Every famous brand started from humble origins. Those household name labels tumbling off clothing store shelves all started small ‒ perhaps even on a kitchen table. Launching a clothing line is still a challenge in 2022, but spreading the word and selling is a whole lot easier with online marketing and e-stores.
Read our step-by-step masterclass guide on starting a clothing line in the UK for below £5,000 and turning it into a successful fashion brand.
The decision stage of starting a clothing line
Have people told you over the years that you have an eye for style and putting an outfit together? It could be classic, eclectic, quirky or a brand new style: yours. Do you walk, talk and dream clothing and accessories? Then you have the ‘raw material’ for starting a clothing line. Add some business acumen, tenacity and discipline to that and you will be on your way to success.
You don’t need a seed investor or an inheritance; it’s possible to start on a humble lump of capital as small as £5,000. And if you are prepared to bootstrap it, then a cheeky one thousand pounds could do it. You probably won’t even have to resign from your full-time job while you get the foundations in place. When your clothing line side hustle starts looking like a viable business, then it’s time to jump ship.
On the cautionary side of things, it is important to be conscious of the nature of the fashion industry: it is fickle, challenging, unglamorous and requires hard work. You need to be passionate about clothing and know that there will be a hard slog ahead as there are lots of competitors out there.
Read on for our masterclass on how to start a clothing line.
How to choose clothing line ideas
First things first, you need to decide what type of clothing interests you. Is it trendy, fast fashion, comfortable but stylish work options for people or stylish items for the regular citizen? Consider these directions:
Made-to-order, garment adaption or garment printing
You don’t have to make clothes from scratch. You can buy ‘blanks’, e.g. a t-shirt, and transform them via additions such as bows, beads, embroidery, funky patchwork or printing. You preplan your designs, adaptions or graphics and sew, fuse or print the design onto the blanks. The startup costs are modest, and it requires very little startup time. This option is suitable for market stall clothes, boutiques and cost-effective retail stores.
In this option, you would source a supplier and select garments from their catalogue. You would then have the supplier, or a second contractor, customise the garments with your branded labels as well as design tweaks. Most suppliers will allow design tweaks for orders over a certain volume. You can then add printing, embroidery, different edging, etc. Of course, the cost is higher, but you would thus expect to earn a greater profit.
This option is suitable for a uniform supplier and cost-effective retail stores.
For this business model, you are the designer, researcher, sourcing director and, possibly, the manufacturer as well. The latter could be outsourced fully or partially. This option requires more capital and time investment, but, in theory, it should deliver more significant profits. You will also have greater quality control, more turnaround time management and, more importantly, full ownership.
Defining your clothing line
Now that you have chosen your business model, this will inform your decision on the clothing category and the particular styling goals.
For example, will you choose:
Adult nightwear – Burlesque inspired
Casual everyday wear
And the options go on.
Choose what you know and what you love. Being passionate about something turns your tenacity into a superpower.
The next step is to query the market. Draw up some designs or download some images and ask potential consumers what they feel about the product.
Make your clothing line memorable
As with any company, the product is only part of the whole business. Consumers want a story, an experience and something that adds value (through convenience, increasing their standing in society, or financial returns like assets).
Your brand will have a story, your customer service (physical and digital) from A-Z to provide the experience, and the value will depend on your chosen niche. Your brand value should increase over time, which will be highly influential on your sales figures.
Establish a well thought through branding strategy that creates a strong brand image and drives loyalty and sales. Clearly define your target market and refine all branding, customer service and marketing towards the specific market.
Focus on the message you want your customers to receive and carefully choose the means by which you can create a connection and loyalty (emotion).
Naming your clothing line
You can have fun, but there are some serious points too: Go too wacky and people won’t understand the name, or be “too clever” with inventing a new word and you might find it juvenile in 10 years.
Always keep your target market in mind. Make a brainstorming list of clothing line names, look at existing brands, use a Thesaurus, consider your own name, etc. Remember, the line’s name will be used in logos, email addresses and more. Test out the name in these scenarios. For example, the brand ‘Childrens Wear’ doesn’t work well in a URL: Childrenswear.co.* This could be read as Children Swear.
NOTE: Your clothing line brand name should try to tick these boxes:
Don’t copy or mimic another brand
Give consumers an idea of what your brand stands for, e.g. Polka Dot might not work for formal suits for men.
ALWAYS consider what attracts your target market, not you.
Invest in a quality logo design
Again, test your ideas by asking as many people as possible from your target market.
Check if the brand name is available as a domain as well as the Companies House Register, then buy the domain and register the name with Companies House quickly.
Your clothing line business plan
Yes, even a clothing line needs a well put together business plan if you want to survive more than two years. Obtain a template from your accountant (Yes, you should be talking to one already), complete the form and then work through it with your accountant. Their input will be invaluable and will stand you in good stead for years to come.
This is not the favourite task of a creative person, but it is vital for your company’s survival, so switch on that tenacity superpower.
Industry regulations for your clothing line
The clothing industry is not heavily regulated, and a special license is not required. If you aim to sell your wares at a local market, you will need your local authorities’ appropriate market trading license.
The regulations and rules that you do need to adhere to are:
The Sale of Goods Act
The Supply of Goods and Services Act
The Sale and Supply of Goods Act
The final seller of the apparel, to the consumer, is responsible for this compliance.
Your accountant can avail you of a full list. In addition, if you hire part-time or full-time staff, you are legally required to take out Employer Insurance, use employment contracts, deduct NI, income tax and student loans, etc. Talk to your accountant even if your business is still your ‘second job’ because you will still need to register with HMRC and take out insurances such as:
Content and stock insurance
Materials and manufacturing your clothing line
Supplier and manufacturer research deserves a significant amount of dedicated time to it.
If you buy blanks and augment them, will you use your own equipment or outsource? Does the blanks suppliers have print, embroidery, detailing or label options?
By attending clothing and apparel trade fairs, exhibitions and openings, you will find manufacturers, suppliers and finishing companies, buckles, buttons and bias binding. Don’t focus solely on digital research; the results are vastly different to feet-on-the-ground research.
When selecting your fabric, you should consider these points:
Order quantity minimums
Repeat order availability of potential chosen fabric (Is it the end-of-range or has a year or two of lifespan in stock?)
Wastage (Fabric width versus pattern. A top pattern maker should give input as to the ideal fabric width for your current designs.)
You will need a manufacturer from day one or from a point along your growth upward curve. Manufacturers can offer the following services:
CMT (cut-measure-trim or cut-make-trim): Design, fabric, hardware and accessories are supplied by you. The manufacturer constructs the clothing and may or may not do the finishing as well.
FFP (full package production): The design and specifications are supplied by you. The manufacturer supplies everything else.
You need to weigh up and compare cost vs time vs quality of output via you, via CMT or via FFP. Do not skimp on research. Look locally and internationally. In this regard, international manufacturing will need logistics costings and timing considerations added as well as carbon footprint and fair trade analysis.
Check that the manufacturers’ ethics, values, ingredients, etc., comply with UK regulations, or you may face problems selling your product.
It is vital that you visit your shortlisted manufacturers. Know the machinery needed for the construction of your designs, inspect the factory and request samples.
If you are sourcing internationally, get hold of organisations that can verify whether your shortlisted manufacturers have a sweatshop history.
Marketing your clothing line
Now you are ready to shout your news and brand message from the rooftops via the following:
Hire a good website builder, especially if you are considering e-commerce. There are self-build options online, but you will still need to have good knowledge of website building if you want a professional site that delivers a good user experience (UX).
A website also needs to be SEO optimised which is complex for a non-SEO person to achieve.
Social media is an excellent marketing tool for any business or organisation. When used correctly, it can amplify your message faster than any other marketing method.
A good social media agency would advise you to test the different platforms and see which one delivers the best engagement. Demographics will inform your choices as well. As clothing is strongly visual, you will most likely find Instagram and Pinterest are the winning platforms.
Invest in professional product photographs rather than home-industry pics if you want your brand to be taken seriously. Research trending hashtags and set up a social media posting calendar.
Make your posts more about lifestyle, sharing tips and industry news than hard selling. Get your audience engaged, respond to comments, try a competition and see if you can link to relevant influencers like fashion bloggers or lifestyle vloggers.
Consider a small stand at fashion trade shows and exhibitions. You could gain quality contacts from the quality foot count. For example, the UK hosts a massive fashion trade fair ‒ Moda, in Birmingham ‒ bi-annually. Fashion United is a handy platform to peruse for the UK’s fashion-related events calendar.
It’s time to sell your clothing line!
You have laid solid foundations, done sterling research, put a sustainable, scalable business framework in place and marketed to Mars and back. Now it’s time to sell your clothing line apparel.
Whether it’s e-commerce, bricks-and-mortar or in a market, you will need a merchant account to process incoming and outgoing payments via card payments.
Having a great website will make e-commerce so much easier for you, your customers and your turnover. This will need to be complemented by reliable shipping capabilities. You have most likely seen online reviews where clients complain ferociously about poor delivery services.
Most clients prefer shipping costs to be included in pricing, so try to include at least a portion of it in the clothing price. A free shipping deal for orders over a certain amount often pushes up sales.
E-commerce is a great way to start a business as it is low cost and gives you greater control from start to finish. This is particularly important when you are building a brand.
Trading your wares at local markets is a good channel for testing products, and your little spot at the market will probably only cost £10.
Markets shouldn’t be scoffed at! Many successful brands started out at markets, combined with e-commerce, and built up to a sizeable business.
The above guide on how to start a clothing line business can be summarised in the following five points:
Be fierce about cutting costs initially
Create an engaging, strong brand
Do thorough market research and establish a business plan and marketing strategy