How To Start A Clothing Line

At every market I've done there's at least one person who will stop to chat, eyes wide with their own dreams, and share "I've always thought about starting my own clothing line". Too quickly that flicker of inspiration is replaced with a list of buts. But I don't know where to start. But I don't know how to sew. But I don't know how to design. But I don't have the time. But it costs too much to start.

I feel you homie! Most small shop owners and entrepreneurs have had those exact doubts. 

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If you've ever considered creating your own line, go 'head and take that first step! In fact, lemme help you. Here's what I learned when I set out to turn mui + kai from an idea into a real thing. Hopefully it'll help you get past that first but - "but I don't know where to start." 

4 Ways to Create Your Own Clothing Line

Here are 4 options for creating your own clothing line. The right one for you will depend on budget, vision, needs and priorities. I reviewed each based on i) Financial investment; ii) Time investment; iii) Pros; iv) Cons.

*Note: This is an assessment for creating and maintaining inventory only, not what is additionally needed to run the business.

1) Be The Maker

Financial Investment: $
Time Investment:
Pros: Less financial risk; Full control over your product; The right customers are happy to pay a premium for handmade products
Cons: Huge time investment; Need to purchase all your equipment

If you can or are willing to learn how to sew and you're able to invest the time to create all your inventory by hand, this is the best (and most admirable in my opinion) way to go! Don't know how to draft patterns? No worries, it's a very specialized skill! There are plenty of patterns that you can buy online or from craft stores to get you started.

Your biggest financial investments will likely be equipment and fabric. But don't get it twisted, what you don't invest in cash will be invested with your time. Creating inventory on your own is no joke. I know plenty of amazing makers that don't sleep for months to prep inventory for markets. The good news is that there are people who happily pay a higher price for your sweat equity. I love buying and supporting makers because I know they pour their time and love into their products. 

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2) Print On Blanks

Financial Investment: $$
Time Investment: (assuming you are not doing the prints yourself)
Pros: Can be done with low financial risk; Can be done at lower volumes
Cons: Limited options for fabric and fit

If your focus is on dope graphics or typography and you're less picky about material and fit, this is a great place to start. At higher volumes, you could get a blank t-shirt for as low as $2 + cost of printing or embroidery.

If you want to start with a handful of shirts, you're looking at a cost of $20-$30 per shirt. Sure, that sounds like a lot per unit but there's a huge benefit in doing it this way. Starting with a small run will give you the chance to learn what your customers like about your designs without making a big financial investment. Trust me, learning about your customers is so important for the long-term success of your shop. Plus you have a good chance of breaking even quickly since your volume is so low. Once you've learned what your customer likes, you can scale quickly to lower costs and increase your profits!

Some makers buy blank shirts but hand print graphics at home. This will lower your costs in the longterm but will increase your time investment. If you can master the art of screen printing (have you ever watched screen printing? It looks so soothing) or heat press transfers, you can save on per unit costs but you'll need to invest in equipment and inks upfront. 

3) Simplified Cut + Sew

Financial Investment: $$$
Time Investment:
Pros:
Designed to your liking; Don't need technical background in fashion or manufacturing
Cons: Costly, greater financial risk; Higher minimum quantities

This is the path I ultimately chose for mui + kai. If you're like me and have no experience in apparel manufacturing but want control over the fabric, style and fit of your product, this is an option for you. 

If your pieces aren't particularly complex or unique, some manufacturers will let you bring reference samples that they can "frankenstein" together to create your desired design - take the neckline from Shirt A, with the hem from Shirt B, the length of Shirt C, etc.

However, proceed with caution if you are risk averse. Cut + sew services are expensive and you're looking at minimum quantities in the hundreds or thousands. In addition to cut + sew, you'll need to factor in fabric expenses. Depending on the supplier you'll need to order anywhere between 50M - 300M of the same fabric before you receive a volume discount.

Cut and Sew

4) The Whole Nine

Financial Investment: $$$$
Time Investment:

Pros: Designed to your exact vision; Unique product
Cons: High costs; Long process

This is where you should be if your vision is very specific, highly intricate or complex. Or if you've levelled up to medium/large scale wholesaling, this is a worthwhile avenue.

I'm talking about professional sketches; thorough sample development; fittings; full tech packs that include fabric specifications, colours, patterns, measurements; manufacturing; garment press and packaging. Some even get fabrics specifically milled for them. In addition to the cash investment, you'll spend a lot of time (and sometimes patience) orchestrating budgets, briefs and timelines for your mills, designers, manufacturers and fulfilment, ensuring your masterpiece is perfectly orchestrated.

The road can be long and upfront costs are high but distinctive design and quality can help you command a higher retail price. Bet big, win big!

These aren't the only methods but they are probably the most common. Opening a small shop is a hell of a hustle no matter which method you end up using. It's hard work and I'm still loving it. If you're thinking of starting a line, or if you have more questions about the process, I'm happy to share more of what I've learned, however limited. Just drop me a line 🙌


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