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How to Start a Clothing Line From Scratch: A Step by Step Guide

How to Start a Clothing Line From Scratch: A Step by Step Guide

Starting a fashion line is an amazing way to balance your passion for art as well as commerce. To build a sustainable online business, you will need more than just beautiful clothes. You'll need to master branding, retailing, manufacturing among other things. That's why I am so excited for this article, where we're going to learn how you can build your own brand from start to finish.

I've had the pleasure of working with countless small businesses in the fashion industry, across Toronto. And I've also worked with bigger businesses like nude sticks cosmetics and Valaria Lipovetsky. So I've definitely seen both sides of the coin.

In this article, we'll be talking about

1. The training you'll need
2. Resources for writing a business plan and developing your brand identity.

We'll also cover tips

1. How to come up with creative concepts
2. Reaching out to manufacturers
3. Timing your collections to the seasons
4. Wholesale strategy, and selling online and in person.

You can take formal education through college or university to learn the business and the skills of the fashion industry, but that's definitely not necessary any more considering how much information there is online. Check out Udemy, Masterclass, even YouTube videos to help get you trained.

I know I personally have friends that have successful fashion businesses and they don't have any formal training in fashion. For example, McKenzie studied fashion communications at Ryerson University. While co-founder Benjamin studied communication. Your education will definitely help you, but it will not define the success of your business.

Business plan

Even if you're running a one-man show, writing a business plan is going to be essential for being clear about your goals and being able to manifest them. And when you're ready to raise, an investor is going to want to see how feasible your business idea is before funding it.

When you're writing a business plan, you'll want to separate it into 6 separate sections.

1. The first section is the executive summary, the executive summary overviews, everything that you have in your business plan into one page.

2. Company overview
This will answer who you are as a company and what you plan to do. You'll also want to include a market analysis that gives an industry overview, how competitive it is and where you fit in.

3. The products and service section will speak to the gap that your industry has and how your company aims to fill that gap.

4. Customer segmentation outlines your ideal customer and your target audience.

5. Include a marketing plan section where you'll strategize how, when, and where you'll be reaching your ideal customers.

6. Make sure to write in a logistics and operations plan. This is going to be very crucial, especially for businesses in fashion.

So in this section, you'll want to include.

1. Your suppliers
2. Your shipping and fulfillment
3. Your facilities and your equipment, lastly, and also a personal favorite of mine.

Include a financial plan. So in this section, you'll want to include.

1. Your income statement
2. Your balance sheet
3. Your cash flow statement.

That's a basic overview of what's included in a business plan.

How to develop a fashion brand

Developing your brand identity is more than just the design of your collections and your logo. Think of your brand identity as an intricate personality, you've got a photography style, your collection, the way your website looks, the branding, your sustainability statement. All of these things combined together really help create your brand identity.

Here are four components to start out with when you're creating your brand look and feel.

Visual identity

Your visual identity is composed of your logo. Your brand colors, your typography, and your photography. A good idea is to head over to Pinterest and check. Look up some images that inspire you and drop them into Canva to create a dynamic mood board.

Let's take a look at Kotn.

How to Start a Clothing Line From Scratch: A Step by Step Guide

Kotn uses neutral colors, san serif fonts, and images that look like they've been taken on film. All of this together gives you a very distinct brand look and feel. Your brand tone of voice is the way that you'll speak to your audience through marketing and customer service, developing a tone of voice that feels natural and authentic to you will definitely come across to your audience.

Make sure that you're creating a set of guidelines of how you would speak across all channels. And that's going to come in handy, especially as your team starts to grow. So for instance, Kotn uses a very formal tone of voice while still being informative.

Your brand story is the narrative of why your brand exists and its mission. People remember stories better than they do facts and figures, so this is really your opportunity to make your brand story memorable and make an emotional connection with your audience.

Here are a couple of questions to ask yourself when you're building out your brand story, why am I starting this brand? What makes me different and why does the world need my brand?

Going back to Kotn, their brand story really highlights the importance of traceability in the fashion industry. Only 5% of the fashion industry knows exactly where their products are coming from starting at the raw materials. So they've disrupted the industry by being transparent about the origin of their products and they work that into their brand story.

Your brand values are the things that you stand for as a company like social good or excellent design. Developing brand values that you truly care about will make you proud to stand behind your brand. And it's going to give you the motivation to help build your brand over time.

Most companies will take all of this information and compile it into a document called a brand book, check out glossier's brand book. You can create your own brand book on Canva, or you can hire a graphic designer to do this for you. You can find a graphic designer on upwork.com, but just make sure that you're getting the right kid.

Creative Process and Inspiration

coming up with a concept behind a clothing line or figuring out how a product is going to look can feel super daunting, especially when you're just staring at a blank canvas. Many creatives will get inspired by fashion throughout history, or they'll take an existing idea and add their own twist.

Pick up the book called a technique for producing new ideas by William Bernbach. It's about an hour-long read and it guides you through five simple steps on how you can produce new ideas. Every time that I pick this up and read it, I always have new ideas flying through my head and it sparks so much creativity.

A great place to discover and collect inspiration is on pinterest.com. pinterest.com has an unlimited amount of searchable images that will help get your creative gears turning. A recent article in ink explains that brain scans have shown high levels of creativity when the brain is relaxed.

So if you're printing off your mood boards, make sure that you're sticking them around your house because as you're going about your day and your brain is relaxed, an idea might strike. One of the aha moments for Kotn's Benjamin cell was when he was in New York on a very hot sweaty summer day.

He was constantly having to re-up on his basic white Tee's. But he could not find a happy medium between the $5 Tee and the hundred dollar designer Tee. And that was part of the inspiration that led to Kotn's inception.

Seasons and Collections

The Fashion industry operates on a seasonal cycle. So it goes fall/winter and spring/summer. In order to keep up with this, you're going to want to start planning your collections at least a year in advance. However, there is a new movement called Seasonless fashion and it aims to slow down the impact socially and environmentally that the fashion industry has.

Here are a couple of things that you're going to want to keep top of mind in order to launch on time.

1. Give yourself time to trend forecast
Trends come from a mix of intuition, research, and social culture. In order to be successful in your trend forecasting, you're going to have to accept that it is it's very time-consuming and calls for you to be a sponge pretty much 24 seven approach music, science, politics, the culture around you with a sense of curiosity.

2. Reach out to your vendors and your partners to discuss timelines.
This will include your pattern makers, your fabric vendors, and your production facilities, to name a few. Create a work-back schedule and share it with the entire team to make sure that the dates are achievable. 

3. Have a marketing plan in place for when your collection drops. Be clear on what publications you're going to go after and how you'll build anticipation on social media.

Clothing production and manufacturing

If you're just starting out, I recommend you be super lean with production. Try working one on one with a freelancer in order to get your product prototyped and to be able to test the market. The prototype phase, we'll start with a sketch.

Use your sketches to refine the design in the early stages, rather than making expensive edits to the prototype. You're also going to want to create a flat, a flat is a simple line drawing as if the garment were laying flat.

You'll also need initial specs. Specs are the measurements of a garment laid out in a very easy-to-read chart, engage your team members in order to communicate your vision through an ongoing conversation. Also, make sure that you're showing them existing examples to communicate your ideas.

A fit model is a model that tries on the garment prior to production and helps the design team achieve the desired fit. It'll also give the design team a good understanding of how the garment will hang on the body. Make sure that you're choosing the model that accurately represents your target audience.

Fittings usually include the designer, the technical designer, and the fit model. Be prepared for a couple of rounds of fitting critiques to the prototype before going into production, when you're ready to find your manufacturer, it's gonna have a lot to do with who you know.

The same thing goes with finding your fabric agents and your wholesalers. So what you can do, is you can start by looking online at directories like Compass, Maker's Row, and Sketch. Also join the Shopify entrepreneurs Facebook group, in order to get some peer-to-peer advice.

In my personal opinion, reaching out to your network will always yield the best results. So don't be afraid to detach from your screen and start asking your network for some advice.

Wholesale and Consignment

With consignment, retailers will pay you once the item sells, and with wholesale retailers will pay you upfront. Generally speaking, when you're just starting out, retailers are going to want to do consignment because it is less risky for them. Retailers will often want to be given a 50% discount, so make sure you're accounting for that in your profit margins.

To get going, set up a password-protected wholesale portal on your Shopify website. Or you can also use an app like a wholesale club. Also, check out fair.com. fair.com is a platform that connects buyers and wholesalers. For every client that I've introduced fair to, they've made at least one sale. So make sure that you're definitely checking this out.

When selling online think of your website as your storefront

Start by optimizing two main sections of your website.

1. Homepage
make sure that your homepage makes it very easy for a customer to find what it is they're looking for. Looking at Kotn's homepage, we can shop by collection, men and women's, and certain featured products. You also have to make sure that the homepage speaks to your brand values, which Kotn does a very good job of here.

The homepage should also encourage conversions. High-quality photography and call-to-actions that are sprinkled all over the homepage are going to help increase your conversion rate.

2. Look at a product page, the product page to do one thing. And one thing only. It aims to get people to add the item to their cart. To do this, you're going to want to give as much information upfront as possible. The information given should make it feel as if the customer were seeing it in person and it will make them feel confident in their decision to purchase.

Make sure that you have swatches of your products if it comes in multiple colors or fabric variations. If you have variants, have several photos for each color that your clothing comes in. Your photos should showcase all the angles of the fit and closeups of the detail.

Kotn also uses a size guide, which is imperative in helping the customer make the right choice. This will also minimize returns, a call out to what size the model wears also helps make an informed decision. Have a description box with your marketing language.

Use this space to further illustrate your product's quality and its features. Use keywords you think people will be typing into Google to find your product. Instead of just description, Kotn uses an editor's note, which is a creative take on this.

Having your shipping and return policy right on the product page gives an extra sense of transparency and reassurance. And lastly, cotton has used a low stock alert app that's going to drive urgency.

Here's a logistical tip when selling online

Be mindful of how long it takes to produce a product and then to ship it to your customers. You want to strike a balance when it comes to your supply chain, don't tie up your funds in holding too much inventory, but also don't make your customers wait, if they've ordered something in your product lead times are too long.


Oftentimes it's, not enough to have a revolutionary product. You're going to need a marketing plan in place to let people know that you exist. So you're going to want to do email marketing. Social media marketing PR and leverage your personal network to get in front of stylists, buyers, and the consumer.

I hope that this has been helpful. Remember that everyone is at their own stage in this journey and that Rome wasn't built in a day. So keep on keeping on and wherever you're at in this journey, that's exactly where you need to be.

How to bring your first collection to market

Answered by McKenzie Yates. She is the co-founder of Kotn. Kotn is a Canadian fashion brand that focuses on traceability at every step in the supply chain. Kotn has been recognized for its manufacturing transparency by Forbes, among others.

Can you walk us through any actionable step-by-step methods of how you brought your first collection to market? Feel free to talk about the processes from design to production and manufacturing and marketing. 

So I would say first figure out what you stand for and what sort of values you have as a designer or founder, but also as a brand, and then figure out who your customer is or your ideal target customer. From there, you can start to build out your product line, your brand, and then also whatever channel you're going to sell your products through, be that wholesale or your own retail. Then with those few things, you're kind of set up to kick it off.

Do you have to have any digital marketing methods that you use and what have been the ones that have the best ROI for your brand and any that you would suggest starting out with?

I think the number one thing, and for us is really building our brand and building out our organic channels. And I would say that, if, especially if you're a clothing brand that is really where you should be spending the majority of your effort, especially starting out.

So for us, that was, going after the press was a good way to just start getting the word out there. And that's a free way to promote your brand. Really just like emailing editors and sharing your story with people and then social media building that up, and posting consistently. And I'd say like, Focusing on a channel that you think is going to be the most impactful for your brand.

Also, email is a huge thing. That's often overlooked, but it is the top converter. So building out your email list in any way that you can, and if you're doing one-day popups, if you're doing like social media contest, like try to collect as many emails as possible so that you can have an ongoing relationship with the people that are interested in your products.

So I would say that's like the foundation that you should be investing a lot of time into is building that. And then once you start to understand who your customer is, and you have some people in your funnel already from those organic channels, areas that we would recommend is leveraging Google ads to capture existing demand for your products.

So it depends on how niche your products are. For us, advertising white tee shirts on Google is quite challenging because there are so many other people that are trying to capture that, those search terms. But if you have a very unique product offering, then Google is definitely a great way to try to get customers through the door.

And then Facebook ads, you gotta do them. They're a really great way to create demand, but they take a lot of experimentation and they can get very expensive. So it is worth testing, but it's really challenging to master. We definitely aren't there yet. Figuring out creative and messaging that translates to ads is also very challenging.

So I would just say, be aware of the Facebook ads. I think it's a misconception to think that you can figure out your digital marketing and like turn this switch and customers are just gonna come right in the door. You can't buy customers. So you really need to make sure that like that foundation is set, that your message is consistent.

And then you can use that as sort of an amplifier to amplify the messages that you're trying to get out there. But, the days of cheap Facebook Ads are long gone.

So it's interesting that you said that you would start with organic and then kind of move over into paid. Um, what, so I guess you did that. What was your feeling around that? Why was that your route?

So really it was about creating a foundation of customers to start with and that can be a small foundation. But then you can start remarketing to those people too. And remarketing ads. Are much more successful and, are easier in a way because your customer, the customer is already a little bit familiar with who you are. So, I would just say that it's free.

That's a big reason to start with organic and it takes a little, you're going to get a more committed customer that's more interested in your brand and will last long term. I think organic customers are more likely to be returning customers. So the long-term impact of growing that organic base is going to be beneficial.

How to get your press and exposure for your clothing brand

So you also talked about reaching out to publications. What was your, like, how did you do that and what were you saying in those emails?

We literally were just like hacking the internet, trying to find people's emails on Twitter. Like I think we paid to download some list of a bunch of people's emails. it's not that hard to find contact information for a lot of these editors.

And it's great if you can figure out like, People that are interested in certain things mentioned articles that they've written in the past and how you think like you might be able to fit into an article in the future. but it was really just like cold emailing people and telling them our story and following up a lot.

Harassment is the name of the game. And nowadays, I mean back five years ago, it was the same, but even more so now, like a huge part of the press is also influencers. So if you can gift your product to people, that's a great way to get free content. A lot of the time that you can repost on your channels.

Plus exposure. So we do a lot of gifting right now. We kind of have two streams. Exposure, which is where we're paying sometimes for people to post or, um, we're going after people cause they have the right audience.

And then we also have, like a user-generated content stream where we're going after micro-influencers, people that might even have like a thousand followers, but have really great images and are super on-brand for us. And so that's a way to have tons of different people in your clothes and show those images without paying really high model fees.

And organizing big shoots. So it's a, yeah, just reach out to people like be your authentic self. And I think people appreciate that. It's a founder reaching out to them. At the beginning and not a PR agency. So that helps give you a little bit more leverage.

What digital marketing methods should you start with?

So what digital marketing methods do you use and what have you noticed has the highest ROI and what would be the top three that you would suggest if you're just starting out?
I would suggest working on building your email list first and foremost and leveraging email, and doing whatever you can to kind of build a strong channel there.

And second. Google ads to capture an existing demand for your product. And then the third channel would be Facebook ads with a disclaimer that that is the most challenging channel, but it is a great way to create demand and it's worth testing.

What are some mistakes that you made early on and how would you recommend new fashion entrepreneurs avoid them?

I would say that one of the big mistakes that we made early on was not getting enough customer feedback and there are a few ways that you can do that through surveys, meeting people in person, and asking the right questions, that aren't leading questions.

So I would say that that is a great thing to focus on early on is to talk to as many customers as you can and pivot your product when you are still lean and nimble.

Last words

All right, let's do a recap. In this articel, we talked about skills and training, creating a business plan, and developing a brand identity. We cover tips on how to spark creativity and tips on production and manufacturing. We talked about time near collections to seasons. Wholesale and online selling. We covered a lot of ground in this article. If you have any questions at all about anything that you read in this article, make sure that you're leaving them in the comments below, and I will get back to every single one of you. Also, we are all fam here, so make sure that you're answering each other's questions in the comments as well.

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