STEP 1. Market Research
Conducting market research is crucial to the success of your line. You need to determine what trends are popular, what styles are selling, what category does your concept fit into, what demographic age group does the line appeal to, what price point(s) are similar lines being sold at, etc. The best way to answer these questions is to go…shopping! Shop the local malls, online and specialty stores for where you think your clothes might be sold. Look at what’s on the rack, the prices and what items are selling. Talk to sales reps, managers, store owners and ask customers to get a feel for what’s out there, selling and what customers are asking for. The answers will be priceless! THIS PROCESS IS ONGOING AND CONTINUES THROUGHOUT THE YEAR EVERY SELLING SEASON.
STEP 2. Branding your clothing line
Decide what type of clothing you want to make. What is the appeal of your clothes? Is your new line conservative or fashion forward? In other words, when people think of your clothing line, what do you want them to think? Define your style and set a theme for the line you plan to create. You will refine and continue to develop your Brand as much as possible as your business grows.
STEP 3. Name, Trademark & domain registration
Choose a name for your clothing line and trademark it. You should do a trademark search for the name you have chosen to make sure there are no other businesses or companies already using that name. If the name is available, register it with the United States Patent office.
You should buy the Web domain name for your clothing line as well. Domain names on the Internet are being sold quickly, so make sure you buy one with the name of your clothing line right away. You should develop a website to show perspective buyers your line as it will be the first place they will look to familiarize themselves with your clothing and wholesale price points.
Furthermore, register your business as a D.B.A. or LLC with your city clerk, and then get a bank account under your new business’s name. These are all important steps to take before you begin to actually design and produce clothes.
STEP 4. Create concept sketches
Based on the findings from your market research and Brand identity, you are now ready to come up with clothing styles and graphic artwork to bring that concept to life. Be fun, creative and original. This is fashion! Your design sketches should reflect the images of your target consumer, age group, price points and current trends in styles. You should create an inspiration board of images, fabrics, anything that inspires you. Once you have the designs, fabrics and trims, organize everything onto large art boards so you can see the entire line at once.
A. Design 4 color concept sketches
B. Choose fabrics and trims to match w/ each style
C. Create Apparel line story boards – organized presentation of all styles, F.A.T. choices
STEP 5. Source Materials
After you have created sketches of the clothing line, you should begin thinking about the materials you will use to make your product come to life. You’ll have to find everything from fabric to buttons to zippers and linings. Everything you choose must be available in mass quantities and in the right colors.
STEP 6. Edit styles for sample development
The next step is to edit your concept line. Not every style you create will make it to sample development. Edit the sketches to the best styles, potential hot sellers, and looks that capture what you are trying to say with your clothing brand. Ask yourself,” Do the chosen styles reflect your original concept?
NOTE: Keep in mind budget constraints, time, and availability of raw materials. Part of your decision of what styles to send to sample development will be what the selected styles cost to develop garment samples and send to production. You only have so much money.
You must also consider the time available. How long will it take to get the garment samples done in time to go to market for the upcoming season? In general, apparel markets open 6 months ahead. For Fall delivery in September – markets open in early February. For Spring delivery in March – markets open in early September. What season are you working on? Do you have enough time?
In addition, any raw materials needed to make your clothing line must be available in mass quantities to fulfill the production orders at the time of production. Unless you have the money to pre order your raw materials and the warehouse space to store it, try to avoid limited quantity fabrics and trims.
Add, subtract and continue editing your concept sketches until you have selected the appropriate number of designs to enter sample development.
WARNING: DON’T CREATE A SKELETON LINE! Put enough samples into development to be able to merchandise your line (I’ll get into this in more detail later). For now, know that Buyers want to see options when they look at your line.
STEP 7. Sample Garment Development
After you determine what styles best represent the concept of your clothing line according to theme, budget, time and available raw materials, the next step is to create “Sample” garments of each style to test the look, fit and wear ability in real life. Developing “prototype” sample garments of your clothing line is a process involving corrections, changes and alterations. Here is an outline of that process:
1. Translate concept sketches into flat technical design drawings w/ specs.
a. Tech drawings are blueprints of each garment in the line
b. More factories now require a tech. drawing instead of a sketch
c. You can eliminate many design mistakes in this stage
2. Create 1st patterns – generic pattern only, usually fitting issues will cause corrections.
a. Based on corrected technical design drawing
b. Based on supplied fit sample – a garment found from shopping to base the first pattern off of
3. Sew sample garments in mock fabric – conduct a sample garment fitting test, indicate corrections in fit, style and send back samples with corrections marked
a. First round testing of clothing line for fit, pattern accurately
b. Test garments on a real person, not a mannequin
c. Cheap mock fabrics used that behaves like final fabrics
d. Upon observation, style changes to garment may be made
4. Make corrections to 1st pattern, sew another sample or cut final sample garment,
and send back to evaluate proper fit – make any final corrections to pattern.
OPTION: CUT TO FINAL GARMENT OR CUT ANOTHER SAMPLE? The first round of pattern corrections from the first garment fit test will take care of most, if not all the problems during sample development. Depending upon the number of corrections needed from the first fit test, you may decide to make another fit sample or go ahead and cut the “final” sample garments. Keep in mind that fit is everything in this business. If a garment does not fit correctly, would you buy it?
5. Get approval to “Cut to final” sample garments. Prep Tech. Pac. for factory
6. Cut final Master patterns, grade sizes and deliver full design tech. package w/ sample garments to
factory ready for sewing pre-production stage.
7. Factory sends back “proto” samples based on tech. Pac. and samples sent over.
8. Factory sews “final” showroom samples of the line for sales, marketing and catalog
STEP 8. Merchandise your Clothing line
Buyers want to see options when they look at your line. Coordinate items in the line so that they go together. Merchandising is all about increasing sales through a well coordinated line so that it has maximum appeal to buyers. Ideally, think of yourself when you go shopping. Find a shirt to go with a pair of pants, sweater, etc. Coordinate with fabrics, colors, trims, finishes or other styles in the line to give several looks that might appeal to buyers. The goal is to have the buyer place an order for as many items in the line as possible.
STEP 9. Pricing the line and Prepping for market
a. Pricing — It is time to price your clothing line. After you Add up all expense, then mark up clothes at least 50% over your costs to make a decent profit. Account for negotiation with buyers as they will want better pricing for ordering more. Make sure each style “looks” like the price you are asking for it. Look at what similar styles sell for.
b. PR — Now that you have your clothing line appropriately priced, you are ready to start marketing and selling your line. You can create catalogs of all your looks by hiring models, photographers and stylists to do a photoshoot. Second, prepare a press kit by creating a vision statement about your fashion line, include a Designer bio and photographs from the fashion shoot. Create a line sheet(must have for the buyers); this document includes pictures, descriptions, prices and color(s) for every style in your clothing line.
STEP 10. Selling your clothing line at market
a. It’s time to make money! Rent out a booth at apparel trade shows, attend apparel market weeks to get your new line in front of thousands of buyers. Your goal is to get orders, be very flexible with buyers!
b. Alternately, you can hire Designer Reps(sales agents) to sell your line for you. You will have to pay them a commission, upfront, for what ever they sell. Hire only experienced reps who have a lot of buyer contacts into stores you want to be in.