit back and collect that cash. It’s all uphill from here. Ha! Just kidding. Welcome to the world of marketing and public relations.

You built the buzz pre-launch, so now it’s your job to keep it up, and in fact, grow it.

Here’s the thing about marketing: you have to be willing to try things even if they kind of scare you. When you’re working with a limited budget, like so many new designers are, putting aside the fear of “looking stupid” is going to make a huge difference for you.

Create a basic plan that includes what kinds of marketing you will do and what budget you need to do them. Will you…

  • Continue with email marketing (you better!)
  • Run Facebook and Instagram ads
  • Use Pinterest
  • Use Instagram
  • Participate in events
  • Host your own events
  • Get help with SEO
  • Expand your blog
  • Host giveaways and contests
  • Try Quiz Marketing
  • Pitch magazines, blogs, and other media outlets
  • Enroll in courses to learn what you don’t know

Some or all of these will wind up as part of your marketing plan. The trick is not to try to do too much, too fast, and get overwhelmed. Instead, create your plan with phases in mind. And then be flexible as you see what works and what doesn’t.

Resource to help you accomplish Step 13:

Step 14: Get Your Business Operations Figured Out

Time estimate: 3-5 hours

Now that you’ve launched and are running your business, one of your biggest challenges is feeling like you have no time to do everything you want to do. And for a while, it will probably be just you.

But you will get to the point of being ready for help — whether that’s hiring a person or paying for tools that streamline your operations.

The sooner you’re able to do this, the better off you’ll be. So think about the following areas of operations and decide what and how you’ll delegate…

  • Social media posting
  • Customer service
  • Administrative help (email management, blog editing and publishing, research assistance, event planning…)
  • Design/studio help
  • Project management
  • Legal help/ contracts
  • Accounting help

Resources to help you accomplish Step 14:

  • If you plan to do your bookkeeping yourself, check out Paper + Spark, it’s a great resource.
  • If you want to hire out for your bookkeeping, check out Bench (we love it!)
  • Use Asana or Trello as a project management platform
  • Use Later or Planoly to schedule your Instagram posts

There you have it. Your step-by-step guide for how to start a clothing line. Or any fashion product line, for that matter.

Now, is it that easy? No, of course not. There will be a lot of ups and downs, a lot of questions along the way. That’s why having a community will help you.

My intention with this post was to answer the question I get so often: How do I launch my fashion business? 

I hope I was able to give a you solid outline to get started!

And remember, this is what you need to do.  Join us in The Designer Membership and I’ll show you how to do it.

Lots of love and encouragement,

 

 

You can do this!

Hey designers, just so you know, StartUp FASHION is an affiliate of some of the resources on this page. But I would never recommend a product or service that I didn’t think could be helpful to you on your journey to launching your line. So, while I may not have worked directly with all the products and services listed, I have reviewed their offerings and believe that they are good options for you to consider.

Nicole Giordano
Nicole Giordano

Nicole is the founder of StartUp FASHION, an online resource and community supporting for independent designers around the world with building their businesses.A deep love for the craft of fashion paired with an adamant belief that success is defined by the individual, led her to found StartUp FASHION, where she helps independent designers and makers screw the traditional fashion business rules, create their own paths, and build businesses they truly love.More than anything else, she’s in the business of encouragement and works every day to remind makers and designers that they have something special to offer the world and that they can, in fact, do this thing!

16 comments
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    • Casey Cline
      Casey Cline

      I’m glad you liked it, Ethel! I agree this post is very helpful for designers.

      Reply
      • Avatar
        Anusree Das

        Very helpful. Hope I can get many helps from your post. Thank you Nicole

        Reply
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    Precious

    Your simply Amazing..
    I saw this post when I have already given up and already at Cross road!!!
    Your a life saver
    Thank you

    Reply
    • Casey Cline
      Casey Cline

      I’m so glad Nicole’s post found you at the right time! 🙂

      Reply
  5. Avatar
    Grace

    Thanks so much Nicole Giordana for these wonder tips on how to start a fashion business. I just finished fashion school and I’m a bit skeptical about starting a fashion business, but your tip came in really handy especially building the right mindset. Now I’m confident enough to know I can do it. You are an angel.

    Reply
    • Casey Cline
      Casey Cline

      That’s wonderful, Grace. Be sure to bookmark it so you can move through the different steps. 🙂

      Reply
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    erica bledsoe

    HI Nicole,
    Love your content thank you!
    Is there a printable version of this “how to start a clothing line” page? This should be super helpful.
    thank you so much!
    Erica

    I am a former member and may sign up again in the near future

    Reply
    • Casey Cline
      Casey Cline

      Hey Erica, we recommend bookmarking this page so you can continue to come back to it. We aren’t offering a printable version since there are so many resources linked in the post.

      Reply
    • Avatar
      Tolulope

      Hi Nicole. Thank you so much for this, I really needed it. I’m grateful🙏

      Reply

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