The apparel and clothing business remains one of the most in-demand businesses today. However, small businesses face an increasing competition from big firms given their marketing muscles and economies of scale. In the United States, at least, the industry is reeling from a shrinking availability and high cost of skilled labor (hence, big companies can outsource the manufacturing of their apparel to contractors in developing countries). There are also a growing number of small manufacturers that significantly tightens the competition. Plus, small companies need to have the resources to cope with the rapid changes in apparel trends and styles.
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Despite these problems, a number of small businesses are able to overcome these difficulties, and even grow to become powerhouses in their segments. To have a successful clothing line business, you need to have the resources to jumpstart your vision, skills and know-how in managing the business, and marketing savvy to promote the business. You must also have a business plan that will serve as your detailed guide that will walk you through your first couple of years in business. Having gone through the process of thinking through a plan for your business will enable you to always know what steps to take next.
Here is a comprehensive guide to help you successfully start and run a clothing business.
The First Step to Starting a Clothing Line Business
The first step you must take is to determine what kind of clothes you want to manufacture. Ascertain if there is a market for your proposed product. You must be able to define your specialty, both in line and price category.
The market for clothes is as varied as the demographic segmentation of the population. Will your focus be based on gender (girls or boys; and women and/or men) or age (baby clothes or granny clothes)? Are you planning to create clothes for infants or apparel for large women? Do you intend to create apparel for pre-teens, career professionals, or school clothes? The market is so wide and varied.
You can design clothes for a specific niche market. You can venture to create apparel for sports enthusiasts and athletes. Even then, you still have to decide whether you will design golfing apparel, tennis outfits or swimwear. With the increasing popularity of yoga, yoga clothes are very hip nowadays.
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The scope of your product line also needs to be considered. Are you planning on designing a full product line, separates or coordinates?
The type of distribution will also dictate the kinds of clothes you will offer. Note that where you sell your products will depend largely on who your customers are. Will you sell your clothes exclusively or will you use other distribution methods? Are you planning to sell your products exclusively in pricey boutiques or will you sell it in discount stores? Are you aiming for the middle-income market and mass-producing low-cost apparel? Your pricing will be an important factor that will dictate your marketing strategy.
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You also need to consider your capacity and supplier deals that you can get. If you will offer clothes of limited quantity, will you be able to find sewing contractors who are willing to deal with small production orders? Or will the costs be too prohibitive for your operations? Also, will the fabric suppliers be willing to give you small cuts of the textiles you need?
Knowing the Target Market of Your Clothing Line
Once you have a clear idea as to what clothes to manufacture, your next step is to determine if there is a market for your product. Crucial to your start-up phase is the information about potential customers and your target market, as well as how you will reach them with your product.
There are two ways to go about this: (a) check with retail store buyers; and (b) talk with customers who will ultimately wear your clothes. These are the two sets of customers that you need to please; unless you intend to exclusively distribute your apparel and skip other distribution means from boutiques to department stores.
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In your specialty field, find out everything you can about your competition. Check out how other small businesses, and even the big ones, fare in terms of craftsmanship, quality of fabric and styling. Can you do better, or at least approximate their levels? If not, you must rethink your business strategy.
To get the information that you need, investigate from retail sources, such as owners of boutiques, buyers or textile suppliers. These groups of people can provide you with first-hand information about businesses in the area that are already producing the same kind of apparel. They may also be able to tell you about customer buying patterns for couture clothes, baby outfits, or your clothing specialty. More importantly, they can give you valuable ideas of what kinds of clothes they want and think will sell for your market.
Other sources of information you should check out are trade papers, industry directories, trade associations, buying offices and other salesmen. They can likewise provide useful market information for you.
Read Part 2: How to Start a Clothing Line Business
Recommended Books on Starting a Clothing Line Business:
- How to start a clothing empire
- Fashion Unraveled – Second Edition: How to Start and Manage Your Own Fashion (or Craft) Design Business
- Clothing Line Start up Guide: How to Start And Grow a Successful Clothing Line
- The Fashion Designer Survival Guide, Revised and Expanded Edition: Start and Run Your Own Fashion Business
- Start Your Own Fashion Accessories Business (StartUp Series)
- The T-Shirt Revolution: Building Your Business Using a Digital Apparel Printer
- The Business of Fashion: Designing, Manufacturing, and Marketing, 4th Edition