Launching a successful business that stands the test of time is a challenge to get right. Where do you begin?
Every few decades, the tech industry comes up with new business models to help people start their own stores.
But even with easier options like print-on-demand available, traditional business planning and developing a brand identity are still vital parts of your success.
When these two areas are carefully researched and planned, it becomes easier to make smart decisions about your business and build strong connections with your customers.
In this complete guide, you’ll learn how to start a clothing brand step-by-step. You’ll learn how to decide on a target market, make a simple business plan, build your brand identity, and create your own clothing line.
Your target market is the group of people you want to sell your products to.
Knowing your target audience is important because your customers form a core part of your business plan and branding. After all, understanding is the first step in building a good relationship with anybody. Knowing your target audience helps you create a strong brand identity and tailor your clothing business to your customers’ needs.
A great example of a business with a clear target market is Alba Paris. They promote a cruelty-free and vegan lifestyle, and their target market consists of people with similar values.
To stay true to their goals, they make the most of the eco-friendly benefits that print-on-demand provides. Their products have designs that raise awareness about the cruelty-free lifestyle and promote the values of the vegan community. This fosters a sense of belonging for their customers.
To figure out the target market for your own clothing brand, use the questions below to get an idea of the person who’ll wear your custom clothing. You don’t have to answer every question in detail, and you can always adjust them later when you learn more about your customers.
When you’re done with these questions, think about what desires or problems your market has that your clothing brand can help with.
Location: Are they local, national, or international customers?
Demographics: How old are they? What’s their gender, job, or income level?
Psychographics: What are their values? What are their hobbies and lifestyle? What kind of personality do they have?
Market trends: What kind of trends do they follow?
Buying habits: How much do they spend on clothes a year? Are they loyal to one brand or more? What kind of stores do you think they currently buy from?
A business model is the backbone of any new fashion brand. It’s a blueprint for how the company operates, earns revenue, and delivers value to its customers. It outlines the products or services the brand will offer, how it will market them, and the way it will handle logistics and finances.
Choosing the right business model is crucial. It shapes everything from the production process to customer engagement, influencing the brand’s identity, scalability, and long-term success.
Having a well-thought-out business model can make the difference between a fleeting trend and a lasting legacy.
Let’s review the most common models for a clothing business:
Print-on-demand is a flexible and modern solution for fashion brands, especially appealing to those just starting out and/or looking to minimize risk. In this model, clothing or accessories are only printed and produced when a customer places an order. While the clothing is manufactured by a third party, it allows brands to sell products under their own label.
This approach is ideal for small or new fashion brands, as it allows for low initial investment and the flexibility to experiment with different designs without the worry of unsold stock.
This model also allows for a wide range of designs and customization options, making it ideal for clothing brands targeting niche markets or wanting to offer personalized products.
However, there are some downsides to consider. Profit margins can be lower in print-on-demand compared to bulk manufacturing, as unit costs are typically higher. Also, the brand has less control over production times and quality, as these aspects depend on the third-party provider.
Dropshipping offers a streamlined approach for fashion brands, where a third party handles inventory and shipping. This model reduces upfront costs and time, making it appealing to those entering the market. However, it also means facing more competition due to a lack of product differentiation.
When combined with a print-on-demand provider like Printful, dropshipping allows for custom product designs. As a clothing brand, you focus on creating your pieces, managing your online store, and marketing, while Printful handles the logistics of shipping and fulfillment.
The blend of dropshipping and print-on-demand makes it easy for a fashion designer to start a clothing line and experiment with new ideas. It also helps with quicker business expansion, especially on a global scale.
Manufacturing relies heavily on mass-producing and maintaining a stock that sells over time. This means a clothing business must either invest in their own equipment or work with an existing clothing manufacturer to produce their clothing lines.
Working with a wholesale clothing manufacturer means having to make minimum quantity orders (MOQ) for every product. For example, a manufacturer might have an MOQ of 500 pieces. This means you’d need to order at least 500 garments at a time.
MOQs are set by suppliers for various reasons like ensuring profitability, managing inventory, or reducing production costs.
For a small business or a new fashion designer, it can be challenging to purchase wholesale clothing as it requires investing in a large amount of stock upfront. This can tie up capital and increase the risk of excess inventory.
Large fashion brands, such as H&M, use manufacturing to create each new clothing line. They also lease out warehouses to store products while they wait for sales.
Clothing companies might save money by ordering in bulk from a wholesale clothing manufacturer. But they also risk losing money because it’s hard for clothing brands to predict what sizes, designs, or products will sell. They also need to handle the costs and logistics of storing and shipping their items.
This type of fashion business model revolves around you handling the entire production process of your fashion business.
When you make products yourself, your production time is tied to the time you have for sewing and cutting. If you ever want to expand, you’ll need to hire more people to grow your production.
Overall, this type of clothing business needs more time and upfront investment than other business types but offers limitless creative possibilities for handmade clothing designs.
Whether you’re a small business or a successful fashion brand, a business plan is essential.
In essence, your business plan is a document that aligns your vision with practical steps, guiding your clothing brand from a business idea to a tangible, thriving operation.
It includes everything from describing your product to who you’ll sell it to and how you’ll make a profit.
It also serves as your business blueprint in case you’re looking for business partners or investors.
So, what should your business plan include?
Before you start a clothing business, research the market. Explore your niche, understand customer preferences, and size up the competition. Here, you’re painting a broader picture of how your business fits in the clothing industry and how you can stand out.
Choosing the right structure for your business is important. It affects not just your taxes and liability but also how you make decisions, who has control, and how you can raise money. Are you going solo as a sole proprietor or forming an LLC? Think about who will be making key decisions and how roles are divided among your team members. This choice impacts everything from daily operations to long-term strategy.
This is where you define what sets your products apart in the competitive fashion world. Think, what unique value are you offering? This could be anything like innovative designs, superior quality, or solutions to specific customer needs. Your brand’s unique value proposition is what will draw people in and keep them coming back.
Consider how you’ll finance your startup. Will you use savings, take out a loan, or find investors? Remember, production costs don’t just include making the clothes; they also include marketing efforts and setting up your online store. Back up your vision with practical financial projections, outlining your expected costs, pricing, and revenue. This part is crucial as it shows the feasibility and profitability of your plan.
Plan where and how you’ll start selling. Are you an online store, a boutique, or both? Each channel can attract different potential customers.
Set prices that cover your costs and reflect your brand’s value. For example, if you use high-quality materials or create unique designs, you might aim for a higher price point. Understand the balance between what it costs to make a clothing item and what target customers are willing to pay. That’ll help you decide on the retail price.
Develop a strategy for how you’ll promote your brand. Effective online marketing involves more than just posting on social media accounts. Think about advertising online, email marketing, or even using influencers to build customer loyalty.
Wrap up your business plan with supporting evidence, which could be anything from sketches of your designs to market research data. This part supports your narrative, providing concrete evidence to back your ambitions.
Your brand identity connects your business with your customers. It influences how they perceive your brand and sets you apart from competitors.
Your brand also reflects the standard of quality that you promise your customers. Having a strong brand identity goes a long way to improving customer loyalty and trust.
Anybody can start a clothing line, but your brand helps you stand out in the competitive fashion industry and form long-lasting connections with customers. Once you have your business basics established, such as your target market, products, and business model, you’ll be in the right place to start putting your own clothing brand together.
Source: Olya Kobruseva
Your brand name represents your business and gives customers an idea of what your brand is about. To figure out your clothing brand name, grab a notebook and get ready to think.
Learn more: How to Come Up With a Brand Name
Write down everything that relates to your brand: whether those are adjectives, verbs, or abstract ideas. With the information you’ve compiled, make a few brand names that you like. You can use a name generator. Find out what current customers, friends, or family think about these brand names, and pick the one you think is best.
Don’t forget to check that your desired brand name isn’t already in use by an existing business, and find out if the domain name is available. Go to any domain registration site, like Godaddy, to check.
Your mission and vision are important because they narrow down your goals and help you understand your long-term aspirations. Refer back to your business plan, and keep in mind your niche and personal goals.
Your statements should be simple, less than 50 words each, and they should be memorable.
Mission: What are you here to do? What are your values?
Vision: What do you aspire to be once you achieve your goals?
People relate to stories, and it’s human nature to want to understand and empathize with others. Sharing your brand story with your target audience is a meaningful and memorable way to connect with your customers.
As a new business, it’ll take time to convince people to buy from you. Telling customers who you are and what your business is about can help you build trust.
When you’ve written everything out, you can create your About us page and use that space to tell your story and show how you’re different. Make sure your language, whether it’s formal or casual, matches your brand identity.
Source: Emily Gillingham
Burt’s Bees uses storytelling to convey their brand’s message to customers in a powerful way.
Founded in the 1980s by Burt Shavitz and Roxanne Quimby, two people who valued nature and the environment. They hit it off during a hike and came up with an idea to use beeswax to make natural products for people with similar ethics. People loved the idea, and 40 years later, their business is still going strong.
As their business has grown, they’ve stayed true to their unique brand and worked to raise awareness for the planet. They’ve shaped their entire business plan around their environment-friendly branding goals and vision.
Your brand’s visual identity is the overall look and feel that sets your clothing brand apart. This includes things like your brand’s color scheme, logo, and fonts. But more than that, it’s the general feeling these components create for customers when they think about your brand.
Once you’ve chosen your visual branding elements, make sure they stay consistent across all platforms. Consistency helps build brand recognition and trust and makes you look professional. If your clothing brand is playful and fun, make sure this is reflected in everything from your social media accounts to your email newsletters.
Remember, your brand’s look is how you connect with people without saying a word. It’s about making them feel a certain way when they see your brand. Keep it true to what you stand for, and make sure it speaks to your customers.
Now that you’ve decided on starting your own fashion brand, come up with clothing designs, and created a business plan, you’re ready to start learning how to create your own clothing line.
You might already know what this part contains depending on the type of clothing business you want to run.
However, every clothing brand requires the following general steps. We recommend that you start off creating only one clothing line at first so you can focus on learning how to do everything properly.
Learn more: How to Start a Kids’ Clothing Line
To come up with a successful clothing line, learn about fashion trends through magazines, TikTok, or fashion shows. Pay attention to the designs your customers might like and compare them to your own fashion line ideas.
Put your clothing line ideas in one place and design them to suit the clothing items they’ll be on. You can use software like Adobe Illustrator or try Printful’s free Design Maker to create mockups of your designs on clothing items.
The quality of your design is one of the most important factors behind how well your clothing looks in real life. We recommend reading this article to learn more about how to prepare the perfect print file.
If you’re using a print-on-demand service like Printful—or working with a clothing manufacturer—you’ll need to see what your product designs look like in real life before you start selling the goods to customers.
Ordering samples usually costs a small amount of money, but it saves you more time and funds down the road in case you want to make edits to the design or adjust your product descriptions. You can also use your samples for photoshoots to showcase your clothing line on your storefront or social media.
Collections are a great strategy for keeping your clothing brand fresh and aligned with customer interests. With collections, you can showcase your clothing brand’s adaptability to trends and seasons, keeping your audience engaged and excited.
How to get started? Start a clothing collection by considering the timing. Aligning your collections with the seasons can guide your fabric choices, designs, and color palettes.
For example, a streetwear brand might launch a summer collection featuring custom t-shirts in light fabrics and vibrant colors, perfect for urban fashion. In contrast, their winter collection could focus on cozy custom hoodies made from thicker materials in darker, more subdued tones.
Themes are another way to resonate with your target audience. If your customers are into a specific lifestyle or trend, tailor a collection to match.
For inspiration, check out the latest trends on social media, see what’s hot in fashion shows, or even ask your customers directly what they’d like to see.
Remember, it’s important to plan collections well ahead of time. That way, you can get everything right in time—from design and production to marketing campaigns.
Source: Ron Lach
Setting up an online clothing store involves several key steps to ensure a smooth launch. First, choose an ecommerce platform or a marketplace that aligns with your needs and budget. Consider factors like ease of use, customization options, and built-in features that can aid in managing your online clothing store.
An ecommerce platform allows you to create your own online store. It’s a space where you have control over the branding, layout, and customer experience. Businesses use ecommerce platforms to build their own websites where they sell their products directly to customers. Examples include Shopify and WooCommerce.
An online marketplace, on the other hand, is a website where multiple sellers can list and sell their products. In a marketplace, your products are displayed alongside those from other sellers. You have less control over branding and customer experience, as the marketplace’s rules and design apply to all sellers. Examples of online marketplaces are Amazon and Etsy.
No matter which platform you choose for your online clothing business, they all come with their own guides and videos to help you start.
Adding products to your store is the next crucial step. Organize your products into clear categories, making it easy for shoppers to find what they’re looking for. For each item, write clear, detailed descriptions that include size, material, and care instructions.
Customers want to be able to see what they’re buying before they put money down, so add good-quality photos or videos to your product listings.
If you’re arranging the shoot yourself, you need to make sure you get good photos, and videos, and write detailed descriptions of your clothing line online so potential customers understand what they’re buying. They can’t see your clothing line in real life, so they’ll rely on your media to understand if your product is right for them.
Learn More: How to Start a Clothing Store Online
Growing your customer base will take consistent work. A marketing and sales strategy helps you plan how customers will discover your fashion brand, how you’ll encourage them to buy, and what methods you’ll use to keep them coming back.
When you start, you can experiment with selling through different sales channels to find what works for you. You can tell friends and family about your business, advertise online and on social media, share your products on marketplaces, or look for pop-up shop opportunities in your area.
When you get your first sales, try to get reviews from customers to start building your social proof. This helps ease any tensions future shoppers might have about buying from a new store.
If you want to reach your customers through social media channels like Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest, you’ll need an account or a business page to start.
Focus your marketing efforts on the platform your target audience uses the most and stick to it. It takes time for ads to work, and people are hesitant to spend money on brands they’ve never heard of before.
Make sure your branding is consistent across your platforms. Add social proof like reviews on your pages and website, encouraging customer trust.
To reach your customers, learn about what ads work best for your platform and prepare them properly. Use tools like Canva to create ads. Start small and experiment with different visuals and ad copies to find out what works best for your customers.
Learn more: 10 Effective Ways How to Market a Product
Set aside a budget for testing your ads before committing to larger and more expensive campaigns: this way, you’ll be able to pick the ones that perform best and save yourself trouble in the future.
Sometimes opportunities appear in the form of pop-up markets, trade shows, or business conferences in your region.
Though these require carrying stock and may be costly if you have to travel, they present a chance to network with others in the fashion world—which helps you expand your knowledge about the clothing industry. You also get to meet your customers face-to-face, which can help improve your relationships with them and boost your morale.
There’s lots of information on how to start a clothing brand in this guide, but there are even more things you’ll learn along the way as you build up your own clothing brand.
Your brand is the heart of your business. It affects almost every planning decision you make and influences how customers perceive your business.
Even though you have various production methods, marketing strategies, and distribution channels available for launching your own fashion business, staying true to your brand’s core values and customer needs is the key to long-term success.
After all, the tech industry comes up with new business models every few decades—but that won’t ever fully change your brand and what it represents to your customers.
Cloe Ann Montoya
Cloe is a former Content Marketing Specialist at Printful. Her educational background includes a Bachelors of Science in Management and Economics and a Masters of Science in International Governance and Diplomacy. She loves reading fantasy books and going for long hikes with her dog, a rambunctious jackadoodle.