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How to Start a Clothing Line Series (1 of 6)

No question about it, the fashion industry is glamorous. Runway shows, models, media, magazines, silk, satin, wool, lace, colors, textures, silhouettes, trends—it is an exciting industry. It’s ever evolving and new designers are constantly emerging, attracting the attention of celebrities, stylists, bloggers, the media, and buyers. Good design will always win, if it addresses a need in the market. And designers come from all walks of life—some studied design in college while others have grown up in the industry and have learned a thing or two along the way.

One thing is certain, and let’s be clear, behind all the glamour of the fashion industry is a community of hard-working people who love what they do. Commitment is essential because it is an industry that requires a ton of work. Plain and simple. But, with drive, passion, and determination, nothing will stop someone with a vision. To be a success, you must be devoted to your idea. You must have a burning desire to make it happen. You can picture it in your mind. You can see yourself putting in the work and you can see people wearing your designs. Is this you? Of course it is! That’s how you’ve come this far. Now, let’s get to the nuts and bolts of how to make it happen—how you start a clothing line.

Deciding Clothing Products You Want To Sell
Ask yourself why you want to start a line. Is it because you’ve worked in some aspect of the fashion industry for awhile now and you’ve seen others succeed, so why not you? Maybe it’s something that’s always been a dream of yours, but your parents wanted you to get that business degree first, as a safety net? (Excellent! This will come in handy when it’s time to write your business plan.) Do you wake up at night and sketch out design ideas you dreamed up? Are your Pinterest boards ALL fashion related? Amazing, because all of these things are pointing to a passion inside of you that it’s time to address.

But, what is it that you want to sell? And who do you want to sell it to? Maybe you already have a design in mind. You will start with something, and it could change as you learn and grow your business. Before Diane von Furstenberg came out with her iconic wrap dress, she was making wrap tops. It wasn’t until two years after she started designing, that she started making wrap dresses. Then, within three years she was making 15,000 wrap dresses a week. She designed something the market wanted. How will you address the needs of the market? First, decide who you want to design for. Let’s go through the basic categories—womenswear, menswear, and childrenswear. Once you’ve determined the category, go a little deeper to fine-tune your target. For womenswear, it usually breaks down as tween, junior, contemporary, missy, designer, plus size, petite, and maternity. Under menswear, it’s casual, contemporary, designer, and big and tall. For childrenswear, there is newborn, infant, toddler, little girls, little boys, big girls, and big boys.

Next, figure out what you want to design. Garments are broadly categorized as tops and bottoms, each including a range of types. Tops are t-shirts, sweaters, shirts and blouses, vests, jackets, and coats. Dresses are technically considered tops as well because they are designed to fit the torso. Bottoms include skirts, pants, and shorts. There are also specialty categories such as lingerie, sleepwear, and swimwear which are also made up of tops and bottoms.

The Elements of A Successful Clothing Brand
No matter what business you’re in, it becomes a success when the profits are greater than the costs. So, what does this mean for fashion? The bottom line is your designs have to sell. You must determine your unique selling proposition (USP)—the thing that makes your line stand out, even in a market filled with similar garments. Think Diane von Furstenberg’s wrap dress, Burberry’s trenchcoat, and Chanel’s tweed suit. For your USP, you can focus on one of four things: product characteristics, price structure, placement strategy (location and distribution), and promotional strategy. These are known as the four Ps of marketing. As far as product characteristics, think about how you would describe your line. Fashion designer Madeleine Vionnet was famous for the bias cut. When she cut cloth diagonal to the grain, she was able to create a slightly clingy silhouette which was a departure from fashions at the time. Maybe your line will be centered around wearable technology or premium denim from Japan’s oldest mill. Envision it. What characteristics will make your garments unique?

In terms of price structure, are you going budget or high end? Do you have the best price for your garment, or are you selling luxury. Some people know straight away they want to design couture gowns, for example. The pricing standards in the fashion industry are budget, moderate, better, and designer. Budget clothing is made inexpensively in large volumes and sold at a low retail price, while designer clothing is expensive to make and expensive to buy. Each pricing standard has its pros and cons, and follow different business models. It’s up to you to decide which way you want to go. When it comes to placement strategy, we’re talking location and distribution. You may not sell into Bloomingdale’s right away (or maybe you will), but with social media, blogging, and influencer endorsements, placement options are endless for someone who puts in the time and effort to make it happen. For promotional strategy, consider what’s unique to your line that you really want to highlight for the purpose of sales. Maybe you’re manufacturing locally (i.e., made in Los Angeles). Or maybe you’re promoting a lifestyle (i.e., chic camping clothes, Nantucket casual). Put in the time to figure out your niche. This is your baby. And don’t forget to have fun with this part. Go to a cafe and do some brainstorming. Research other brands and nail down who they are and what they do best. Once you get comfortable with your niche and understand it, pull in elements to hyper define it. Just remember, what you have to offer is unique.

Differentiating Your Clothing Line
We’ve covered the elements of a successful clothing brand, but it’s also worthwhile to consider how to differentiate your clothing line from the rest. It starts with good design, the principles of which are proportion, rhythm, balance, emphasis, and unity. These are important things to keep in mind, but there is no right or wrong. In the end, it’s about what will appeal to your target customer.

Line, shape, color, and fabric are also key factors that will play into your collection. Construction details can create a visual effect—vertical lines are slimming while horizontal lines have a widening effect. You will need to make decisions about materials, so be sure to know your fabrics. Matte fabrics do not reflect light while shiny fabrics can make areas of the body stand out. Consider your target customer and what they’ll want to wear

Branding is key when it comes to differentiating your clothing line. How is Tommy Hilfiger different from Ralph Lauren? How are they similar? What about Chloé and Celine? Good branding can make customers identify with a line so well that they feel it expresses their own personality. It’s essentially storytelling. And if your brand is strong enough, you will be able to demand a higher price point. It’s how a t-shirt can sell for a $100 when the quality may be similar to one you might find at Target.

We’ve already talked a little about niche, but it bears repeating. If you zero in on a market that needs attention you can differentiate your line in this way. Finding an untapped market requires research and intuition. In just one Google search, for example, you will learn that modest luxury is on the rise and played a dedicated part of a recent London Fashion Week. What other markets are underserved?

Check back for our next post on developing a business plan!

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