Apparel manufacturers are still very much in-demand today, depending on the clothing niche. I have a friend who creates very original, beautiful handbags. She started in a spare room in her home and is now moving into larger quarters in an industrial park. Business is booming because she is a whole supplier and also sells to the public. She sells her bags to B2B to craft shops that use them for holding knitting or sewing supplies for their training classes. After starting her business two years ago, she now sells handbags worldwide. But normally, it’s not that easy!
If you want to start a clothing line, the first thing to do is decide what item of clothing you will produce. Chances are you have a product in mind for a particular reason. Like if you’re in college and you see everybody wearing some crazy style that’s not available in stores. Bingo – there’s your product and target market!
Once you know what you’re going to manufacture, your next step is market research to estimate the extent of the market for your product. You want to get an idea of how big your target market will be and also determine how to reach them. You must know the market for your merchandise.
There are several ways to find potential buyers for your line of apparel. You can interview sales agents and retail apparel buyers from major department stores and boutiques. You can also talk to potential customers, asking them if they would buy your item in a store. Ask buyers if there is a market for your product to determine if it can be sold in their stores.
Now is the time to find out everything you can about your competition. Check out how other clothing lines fare in terms of craftsmanship, quality of fabric, styling and cost. That way, you can plan to do better or at least meet those quality standards and pricing.
To get that information, visit a number of retail store buyers, boutique owners, department store buyers, etc. These people can tell you whether other businesses in your area are already selling or manufacturing the kind of apparel you wish to produce. They can give you valuable insights on what kind of apparel they want and believe will sell in the market.
Other sources of information you can investigate are trade papers, industry directories, trade associations and sales people on the floor. You can get information from sites like WeConnectFashion regarding events like Market Week in cities like Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, which you might attend to meet buyers, get ideas and research the competition for your line of apparel. All these sources can provide useful market information for your proposed clothing line.
Once you have researched the market, you must decide how to distribute your products. Your distribution channel will help determine the quality, quantity and cost structure of your clothing line. In the beginning, you can start small by distributing apparel yourself in flea markets and community fairs on weekends. Once consumers notice your products, demand will increase, and you can slowly expand until you have enough capital to go into apparel manufacturing full-time.
If you think you’re capable of producing and selling in quantity from the get-go, you can try to find a specific retailer buyer who might agree to buy your designs before you go into production. In that case, the sales of your products are assured, and you can plan the production process to meet your customer’s delivery needs.
Another way to get started is to sell on consignment. Here, you would bring your apparel to a retailer or shop owner who accepts it on consignment. When an item sells, the shop owner gets a percentage of the sales price. Be sure to have all the terms of the consignment agreement written out and signed by the shop owner before leaving your merchandise there.
When it comes to production, how much do you think you can sell? This determines the quantity of raw materials to order. If you decide to subcontract production, you can discuss production and materials with the contractor that will produce your designs.
The decision to outsource production or do it yourself depends on a number of things: the complexity of item of clothing you want to produce, the number of items to be produced, the equipment needed, the cost, and your own expertise at making such items. For example, screen printed t-shirts are easier to produce and require less equipment than manufacturing dresses.
The next thing to consider is financing your business. There are stories of business success where people started a clothing line with nothing and then earned millions. However, success stories like that can be the exception rather than the rule.
The estimate of how much money you need to start up a clothing line depends on the following: whether you buy or rent equipment, subcontract production, hire a designer or do it yourself, rent a facility or do it in your garage, and hire salespeople, etc. The creation of your first set of samples can cost anywhere from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands depending on the clothes your manufacture. If you are creating a youth line, and say one sample costs $30 to produce. You may need 50 items for each of four seasons, so your production cost for the first year would be roughly $6,000. Obviously, if your sample item costs more, your production costs would go up accordingly.
You might be able to start your business with less, but keep in mind that you also need resources for marketing, sales and business development. You may not be able to hire a big PR company to market your business by putting your brand on magazine covers. That means it will take a few years to develop a reputation for quality, style, fit, delivery and customer acceptance. Additionally, the apparel industry can change rapidly, so ¬ you never know what will sell from one season to the next.
Manufacturing apparel is not an easy business to get into. But if you’re talented, motivated, and have the management smarts of running a business, along with a good understanding of the industry, you can succeed. You must master three basic functions: design, production and sales. On top of that, you must keep abreast of the latest styles, colors and fabrics. Fortunately, some tasks can be easily subcontracted, like managing receivables and handling personnel services.