1. Do research. Tons of it! Figure out your target market and your competitors, and read everything you can and soak all of the information you can. You’ll probably only remember 25% of what you read, but that is 25% more then you knew before. Now with the internet, free information is in front of your finger-tips.
2. If you’re not a designer, but have ideas, try looking for a freelancer designer. A skilled freelance designer should be able to take your sketch or idea and create your vision. Although hourly/project rates are important to look at, one major aspect that is commonly missed is the designers communication skills.
3. Focus on branding. Longevity of a brand consists of customer loyalty. Believe it or not, it’s not all about how cool your design is. Choose a theme or style for your brand and stick with it.
4. When looking for a manufacturer or screen printer, be honest and realistic. Before you contact a printer, make sure you have a good idea of what you want & what you need.
5. Although freshly starting brands are afraid to print more than 1-2 designs to start with, if you have the capital, try to print at least 5 different designs. Imagine this from a customers stand point…A customer may “enter” your store whether it is your website or a physical retail, and there they see 1 single design stacked on a table. This doesn’t show much confidence and may turn the buyer off. I see this happening a lot with newer brands that launch a website with only a couple of designs. Remember, visitors take a glance at your website for about 5 seconds before they decide if they want to stay longer.
6. Re-invest your profits into more designs and more shirts. This part should be placed into your business plan. This simple part of business is over-looked by start ups.
7. Patience is key when starting a clothing brand.
8. Figure out a marketing plan. Don’t figure since you have great designs that customers will seek you out. It’s Vice Versa! You need to keep plugging away and reach the consumer. Put it in front of their face day in and day out. Once again, be patient, it could take awhile. One important thing: Talk, Talk & Talk. Simply talking about your brand can stir up interest.
9. Don’t focus too much on making money. A lot of start up brands start to put all of their effort into turning a profit. Once they start doing this, they lose focus on their brand. Money is always great, but it’s not everything.
10. Don’t copy. Okay, okay everyone is “influenced” by another artist or designer right? There is nothing wrong with that as long as it is INFLUENCED, but don’t take it overboard. Never will there be a 100% original design (intentional or not). Put your own style into your clothing and make it something you would wear and be proud of.
11. Don’t sweat the big stuff. What do I mean by that? For instance, if you cannot afford to make custom pullover hoodies, then DON’T! If you cannot afford custom packaging, DON’T! That can come later, if you try everything the larger companies are doing, you will be broke.
12. If you are designing on your own with a vector/bitmap program, you should consider purchasing a pen tablet. It will allow you to create different pen strokes and pressures and is a more natural tool then using a regular computer mouse.
13. I am seeing every clothing brand trying to be the next millionaire overnight. They naturally begin to focus all of their energy on money which can also lead to business failure. Money is always great, but spread your energy evenly.
14. Attend tradeshows. To name a few of the largest would be AGENDA, MAGIC, POOL, & PROJECT. These shows feature major retail lines as well as independent lines. It also allows you to view future trends that might take place. If you cannot afford to attend all three, I at least suggest visiting Magic Marketplace which will be the most “general” fashion trade show. Magic Marketplace also features a Sourcing section, which allows you to connect with fabric sources, embellishment sources which are located in the U.S. or overseas.
15. The toughest part of a clothing line is probably being recognized by major retailers (if this is your goal). Remember, the decision maker of products that fill retails stores are the BUYERS. Having experience with buyers, the major thing they are looking for when doing their job is looking for things that will obviously SELL! But if you land a major retailer, and they order 1,000 pieces per store, just think about it!
16. Buyers………Buyers are great people. But that is not to say all of them are the most honest. When pitching your line to buyers, be aware that they may “take” your idea and have a line they already carry copy your idea. And guess what? The next season you might see a similar idea you had, end up on store shelves. Fair? NO. Does it happen? YES.
17. This one continues from #3 about buyers. Although you should keep in mind about the risks of showing your line, you cannot sell your line if you don’t show it! Don’t be too paranoid about your designs being stolen. Take steps that will help you, such as copyrighting your designs, perhaps trademarking your brand. But do not place “COPYRIGHT COPYRIGHT COPYRIGHT” all over your line sheet! Maybe one small “copyright” disclaimer on the bottom right corner will do.
18. Getting big too fast may not be as great as you think. I’ve seen brands growing too fast where they cannot fufill their orders on time. Retailers are a major pain when it comes to deadlines. When they say they need it by 12.4.08, they want it earlier or at 11:59pm on 12.3.08! If you don’t get it to them on time, they can return it!
19. Always think ahead. If you are just starting out, don’t design for this season. Look ahead and design for next season, or the season after. Retailers buy according to the following season.
20. Approach retailers or boutiques early. Buyers have specific budgets, and if you come too late, they won’t have any money left for you! That’s correct, you will see a wide range of dates depending on the retailer. Small boutiques are even harder to gauge because they are on their own timeline which could depend on their cash-flow and financials. A general rule would be 3 months before the actual date of each season – up to 6 months before the actual date of each season. So, if you plan to become a vendor of a retailer, always be sure to ask for clear requirements on their finishing choices. They may require you to apply their hangtags on a certain location, fold them a certain way, box and label them a certain way, UPC barcodes, etc. Also plan ahead…if you plan to design for Spring 09, you should already have designs for it and be getting prepared to approach retailers at this point. This way you allow plenty of time for print or cut&sew production.
**A reminder: Stick to your brand or identity…whatever your dream for the company my be. It’s your vision and sometimes just making a buck isn’t worth it. Its easlier to go down in price and offer sales or close-out pricing than go up from an initial low price point. Stick to your instincts and work hard at making your identity yours.