How to Start a Clothing Business: The Definitive Guide for Success
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In this comprehensive "how to start a clothing business" guide, we discuss industry best practices for successfully starting a clothing brand.
You must first know that having the design chops isn't all there is to running a clothing business.
Ralph Lauren and Vera Wang, among many others, aren't just fashion designers. They're brilliant entrepreneurs, too.
The good news is that many well-known clothing brands started as small businesses. So how do you get your own clothing line off the ground if you're starting?
Let's find out.
- Determine a Market/Product Gap
- Flesh Out Your Target Audience
- Identify Your Business Model
- Develop a Business Plan
- Set Up Branding
- Start Designing!
- Choose a Clothing Manufacturer
- Test Your Product
- Set Up Your Ecommerce Store
- Decide on a Price Point
- Launch a Marketing Strategy
- Monitor Results
- Get Your Clothing Company Up and Running
Determine a Market/Product Gap
Business success is about finding a market gap and filling it with your product.
To perform a product gap analysis, below are the four steps you must take:
Using the same steps in the clothing and fashion industry, your market gap analysis may look something like this:
- Current state - The market is teeming with boring baby clothes that are pink and blue.
- Desired state - Parents want comfortable baby clothes beaming with personality that they'll be excited to wear on their little ones.
- Gap - Misguided product offer.
- Remedy - Develop a rock star baby clothing line that is not only comfortable but also stylish.
So whether it's innovative baby fashion or adaptive wear for the differently abled, conducting market research ensures you're selling clothes people will actually buy.
Done right, it will help you come up with profitable niche ideas for your clothing business.
Flesh Out Your Target Audience
Your name may be on the label, but your clothing business is neither about you nor what you want to sell (and make sure to check out our list of great Clothing Business Name Ideas to help inspire you). It's about the needs of your target audience or ideal customer.
Identifying your clothing line's ideal customer will require market research.
This involves tactics like interviews and surveys, as well as tools like Google Trends and social media insights.
Factors comprising your target audience will vary, but these are good starting points:
- Location - Where do they live? Where do they work?
- Age - What are their approximate age ranges? Kids? Teenagers? Adults?
- Gender - Will you sell to a specific gender?
- Income level - How much can they afford to spend on your product?
- Interests - What do they do for fun? Are they into fandoms? Do they love the outdoors?
Identify Your Business Model
Your clothing business model is your profit strategy. It answers three fundamental questions:
- Who is your customer?
- What does your customer value?
- How can you deliver value at the right cost?
Depending on your goals and circumstances, the following business models can work well for your clothing brand.
Custom Cut and Sew
This clothing brand strategy is precisely what it says it is. Cut from premade fabric, then sew custom apparel for your casual wear brand, for example.
With cut and sew, you take care of everything. This ranges from design sketches to creating and testing samples before an entire production run. You even develop your fulfillment strategy to get your products to your customers.
This clothing line business model has huge potential for increased margins and best suits those wanting 100% custom merchandise.
Given all the moving parts, it can take weeks or months—not to mention thousands of dollars—before you're ready to launch.
Dropshipping lets you sell merchandise without maintaining inventory or shipping products to customers.
The dropship supplier ships the product from its warehouse straight to the customer in your clothing store's name.
Here's how dropshipping works:
- The customer places an order on your online store.
- You forward the order to the supplier, along with the customer's details.
- The supplier ships the product directly to the customer on your behalf.
Dropshipping is ideal for those who can neither invest in physical inventory nor oversee the entire operations of the business.
Print on Demand
Print on demand (POD) is a form of dropshipping in which your partner supplier customizes apparel with your designs to sell under your brand.
In this setup, product customizations are made only after an order is placed. There is usually no minimum order required.
POD works this way:
- Your customer orders on your website or via a POD marketplace such as Spring (formerly Teespring) and Zazzle.
- The order is forwarded to the POD supplier.
- The supplier then creates the custom product, placing your design or artwork on the selected item.
- The supplier packages and ships the product under your clothing line brand to your customer.
Print on demand works best for those wishing to forego the costs of maintaining an inventory and shipping products to customers.
Private Label Clothing
In a private label clothing setup, the manufacturer develops products that clothing line owners purchase and label with their brand.
This business approach suits fashion entrepreneurs looking to start a clothing line without designing a product from scratch.
Here's how the private label clothing model works:
- Decide which style of apparel, color, and fabric to private-label.
- Send your logo and other artwork to the manufacturer.
- Select the printing method you want to use (stamp printing, transfer printing, etc.), as well as the label type and design.
- Determine the quantity for each apparel style and color. A required minimum order will usually have to be met.
Develop a Business Plan
Business plans differ from business models, although the two are closely intertwined.
Your clothing line business plan outlines the people, tools, and processes that support the viability of your clothing business. The document includes its goals and how you intend to achieve them on an ongoing basis.
Your business plan should answer the following questions:
- Who - Who is your target customer? Who will you hire?
- What - What is your unique value proposition (UVP) that makes you and your products stand out in a crowded marketplace? What marketing strategies will you use to promote your business?
- Why - Why does your company exist? What market pain point does your clothing line address?
Set Up Branding
The goal of branding is to develop a positive business image in the eyes of your target audience.
To create a strong brand image, you must first determine your mission statement. It encapsulates why your clothing line exists and its overall goals.
To create an inspiring mission statement, be sure to answer the following:
- What do you do?
- How do you do it?
- Why do you do it?
- Whom do you do it for?
- How are you different from your competitors?
Also, keep the following pointers in mind:
- Keep it short. No need to write an essay.
- Think long-term. Don't limit your mission statement to the here and now.
- Seek feedback. Find out what employees think about your mission statement.
If you're not a professional clothing designer, your designs will likely start as sketches on a notepad.
The good thing about sketching is that you can easily add more unique features as you flesh out your design idea. Plus, you can consult your designs with a professional if necessary.
Once you've finalized your design, you need a pattern to be used to create a tech pack. Tech packs are spec sheets detailing everything the manufacturer must know to create a garment.
Some details to include in your tech pack, among others:
- Design sketch
- Materials, such as fabric type
- Size specification
Choose a Clothing Manufacturer
If you choose this route, note that the manufacturer will likely require a downpayment. And once the clothes have been manufactured, you'll need a warehouse for your inventory.
There's also the risk that your target market won't like your designs. This means you'll have trouble selling them. Best to skip this step, especially if you're starting out and on a shoestring budget.
To find the right clothing manufacturer, careful research is necessary to avoid losing money, time, and energy.
From here, you must decide between a local manufacturer or one from overseas. There are pros and cons to each.
With a local clothing manufacturer, you can scrutinize the manufacturer's working standards and material quality.
Also, it builds your image with the local community, which you can leverage to strengthen your brand. Plus, because they're local, shipping time is minimal.
But all this comes at a cost. Additionally, your choice of products and material are limited.
You can choose from a long list of overseas manufacturers, typically from China, Taiwan, India, and other Asian countries.
They're much cheaper than local manufacturers and can produce all types of clothing.
On the downside, product quality can be an issue. There's also the chance their workers are subjected to unregulated working conditions.
And then, there's shipping. Because they're overseas, shipping is steeper and has longer wait times.
Test Your Product
There are several reasons why testing your product before selling is a must:
- Local markets must comply with applicable regulations before allowing clothing businesses to sell in the area.
- It limits the risk of product recalls.
- It ensures the quality of your products, thereby gaining consumer trust and loyalty.
The following are some of the basic tests performed on clothing and related products:
- Abrasion resistance - This refers to a material's ability to resist surface wear caused by rubbing.
- Breaking strength - Also called tensile strength, this test measures a fabric's ability to resist breaking while stretched.
- Bursting strength - This measures a fabric's ability to withstand rupture or bursting while under pressure.
- Colorfast - This refers to a colored fabric's ability to resist color bleeding when exposed to moisture.
- Pulling - This is when buttons are subjected to a pull test until they snap.
Set Up Your Ecommerce Store
Launching an e-commerce store is no walk in the park. It's a huge undertaking with several moving parts and requires careful planning.
Follow the steps below to get started.
Create a Logo
There is power in your logo. It visually represents your brand and can make your clothing line stand out in a highly competitive marketplace.
When creating your logo, keep the following in mind:
- Simple - Think of the Nike swoosh symbol. It's simple and not "overdrawn."
- Memorable - An effective logo design sticks like Mcdonald's letter "M" and Coca-Cola's iconic Spencerian script.
- Timeless - Ask yourself: Will your logo be effective today, tomorrow, and for years to come?
- Versatile - Design your logo in vector format to work across applications and media.
- Appropriate - Kiddie fonts work for children's clothing but not for business wear.
Select a Domain Name
A domain name is the string of text users type in a browser's address bar to find a website. For example, nichepursuits.com.
Some do's and don'ts to remember when selecting a domain name:
- Keep it short and sweet.
- Get a .com, if possible.
- Make it memorable and brandable.
- Include dashes.
- Use trademarked words or phrases.
- Use foreign words that you think sound cool but have no idea what they mean.
Decide on a Platform
An e-commerce platform enables sellers and buyers to enact transactions online. Its features allow buyers to select a product, add it to their shopping cart, and pay for it.
Sellers get a commerce engine and a content management system (CMS), enabling them to manage their business from one central location.
Three of the most popular e-commerce platforms are:
- Shopify - If you're starting and want to launch an e-commerce site quickly, Shopify is one of the easiest platforms to use.
- BigCommerce - If you want robust built-in features such as advanced SEO and multi-channel integration, BigCommerce is your platform.
- WooCommerce - This platform is a shopping cart plugin for e-commerce sites created in WordPress. If you plan on using WooCommerce, we recommend hosting your store on Iridium and using the GeneratePress or Astra site theme for optimized website performance.
For a more detailed comparison of the three, refer to the screenshot below.
Etsy is another e-commerce platform that you might want to check out. It primarily caters to vintage or handmade items and craft supplies.
However, clothing brands that sell personalized or one-of-a-kind items have successfully connected with Etsy customers.
Etsy doesn't charge monthly fees, but it deducts payment processing and transaction fees from each sale. You also get charged a listing fee for every item you put up for sale.
Etsy is a good choice if you only sell a few items. In the long run, however, the more money you make, the steeper the fees you pay, making Etsy more expensive than Shopify.
Upload Your Products
Unlike when shopping in-store, visitors have no way of touching or "feeling" your products except through the product page. So make sure your product pages are optimized for conversion.
- Use clear images - Product images communicate the look and feel of the items you sell. Make sure they're high-quality and professional-looking.
- Add a recognizable CTA button - Make the "buy now" or "add to cart" button stand out on the page with a contrasting color that triggers the right emotion.
- Create a sense of urgency - The fear of missing out (FOMO) is real among buyers. So use the scarcity/urgency tactic to compel them to act fast.
- Add videos - Videos can convey information within just a few seconds. Instead of a 15-page PDF detailing the amazing features of your product, create a demo video.
- Add customer reviews - Increase credibility through social proof. Incorporate third-party reviews so potential buyers know what they can get from your clothing products.
Decide on a Price Point
A price point is a suggested selling price from a scale of possible prices at which a product can be marketed and sold. Price, meanwhile, is the actual amount of money the buyer pays in exchange for a product.
A price point is usually determined by factors such as:
- Demand and supply - Consumer demand for a product and how much manufacturers are willing to supply.
- Competition - The amount your competitors are charging for a similar product.
- Market conditions - For example, the state of the economy and how legislation affects a product's attractiveness.
- Unique selling point - Factors that differentiate your products from your competitors.
- Profit margin - How much you make after deducting the cost of an item from the selling price.
Launch a Marketing Strategy
The right marketing strategy is critical to the growth of your clothing line.
It enables you to reach out to target customers and introduce them to your brand, nurture leads, and convert prospects into paying customers.
There's a long list of marketing strategies businesses can implement. But for your online clothing store, the following are the most suitable.
Content marketing is a form of marketing that leverages content to:
- Attract and engage your target audience.
- Retain your ideal customers and turn them into brand ambassadors.
With content marketing, different types of content are created and shared based on where visitors are in the customer journey:
- Exploration - Suitable content includes promotional ads, educational articles, ebooks, and white papers.
- Decision-making - The best types of content for this phase are blog posts highlighting your products' features, demos, and webinars.
- Purchase - Presenting solid case studies and introducing them to existing customers can set you apart from the competition.
- Advocacy - To measure customer advocacy, send out surveys or get customers to volunteer for a case study.
Email marketing sends out marketing communications to prospective and existing customers who have subscribed to your email list.
Depending on the results you're looking to achieve, email marketing allows you to:
- Send discount vouchers.
- Ask subscribers to join an upcoming webinar.
- Direct them to informative content on your website.
For your email campaigns to be effective, consider the following best practices:
- Send a welcome email - This email lets you thank people for subscribing and help them understand what your brand represents. You can even ask them for feedback on a product or website feature you just launched.
- Personalize your messages - Ensure you're leveraging your data about each subscriber to craft personalized messages.
- Spring clean your email list regularly - Removing invalid email addresses or disengaged subscribers allows you to improve your deliverability rates.
- Nail the subject line - Subject line tactics you can implement include asking questions, using numbers, avoiding spam triggers, and including a sense of urgency.
- Choose the email marketing solution that fits your needs - Before spending money on a specific email marketing tool, take the time to read reviews to find out what works for users in your niche.
Social Media Marketing
Social media marketing takes advantage of social media networks' reach to help achieve your clothing line's branding and marketing goals.
It involves strategies such as:
- Profile optimization - Optimization tactics can include using hashtags, adding closed captions, using diverse content formats, etc. These help your profiles appear in searches and rank high on your followers' feeds.
- Posting - Get your followers excited about your clothing line by regularly posting useful and entertaining content. Use a social media scheduler to make content posting more efficient and systematic.
- Engaging - This tactic entails following influencers, customers, and followers, as well as liking, sharing, and commenting on posts.
- Advertising - This involves using paid ads to reach your target audience on Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, YouTube, and other social media platforms.
- Measuring - To know which tactics generate the most results, check the website and social media platform analytics for insights.
Paid advertising is placing online ads on platforms like Google, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and popular news sites. It's usually part of a much larger marketing campaign, with the primary objective of getting leads to click through to a landing page.
Take note that paid ads are not the same as boosted ads. The image below should enumerate some of the primary differences.
To get the most out of your paid advertising budget, consider the following best practices:
- Leverage lookalike audiences - Lookalike audiences are similar to audiences in an existing list. One way to create a lookalike audience is to download an email list and upload it to Facebook.
- Bid on branded instead of competitive keywords - Maximize your ad budget by using branded keywords such as "X blouses." "X" is the name of your online clothing business.
- Use video - Videos are the most engaging content type. Plus, even a 15-second video is enough to convey a story.
- Take advantage of user-generated and influencer content - A customer just posted a glowing review of your brand. An influencer recently posted an Instagram story showcasing your new clothing line. Incorporate both in your ads.
KPIs are the metrics that determine the overall effectiveness of your various online marketing campaigns. They vary from campaign to campaign, such as in the image below:
Leading indicators show whether your efforts are having an impact, even if the results aren't significant yet.
For example, let's say you're running a paid ad campaign.
The aim is to get customers to buy from your kids' Christmas collection. Impressions (leading indicator) are through the roof. People are visiting your website (tertiary KPI).
However, your landing page conversion rate (primary KPI) is low.
If you investigate even further, you may find out that:
- Your ad copy is not congruent with your landing page copy. This means your ad is promising something your landing page isn't delivering.
- Or it could be that your product prices are too high.
Get Your Clothing Company Up and Running
Learning how to start a clothing business from the ground up is no easy feat.
But when armed with the knowledge, courage, and tenacity to push through it, there's no telling what heights your clothing business can reach.
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