Have you got an eye for aesthetic and an understanding of dress sense? These, plus a passion for fashion, are all it takes to get started on your own clothing line.
That’s right; you don’t need heaps of capital. It’s possible to launch a clothing line for less than £5,000 – or less than £1,000 if you’re painstakingly lean – as basic equipment, materials and wholesale clothing can be bought cheaply.
Moreover, you won’t have to quit your day job – at first, a clothing line can be run flexibly as a ‘side hustle’. And you won’t need dedicated premises until you’ve lots of stock, so you can easily start from home.
Of course, starting a clothing line has its risks. Fashion is fiercely competitive and packed with brands fighting for attention. Sales will be patchy and unpredictable at the start – after all, your average Brit doesn’t buy new clothes every day.
In short, don’t expect this to be your road to fame and fortune. But if you’re in it because you love clothes and want to be part of an exciting, fast-moving industry, you’ve every chance at success.
In the early stages of starting a clothing line, you’ll need to decide on your business model. Generally, there are three paths you could take:
Once you’ve decided how you’ll be operating your line, you’ll need to develop your niche – that is, settle on the type and style of clothes you want to sell.
Perhaps you’re into formal wear, or sportswear is your thing. Maybe you’ve always dreamt of bringing out a collection of vintage-inspired nightwear, or perhaps you’d like to explore everyday casual. Possibly you want to sell clothes inspired by another passion of yours, like travel or music. Maybe you’re in love with 70s apparel. The choice is yours.
Remember, you’re more likely to succeed by specialising in something you’re familiar with and understand – that way, you can better trust your own judgement and more passionately market the line (in this industry, passion is crucial). So, plump for a niche that you love.
Once you have a concept in mind, you'll need to conduct market research before taking it any further. This will help you to understand the market and demand in your local area, ensure you have something that stands out from what your competitors are offering, and see what potential customers think about your idea – all in the hope of ensuring that it's viable.
Learn how to conduct market research for your clothing line here.
In fashion, the clothes you’re selling are only half the story. The other half is told by your brand. And when it comes to convincing a customer to buy something, the latter will play a surprisingly significant role.
Don’t believe this? Ask yourself, how many times – consciously or unconsciously – have you found yourself more inclined to buy something because you love the brand it belongs to?
So, for the best chance at success in this industry you’ll need to devise a consistent branding strategy which informs a strong brand image that customers can engage with and grow attached to.
Moreover, any successful brand will have a clear idea of its target market (that is, the customers it’s trying to sell to) and will ensure its branding remains tailored to their tastes and interests.
Find out how to define and measure your line's target market in our guide to writing a clothing brand business plan.
In order to truly appeal to the target customer, a fashion branding strategy should have:
Everything you put out there should be in-keeping with and reflective of the above – from your name and logo to the marketing messages, website copy and social media posts you share.
Matt Bird, founder of men’s clothing brand We Are Gntlmen, elaborates on this: “You really need to focus on the message that you want to put out, the emotional connection you want to have with your customer and the type of business you want to build.”
Sean Hammon, founder of muscle-fit clothing range Oxcloth, advises getting creative with your brand’s theme and using it to make everything you do recognisable:
“We personally play on our own ‘ox’ logo. Oxcloth uses black and red as our brand colours and every style of shirt includes a red top button. This, along with small details such as the names of our clothes being based on Old Western themes and our sizing branded after different breeds of cattle, we feel gives our brand its own unique atmosphere which our customers engage with and remember.”
– Sean Hammon, Oxcloth
Of course, one of the trickiest (and yet most fun!) stages of building a brand is choosing a name for it.
Getting this right is crucial; after all, your business’ name is often the first thing a customer will hear about your brand, so it’s important that it gives the right impression of the clothes you’re selling.
If you’re stuck, try:
Remember, your business' name must be:
Bird adds: “I think a strong logo is important as people will see this more than the full business name, so invest the right amount of time on that.
“Ask for opinion, ask your target audience, ask your network what they think. Really gauge their first impressions and listen to their feedback.”
– Matt Bird, We Are Gntlmen
Once you’ve settled on something, you’ll need to check that it’s available and hasn’t been snapped up by someone else. Use the government’s Companies House Register to check it’s free, then get it officially registered as soon as possible.
For any start-up, a business plan is a hugely important and useful document.
Read up on what needs to go into your plan in our guide to writing a business plan for a clothing line.
In UK business, clothing is not a strictly regulated space and you won’t require a specific license to sell it (unless you’re trading at a market, in which case you’ll need a market stall license).
You will, however, need to ensure your clothes comply with the Sale of Goods Act, the Supply of Goods and Services Act and the Sale and Supply of Goods Act – which basically dictate that any products you sell must come exactly as you’ve described them.
It’s the seller – not the manufacturer or supplier – who’s responsible for ensuring these contracts are met, so always make sure your items are actually of the quality and design you’re advertising before putting them up for sale.
Hammon also points out: “Other regulations to comply by are things such as labelling (fabric content, country of origin, care instructions) and flammability, which should be provided by your fabric supplier or manufacturer.”
Even if your clothes line is your side hustle, you should still treat the business side of your operations seriously. You’ll need to keep on top of your books and open a business banking account; and the up-front expense of hiring an accountant will almost certainly pay off in the long run.
In particular, make sure all you’re on top of your tax obligations – you’ll need to register as a sole trader with HMRC (unless you decide to start a limited company or partnership). Be sure to keep hold of all expenses receipts to avoid a nasty surprise come self-assessment deadline day.
Bird also advises that you look into trademarking your line soon: “Trademarking is important if you want to protect your brand.”
Being protected by the right insurance covers is important for any business which provides a service or product to the public – so a clothing line is no exception.
In general, you’ll need professional indemnity insurance, public liability insurance and products liability insurance to ensure you’re covered if a customer or client makes a legal complaint against you, your business or your clothes.
Bird also recommends contents insurance to protect your stock: “You’ll need product insurance for shipping and in case of damages.”
You should also seek out business insurance packages that cater specifically to clothing brands – the covers they offer will differ depending on whether you’re selling in a physical premises or online.
While you don’t need any specific qualifications to start designing, making and selling clothes, you might want to consider undertaking a training course – whether it’s in design, manufacture or sales.
Look to your local colleges and universities, or check out The Fashion Retail Academy or the London College of Fashion to see whether they have anything that would boost your skills and experience.
It goes without saying that a clothing line is nothing without clothes to sell. The real heart of your business, designing and making clothes requires a lot of research into suppliers and manufacturers. Of course, the way you go about this will depend on your model.
Where you buy your wholesale products will depend on whether you want to customise them yourself with your own equipment, or whether you’d like to use a service that will customise your order for you, using your designs.
While many suppliers will simply sell blank clothing in bulk, others will offer printing, embroidering and labelling services as well. Try consulting online directories, asking manufacturing and fashion forums, or asking your fashion industry peers for recommendations.
Hammon says you should “just get out there”:
“It's not expensive or time consuming to go clothing exhibitions such as SVP in London and Premier Vision in France. There you will find anything you need from buckles to umbrellas. You get to meet your supplier face-to-face and get a first-hand look at their quality. There is no better way to do it.”
– Sean Hammon, Oxcloth
Once you’ve finished a collection of designs that you’re in love with, you’ll need to source the materials you need to make them – which is often a more difficult task than it first sounds! To decide which materials you’ll need, consider:
Once you have a clear idea of the fabrics you want, you’ll need to find a materials supplier that meets your needs. When inquiring with suppliers, be sure to ask about:
Whether you grow to receive more demand than you can keep up with or you want to outsource production from the start, at some point you’ll need to enlist a factory to produce your clothes in bulk (there’s only so much you can do at your sewing machine!).
First of all, ask yourself whether you want a factory that offers:
The latter is invariably more expensive, but could be a time-saver for you.
When it comes to finding the right factory, research is paramount. Start by asking for recommendations from fashion industry peers. As Bird says: “There’s nothing better than a trusted introduction.” You can also search for manufacturers online – check out Let’s Make it Here’s database of UK manufacturers as a starting point.
Try to look as locally as possible: you’ll need to be able to visit your factory every now and then to keep an eye on things. While overseas factories will be cheaper for you, navigating overseas shipping logistics can prove nightmarish. Plus, ‘made in Britain’ is quite a desirable statement (and can even be a USP).
Hammon adds: “Outside of the EU, some clothing manufacturers use dyes that are not regulated or even banned in the EU – so be careful if you’re planning on getting your garments made in places such as India or China.”
Next, narrow potential factories down in favour of those who are experienced in creating your style of garment and using your material. Get in touch with them to start building a relationship, find out what their minimum order is and get an idea of their prices.
When you’ve done this, arrange to visit your favourite factories. Research into the machinery that’s needed to make your products well and check whether the factory has it. Ask about their schedule and how long it will take them to produce your clothes and, if necessary, negotiate orders and prices. Bird adds: “Always sample the products you want to make.”
Bird also highlights the importance of making sure your manufacturer adheres to fair working conditions and the right practices:
“We’ve all heard ‘sweatshop’ comments, so make sure you find a decent manufacturer who can provide you with fair working certificates. They should also provide you with documentation on the processes, materials and practices they use.”