Anyone can start a clothing line, or any fashion line, for that matter. But it takes a true entrepreneur to know how to start a clothing line that actually sells. It’s about building a line that drives revenue and profit! Now the question is, how do you do that? It takes hard work, patience, and most of all, it requires a lot of market listening. The market tells you exactly how much to price your merchandise, what to design, and where to sell. It’s just a matter of whether or not you recognize that information and apply it to your fashion business.
Anyone can start a clothing line, or any fashion line, for that matter. But it takes a true entrepreneur to create one that actually sells.
So before I walk you through the steps in starting a clothing line, I want you to be in the mindset of selling. Many new fashion business owners get stuck on “creating and protecting their brand”, not building a profitable business. I’m sorry to break it to you but a brand isn’t built on the number of Instagram followers you have. You have no brand until you’ve got a significant amount of people who consistently buy your merchandise. That’s why I’m not here just to share how to start a clothing line. I’m here to teach you how to start one that allows you to make a comfortable living and scale your business to new heights. I’m here to show you how to start a clothing line that sells!
My name is Mary Vallarta, and I am the co-founder and CEO of FAB Counsel, a company dedicated to empowering entrepreneurs to build profitable and fulfilling fashion companies. I have over 9 years of fashion retail experience from my work doing buying for companies like Macy’s, BCBG, Metropark and Bebe. Yearning for more creative freedom, I started FAB Counsel with my business partner, with the hopes of helping independent designers take their idea to market. With an investment of $150, we turned our fashion business into a profitable 6-figure company. In case you’re wondering, my business partner’s experience comes from having owned and operated a menswear boutique, a t-shirt line, and managing contemporary menswear brands.
I’m sharing this with you not to brag, but to show you that what you’re about to read comes from people with experience in the very industry that you want to succeed in. It’s experience rooted in corporate structure and small business creativity. Therefore, you get the benefit of having both big and small company perspectives guiding you.
As a new business, you have no data that proves your fashion merchandise will actually sell, regardless of the market research and focus groups you might have conducted. SALES is all that matters! So how do you minimize the risk? By starting small and testing the market. The goal is for you to validate that there is a need for your line and to identify who your customers really are. Here’s how to do that.
Does the world really need another line of edgy clothes, shoes or jewelry? I’m going to to say, NO. But it may need a premium and affordable line of chic casual basics specifically designed for petite women. No longer will they need to get their pants hemmed or shop at the kids section. See how getting specific allowed us to identify a problem and a void in the market. It also pinpointed our target customer, petite women, which gets us to our next step.
Who will you attempt to sell to? Knowing your customer will give you direction on what to design, how much to price, how to market, and where to sell to. In our example above, we identified that petite women will be our customer. Lets get even more specific. How old she is? How much money does she make? Where does she live? What is her profession? Knowing this information will answer a lot of the questions I just posed to you.
Decide how you’ll be selling your line based on what will be most convenient for your customer and doable for your current financial position. The most popular method for startup fashion brands is online.
Start with a tight collection. Again, you have no clue what will sell so starting off with too many styles is risky and can prove to be a challenge when it comes to managing inventory. Make it simple and cost-effective. It’s better to have 8 really amazing pieces rather than 25 so-so pieces. Furthermore, when it comes to order how many units per style, go with the minimum amount to avoid getting stuck with extra inventory. Once you see which styles will sell, you can always order more units to get more inventory.
Decide how you’ll get the word out to your target customers. How will they know that your brand exists and how will they get to your website where they can buy your merchandise? Again, knowing your target customer and your budget will allow you to identify which promotional channels to use.
Don’t let your perfectionism get in the way of getting your merchandise to the public. Things will never be 100% perfect so just go for it and sell. For some, that may mean making their website public. For some, it may be selling at a festival or flea market. Whatever it is, take that jump. It’s the only way to really see whether or not your concept has a viable fit in the market, which means it is solving a problem and therefore, has the potential to make money.
Look at what how much money you made, how many units you sold, what styles sold, and most importantly, who bought from you. Surprisingly, many brand’s initial assumption of their customers’ identity are completely wrong. Take Timberland as an example. They assumed that their target market are only blue-collared men who work labor intensive jobs, such as construction workers, plumbers, lumberjacks. They never expected that the urban males and females, specifically in the hip-hop community, would start rocking their shoes. Therefore, don’t get attached to whom you originally thought you were selling to. Listen to the market and go in the direction it tells you.
If you see that a style isn’t selling, don’t produce it anymore. If you see that a style is selling like hotcakes, order more units and bring it back in other colors. If you noticed that the farmer’s market didn’t bring you any business, then remove that from your distribution model. Taking data and using it to improve is crucial for continued revenue and growth.
Did your test prove that your line has a place in the market to keep growing and keep making money? Be honest here. If sales aren’t happening despite your numerous attempts to change and improve merchandise, distribution, marketing, and business processes, then that means your concept is not a viable one. But if you are seeing continued growth in sales and customer acquisition, then you’ve got a winner!
Once you’ve validated your concept, you can now focus on growing it! That may mean investing money in branding, expanding your team, investing in more marketing, or expanding your offerings. Do what is right for your business and what makes sense with your current financial situation and lifestyle. I say lifestyle because the beauty of owning your own business is that you get to tailor it for yourself. If you like to travel then make sure your business allows you to do that. If you want to give back to the community, then incorporate giving as part of your business model. Owning a company is one of the best ways to truly live life on YOUR terms.
After reading these steps, you now understand the importance and benefits of starting small instead of doing it big. Starting small allows you to test your concept and then change based on what the market tells you. Starting big makes it a lot harder to switch directions because you’ve already invested so much money in things like inventory and staffing. I’ve worked with clients who have gotten stuck with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of inventory because they didn’t take the time to test. That’s what I don’t want to happen to you.
Starting small allows you to test your concept and then change based on what the market tells you.
Now you may be thinking, what do I do now? Now, is where you take action. Use this knowledge to start building your fashion empire. And the best part is, you don’t have to do it alone! Enrico and I built FAB Counsel so that fashion entrepreneurs like you, don’t have to take this long, hard, and worthwhile journey all by yourselves.
Here’s everything you’ll walk away knowing:
So as this post comes to a close, I hope we at FAB Counsel were able to provide you with some insights onto your fashion business journey. We look forward to becoming your partner, cheerleader, and mentor as you build a company that isn’t only profitable, but is also a fulfilling endeavor that inspires you day in and day out.
Sending you much love and continued success,
FAB Counsel Team