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How to Start a Clothing Line Series (5 of 6)

Sampling
Have you ever tried something on in your size and thought, “Wow, this just doesn’t fit right.” Super frustrating. Off it goes—and so does the sale! There are many reasons why this could happen, but sometimes it’s because the label skipped the sampling stage of the production process. Experienced fashion brands utilize fit models who represent the body proportions ideal for their target customer. An average female fit model is usually 5’5” to 5’8” tall, while average male fit models are 5’10” to 6’ tall. The clothes are tailor-made for their proportions and that’s what goes into production. Do not skip on sampling! It’s a critical step for quality fashions.

You can have your first sample made in muslin. It’s less expensive than using the actual fabric, and chances are your pattern will need to be adjusted. Your first sample may not have the proper fit or look right. Not to worry. It’s a process. You may have to make it two or three times to get it just the way you want it. Finally, make the sample in the actual fabric of the garment and make adjustments as needed.

Once you approve the final sample, you’re ready to show it to buyers and shoot a lookbook. For publicity purposes, you may decide to loan your samples out to stylists and publications for editorial shoots. If your marketing strategy includes targeting celebrities however, you may want to wait until you’ve gone into production so you can gift them product you don’t need back. Your samples are your selling tool at this point and are very valuable.

It’s important to note that one of the benefits of making a sample is that it provides an opportunity for you to come up with an optimal construction sequence. Maybe you’re doing some embroidery on the collar of your shirt design, for example. You’ll need to decide at which point this should happen in the garment construction process. Revise your tech pack accordingly.

Full-Scale Production
OK, you’ve got your final sample and it fits perfectly on your fit model. Great! Now you’re ready for full-scale production. Decide how many sizes you plan to offer and, using your sample as the base size, create patterns in other sizes by proportional increases and decreases. This is called pattern grading—and it will not change the intended fit or shape of your garment. Finally, you’ll decide how many pieces you want in each colorway and size.

Ideally, you’ll have taken orders from buyers so you can calculate exactly what you need to produce. But, if you’re just starting out and your plan is to stock inventory first then sell from it, you can skip this step and just produce at your own risk. Keep in mind though that you probably don’t want to produce too much unless you can afford to end up with overstock, which is a supply that exceeds demand. Getting stuck with inventory that doesn’t move is not a favorable outcome. Starting small is sometimes the best way to go. Another reason why it’s good to produce based on orders is that you can calculate other things such as how much fabric and trim you’ll need. A full package manufacturer will have someone responsible for figuring this out for you. If you’re doing the production yourself or using a CMT, there is software that can assist with these calculations. It may be worth looking into. While your order is being produced, keep on top of it. Make sure that your factory uses the same fabric that was used in the sample. It may seem obvious, but sometimes it happens that factories try to save money and go into production with a similar but different fabric from the one approved. Get it in writing. Also, follow up with the manufacturer at regular intervals to ensure they’re on schedule to meet your delivery dates. This is where your time and action (TNA) calendar comes into play. The more frequent the check-ins, the easier it is to fix it if things start going off track.

Once your garments are produced, make sure you check every single piece. Quality control is so important. This is your brand and your name. Make sure your products represent it accordingly.

Pricing Your Clothing Products
At this point in the production process, you should have the data you need to be able to calculate the cost of bringing your fashion design idea to life. It all adds up. Did you hire a fashion illustrator? A pattern maker? Someone to make your tech pack? A sample maker? What about a fit model? Then there is the cost of the fabric, trims, production labor, and shipping costs. And if you’re working with a factory overseas, don’t forget to include import tax into your cost.

If you are working with a full package manufacturer the price they give you will include everything but the cost of delivery. Make sure you get in writing what your unit price covers. Ask questions if you need clarification.

To come up with a price of an apparel product, some designers simply add 30 to 40 percent to the final product cost to include all of their expenses before adding their profit margin. Going this route, however, makes it more difficult when it comes time to cut costs. It’s helpful to itemize everything that goes into each garment you make, including zippers and thread. That way you can adjust accordingly if necessary.

Figure out the total cost of goods, wholesale mark-up, wholesale price, retail mark-up, and the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP). Alternatively, you could work backward with these calculations. If you know how much you want your product to retail for before you ever start sourcing, then you know exactly what you can afford to spend each step of the way. If you plan to re-use a pattern later in a future collection, you can factor that in as well.

Once you grow your business, you may consider hiring a product developer. They specialize in taking a product from concept (your design idea) to consumer (getting it into the hands of your customer). The business of fashion is fascinating!

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