Are you wondering how to start a streetwear brand from scratch? Then this is the guide for you. You’ll learn how to choose an audience, create your brand identity, and much more.
Starting your clothing line can be scary, but in the words of successful streetwear brand Awake at Three’s owner Craig Renwick, “just go and do it.”
The good news is, it doesn’t have to cost you a fortune. You can choose to invest (time, energy, etc.) as much as you feel comfortable with. I’ll talk more about that later.
Before we dive into how to start a clothing brand from zero, let’s cover the must-know info about fashion’s biggest buzzword—streetwear.
A streetwear brand is a line of clothing that’s casual-yet-fashionable and offers items like graphic hoodies, tees, sweatpants, and sneakers. Streetwear became popular in the 1990s thanks to hip-hop culture in New York and Californian surf style.
Initially, streetwear was worn by various urban youth subcultures. For example, many hip-hop artists would market their streetwear brands to fans.
Nowadays, streetwear brands have claimed their place in mainstream fashion. Popular streetwear merch can be seen on celebrities, influencers, and really anyone wishing to make a fashion statement. Just think of Stussy, Supreme, or Obey.
The coolest fact about these leading streetwear brands is that they all started small. This means you can too!
From defining your target audience to how to market a clothing brand, this step-by-step streetwear startup guide has all the info you need.
No brand can make sales without an audience. What’s the first step? Ask yourself who you’re selling to. For example, research shows that most streetwear consumers are young people under the age of 25. So a good idea might be to create a streetwear brand aimed at Gen Z, but don’t be afraid to target a wider audience as well.
Strategy& and Hypebeast, a leading online media platform for men’s contemporary fashion and streetwear, recently conducted a survey about streetwear consumers that offers some helpful insights:
A good way to conduct market research is to assess the competition. See what other streetwear brands are doing. Analyze what is selling and who is buying. Maybe you notice a gap in the streetwear market, like t-shirts with food puns on them.
Don’t forget to assess competitors’ interfaces and how they interact with their customers. Research shows that 90% of consumers in the US value customer service just as much as the product itself.
Ask these important questions: what are the psychological and emotional factors that drive people to want that brand? Why would people want to buy your brand?
Remember—gathering as much data as you can will simplify the launch process.
If you need some inspiration on niche ideas, check out our article on “How to Find a Niche for Your Online Store” where we share over 100 ideas.
Now that you know your target audience, you need a brand identity. These are the qualities that define a brand in the minds of consumers, like its values, personality, and overall brand image.
Start by asking yourself: what do you want your customers’ general impression of your products to be? Establish your brand’s purpose, mission, values, and target audience. Be clear about what separates your brand from others.
Conduct market research to analyze customer needs and find any gaps in your competitors’ offerings. Then, determine what emotional connection you want your brand to evoke. Do you stand for helping to protect the environment or is your brand a way for people with similar interests to connect?
Your brand identity should be reflected across all touchpoints and communication with your customers. Create style guidelines for your brand’s content, and come up with unique colors, fonts, and images for your branding. Use your brand identity on packaging, websites, social media accounts, marketing materials, and any other materials that have direct contact with customers.
Remember that people like connecting with other people, not with a brand. The best way to build trust, increase customer loyalty, and build engagement is to have a strong brand story.
Share what you do, how you do it, and most importantly, why you do it. Follow the 4 C’s of storytelling—conflict, characters, community, and confidence.
Check out this Definitive Guide to Brand Storytelling for more information on how to create a unique brand story.
Wondering which factors drive consumers to choose a streetwear brand? Consumers view brand legacy as one of the most important features, only second to quality/design. Brand legacy is the popularity, trust, and impact created by a brand.
Below are some tips on building a brand legacy.
Create a compelling brand purpose: Your brand purpose should go beyond selling products. Decide what kind of social contribution your brand aims to make. With a strong purpose, you can create a lasting legacy for your brand.
Establish your brand’s values: Describe the core values that guide your actions and decisions. Make sure they align with your target audience’s aspirations. Be true to your values by incorporating them into your brand’s culture and operations.
Build authentic relationships: Involve your customers, employees, partners, and stakeholders in the company processes. Listen to their feedback and make adjustments based on it.
Provide impeccable experiences: Remember how most consumers value customer service just as much as the product itself? Deliver exceptional customer experiences and watch how the 5-star reviews roll in effortlessly.
Give back to society: Allow your customers to be part of something bigger by donating part of your profits to a cause. For example, let them know that with every product they purchase, you’ll donate $1 to save the rainforests.
Have a growth mindset: Always look for ways to innovate and evolve your brand. Create new designs, improve the quality, and listen to constructive feedback.
Empower others: Be generous with the information and knowledge you share with your customers. Here at Printful, we believe in helping our customers grow. That’s why we share marketing advice on our social media platforms and endless resources on our blog.
Celebrate your wins: Whether it’s reaching 10K followers on Instagram or making your first 5,000 sales, share these milestones with your audience. Your customers are rooting for you and celebrating your wins gives them a chance to engage and feel more connected to your community.
Finally, remember that building a strong, positive reputation takes time, effort, and consistency.
You have your target market and your brand identity, now it’s time to produce some merch. Below are several production processes to choose from, and the pros and cons of each.
Print-on-demand (POD) dropshipping refers to a business model in which a store gets its products from a third party who then ships them directly to end customers. Your custom designs are printed on products only as orders come in, and only in the quantity requested.
This means that there aren’t any upfront costs. You’ll only be charged when a customer makes a purchase. All you have to do is set up your ecommerce store and connect it to a print-on-demand platform like Printful.
Another advantage of POD is that the process of storing, printing, packaging, and fulfilling orders is carried out by your printing partner. You just focus on the designs and marketing.
That said, you don’t have complete control over the fulfillment process or the quality of the products—you have to depend on your printing partner. Plus, product availability and order fulfillment time can vary. That’s why it’s important to choose your POD partner wisely.
Ordering in bulk from a wholesaler is a good option if you have some capital to invest. Purchasing wholesale often means you get a lower price because the supplier got a lower price from the manufacturer.
Let’s say you order one hundred t-shirts with your design on them for $16 each at wholesale price. You then sell them for $25 and make $9 per sale. But if you order 500 t-shirts, you can get them for $10 and earn $15 per item sold. That’s a pretty good margin.
The downside of ordering in bulk is that you may not sell everything and you could end up with leftover stock. You also have to consider storage costs like renting a warehouse space, utility bills, and insurance. Remember that the money you put into inventory that goes unsold could’ve been invested elsewhere.
What’s more, ordering in bulk means you don’t have as much margin to experiment with new or trendy designs because you’re always worrying about whether or not they’ll sell. This isn’t the case with POD.
Products are made on demand when an order comes in, so you can offer as many designs as you like.
The most significant advantage of fulfilling orders yourself is that you get to have complete control over the entire process. You can add your personal touch to each package, like a gift card, sample, or message (just keep in mind you can do this with Printful too). What’s more, you’re in direct communication with your customers which allows you to build relationships, and offer personalized support.
On the flip side, fulfilling orders yourself can be time-consuming. Storage and inventory management require space, organization, and staying on top of stock to avoid shortages or excess. Not to mention, you have to deal with shipping and logistics.
Also, fulfilling orders yourself doesn’t leave much room for scalability—there’s only so much packaging, shipping, and stock you can handle by yourself. That said, it may work for you if you’re just starting your streetwear business and you have more time than money to invest.
Now that you know your target audience, you’ve created a brand, and chosen a production process, it’s time to design products. But with so many possible streetwear pieces, which items should you start with?
According to Hypebeast, sneakers are the most-bought streetwear item out there. But maybe your niche is tees, or maybe your clothing line can offer a broader range of merch to satisfy your following. No worries! When you use Printful, you can create free mockups for any item from our Product Catalog and see what’s popular.
As for which products to select, check out How to Choose Print-on-Demand Products for Your Store.
Once you’ve selected some products, it’s time to start designing. Here you have several options: create a design yourself from scratch, use Printful’s Design Maker and customize our free templates, or hire a designer to do it for you.
You’ll also want to consider the printing method. For clothing, we offer embroidery, direct-to-garment printing, sublimation, and direct-to-film printing. Each technique works best on different fabric types, so make sure to check our Direct-to-Garment File Guidelines, our Embroidery File Guidelines, our Sublimation Printing Guide, and the Direct-to-Film Printing requirements.
Not sure whether you should go for direct-to-garment or direct-to-film printing? Check out this DTG vs. DTF comparison.
Whatever path you choose, don’t get discouraged if your first idea doesn’t captivate the fashion world. According to Craig Renwick, you should produce at least one design per week until you’re content. Besides, your design skills will improve with each one you put out!
Whether you design the logo yourself or outsource the work to someone else, it’s a good idea to test it out before listing it online. Order some samples and wear your clothes around friends, family, or coworkers, and ask them what they think. Also, post it on social media, or better yet, in the subreddit r/streetwearstartup.
By doing some research, you’ll understand which designs people prefer, and how to improve your offering. Plus, wearing your brand in public or posting photos online is free advertising.
Now that you’ve created a design that your fans and followers love, it’s time to launch your online store! You can learn all about How to Start an Online Store with Printful here. But, let me recap your options:
All-in-one ecommerce solutions like Shopify, WooCommerce, and BigCommerce simplify the creation and management of online stores. Their features include editable templates, secure payment gateways, inventory management, and marketing tools. Plus, you get to showcase your brand on its own dedicated website.
The cool thing about marketplaces like Etsy, Amazon, or eBay is that they already have a large customer base. You can list your streetwear items on their platforms for just a small fee, instead of paying a subscription each month (as is the case for ecommerce platforms). This makes them a good option for small businesses and start-ups.
The coolest feature for both ecommerce platforms and marketplaces is that you can integrate them directly into your print-on-demand partner’s platform. Learn more about each integration here.
Social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok let you set up a store directly on their interfaces. This can be an awesome option if you already have a significant online presence on any of these platforms. We’re currently partnered with TikTok, so you can turn your followers into customers in the blink of an eye.
The streetwear market shows no signs of slowing down. According to analysts, the industry is expected to reach $193.21 billion by 2027, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 3.52%. And we know you want a piece of that pie.
So how can you penetrate the streetwear market? Let’s take a look at some effective marketing strategies for advertising your streetwear brand:
Research shows that about a quarter of consumers buy streetwear to demonstrate their social status. But where do they turn to for trustworthy opinions on what’s hot and what’s not? Social media, of course. In this space, consumers drive trends, not brands.
There are ways you can track these conversations and know what’s trending in streetwear fashion. Use social listening tools like Mention or Google Trends. Once you spot a trend you like, hop on it and create a design that beats the competition.
You can also offer customers the option to pre-order items. That’ll give you an idea of whether there’s a demand for your product or not.
As you can see from the Statista chart above, about a quarter of customers buy streetwear clothing to feel part of a community. Whether that’s a Facebook group, TikTok following, or YouTube channel, online communities help customers build an emotional attachment to your brand.
They’re also a great way to gain consumer insights and offer exclusive access to new drops (because people like to feel special). Here’s a useful guide on How to Grow Your Online Community with Organic Traffic.
Remember how people turn to social media to know what’s in style? You can set trends by teaming up with influencers to market your clothing brand. According to a Marketingcharts survey from 2020, 36% of consumers made a purchase directly or indirectly through influencer posts. That’s a pretty good conversion rate.
Remember: make sure the influencer’s style aligns with your brand. This will not only ensure credibility, but you may also be able to offer free merch in exchange for exposure.
Besides hiring influencers to showcase your products, you can attract potential customers with style guides. Post different ways to style your clothing on your website and social media platforms. People like to see real-life examples of how to style a piece into an outfit.
Plus, you might just spark the need to buy another item to finish their look.
One of the eight basic human instincts, according to Drew Eric Whitman, is the desire to be superior, winning, or “keeping up with the Joneses.” Use this to your advantage and create a feeling of exclusivity with product drops. Add purchase deadlines and limited items to make people feel like they’re in on a special, select deal.
Source: Charlie Hustle
When it comes to choosing a marketing strategy, consider how much time and money you’re willing to invest. The good news is, start-up costs don’t have to be extravagant—you can even Market Your Online Store on a $50 Budget.
Also, you can use free content creation tools, and social media for marketing. Plus, if you choose the print-on-demand dropshipping model, you pay for the products only as orders come in. All you need to do is set up your online storefront or list your items in an existing Marketplace.
Some other costs to consider are shipping, outsourcing if needed, and business taxes. You should check with your local tax authority and consult a tax professional to determine your tax obligations, and what permits and licenses you may need. This way you can make sure you’re complying with all the necessary laws.
To find out how to set up your store’s taxes in 3 simple steps, check out our guide to Printful taxes.
These brands all started from scratch, but are now über-popular. They all have two things in common: originality and quality. Check out this article for more Successful Print-on-Demand Store Examples.
Now, here are three streetwear brands for inspo:
This now multi-million dollar label started off as a side hustle. Designer and founder Natalie Maczek was studying law while she began making nightclub outfits for her friends. A few years later, in 2017, the brand held its first show at NYFW. You can still see the underground music scene’s influence on MISBHV’s aesthetic.
Source: Snow Milk
Founded by 42-year-old Doobi Duke Sims, this brand takes upcycled clothing and turns each garment into a one-of-a-kind t-shirt, trench coat, etc. Every piece is unique and numbered so that people can express their individuality.
Source: Johnny Cupcakes
What started out as a funny nickname turned into a successful business when Johnny “Cupcakes” Earle decided to put the now iconic cupcake and crossbones logo on a t-shirt. His brand stands out from the crowd by being the first-ever t-shirt bakery. The brick-and-mortar stores look and smell like bake shops, but they only sell clothing (which is a lot healthier, Johnny adds).
Starting your own streetwear brand can be a fun and exciting endeavor that could turn into a profitable business. Of course, as with anything worthwhile, it takes time, patience, and consistency. Remember to use all the free tools at your disposal for designing, advertising, and conducting your market research.
Plus, you get to choose how your apparel is produced and how much to spend on your virtual storefront. With the print-on-demand dropshipping model, you can launch your business with no money or inventory. This means you can experiment with different designs until you find the one (or more) that people like.
So, get out there, find your audience, build a brand image, and start selling your clothing line with your custom prints and logo. There’s no better time than now to enter the streetwear world.
Zoe Amora Iranzo-Lauriņa
Zoe is a creative writer, multilingual translator, and certified yoga instructor with a passion for learning, traveling, and global cuisine. When she's not typing away at her PC, you can find her teaching yoga in the park, reading on the couch with her cat, or plunging in the Mediterranean.