Anyone can start a clothing line, but it takes more than just a few fashion ideas or a practical new invention. You have to consider how you’ll brand your clothing line, how you’ll fund it, what platforms you’ll use to sell it, and most importantly, how to produce and distribute it, i.e., how your clothing line will transform from an idea in your head to an item in your customers’ hands. If this all sounds a bit overwhelming, don’t give up on your clothing line dreams just yet. There are all kinds of tools, resources, and shortcuts out there to help you, and this guide is just one of them. It will give you a basic outline of everything it takes to start your clothing line each step of the way, with advice from business owners who have done it themselves.
How to start a clothing line
Every clothing line starts with an idea. The first step in starting a clothing line of your own is to decide what exactly you will be selling. Your clothing line could include just one or two products, a collection of similar items, or a wide variety of different types of apparel.
It’s important to consider costs, manufacturing, and distribution even in the early stage of deciding on your products. If your clothing line consists of easy-to-manufacture items such as t-shirts or baseball caps, your costs will be much lower and your products will be easier to manufacture and distribute than a clothing line consisting of high-quality handmade jewelry or lingerie. However, you shouldn’t be discouraged from following your inspiration and starting the clothing line of your dreams just because you hit a roadblock somewhere along the way. The first step in starting your clothing line is to establish what items will be a part of it. That way you’ll have a better idea of the challenges ahead and be able to handle them accordingly.
If you’re having trouble deciding which types of fashion products to include in your clothing line, consider your audience. What demographic of people are you going to sell to, and what are their needs? Do you have a specific type of material you want to use in manufacturing or a specific environment from which you are drawing your inspiration? Take inventory of your ideas and resources, decide which products will go into your clothing line, and you’re on your way to turning those ideas into real fashion products.
Types of Fashion Products
The possibilities are endless when it comes to the types of fashion products you can sell in your clothing line. If you’re having trouble deciding what your products will be, look to other fashion websites for inspiration or try one or more of these ideas.
- Baseball caps
- Kid’s clothing
- Baby onesies
How Much Does it Cost to Start a Clothing Line?
The costs involved in starting your clothing line will vary widely according to the type of clothing and business model you choose to use. Regardless, you’ll have to find a way to fund the initial production, marketing, and distribution of your clothing line. An easy way to cut a chunk of the cost out of starting your clothing line is purchasing an established online fashion store in the Exchange Marketplace for as little as $50. Instead of having to build a website and following for your fashion products, you’ll save money when you purchase a website that is already up and running. Once you purchase it, you can add whichever products you like to the online shop.
Another method you can use to fund your clothing line is crowdfunding. If your clothing line features products that solve a problem for your customers, crowdfunding is a great option. The customers will be willing to contribute to your start-up costs because they want a product that will help them in some way. For example, fashionable safety boot clothing line Juno Jones was promptly funded using Kickstarter.
“Two years ago I was working at the transportation safety training firm that I co-own, lamenting that there were no cute safety boots I actually wanted to wear. I decided to launch Juno Jones, and two years later we are up and running. We launched on Kickstarter and funded in just 29 hours!” – Emily Soloby, CEO and Founder, Juno Jones
How to brand your clothing line
It’s important that your clothing line has a cohesive brand identity. The better your branding, the more your products will stand out from the rest. Establish a brand statement that includes your mission and goals for your clothing line, then decide on other branding elements like color, logo, and website design. This can be done easily using Shopify themes and a logo-creation app like Hatchful. Hit Stick is a good example of a branded clothing line complete with a meaningful mission and logo.
“Hit Stick's unique logo has a dual, and in fact, ironic meaning. On the surface, the bull breaking through the bricks represents a tough, relentless mentality that is ingrained in the culture of many sports (tackling in American Football/running through contact). If we dig deeper, the logo also signifies the importance of breaking through a barrier that is limiting athletes facing mental health setbacks from speaking up and seeking help. As athletes, we need to use the same mentality we have been taught to use on the field, to break through walls off the field.” – Robbie Adams, Founder, Hit Stick
How to produce your clothing line
From materials to method to location, there are lots of choices you have to make when deciding how to produce your clothing line. It’s important to consider which materials your clothing items will be made out of, and where they will be manufactured. Your decisions at this stage in the process of starting your clothing line will not just impact the quality and ease of production. They could be a part of your brand, especially if you are promoting an ethically-sourced or environmentally-friendly line of products. For example, Mariko Ichikawa uses upcycled fabric for her original clothing line.
“I take traditional Japanese kimonos and upcycle them into luxurious, one-of-a-kind coats and robes. Between my heritage and my fashion background, my brand makes a great story for sustainable fashion for both men and women.” – Mariko Ichikawa, sustainable fashion designer
How to distribute your clothing line
Once you’ve decided which items you want to include as part of your clothing line, covered the startup costs, and made key branding and production decisions, it’s time to figure out how you will distribute your products. There are benefits and downsides to each method of distribution, so make sure to choose the best fit for you.
One of the quickest ways to distribute your clothing line is through an online shop, especially if you’re using a dropshipping or print-on-demand distribution service. With one of these models, you don’t have to manage any of the production or packing of your products. You simply list and promote them, and when a customer orders an item it is prepared and sent to them through a third-party fulfillment company, which makes running a dropshipping clothing line a great side hustle. If you plan to ship your items globally, dropshipping and print-on-demand are particularly good distribution models for your clothing line because the orders can be fulfilled in locations based on where your customers live, even if it’s thousands of miles away from you.
RadicalRetail is an example of a dropshipping clothing retail business that is also for sale in the Exchange Marketplace. It’s a simple business to run — all you have to do is keep the site and product listings up to date, and promote your products any way you like.
Another distribution model similar to dropshipping is print-on-demand. A print-on-demand company can produce and distribute your clothing line as needed, so you would never need to worry about excess inventory. With lower cost margins and reliable quick production and shipping, print-on-demand is a smart option for all kinds of clothing companies, not just t-shirt sellers. For example, Carolina Dalfó uses a print-on-demand model for her clothing line of high-end scarves.
“My scarves are printed with a low waste reactive on-demand printing process. Meaning that I don’t have stock before making a sale, every scarf is made to order. I am really happy with this method because overstocking is a huge part of the waste crisis, which fashion usually contributes to.” – Carolina Dalfó, Fashion Designer and Design Consultant
If you want your clothing line to be sold in physical stores, not just online, you have a few other distribution options to choose from. You can keep your business small and sell your clothing line in a small brick-and-mortar store that you own, or do pop-up events where you set up a temporary store within another business establishment. You could also try consignment with existing businesses. Using the consignment model, the store agrees to sell your item, but you don’t get paid until the item is actually sold. Once you build up a rapport with businesses using the consignment model, you may be able to use a wholesale model, in which a store will buy your clothing line products from you at a wholesale price, then sell them for its own profit.
How to promote your clothing line
You have your branding, production, and distribution all set in place; now it’s time to focus on growth. Facebook and Instagram ads are effective methods of promotion but can be too expensive depending on the amount of funding you have. There are plenty of low-cost or no-cost methods of promoting your clothing line out there for you to experiment with.
Email marketing is an easy and cost-effective solution. You can send customers a promotional offer like 10% off or free shipping in exchange for signing up for your email list, then send them updates on new products and other offers that will keep them coming back to your clothing line. You could also offer a free item to customers who spend a certain amount on your products, like this offer from GuysDrawer, a men’s jewelry website: if customers add at least €49.99 worth of products to their cart, they’re able to add a free Roman-style bracelet to their order.
Martha at plus-size-clothing.com used a combination of paid Google and Bing ads as well as SEO to help her promote PSC and decide which types of items are the most popular amongst her customers.
“Over the course of time, the idea is to gain traction, Google rankings, and then begin choosing the styles and types of clothing we best compete in. As an additional promotional method, we've used Google and Bing AdWords along with Reddit and scoop mentions. Today, we've begun reaching out to influencers and journalists.” – Martha, PSC
Now that you know the basics of starting a clothing line, you’re ready to take the plunge and put your products out into the world. Make sure your clothing is cleverly branded and that you choose production and distribution methods that fit the type of item or items you are selling, your budget, the location of your customers, and the amount of time you are willing to commit to selling your clothing line. As you grow and promote your business, you might find more opportunities for collaboration with other brands, and chances to sell your products in brick-and-mortar stores or as a pop-up store. As your clothing line becomes more and more successful, it could turn from a side hustle into your full-time job. However, this isn’t the ideal outcome for every clothing retail business owner. Sometimes running a clothing line becomes too much work, or you are no longer passionate about it and have moved on to other things. In this case, you could sell your clothing line to a larger company and earn a profit. However, let’s not get ahead of ourselves — you’re just getting started. Your clothing line ideas are just a few steps away from becoming real products.