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Beginner's handbook

Decoding Costs: How Much Does It Cost to Start a Clothing Line?

Decoding Costs: How Much Does It Cost to Start a Clothing Line?
Karlina Rozkalne

By Karlina Rozkalne

14 min read

In this guide, we’ll unfold the layers of how much does it cost to start a clothing line: materials, production, design, labor, and other critical costs included. Understanding these expenses is important to start a clothing business with realistic expectations—it will help create a solid business plan and build a successful business.

How much does it cost to start a clothing line?

Starting a clothing line can cost anywhere from $100 to several thousand dollars, depending on the scale and business model. Clothing line costs vary depending on the production process, materials, marketing, and other aspects. 

If you want less upfront costs, you can use the print-on-demand (POD) business model for your clothing brand. The POD model eliminates buying inventory in bulk, which means you must only cover the setup and marketing costs of your online store and pay for the products you sell.

a group of clothes on swingersSource: ChatGPT

The costs of starting a clothing line business

Let’s get into the specific costs of launching your clothing business. This overview will give you a good understanding of how the costs of starting a clothing line compare depending on the manufacturing model you choose. 

Starting your own clothing line from scratch requires a substantial investment, covering materials, production, and operations. In contrast, the upfront investment to sell clothes with a print-on-demand (POD) service is minimal. The POD model allows you to direct your spending on design and marketing, making it ideal for newcomers with limited capital, as it lowers the financial barriers to entering the fashion industry.

Some expenses, like marketing costs, are inevitable regardless of the business model you’ve chosen for your fashion business.

Now, let’s look at the startup costs for small businesses more closely.

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Startup and manufacturing costs

We’ll begin by looking at how much it costs to get your fashion brand off the ground. There’s a stark difference between the capital needed to start a clothing line yourself and using a POD provider. 

Manufacturing from scratch

Launching a clothing line with self-managed manufacturing includes raw materials, pattern maker costs, manufacturing costs, quality control, and packaging.

We’ll delve into the expenses involved in greater detail, starting with raw materials. Material costs vary widely, from $1 to $40 per yard for fabric, depending on quality, quantity, and origin. 

Pattern drafting, a critical step in creating unique garments, may range between $200 and $2000, depending on design complexity. The difference in costs for pattern drafting comes down to the skill and time needed to make clothes look and fit just right. Even a simple garment like a t-shirt takes a lot of know-how to fit and look well. Good pattern makers understand:

  • How fabrics work (e.g., which fabric suits a particular garment)

  • How to do grading—create a range of sizes for each design, ensuring each size maintains the correct proportions and fit of the original pattern

  • How to measure bodies accurately 

Their expertise affects the quality of the clothes and how much people will like them.

Self-managed manufacturing costs include:

  • Labor—payments to skilled workers for cutting, sewing, and finishing the garments. The expenses will vary depending on how many employees you have, how much they must work, and the benefits you want to offer.

  • Equipment—costs for sewing machines, cutting tables, and other equipment. Take into consideration that you need to buy and upkeep the machinery. 

  • Utilities—electricity, water, and other utilities needed to operate the manufacturing facility. These will vary greatly depending on your manufacturing site’s location.

  • Quality control—costs for inspecting and ensuring each garment meets the desired quality standards.

  • Packaging—expenses for labels, tags, bags, or boxes used to package the final products. The manufacturing cost of the packaging depends on the materials you decide to use.

  • Transportation—costs to ship materials to the manufacturing site and to distribute the finished products to stores or customers. Delivery costs are fully dependent on the shipping company you partner with.

To get more precise information on the expenses you can expect, research the materials you plan to use and the suppliers that offer them. Plus, research the available shipping partners to find the best deals.

Customizing ready-made garments

Now, the expenses involved with customizing ready-made clothing are considerably lower. That’s because most of the work is done by clothing manufacturers. There are 2 ways to go about pre-made garments: 

  • Bulk. Buying pre-made garments in large quantities at wholesale prices means lower costs per item but requires a significant upfront investment. It’s excellent for large orders or collections but demands careful inventory management to avoid excess stock. Plus, there are extra costs for storage. 

  • Print-on-demand. Costs per item are higher, but this model offers flexibility and scalability, ideal for testing the market or catering to niche preferences without the burden of holding stock. The product options are limited to your POD partner’s product catalog.

Let’s examine how much a white Bella + Canvas 3001 staple t-shirt would cost you using each model. Below you can see how much this t-shirt would cost if you bought it with Shirt Space.

a screenshot of a chartSource: Shirt Space

It’s important to note that this price covers a plain, white tee. Additionally, you’d pay for warehousing and fulfillment. To buy the same tee with Printful, you’d pay $11.50.

a man with tattoos on his armSource: Printful

That’s more than double the wholesale price, but warehousing, fulfillment, and print are already included. Plus, you don’t have to worry about managing inventory or dealing with unsold stock.

a warehouse with many shelves and postersPrintful’s fulfillment facility. Source: Printful

Design costs

As you venture into the design phase of your clothing line, you’re presented with a choice of hiring a professional designer or embracing the challenge yourself. Each option has its merits, shaped by your budget, expertise, and vision for your brand.

Hiring a professional designer ensures your ideas are polished and professional, with costs varying from a few dollars to several hundred. The price tag reflects the designer’s experience, reputation, and the complexity of your design. Hiring an established designer to create your clothing line is a wonderful way to free up your time. When budgeting for a designer, consider their portfolio and how their style aligns with your brand.

You can hire a freelance designer through Fiverr with 10% off your first order. Learn more about the coupon code and how to use it here. As you can see in the screenshot below, you can get designs for custom t-shirts starting from $10. 

a screenshot of a websiteSource: Fiverr

For those looking to trim costs or take a hands-on approach, there are free design tools that help bring your creative vision to life. E.g., Canva is incredibly user-friendly and offers a wealth of templates, graphics, and fonts perfect for beginners. It enables you to design everything from logos and labels to promotional materials. Canva also provides tutorials and resources to help refine your designs, making it a terrific tool for clothing line owners who want to manage their visual branding directly.

a screenshot of a websiteSource: Canva

Alternatively, you can create your designs straight in Printful’s Design Maker. It provides free design tools and resources for design creation and adjustment. We’ve created a handy blog about Design Maker’s features to explain its possibilities. You can also create product mockups for your social media accounts with the Design Maker.

preview play-button

Tips for success:

  • If you spend money on a designer, communicate your vision clearly and provide examples of styles you like

  • Explore multiple design platforms to find the one that best suits your needs

  • Consider taking online courses or tutorials to enhance your design skills if opting for the DIY route

Choosing between professional design services and DIY tools depends on your budget, time, and desired involvement level. By carefully weighing the costs and benefits, you can select a path that aligns with your business goals and creative vision.

Online store costs

You’ll also need to build an online store, so your clients can find and buy your collection. There are 3 routes you can take—hire a professional website designer, build a custom website on an ecommerce platform, or open an online store on an ecommerce marketplace.

Ecommerce platform is like a toolbox you use to build your store as a standalone website.

Ecommerce marketplace is like a digital shopping mall where many smaller vendors set up their stores.

Hiring a professional website designer will be the most expensive way to go about it. Here are the professional web designer service prices on Fiverr.

a screenshot of a websiteSource: Fiverr

Platforms and marketplaces cost less than a designer but still entail some expenses. Most have a monthly fee to get valuable tools for building, personalization, or analytics.

Valuable read:

Top 10 Best Ecommerce Platforms for Dropshipping Business

Top 10 Best Online Marketplaces for Print-on-Demand Sellers

For example, let’s look at Wix, one of the most popular website builders in 2023. It’s one of the top ecommerce platforms for dropshipping because of the intuitive drag-and-drop interface.

a graph with blue barsSource: Statista

Wix subscription plans start at $27/month.

a screenshot of a websiteSource: Wix

Additionally, you pay a percentage-based transaction fee per order.

a screenshot of a credit cardSource: Wix

There are other costs you may endure, depending on your chosen platform. E.g., listing fee, additional plugins, cost for customization, or premium features.

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Labor costs

When starting, many store owners will take on the full workload of running a fashion brand. But as the business grows, it might be more cost-effective to delegate some of the workload to hired help.

To hire a full-time employee, you must know a lot of legal requirements: taxes, regulations, laws, etc. It’s much easier to hire a freelancer using platforms like:

It’s worth mentioning that many successful print-on-demand stores are run by the store owner, so don’t feel like you must hire people to run a profitable business.

Marketing costs

In both business models, you might have to spend money on marketing to gain visibility and reach the target market faster. Marketing expenses vary widely, from paid ads on search engines and social media advertising to influencer partnerships and sponsored content placements.

Paid marketing allows you to reach people fast and is great for boosting brand visibility and driving immediate sales. But paid marketing should complement organic brand growth strategies like SEO for a balanced approach.

Tips for paid marketing

Some tips to ensure your marketing budget is spent well:

  • Target precisely—use demographic and psychographic data for laser-focused targeting

  • Invest in quality visuals—high-quality visuals and videos are non-negotiable

  • Monitor and adjust—continuously review campaign performance and tweak for better results

  • Engage with influencers—partner with influencers who align with your brand to reach your target audience

  • Use retargeting—implement retargeting campaigns to convert interested visitors into buyers

Tips for Organic Marketing

Building a strong organic presence supports long-term growth and fosters genuine customer relationships. Here’s what to look out for:

  • SEO optimization—ensure your website and content are optimized for search engines to increase visibility

  • Engage on social media—regularly post engaging content and interact with your followers

  • Create valuable content—offer informative, interesting content that resonates with your audience

  • Use email marketing—build a mailing list and send out newsletters and offers to keep your brand top of mind

  • Encourage user-generated content—inspire your customers to share their experiences with your brand, enhancing credibility and reach

A balanced marketing strategy combining paid and organic efforts is key to a successful clothing line. You can build a brand that reaches and connects its target audience by fine-tuning your approach to include targeted paid campaigns and authentic organic interactions.

Shipping costs

Shipping companies often offer better rates as the product volume increases. That’s why print-on-demand companies get lower rates—they ship large product quantities. Plus, they often partner with multiple shipping carriers for competitive pricing and to get a range of options, ensuring flexibility and efficiency in fulfilling orders.

If you partner with Printful, you can customize the tracking page, so you and your customers can follow the product journey. To see the shipping speed and pricing for Printful, check out our shipping page

a group of logosPrintful’s shipping partners. Source: Printful

When managing your own clothing line, you must find a balance between affordable shipping for your customers and maintaining your profit margins. Negotiating rates with shipping carriers, considering hybrid shipping services, and offering tiered shipping options can help reduce the costs involved with shipping.

Which is the most profitable segment for a clothing company?

In the fashion industry, the women’s apparel segment brings in most of the revenue, so it might be considered the most profitable segment for a clothing company. This segment’s success is attributed to a wide range of products, high demand for the latest fashion trends, and frequent shopping habits.a graph of a number of peopleSource: Statista

It’s still important to note that profitability depends on brand positioning, marketing strategies, and the ability to persuade potential customers. It’s essential for clothing companies to understand their target audience and continuously innovate to maintain relevance and profitability in this highly competitive sector.

Blueprint for your clothing line’s business plan

Creating a thorough business plan is vital when starting a clothing line. This plan should detail your financial framework, outlining your anticipated expenses from material costs to delivery costs, plus expenses for marketing efforts and ongoing operational costs. 

a man sitting at a desk writing on a notebookSource: ChatGPT

Standard manufacturing blueprint

If you’re using standard manufacturing, you’re responsible for:

  • Sourcing materials—bulk fabric costs ranging from $1 to $40 per yard

  • Pattern making—ranging from $200 and $2000, depending on the design’s complexity

  • Production costs—vary based on quantity, starting at $500 for small orders to tens of thousands for larger batches

  • Quality control—estimates range from $500 to $3,000 to ensure product standards

  • Warehousing—monthly fees can be from $100 to thousands, based on inventory size

  • Shipping and fulfillment—costs depend on order volume and shipping distance, starting from $100

  • Sales and distribution—varies widely for online platforms and brick-and-mortar stores

  • Marketing and advertising—budgets depend on your sales channels and needs

Packaging, labels, and tags can add up, costing from $0.05 to $0.50 per item, and customized packaging can propel this cost to between $4 and $10 per box. Choosing sustainable fashion materials like organic fabrics can increase initial expenses but offer a lower long-term environmental impact.

Print-on-demand blueprint

Alternatively, you can partner with a reliable manufacturer to handle the manufacturing process. Starting a clothing brand with print-on-demand dropshipping means you eliminate the need for upfront investment in inventory, significantly reducing initial costs. This model allows for design and product offering flexibility without the risk of unsold stock.

Here’s what you must be aware of if you’re using print-on-demand:

  • Material and production costs—typically, products range from $6 to $50, and the materials and production are included in the price

  • Design costs—you can avoid paying anything for designs if you partner with a company like Printful that offers free design resources

  • Quality control—handled by your POD provider; sampling costs vary based on your partner (with Printful, you get a 20% sample discount for 1 order with up to 3 products every month)

  • Warehousing and inventory—all the costs are already included in the product price

  • Shipping—depends on your product count and destination, but starts at $4.79 for a t-shirt with Printful

  • Sales and distribution—costs vary based on the platform or marketplace you choose

  • Packaging, labels, tags—with Printful, you can personalize packaging, packaging slips and inserts, as well as clothing labels and tags

With on-demand production, you pay for the product and shipping only when a customer buys from you, making it a cost-effective option for new entrepreneurs. Print-on-demand services often provide a wide range of products, enabling you to expand your clothing line with minimal effort. You must pay for online marketing, ecommerce platform or marketplace, and the products you sell.

So, how much does it cost to enter the fashion industry

It depends on what production model you use—you can self-manufacture from scratch or print and embroider ready-made products and pay anywhere between a couple of hundred to thousands of dollars. Or, you can create your fashion line with on-demand fulfillment, and your costs will drop significantly.

There are pros and cons for each approach. Self-managing gives you more control and oversight over the quality but it also takes significantly more money and effort to launch and upkeep. Print-on-demand gives you less control over the outcome but more time and freedom to do other things to grow your brand.

Ultimately, the choice comes down to your budget and how hands-on you want (or can) be.

Frequently asked questions

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By Karlina Rozkalne on Mar 6, 2024

Karlina Rozkalne

SEO Content Writer

Karlina is an SEO Content Writer specialist at Printful. As a firm believer in attitude over aptitude, Karlina gives her 100% whenever she works on something new. Karlina spends her free time reading, traveling, and doing yoga.

Karlina is an SEO Content Writer specialist at Printful. As a firm believer in attitude over aptitude, Karlina gives her 100% whenever she works on something new. Karlina spends her free time reading, traveling, and doing yoga.