Ever dream of starting your own fashion brand?
Well, for starters, you don't need a fashion degree to start! If you're unsure how to begin, here are some takeaways from having just started my fashion brand 3 months ago from a business plan to production to $30,000 in sales.
1. Create a business plan
This is the roadmap for your fashion brand launch. It will change. But it is so important in guiding your decision making so you can hit your milestones to getting your fashion brand started. I used this free template. You can also get a free-trial of this useful business planning tool.
Remember, you don’t need to be the next Zara or Gucci by tomorrow. Maybe you will one day, but keep your 12, 24 and 36-month goals realistic and achievable at first. Every time you hit a goal, this will build your self-confidence to help you keep going. It’s the small wins that count so don’t be afraid or ashamed of just starting where you can. Coco Chanel, too, had to start somewhere.
2. Define your style
Create a mood or vision board for your fashion brand. This is basically a collage of images you want to define your brand by. Find inspirational designers, brands, and/or outfits and add them to your board. Create a mood board by copying and pasting these images in a blank sheet in InDesign, Photoshop, Keynote, or Word. I literally cut and pasted images from a magazine and printed out images I found online to create a collage. You can also use this free online tool here. I printed out my fashion brand's mood board and hung it up on my wall so I can see it every day and night.
Also, print out a photo of your “avatar” a.k.a. your “ideal target customer” (check out this free exercise to define your customer avatar) and paste this image above your work desk too. For my fashion brand, my audience is basically women like all my badass female friends so I have a photo of them on my wall. Always focus on your ideal audience for every decision you make (e.g. marketing messages, cut/color of apparel, etc.). Having visuals around you will be subtle reminders to help guide your fashion brand. Know your audience; know your style.
3. Make a pattern
Start with one piece. (There’s a lot that goes into production so I decided to keep it simple and started with one piece – you can obviously start with more if you want!). But, you want to make sure you like doing it before committing any further. What one piece do you want to start with? A shirt? A dress? Pants? A jacket? What fabric are you using for that piece? Know that too. Choose your one item and create a pattern for it. Do this yourself or find a local manufacturer to help create the pattern for you.
If you’re US-based or even if you’re not, here is a great resource for fashion startups. Most manufacturers will have a pattern/sample service they offer. If you’re asking the manufacturer for a pattern, sketch out what you’d like and include detailed descriptions of what you want e.g. sleeve length, fabric, number of pockets. It doesn’t have to be perfect when you approach them. But know your style, have a vision and be as detailed as you can. There will be lots of back-and-forth so find the right manufacturer you get along with which leads me to the next point…
4. Find a garment manufacturer and create samples
Google search “garment manufacturers (your location)”. Call or email the top 5 to 10 results. Ask if they have minimum order requirements and how much a sample for (whatever you’re making) costs. Some places will have minimum orders like 500 or 1,000 units for each style. Meaning, if you have 1 shirt in 10 different colors, you’d need to produce 500 units minimum of each color or a total of 5,000 shirts just to start. If you don’t want to start with that much volume, find a manufacturer that doesn’t have any minimum orders. They’re out there! You just have to search their website or call and ask.
If possible, choose a manufacturer that is physically close to you so you can visit them often. This is key for quality control! Also, outsourcing in the fashion industry is filled with lots of human rights violations. Seeing is believing. Let’s contribute our tiny parts by doing our due diligence and ask to meet the workers and check out the facilities we’re doing business with. Plus, you’ll save on shipping time and costs for the samples anyway. The manufacturer will most likely ask you to provide the fabrics so…
5. Source your fabric
There is wholesale and retail. If you’re just starting out, source your fabric from a local retail store or ask for wholesale samples. Most fabric mills (wholesalers) require minimum orders. In the US/Canada, it varies depending on the mill, but minimums can range anywhere from 300 to 1,000 yards of fabric and up. It really depends. Call/email and ask. You don’t want to spend a couple thousand dollars on fabric rolls only to realize you hate it later! So I recommend going to your local fabric store, find a few types of fabric you want to try, buy however many yards you need for your sample (ask your manufacturer how many yards you need if you don’t know).
Take your fabric to the manufacturer and have them create samples from it. You can also ask for or order swatches from most places too. Even with fabric, again, think about your ideal customer. What would he/she wear? What’s important to him/her? Should it be machine-washable? Feel soft? Organic? Or maybe you need fine silk or rare Italian fabrics? Think about what you want to create then get the fabric that fits your style.
6. Test your samples
It’s never going to be perfect on your first try. NEVER. Remember this. And be patient. Quality check your garment. Look at the seams. Look at the labels. Tug on the apparel. Is your fabric machine-washable? If so, machine wash it. Wear it. Find fit models. These are individuals who represent your avatar or ideal audience. Have her/him wear your garment and ensure it fits well. Take note of everything you see that you want to fix.
Most manufacturers have one round of adjustments built in. So bring the sample back to your manufacturer and point out all the places you want to fix. This is why it’s vital to live in close proximity to your manufacturer. Communication is so key! There is no better alternative than going in person, pointing to the garment, and explaining with visuals exactly what needs to be fixed. If you don’t live near a manufacturer though, that’s fine. Just account for a few more days of shipping and be extremely specific (explain with photos and drawings whenever possible) in your descriptions of what you what fixed.
7. Go to production and sales
Congrats! You’re ready for production and sales. Don’t have the funds? There is always crowdfunding. I wrote some tips on how to create a Kickstarter here. Crowdfunding is great because you’re essentially market validating your product and collecting pre-orders to hit order minimums (if you have one). Even if you don’t have minimums, you’re typically dealing with economies of scale. So, your per unit costs are lower the more you produce. That means, healthier profit margins which means more capital to reinvest for business growth.
You can also setup an e-commerce site and start collecting pre-orders first. Open a Shopify account, ask friends to model your samples, and publish those photos on social media to start driving traffic to your site. Explain on your site that these are pre-orders only. Once you collect enough orders for a production run, then place the order with your manufacturer. Manufacturers may require a 50% deposit before they start cutting and sewing your garments.
You can even start with the website first. This way, you can see which products will gain traction and sales even before production. Create a landing page with mockup images of your apparel with “SOLD OUT” written underneath. Buy a few Google and Facebook ads to test keywords. Drive traffic to your landing page and collect email addresses. Track how many people click your “BUY” button to analyze which products and colors would sell even before going through any of the manufacturing steps. When you're ready to manufacture, reach out to those on your email list and collect preorders as seed capital to fund your first production.
It's all about that First Step!
Whatever route you choose for your fashion brand though, it’s all about taking that first step! Of course, there are a million different ways you can launch your fashion brand. The above steps are just a few options I learned (the hard way). Just remember that the learning will never stop so roll up your sleeves, let your inner fashionpreneur shine, and go for it!
Do you own a fashion brand? Comment below with how you got started and your lessons learned along the way!