Apparel toes the line between an essential good and a luxury item. Some brands manufacture what we wear on a daily basis — socks, underwear and so forth — while others create outfits meant for special occasions. This creates the potential for businesses that want to create fashion lines, with Statista estimating that the U.S. fashion e-commerce market will reach $99.1 billion in 2021.
By Duran Inci, IT consultant with over 11 years of e-business experience in digital marketing, e-commerce and integrations. Co-founder and COO of Optimum7.
My company owns several apparel brands. Here are some of the lessons that we’ve learned along the way of starting a clothing line, along with the trial and error.
Always have a business plan.
This is standard practice for every entrepreneur. The business plan explains how much you plan to invest in operations, raw materials and other parts of the business. Then you can show this plan to potential investors, who will deliver capital if they see the benefits in black and white.
A business plan provides goals and guidelines for a designated time period. If you don’t meet the benchmarks established, then you have parameters to adjust and data to analyze what went wrong. This also means that you can measure business health over several years to figure out if you are reaching the designated target market.
Solve an existing, unique need in clothing designs.
A good product or service solves a problem for your target audience. This is true even for clothing: Every outfit you wear serves a purpose. Casual business clothes allow employees to create a healthy office environment, while school uniforms create an atmosphere of decorum at various institutions. If you can solve a need, then your audience will spread the word.
One example would be affordable, customized business suits for interviews. There is a saying that a thousand-dollar suit will get you a thousand-dollar job, but not everyone has a thousand dollars to spend. Some customers would benefit from a suit that an e-commerce business can construct for several hundred dollars, taking virtual measurements in the case that a physical appointment for tailoring isn’t possible.
What’s more, you want to specialize in a certain type of product. That gives you a competitive advantage that stands out from the crowd. Larger retailers, such as Amazon and Walmart, can sell generic socks or caps. It is also very hard to compete with these corporations due to the economies of scale, and they can lower prices significantly on their offerings.
Of course, note this caveat: If you want to become a high-end fashion designer, then you need to take time to build your reputation slowly. The industry is highly competitive, so your clothing line needs to prove it can be tougher than any rivals. Going a notch below — as a respectable online store that reaches a wider market — may prove safer.
Consider the plus-size market. Thanks to beauty standards, many people who are a size 28 or above cannot easily find dresses, pants or shirts that suit their needs. They have to take their chances on retail, find a good tailor or make the clothes themselves. You can tap into this market by creating high-quality apparel that flatters such body types. By providing such value, you deliver both time and flattering products to the consumer.
In short, you can deliver more than clothes once you define your niche. Your brand identity delivers a new identity for your customers or reinforces their established one. Films about con artists, such as Catch Me If You Can, impart the lesson that what you wear can impact your conversations with others; bank managers respect those in suits or pilots walking down the street to cash a paycheck. You won’t be serving criminals, but you will be selling personality and reputation.
Design for quality, and start the manufacturing process.
Unless you are planning to sell specialized outfits on commission, chances are that you want to hire a manufacturer to mass-produce your designs. You want a partner that can deliver outfits on time as ordered and keep the customers happy. In some cases, they can even make a prototype to show to investors.
If you are a designer and want to contribute personally, get to sketching your designs and rendering them in muslin. Muslin is a cheap fabric that is often used for prototype outfits, owing to its flexibility. Many designers use muslin for prototypes so as to avoid wasting cotton, silk or satin blends in the case of errors or unflattering clothes.
Outsourcing the designs is another option. Not everyone wants to get personally involved with dress forms, corsets or figures. Some designers will agree to make a prototype or work on retainer in exchange for a fee. You simply need to determine if you are paying them on a project basis or with an hourly rate and how long they will work for you. The trick is having a reliable contract.
Fabric quality is a high priority. From a pragmatic standpoint, many consumers are concerned with clothing that has ethical sourcing or provides sensory pleasures. Cheap fabrics or loose stitches mean that the customer will not be happy and is less likely to make a repeat purchase. Keep test muslin within your design stations, and make sure to examine cotton and polyester blends.
Decide on the scope that your manufacturer will have. Some will simply sell fabrics to you; larger companies offer business discounts to certain customers. In other cases, entire factories will make up the clothing company and deliver the jeans or dresses you want. You will most likely have to interview potential manufacturers remotely.
When you have your business model set up and ready for a soft launch, then you can prove yourself with various clothing items. Never forget to set up a brand name, identity and profile so that you can tap into your designated target market. There is ample potential for you to succeed.
Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invitation-only, fee-based organization comprised of the world's most successful entrepreneurs 45 and younger. YEC members…
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