Thursday, October 15, 2009

How to start a clothing line...the complete outline

STEP 1. Market Research

Conducting market research is crucial to the success of your Apparel line. You need to determine what trends are popular, what styles are selling, what category does your concept fit into, what demographic age group does the line appeal to, what price point(s) are similar lines being sold at, etc. The best way to answer these questions is to! Shop the local malls, online and specialty stores for where you think your clothes might be sold. Look at what’s on the rack, the prices and what items are selling. Talk to sales reps, managers, store owners and ask customers to get a feel for what’s out there, selling and what customers are asking for. The answers will be priceless! THIS PROCESS IS ONGOING AND CONTINUES THROUGHOUT THE YEAR EVERY SELLING SEASON.

STEP 2. Branding your line

Decide what type of clothing you want to make. What is the appeal of your clothes? Is your new line conservative or fashion forward? In other words, when people think of your clothing line, what do you want them to think? Define your style and set a theme for the line you plan to create. You will refine and continue to develop your Brand as much as possible as your business grows.

STEP 3. Name, Trademark & domain registration

Choose a name for your clothing line and trademark it. You should do a trademark search for the name you have chosen to make sure there are no other businesses or companies already using that name. If the name is available, register it with the United States Patent office.
You should buy the Web domain name for your clothing line as well. Domain names on the Internet are being sold quickly, so make sure you buy one with the name of your clothing line right away. You should develop a website to show perspective buyers your line as it will be the first place they will look to familiarize themselves with your clothing and wholesale price points.
Furthermore, register your business as a D.B.A. or LLC with your city clerk, and then get a bank account under your new business's name. These are all important steps to take before you begin to actually design and produce clothes.

STEP 4. Create concept sketches

Based on the findings from your market research and Brand identity, you are now ready to come up with clothing styles and graphic artwork to bring that concept to life. Be fun, creative and original. This is fashion! Your design sketches should reflect the images of your target consumer, age group, price points and current trends in styles. You should create an inspiration board of images, fabrics, anything that inspires you. Once you have the designs, fabrics and trims, organize everything onto large art boards so you can see the entire line at once.

A. Design 4 color concept sketches
B. Choose fabrics and trims to match w/ each style
C. Create Apparel line story boards – organized presentation of all styles, F.A.T. choices

STEP 5. Source Materials

After you have created sketches of the clothing line, you should begin thinking about the materials you will use to make your product come to life. You'll have to find everything from fabric to buttons to zippers and linings. Everything you choose must be available in mass quantities and in the right colors.

STEP 6. Edit styles for sample development

The next step is to edit your concept line. Not every style you create will make it to sample development. Edit the sketches to the best styles, potential hot sellers, and looks that capture what you are trying to say with your clothing brand. Ask yourself,” Do the chosen styles reflect your original concept? “

Keep in mind budget constraints, time, and availability of raw materials. Part of your decision of what styles to send to sample development will be what the selected styles cost to develop garment samples and send to production. You only have so much money.

You must also consider the time available. How long will it take to get the garment samples done in time to go to market for the upcoming season? In general, apparel markets open 6 months ahead. For Fall delivery in September - markets open in early February. For Spring delivery in March – markets open in early September. What season are you working on? Do you have enough time?

In addition, any raw materials needed to make your clothing line must be available in mass quantities to fulfill the production orders at the time of production. Unless you have the money to pre order your raw materials and the warehouse space to store it, try to avoid limited quantity fabrics and trims.

Add, subtract and continue editing your concept sketches until you have selected the appropriate number of designs to enter sample development.

Warning: DON’T CREATE A SKELETON LINE! Put enough samples into development to be able to merchandise your line (I’ll get into this in more detail later). For now, know that Buyers want to see options when they look at your line.

STEP 7. Sample Garment Development

After you determine what styles best represent the concept of your clothing line according to theme, budget, time and available raw materials, the next step is to create “Sample” garments of each style to test the look, fit and wear ability in real life.
Developing “prototype” sample garments of your clothing line is a process involving corrections, changes and alterations. Here is an outline of that process:

1. Translate concept sketches into flat technical design drawings w/ specs.
a. Tech drawings are blueprints of each garment in the line
b. More factories now require a tec. drawing instead of a sketch
c. You can eliminate many design mistakes in this stage

2. Create 1st patterns - generic pattern only, usually fitting issues will cause corrections.
a. Based on corrected technical design drawing
b. Based on supplied fit sample – base size garment

3. Sew sample garments in mock fabric - conduct a sample garment fitting test, indicate corrections in fit, style and send back samples with corrections marked
a. First round testing of clothing line for fit, pattern accurately
b. Test garments on a real person, not a mannequin
c. Cheap mock fabrics used that behaves like final fabrics
d. Upon observation, style changes to garment may be made

4. Make corrections to 1st pattern, sew another sample or cut final sample garment, and send back to evaluate proper fit – make any final corrections to pattern.

OPTION: CUT TO FINAL GARMENT OR CUT ANOTHER SAMPLE? The first round of pattern corrections from the first garment fit test will take care of most, if not all the problems during sample development. Depending upon the number of corrections needed from the first fit test, you may decide to make another fit sample or go ahead and cut the “final” sample garments. Keep in mind that fit is everything in this business. If a garment does not fit correctly, would you buy it?

5. Get approval to “Cut to final” sample garments. Prep Tech. Pac. for factory

6. Cut final Master patterns, grade sizes and deliver full design tech. package w/ sample garments to factory ready for sewing pre-production stage.

7. Factory sends back “proto” samples based on tech. Pac. and samples sent over.

8. Factory sews “final” showroom samples of the line for sales, marketing and catalog

STEP 8. Merchandise your Clothing line
Buyers want to see options when they look at your line. Coordinate items in the line so that they go together. Merchandising is all about increasing sales through a well coordinated line so that it has maximum appeal to buyers. Ideally, think of yourself when you go shopping. Find a shirt to go with a pair of pants, sweater, etc. Coordinate with fabrics, colors, trims, finishes or other styles in the line to give several looks that might appeal to buyers. The goal is to have the buyer place an order for as many items in the line as possible.

STEP 9. Pricing your line and preparing for market
a. Pricing --Now that you have narrowed your selection of samples you'll have to assign prices to each piece. You want to make sure you gain at least a 50% profit to make your efforts worthwhile. You also want to make sure your product "looks," like the price you are asking for it.

b. PR -- Now that you have a beautiful assortment of appropriately priced product you are ready to begin the marketing and sales process.You may want to have a photo shoot and create a catalog which can be very expensive. You may also want to prepare a press kit outlining the vision of your line and enclosing actual photographs. Whatever you decide to prepare at the very least you must have a line sheet...that has pictures, pricing and color information for each style.
STEP 10. Go to market to sell your clothing line
a. Attend trade shows, apparel market weeks or hire sales agents to rep your line.
1. you can begin selling your product at trade shows or search for a sales rep that is willing to sell your goods on your behalf...for a commission of course!

STEP 11. Generate purchase orders
a. negotiate with buyers, store owners. Set delivery dates.

STEP 12. Order raw materials based on orders collected.
a. Forward to clothing factory

STEP 13. Send production. Order to factory, get start date and shipping date
Supervise the manufacturing of your clothing line to make sure that the manufacturer/contractor will have your apparel ready and delivered on time. The best way to do this is to stay in touch with your contractor during the entire process and make sure that things are going smoothly.

STEP 14. Inventory received from sewing factory
warehouse for quality control and repackage to send out to retail accounts. DELIVER TO STORES ON TIME!

STEP 15. Send out invoices:
Net 30 – 120 days due, hopefully collect all

STEP 16. Get ready for next delivery date/season
Fall 2, Fall 3 or Spring 2, 3 OR next season.

LAST NOTE:Having your own clothing business is not an easy task. You need to have the management know-how of running a business and a thorough understanding of the industry. You must be able to juggle well three basic functions: design, production and sales. To top it all, you must keep abreast with the introduction of new fabrics, trends and emerging styles. You need to be savvy in a lot of things to be successful in the garment industry, from finding salespeople to sourcing fabric, hiring contractors, and managing your receivables. Congratulations on your new clothing line and Good luck!


  1. hey lance, ive been seeking to find out how the north american markrt works. i read your article about starting the line. i have a Q?
    let say you find a factory in china. and their MOQ is 500pcs, per style and you have 5 styles in 3 colors do you price the garments based on these quantities, also..does this mean I'll have to compile orders? most line sheets i see prepack 1221 or 122221 etc. ? id like you to further explain how can i sell my designs in a way to get these factory MOQ's..



  2. this is sooo insightful and helpful thanksss xxx ^^

  3. This is a great article; so much more than I imagined that needs to be done!