How To Start A Clothes Business – Most people think that starting a clothing brand is a good idea. Curated Instagram feeds make it seem like having a clothing line is glamorous and profitable and all that great stuff. Big celebrities poop their clothes on a regular basis. It looks cool AF.
With all that hype, it’s no wonder you think starting a brand is a good idea worth pursuing.
How To Start A Clothes Business
But I will tell you that what you see on IG and in the media is far from reality.
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I don’t want to be a dream crush. In fact, I had my own clothing line that “on paper” was a huge success, but “on the book” was a huge failure (not to mention I ended up hating the reality of having my own brand). I learned valuable lessons, I just wish someone had warned me before the realities.
That’s why I’m here to tell you what it’s really like to have a clothing line, and why you might want to consider something a lot more fun and actually profitable in fashion. We’ll get to that in a second, but first…
Most people naively think that you can have an idea, take it to market and your designs will sell. When it comes to your clothing brand, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Here are all the things you should consider:
You’ll probably be 3+ years old… and not only will you have no benefits or money to pay yourself, you’ll be mostly in the red. Which means you spent a lot more money than you earned. i like
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If you’ve done any research, you’ve probably come across tons of blog posts and YouTube videos telling you how to do it for free or $5. I even interviewed someone who promotes this strategy on my podcast. But this is not a clothing brand – you created some graphics and screen-printed them on T-shirts. You are a graphic designer. (And this market is flooded even MORE than the actual clothing brand market. It’s still hard to sell enough to make it worth your time.)
One where you designed a few products and customized and made them from scratch? The numbers are terrible…
There are parts of this process that you can do yourself depending on your skills, and some costs (like materials and sewing) will vary wildly based on your design, but let’s look at some general high-level costs for starting a clothing line:
*Indicates price per piece. The more you make, the better price cuts you get. A t-shirt might cost $10 to cut and sew if you make 100, but you’ll spend $25 each if you make 10 (if you can find a factory to make those minimums).
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The list goes on and there are a million little expenses along the way. You don’t know because none of the experts talk about the hard truth and what it really takes to create a clothing brand.
Without making you do the math, your clothing line investment costs will be at least $20,000 to $40,000 just to get your first product or two to market. That’s before you start trying to sell anything. From there, you only have so much time to push and promote the same product before your small audience wants something fresh and new.
It is difficult for AF to recoup enough of that initial investment to have money left over to start investing in new products.
And most fashion brands never get that far. (It becomes too painful to keep burning money.) From my 15+ years in the industry and the 100’s of clothing brand founders I’ve interviewed and know personally, I’d estimate that less than 5% make it to year 3 and less than 1% produce profits.
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You’ll spend less than 10% of your time designing and doing fun things like photoshoots and fashion shows, and 90% of your time doing drudgery!
If you haven’t received the lead, most of your time will be spent on general coordination, communication and selling. It’s not fun. i did it I know many others who have. It’s bullshit.
You’ll get a few IG-worthy shots of Champagne doing cool things like catwalks, but only after you lose $5,000-$10,000 on that show and don’t have a single sale to show for it. (Because it’s kind of an industry secret, but fashion shows cost a boatload to attend or be a part of, and all you get are a few glamorous photos.)
Most people think you’ll make a million dollars and be well on your way to overnight stardom. But the reality is that clothing profit margins are notoriously low.
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According to industry analysts, you’re looking at profit margins of 4-13%. This means that for every $100 you invest, you will get back $104-$113. And that’s if, IF, IF(!!!) you achieve profitability. Which most brands don’t.
Let’s look at a realistic scenario where you design a jacket that you plan to sell directly to the consumer (DTC). In addition to development costs (customer research, model making, technical design, photoshoots, etc.), we will look at the cost of goods (COG, i.e. the hard physical costs of each jacket, including things like materials and hand of work).
Costs in consideration. The design and development stuff we mentioned above set you back thousands. And you paid nothing for your time.
My friend, you are in the red. You are running an unsuccessful business. In other words, you have a very expensive hobby.
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You have some sexy photos to share with friends, family, and fans on IG, but behind the scenes you’re eating 25-cent packets of ramen and stressed AF wondering how you’re going to make next month’s rent.
I’m here to tell you the hard realities of what it really takes (what many experts don’t talk about).
And I’m here to tell you that if you want to be really strategic, you won’t be all the way inside your clothing line without some other kind of “hustle.”
Let’s talk about what it’s like to freelance in fashion and why it’s better than starting a clothing line.
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Investment and start-up costs are practically nothing (compared to tens of thousands for a brand). Depending on the services you offer, you can get away with an Illustrator and Excel subscription for less than $40 a month.
You can quickly find clients and start making money in a few weeks (compared to years for a brand). And no matter where you live, you can work remotely with brands around the world.
You can choose which parts of the process you do (vs. a brand where you will do everything or have to pay $$$ to hire someone). If you just want to do fun things like design and trend research? i have it
The profit margins are very high (compared to a brand where, if you’re lucky, you’ll make a few %). Since the overhead is low (you’ll end up paying for some software, but otherwise it’s just your time), most of your income goes straight into your bank account. You can make some serious money. Cha-ching.
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Also, if you decide to freelance while starting your clothing line, it’s a double win in every direction.
You’ll have extra cash to fund your clothing line. As you know, there is never enough money to throw at your brand. #winwin (This is exactly what some of my podcast guests, like Mat Booth and Christina Yother, have done).
You can double dip in certain parts of the process. As long as you don’t infringe on your client and you’re freelancing for brands that are complementary and not competitive with yours, you can use the same resources, suppliers and factories. #winwin
You can learn from their mistakes. Essentially, you’re getting paid to avoid painful trial and error. Many freelance opportunities are with smaller, independent startup brands. Which means you’ll get an unfiltered peek behind the scenes at every part of the process to see where things are going wrong. priceless And of course #winwin.
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Freelancing in fashion gives you the best of both worlds. You can do the design or the creative parts and you don’t have to worry about money or the business side of things.
As a fashion freelancer, you can do whatever part of the process you want and say “no thanks” to the things you don’t want to deal with. You can start with no experience or a fashion degree, even as a total beginner, and it doesn’t matter where you live.
I am not making this stuff up or painting a fantasy dream. This is how I built my $100,000/year career by working only 25-35 hours a week and traveling 6-8 times a year when I wanted (without worrying about packing and shipping orders or asking for PTO).
And that’s how hundreds of students in my Freelance Accelerator: Surviving to Thriving (FAST) have created lives they love.
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Like Arya from India who got 6 clients in her first few weeks
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