How to start a clothing brand, starting a clothing line, best clothing brands, how to make your own clothes… These are all the things you’ve typed into Google to try and find the end all be all article on starting your own clothing line in 2019. I can tell you with confidence that that article does not exist. It will take reading countless articles, watching endless YouTube videos, and posting on an absurd amount of forums before you feel you’ve got a grasp on the concept. I know this because I’ve been in the exact position as you are right now; Someone’s outfit, some brand, whatever it might’ve been has you inspired to take action and become one of the top clothing brands on the market. Except, just like I didn’t, you have no idea where to even start to look in order to learn the things necessary for starting your own clothing line.
Well, you’ve come to the right place. It turns out I was able to search the right things, read the right articles, watch the correct videos, and talk to the necessary people which resulted in the creation of my first brand. After much trial and tribulation and having gone through the startup process more than once, I have finally hit my stride and feel confident enough to help direct those looking to do the same. Read this guide and you’ll have all the resources you need to be able to educate yourself further and understand where you need to look to gain the understanding necessary to start a clothing brand. The process takes time, but with consistent action day in and day out you’ll be able to bring your vision to life.
What’s Your Story?
In 2019, starting a clothing line is not just getting a logo printed on some t-shirts and selling them online. When was the last time you were scrolling through Instagram, saw an ad with a random model wearing a shirt, read the caption of “New collection available now!”, and ended up buying it? Absolutely never. We are sick of buying from brands that are faceless, meaningless, and un-compelling. Really what this translates to is this… We don’t buy a t-shirt, we buy the story behind that t-shirt.
So what’s your story? What about you, your past, your interests, your goals, your vision, etc is the driving force behind you wanting to start your own clothing line? For myself and Dead in LA our story is driven from the pain and struggle that has gone into trying to make it out of the mud and into a life of luxury. The pieces we put out and the content we create are all about helping inspire to do that thing that you feel so compelled to do. The collaboration pieces we create are with artists and brands that have experienced and still experience this struggle.
When someone buys a piece from us or watches one of our videos, it’s the story we live and tell that ultimately makes them click or purchase. Your story is the framework your designs, photos, and videos all fall within. It’s literally the backbone to your entire brand and without it you will not reach the necessary people to obtain the traction you need to keep the business alive. Look deep inside yourself and your surroundings, what makes you click? What motivates you? What is the message you want to get across? Find your story and you’ve found your brand, a necessary first step to starting any business, especially starting your own clothing line.
What’s Your Aesthetic?
Now that you’ve harnessed your story and have put incredible thought into how you will mold your brand around that, it’s time to think about what the vibe, theme, motif, aesthetic of your brand is going to be. In regards to your story what colors, words, imagery, locations, etc come to mind? These things are what you will use to create your graphics and collections as a whole. Finding your aesthetic within your story is the art in creating your clothing brand. Dead in Los Angeles has a story about pain, struggle, and elevating oneself to a life they’ve always dreamed of. Our aesthetic is dark and grungy with hints of that pain and struggle located in every piece we’ve ever dropped. The graphics we create are edgy, the photos and videos we shoot display the mood behind the brand.
Something that has helped myself and our artists is to look to other brands that we love and get inspired by the story they tell and the aesthetic they have created. This doesn’t mean go copy the top clothing brands and recreate everything they’re doing. You can’t steal someones story and aesthetic because it will come off as inauthentic and your business will crash and burn as a result. What I mean when I say look to other brands is this; Study and gain an understanding for how their aesthetic works with their story. Look at the designs they release, the way their website is put together, even how they organize and post to their Instagram. All of these different aspects combined together will show you how that specific brand molds their content and product to the story they’ve built their business on.
The most important takeaway from this section is that you need to be unique to yourself and the story you’re trying to tell. Craft your appearance and the appearance of your brand around this story and other people who resonate with it will become loyal followers and customers. If the products you release and the content you create follows suit to yourself and your story, the rest of this clothing line creation process is easy.
Printing on Blanks vs. Cut and Sew
Your story has been harnessed and is what you’ve used to breath life into your brand. The aesthetic you’ve decided upon and spent so much time thinking about has started to wrap itself around that story. You have a direction you’ve decided upon and are ready to start creating the things that will bring your clothing brand to life. The next decision to make is this; Cut and sew or print on blanks? Before anything else, let’s clear up what each of these is and then maybe you’ll have a better grasp on which is best for you.
Cut and Sew
Cut and sew garments are completely custom spec’d pieces of clothing that you have manufactured from scratch. The specifications you can make include the type of fabric, weight of the fabric, color of the fabric, color of stitching, kind of stitching, measurements, fit, graphic placement, graphic type, the list is endless. These pieces are ones that you literally draw up and design yourself, anything you can imagine is on the table. For these types of pieces you can hand sew them yourself or you can go through a manufacturer. The design process and overall creation time for cut and sew pieces takes quite a while because of the many steps it takes in order to make such garments. If you were to decide to go through a manufacturer you would have to do as follows..
- Find and vet a manufacturer to go through. They are located all around the world, but American and Chinese manufacturers are completely different animals, let alone the countless other countries who’s manufacturing you can use.
- Design yourself, or find a designer who can mock up the required images, specifications, files, etc needed by manufacturers.
- Have sample pieces made and sent to you for inspection.
- Have the manufacturer tweak the samples (this is sometimes 2, 3, 4 different times and costs money each time).
- Pay the large sum of money required to start production on your custom pieces. The manufacturer needs to source every raw material needed to create your garments and they often have a minimum order quantity of 50 pieces and above.
- Wait the weeks and months necessary for the manufacturer to create your pieces and have them shipped to you.
And that’s just the broad overview of what goes into working with a manufacturer. The process of finding a quality business who cares about your pieces just as much as you do is a task in it of itself. If you were to go through a Chinese manufacturer you have to account for the time change and as I found out the hard way, be up at midnight trying to explain the images and specifications of your clothing in a way that they can understand. Between calling the bank 5 different times to authorize a large oversees payment and getting back samples that look like they were made out of plastic, cut and sew proved itself to be a daunting task, especially for a first time clothing brand operator like I was.
Now this isn’t to discourage you from trying cut and sew, my first clothing line was completely cut and sew manufactured out of China. I went through the headaches it took to get the pieces made and ultimately it ended up being an incredible learning experience. The research I had to do was immense and the obsession I had to have over the creation of the pieces was extreme. It is very possible for a first timer to get cut and sew pieces made, I’m proof of that, but there is a much easier method to getting your foot in the door when starting your first clothing line.
Printing on Blanks
The alternative option you can take when starting your own clothing line is to print on blanks manufactured by a wholesale retailer. This is the process of buying blank t-shirts in bulk from a registered wholesaler and having them sent to a print shop for printing. Taking this route limits the kinds of pieces you can make to a variety of shirts, shorts, hoodies, and other simple garment styles. Although this method is limiting compared to cut and sew, the simplicity of the process and the money you save can definitely be the deciding factor. There are a multitude of great brands that sell wholesale blank t-shirts and even more high quality print shops.
The process of printing on blanks is pretty straightforward;
- Create your graphics or have them made by an artist
- Register a wholesale tax ID and set up accounts on the company websites you wish to purchase from
- Order a single piece of whichever garments you want to feel in your hands and try on, then decide on the pieces you feel are best for you and your brand
- Locate a print shop and discuss with them your plan for the clothing you’re going to make and ask them what kind of printing they can do with the graphics you’ve provided and the fabric of the garments you’ve decided upon
- Place the bulk order of garments you wish to print on with the necessary sizes and colors and have it sent to yourself or the print shop directly
- Have the print shop print the necessary pieces
If you want to implement even more into the clothing you’re having printed, you and your artist can create neck labels, hem tags, and other customized accessories. Many print shops will print and sew the necessary things you require for an added fee per piece. If you are unable to find a printer who will add these for you, straight stitching them yourself is always an option. You can also find a local seamstress and negotiate a deal for getting your different accessories sewn in.
Once you’ve decided upon your story, aesthetic, and method of clothing creation you’re ready to start actually building your brand. With this solid foundation in place it’s time to start finding the necessary people to work with and putting together the actual moving pieces that are required for starting a clothing line.
Getting Things Moving
So you’ve begun the process of starting your own clothing line. You followed along with this guide and decided upon your story, found your brand’s aesthetic, and have chosen between cut and sew or printing on blanks. Now that the foundation for your brand has been set you’re ready to move on to the more technical side of how to start a clothing brand.
If you’re like me, you have these incredible visions and creative direction for your brand. You have it in your minds eye exactly how your pieces are going to look and are ready to get them made. The only problem is, well, you’re not exactly the best graphic designer. You have the vision in place, but not the skill required to create what it is you have thought up. That’s okay though, there are an endless amount of talented artists waiting to be contacted about commissioned projects who will happily create the designs you desire.
Before we continue with this, I will mention that a basic understanding of Photoshop is 100% required if you are going to be starting your own clothing line. You should actually have an understanding of Photoshop, Illustrator, and even Adobe Premiere and After Effects, but if you have 0 experience with any Adobe programs then you need to stop what you’re doing right now and get inside the Photoshop program. The reason this is absolutely essential is because in order to speak intelligently to artists, manufacturers, and other team members you bring in and collaborate with you have to understand the software and tools they use to do their work. Photoshop is the industry standard for any kind of graphic work and honestly in 2019 you are at a disadvantage without the ability to navigate and create in the program. If you have absolutely 0 experience with Adobe programs don’t stress because the internet is an amazing place. There are literally tens of thousands of YouTube tutorials on each of these programs and if you spend a few hours down the rabbit hole watching and following along you will emerge with the knowledge necessary. A simple YouTube search can get you started, but if you want a great starting point for each of these programs, follow the links;
Okay, so now you also have a basic understanding of Photoshop and some other Adobe programs. You are better equipped to speak intelligently with artists about creating your branded pieces and it’s time to find one or multiple to work on your graphics. When on the search for artists it is very important to keep the story and aesthetic of your brand in mind. You want the artists you work with to create within the framework you have set for your clothing. You want them to understand the brand you are building and be able to contribute to your aesthetic with their own.
When I set out to find graphic designers there are is one key place I look to and thats Twitter. Twitter is by far the best place to find commission based designers because there is an enormous network of them who all follow each other and retweet each other’s work. Go to my Twitter profile and tap into the following section of my page. Scroll through and click on any one of the artists you find in there, then click on their following section. You will quickly see that each one of these artists follows at least 100 other artists and those 100 other artists each follow at least another 100 themselves. If you spend some time digging through these profiles and looking at the work they’ve posted to their page or their portfolio you can easily find the perfect designer to work on the pieces for your brand.
Contacting the Artists
Once you’ve made a list of potential artists you want to work with, it’s time to start contacting them and getting a working relationship started. Before I say anything else, what I’ve learned in my experience of working with artists from Twitter (and it’s been quite a few now), just pay their damn price. 100 times out of 100 will the artist be better motivated to create quality designs for you and your brand. You can work them down a little bit or cut a deal for a lower price if you purchase more design work, but don’t try and undercut these guys. I have made many strong relationships with graphic designers who work on my collections all the time now just because I was cool to them, paid their price, and let them create as they wished based on my initial creative direction. I wrote a whole article that goes deeper into this topic here if you’d like to check it out.
The way you go about getting in contact with the artist is as follows, if they have an email send them an email with a similar format to this;
Subject: Commission Work Inquiry
My name is Hunter Harms and I am the creative director of Dead in Los Angeles. We are a streetwear clothing brand that seconds as a multimedia production company.
I was scrolling through Twitter and happened to come across some of your work. I absolutely love your design style and would be very interested in paying you to work on a project for our brand.
Let me know what you think!
Pretty straightforward approach. I just always make sure to mention the words pay and commission in there so they know that I’m a real customer, not some kid trying to finesse them. After the email is sent I also DM them via Twitter just letting them know that I left an email in their inbox. If they don’t have an email, DMing them via Twitter or their Instagram is just fine. I send the exact same format of that email into their DMs. When you get a response it usually goes one of two ways. They’ll either say they aren’t interested/ not taking any commissioned work at the moment, or they’ll be stoked that you are interested in working with them and the relationship has begun. As I said above, when negotiating with them, pay their price or cut a deal where you get lower prices if you buy more work.
When a price has been decided upon and they are ready to begin work on your graphics make sure you send an extremely detailed creative direction. Here is a real email I sent to one of my artists detailing the specifics for a shirt design;
You can see that I’ve been very clear about everything I want out of the piece and have given great instruction on how to accomplish the best graphic as possible for my brand. It is also very important that once you send this creative direction that you allow the artist to create. A great quote I live by is from Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, “Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.” You don’t want to micromanage your graphic designers because you bleed them of their creative juices in doing so. Tell them what to do and then let them surprise you with their results. Something you must remember when working with your artists is to have them make the images extremely large. You can always size down a graphic, but sizing it up only results in pixelated low quality images. T-shirts, hoodies, pants, etc are large items and in order for the print to be the best quality possible you have to make sure that the graphic is large enough. Discuss this with your designers and they should be able to accommodate.
Setting Up Your Legal Entity and Accounts
Everything prior to this step has been able to be accomplished without your business being registered legally. You can have your entire line’s graphics and mockups created before ever getting to this step, but in order to start getting pieces made you’re going to have to set up your business. The reason this has to be done now as opposed to right before you’re ready to launch is because in order to purchase your samples and bulk order of wholesale t-shirts you need a wholesale tax ID. These online distributors of wholesale blank apparel don’t allow you to set up an account or purchase from them unless you have this ID on hand.
The first step in setting up your legal entity is to decide on which business structure you want your brand to have. I’m not going to go into the exact specifics of each structure because I do not have experience in any of them besides one. I’ll link to an article here that explains what each one is and the pros and cons of each. Read through that article and watch some of the videos that they link out to so you have a firm understanding of what they are. For myself and Dead in Los Angeles, as well as my previous brands, I have used the Sole Proprietorship business structure. The reason for this is because it is the easiest and most simple to set up, plus it’s the most forgiving to a business owner. I do not have some elaborate system with a crazy amount of employees that requires me to have a more complex business entity in place, so the Sole Proprietorship is perfect for me. If you are a one person show trying to get your feet wet in starting your own clothing line, I would guess that the Sole Prop is what’s best for you and your brand as well.
A quick Google search will bring up the necessary site in your specific state to setup your business at and I haven’t had a time where it cost me more than $20 to set up. The interesting thing about Sole Proprietorships is that you can do business with your social security number using your own name as the registered business, or you can get a “Doing business as” tag and register the name of your brand. Since you’re starting a clothing brand it would be best to get your DBA set as the name of your business, but if you’re doing a self titled line then obviously you wouldn’t.
Getting an EIN
Once you’ve decided upon your business structure and have gone through the proper steps to get yourself and your brand registered, you have to register for a Federal Employee Identification Number also called an EIN. Even if you do not have any employees at this point in time, this is the number that you will use to register online with the wholesale retailers, as well as when you open your business checking. Follow this link here to go to the IRS website and follow the steps they have listed out in order to get set up. Once you have followed these steps and have been issued your EIN, take this and all other paperwork you have been given up until this point and put it in a folder so you have it for future needs.
Another interesting aspect of the Sole Proprietorship business structure is that you have the option to use your own personal bank account as the business bank account. This means that you can mix your personal finances with your business finances within the same account. If you’re able to easily keep track of the income and expenses of the business separate from your personal finances then by all means keep them in the same account, but you’d better keep track of everything for tax reporting purposes in the future. If you’re anything like me keeping business finances and personal finances together is a recipe for disaster, so I strongly recommend opening a bank account specifically for your brand. The steps to do so are extremely easy and the headache it will save come tax season makes it quite worth it.
When choosing a bank to open your business accounts with you have two different options in front of you. There are the traditional big name banks; Chase, Capital One, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, etc and then you have your local smaller banks also known as credit unions. For myself and my previous brands, along with Dead in L.A., I have always gone the credit union route. I have found that working with the smaller firms has allowed me to have a more personal connection to my bank and has also allowed me a better interest rate with minimal fees. This decision of a large bank vs. a small credit union is completely up to you, no option is better than the other. Once again, read up some more on the specifics of each and come to a conclusion based on the research you do.
Whichever option you decide upon, large bank or small credit union, the process of getting a business checking account set up is the same. Take that folder you’ve made with all the legal paperwork you’ve acquired so far and walk into any branch you’re looking to get set up in. They are going to want to see the paperwork for the business structure, whether that’s your Sole Prop, LLC, etc and they are also going to want to see the EIN. Bring your social security card as well, I don’t remember having to use that when setting up my checking account, but save yourself the trip. If you have gotten an investment to start your clothing line with bring that check or the required information to get it transferred over into your new account. The banker you sit down with will be able to take care of you from start to finish and walk you through everything that comes with your new business checking account. By the time you walk out you should have a business checking and savings account set up, along with a debit card that is immediately good for use.
Sourcing Your Pieces
Wow, you’ve made it much farther in the process of starting your own clothing line than probably any one of your friends or family has in their entire lives. Take a step back, look at what you’ve done and feel good about the progress you’ve made. The next step in the process of starting a clothing line is to find the source you will be getting your pieces from or made by. You have made the decision of whether you will be doing cut and sew or printing on blanks way back at the beginning of this process, so follow the steps necessary for you.
If you have decided to go the route of printing on blanks then the next step for you is to start testing the quality of garments from a few different sources. I wrote The Ultimate Guide to Wholesale T-Shirts that you can check out where I list the best wholesale blank t-shirts you can get online. These are a personal preference, but ordering a few single pieces from that list can get you pointed in the right direction. Whatever pieces your going to make for your brand; shirts, hoodies, shorts, sweats, socks, hats, etc it is a good idea to get 3-4 different single pieces in hand before deciding on which option you’re going to print on. I like to feel the fabric of different pieces in my hands and compare and contrast the way they look, fit, feel, and wash. I know how I like a shirt or hoodie to fit and feel so sifting through the different styles different brands offer is a good way to find the best option for your brand to print on.
When you’re ready to order your first sample pieces, go to the online wholesale websites you’re interested in and setup your business wholesale accounts with them. They will require you to use your issued EIN, so have that folder with all of your paperwork in hand. I’ve always gotten 3-4 different single pieces for each style of garment I’m looking to create, but sometimes you’ll not like any of the options you’ve received and have to find and order more to make a better decision. Don’t rush this process, make sure you decide upon the perfect blanks that you know are perfect for your brand because this is the product you will be delivering to your customers. You want to factor in the price of each piece for your bottom line, but also don’t go cheap because a bad product delivered to your customers won’t get the traction you need for your brand to be successful. Ordering the single pieces will have them more expensive than when you make your bulk order, so factor in the lowered prices you’ll be getting each piece at when you order 15, 20, 50 of them at a time. The larger the bulk order from these wholesale retailers will result in a lower cost per piece.
Finding a Manufacturer
If you have decided to take the route of cut and sew then you have a much larger task ahead of you than if you had chosen to print on blanks. No need to worry, it is something you can absolutely accomplish. Before anything else I just want to mention again that you need to obsess over researching and learning this process. The internet has every single bit of information you could ever need to ensure your success in starting your own cut and sew clothing line. This article is a great place to start, but there is much more information out there that goes deeper into the individual aspects of starting a brand that you need to watch and read. Zoe Hong and John Santos are fantastic YouTube video creators that make content on literally every single aspect of this process. r/Streetwearstartup on Reddit is also a great place to read up and to also connect with other people in the space. I learned an incredible amount when I was starting my first clothing brand by messaging people from Reddit and asking them questions about the process. People are willing to help if only you reach out.
Also, I must mention that before you ever get in contact with a manufacturer you’re going to need a ton of specifications listed out, mocked up, and displayed in a way that someone from another country can understand them. The industry standard for conveying the specifics of your clothing pieces to a manufacturer is through the use of something called a “Tech Pack”. I’m not going to go into detail about these because it’s another massive article I’m going to write in the future, but tech packs are an absolute necessity in the world of clothing manufacturing. You will be unable to get anything produced by a manufacturer without them, so you are going to need to do the necessary research to make these yourself, or have them made by a graphic designer. Zoe Hong has a great video on tech packs here that can get you started out.
Alright, so you’ve decided upon cut and sew and are ready to take on the tasks ahead. It’s time to find the perfect manufacturer who can take the vision for your clothing line and bring it to life in the form of high quality pieces based on the designs you’ve provided them. You can choose to go with an American manufacturer and go through the same vetting process in deciding which company to choose from as you would when sifting through wholesale blank t-shirt retailers. I have not produced cut and sew garments in the US before, so I’m going to focus on oversees manufacturing and the process required to be successful in that.
The problem that I had when I was first trying to find an overseas manufacturer was that in all honesty I had no idea where to even look. As I’m sure is the case with you as well, I didn’t even know what to search in Google in order to get myself pointed in the right direction. Fortunately, after reading many articles and speaking with people who are in the clothing brand space on r/Streetwearstartup I found the answer to what I was looking for. That answer is a website called Alibaba. Alibaba is a global trade platform in which American consumers, business owners, etc can connect with overseas manufacturers to create literally any product you can possibly think of. In the clothing and fashion space especially, Alibaba has an endless list of potential manufacturers just waiting to get a message from you and your brand.
The way that I have the previous few manufacturers I have personally worked with is by going into the search bar and typing in the type of garment I need made. “Streetwear hoodie” and other search terms alike will bring up a massive catalog of different pieces made by different manufacturers all across the platform. When scrolling through this catalog you’re going to want to find pieces that look appealing to you and match the vision you have in your head of the products you’re going to be creating. Keep in mind that these pieces are not the only thing each company makes or the only version they make it in. You’re just searching for garments that are similar to what you’re trying to have made because it shows past proficiency in that type of clothing piece for that specific manufacturer.
When you’ve found pieces that a manufacturer has made that match you and your brand, the first thing you’re going to want to do is look at the price per piece and the minimum order. This is located right below the product description of the garment and will tell you the relative price point it would take to get each piece made and also the minimum order number that manufacturer will allow you to make for said piece. If you’re trying to start out with a small initial stock, a manufacturer’s minimum order quantity (MOQ) could end up screwing you when it’s time to place your order.
Once you’ve narrowed your search to a few pieces you like and have verified that the potential price point, along with the MOQ meet your needs, you’re then going to want to look click into the company profile. This link is located right under the section of the product where it lists the price per piece and minimum order quantity. Once in the manufacturer’s company profile you’re going to want to look at a few different things to verify that they are a legit source. Alibaba for the most part is entirely comprised of great manufacturers operating with good business practices, but there are always bad actors trying to pull a fast one in any market.
What you’re going to want to look at and confirm are as follows; How many years this manufacturer has been operating as a business, if they have trade assurance, whether or not they’re a gold supplier, the transaction level they’ve been rated, and the amount of transactions they’ve made over the past year and for how much money those transactions have been made. All of this information is located right there on the page when you click into the company profile.
When I was looking at potential manufacturers to use to produce my previous brands as well as Dead in Los Angeles I looked for the following specifications; 4+ years as a company, trade assurance of at least $20,000, the gold supplier certification, 4.5/5 and up review score, 15+ transactions made and for over $100,000. There are more indicators you can choose to use when vetting a potential manufacturer, but these are the ones that have gotten me a 100% success rate with great products, great customer support, and a quality manufacturing experience. Once you have vetted all of the manufacturers on your list using these indicators and have narrowed your list to the few you might want to use, scroll down and look through the other garments they have made. This is the final check I make in the vetting process, just to see the variety of pieces they are capable of producing and the quality of those pieces.
When you have double and triple checked to make sure that the manufacturers on your list are a trusted source and companies you would be happy working with, it’s time to get in contact with each of them. On the company profile page there is a contact supplier button that you’re going to want to press which opens up the messaging interface. Just like when you were contacting the graphic designers, you’re going to want to send a brief and professional message that states who you are, what you’re trying to create, and if you could open up further conversation about working with them. You do not need to attach your tech packs or any files at this point in time, you just want to open the conversation and see if they’re taking any new orders. Later that day or within the next few days you should have a response from at least a couple of them. Usually they will direct you to send over some product descriptions and also the quantity of each piece you’re looking to have made.
Many manufacturers like to use WhatsApp in order to communicate so don’t be alarmed when they ask you to switch over and message them on there as opposed to email or the Alibaba messaging platform. Once you have begun communicating with the manufacturers, they are incredible resources for helping you through the process of getting your clothing made. They make their money at the end when you finally purchase your bulk order so they will do whatever is required to help you and your brand through the process. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and feel free to speak with them as frequently as you’d like. Through talking to them, narrow your decision down to a single company you want to work with.
Based on the vetting you have put them through and having messaged back and forth with the company representatives you should have a pretty solid idea of which manufacturer you are going to use. Once you have decided, the process the manufacturer is going to take you through is as follows; Confirmation of the pieces and specifications you want made (through the use of your tech packs), payment for samples, sample creation, shipping of samples, then you’re going to receive the samples and either require further modifications or be ready for bulk production. You can have one round of samples or 100, but just keep in mind that you pay a hefty amount each time you order a new round of samples.
The manufacturer has to source the materials necessary and create from scratch each of your sample pieces every time. When you have received samples that you love and are satisfied with using them as the model for your bulk order, it’s time to confirm with the manufacturer the specifics of your order and make payment. In regards to payment, a problem I have run into the past is my bank not letting me send a large payment overseas due to an automated fraud protection. It is good to call your bank before hand and let them know that a large payment is going to be made overseas so you don’t run into any errors when trying to pay the manufacturer.
Website and Social Media
The process of either printing on blanks or getting pieces manufactured takes a good amount of time from beginning to end. In the meantime while you’re waiting for your pieces to be made and shipped back to you it is a good idea to get your website and social media accounts up and running. In 2019 it is critical to have a solid online presence and unless you already have or intend on getting retail stores to sell your product for you, ecommerce is the only way you’re going to be able to sell product.
Setting Up Your Website
When it comes to setting up your ecommerce website there are a couple of different options you can choose from. The easiest route you can take that will result in the fastest set up time and least amount of headaches is going to be using Shopify as the backend to your website. With plans starting at $29.99 a month after an initial 14 day free trial, Shopify will provide all the basic tools to build and host a website. They have the necessary tools you will need to setup your store and add your products as well as take orders and fulfill them. For a first timer starting their own clothing line, Shopify provides the perfect service to ensure success in building an ecommerce platform.
Some of the downsides of Shopify are limited blogging platform for SEO ranking purposes, the price per month, and the fee they take when a sale is made on your website. For the brand new clothing brand operator the limited blogging platform is most likely not a problem, but for the more experienced operator looking to build their organic traffic through SEO it might be. With Shopify you’re paying for the ease of use and extremely straightforward setup, so in all honesty the $29.99 is not too bad. Just like with the rest of this article, there is a ton of deeper level knowledge you’ll need to obtain from reading more articles and watching videos. This video here is a good place to start learning the basics of setting up a website through the Shopify service.
For someone looking to have complete control of their website with more advanced features and marketing tools, a WordPress hosted website is the route to take. Building a website through WordPress is a pretty straightforward process, but it is definitely a much harder task than going through Shopify. There are a lot more steps that you’ll have to do yourself where on Shopify they take care of them for you. The absolute best features of WordPress are the endless list of plugins that you can add to your website and customize, as well as the fantastic blogging platform. Building a great library of search engine optimized blogs is imperative to the success of the organic traffic you receive to your store and Yoast SEO is the perfect plugin to ensure that success. For ecommerce purposes, WooCommerce is the industry standard plugin and the one you should be using to build out your store with.
Once again, there is a plethora of knowledge you are going to have to obtain in order to successfully build your website. This video here is a great place to start and is one of the videos I referred back to often when building deadinla.com. One of the great things about building a WordPress website is the low startup cost, you’ll be able to build a fully functioning ecommerce store with less than $150 your first year. As opposed to the over $300 you’d pay to Shopify, I’d say that’s a pretty good deal. If you are looking to build a website that dominates, WordPress is the absolute best way to go if you’re okay with going through a tougher setup process. The tools at your disposal on the WordPress platform are second to none in terms of building a highly trafficked, profitable website.
Building Your Social Media
In conjunction with your website, the social media presence you build is extremely important. Much of the traffic and sales you will receive will be because of people finding your brand through Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. With great social media branding you have the ability to gain the kind of influence only kings and queens used to know. Nowadays it isn’t uncommon to see clothing lines boast over a million followers on each of their social media platforms. It takes an immense amount of effort and time to build a brand up on social media to those numbers, but it is not impossible. Even with a much lower number of engagement on your social media you will be able to curate a large number of customers and loyal brand followers. With a great social media plan of attack you’ll be able to build yourself and your online clothing store into a dominating presence where there’s never a person not looking at your products. A fantastic resource on the topic of social media and where it is heading in the future is episode 285 of Andy Frisella’s MFCEO Project.
To this day Instagram is king in terms of building a clothing brand’s online presence. You can curate through their many photo and video features an incredible page that attracts many people to your brand. Even with a declining engagement rate due to an increasing saturation of content in the market, Instagram is still the main platform in which many consumers find the people and brands they identify with. Posting high quality photo and video content that showcase your brand’s story and message on a daily basis is how you can go from nobody knowing about your clothing line to thousands of people loving and purchasing from it. Instagram is perfect for growing a brand organically, though declining in my opinion, as well as with paid advertising and paid influencer promotions. There is an endless amount of information out there on the topic of how to successfully grow a brand via Instagram, so a little time digging will give you the insight you need. The MFCEO Project podcast I linked to above is hands down the best place to start your education on branding through Instagram and other social media platforms.
I am a firm believer that YouTube is the absolute best social media site you can build a brand on. In today’s day in age the content you can create through video and live stream is absolutely endless. I also find the YouTube algorithm to be much more forgiving to a new creator. Unlike Instagram, if you post a fantastic piece of content to YouTube there is a very good chance it will gain views and at least a little bit of traction. Where on Instagram you could go weeks and months without any or extremely slow growth, YouTube is a place that it is proven to build you brand exponentially with consistent high quality posts. With video you can showcase the story of your brand much more effectively than with pictures, you give yourself and your creations a voice that potential fans and customers can relate to which ultimately turns them into loyal followers who eat up anything you produce.
Clothing and fashion having been an industry dominated by photo content for so long, breaking through with video for your brand can be the catalyst to growing a huge following. With some creative thinking and good execution you can create videos that generate hype and traffic to your various social media pages along with your website. Also, having the best video camera on the market with all the highest end gear is no longer needed. Yout phone almost certainly shoots 4k video and good audio, so utilize that to your advantage and create video content on YouTube. Two great creators who run their own clothing brands that have been great motivation for myself and my brand are Justin Escalona and Randall Pich. Check them both out along with Dead in LA to see what kind of video content successful clothing brands are creating in which you can model and draw inspiration from.
To me Twitter is the ultimate platform for organic and manufactured virality. There is no better place where a piece of content or a bit of information can be passed along to a large amount of people in little to no time. I have found Twitter communities are all formed around a niche topic, I discussed this above when we were finding artists through Twitter. People who participate in or are interested in a topic usually follow people who also participate or are interested in it. This also results in the amplified sharing of content throughout the community because when a few people in the niche retweet a post everyone in their immediate network sees the content. The chain reaction of content sharing that happens throughout Twitter is an amazing tool to use when starting your own clothing line. The pieces you create, the pictures and videos take, and the ad campaigns you build are all great pieces of content that can be posted to your Twitter page.
If you grow and connect within a niche community the likelihood of interested viewers seeing, and most importantly, being interested in your content is greatly increased. We’ll discuss this more further along in the guide when we get into the marketing of your brand, but getting an influencer within your niche that has a decent sized following to retweet or quote your content is how you get your brand in front of many people who will be interested. It isn’t rare for a few notable blogs or influencers to retweet content that then goes on to rack up thousands more likes and retweets, resulting in a viral post that drives massive traffic to you and your clothing brand. Twitter is also a very good tool for building backlinks to your website for SEO purposes, something we will talk about later in the guide as well.
One social media platform that doesn’t get mentioned enough is the mass online forum Reddit. Reddit is different from that of YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter because you’re not building a page with content of yours posted to it. Instead you post to different “subreddits” or categorized niche sub forums built and run by users within the main Reddit platform. An example would be the subreddit r/Streetwearstartup we discussed earlier where the main niche focus is of course startup streetwear clothing brands. Reddit is a great place to post content to and to get eyes on your brand because as more and more people upvote and engage with your post, the higher up it reaches on the main page of that specific subreddit.
If a post of yours reaches the top 3-5 upvote and engagement numbers on the subreddit for that day, then the majority of the traffic going to that subreddit will see your content. Dead in Los Angeles has gotten multiple videos upvoted to the top of r/HipHopHeads, a subreddit with 1.8 million followers, which ultimately resulted in a massive spike to all our other various forms of online brand presence. Reddit is also great for networking and connecting with various people, as well as getting truly helpful advice and direction. It is widely known that the users of Reddit are much more generous than that of other social media platforms and I personally have always found the users I connect with to be quite insightful on the niche that they are in.
Packaging and Shipping
While you wait for your clothing to be produced and have finished setting up your website and social media channels you’re going to want to turn your attention to the packaging of your pieces and the shipping methods you’re going to use. As a consumer, I find it extremely satisfying when the product I ordered online comes in a nice custom made package that contains stickers, promotions, and other similar accessory products. In order to stand out from all the other people in the clothing space, you’re going to need to deliver a superior product and experience than your competitors. Packaging and the contents of the packaging are an extremely easy way to wow your customers and stand out from every other clothing brand on the market.
Manufacturing Your Packaging
When I have gotten the packaging made for my brands I have used, once again, Twitter to find an artist to create the graphics and Alibaba to find the best manufacturer. There are endless ways you can have your packaging designed and you can really stand out from the herd if yours is eye catching and feels good in your hands when you touch it. Just as with clothing manufacturers there is a huge list to choose from when looking for the company who will produce your packaging. Use the same tactics as you did when getting the clothing produced to vet the manufactures and find the best one for you and your clothing brand.
The packaging manufacturers are going to need to know what specifications you want the bags to have such as the material, how it opens, the dimensions, etc. If you do not have exact specifics, speak with them and describe the vision you have, they will be able to help choose the best options. You will need to know the dimensions you want the packaging to have, but this is easily figured out because you have the samples, either blank pieces or ones manufactured, that you can fold up and take measurements of in order to figure it out. Have good back and forth communication with these manufacturers just like you did with the ones making your clothing and they will be able to provide great samples that you can then choose from in order to decide which version you’ll have mass produced. Packaging is quite inexpensive, so you have the ability to mass manufacture hundreds even thousands if you so please.
Choosing Your Shipping Methods
Shipping can be a tricky thing to figure out if you have never gone through the process before starting your own clothing line. It is a relatively easy process, but you have to make sure you get it right so that when the time comes for people to start placing order you are ready and don’t run into any issues. There are a ton of options you can choose from when deciding upon how you’re going to run your shipping and it would require a whole other article from me on the topic alone. I’ll link to a solid article here that can get you pointed in the right direction.
The way I run Dead in Los Angeles’ shipping and my other previous brands is in my opinion the easiest way to do it. I get my packaging manufactured through a source I found on Alibaba with graphics from on of my many artists I work with via Twitter. The packaging I have made is not intended to be shipped in, it just holds the clothing in a compact and aesthetic manner like something you would find on the shelves at a brick and mortar retail store. The packaging holds one piece of clothing per package and when someone makes an order I then put as many as they ordered into larger flat rate shipping boxes and/or poly bags. All of my domestic shipping is USPS 2 day flat rate shipping. This is the easiest and most straightforward shipping method for both myself and my customers because the rate will always be the same and they will know exactly when their package is set to arrive. If it fits into the flat rate shipping box or bag it ships, so unless you have people ordering over three pieces in one order, every customer will be able to pay the flat rate shipping fee.
As a precaution, because hopefully you are getting many 3+ piece orders, you are going to want to have some of the larger flat rate boxes on hand. You can make it so that when people order over a certain number of products (however many will no longer fit in your regular flat rate boxes) it is calculated that the next step up of shipping rates is selected. I run our shipping so that if a customer gets over three pieces and/or over two hoodies in one order it’ll automatically default them to the next size up and rate of shipping. This is a foolproof way of ensuring that shipping is always the same price in whichever circumstance the customer finds themselves in. This method also makes it extremely easy to keep track of orders and finances, you know when your packages are set to arrive and exactly how much it costs every time. Do some digging through Google and YouTube to find out exactly how you can set up flat rate shipping for yourself. You can also go into your nearest local USPS branch and speak to one of the workers there who can give you the insight you need.
For my first clothing brand I did not accept international orders because at the time I A. didn’t expect any orders overseas and B. didn’t know how to calculate or set up a system for shipping internationally. That has since changed and Dead in Los Angeles has to have an international shipping system because a good amount of our customer base is located overseas. Once again in order to gain a deeper understanding of the process of setting this up I advise you to watch videos and read articles that go deeper into the topic. For Dead in L.A. we run a system of precalculated shipping zones that is decided upon when our website picks up where they are located. If the customer is in the UK they will get one standard rate and another if they are in the middle east. We fully intend to open a European distribution center to lower the costs and time of shipping from the US, but right now the shipping zones are out best option, I’m sure the same can be said about you and your brand. Shipping is a very simple thing to get set up once you are pointed in the right direction, so do some reading and watch some videos and you’ll feel confident to make the best decision for your brand and customers.
Your Clothing Pieces Have Arrived
So it’s been a few weeks or months and the bulk order of pieces you have designed and sent off for production have finally been shipped to you. While you waited for these to come in you built your website with either Shopify or WordPress and WooCommerce and have also created the necessary social media accounts. Now, this is where the real fun begins. The tasks you’ve had to do up until this point can definitely feel like a grind at times, but now you finally have your product in and are ready to start building the identity of your brand.
Creating Content and Marketing
With all of your clothing pieces in and the correct platforms built and ready to go, you’re next going to need to create the photo and video content you’re going to use to show your clothing line to the world. There are endless style of content you can create for your clothing and this is where your brand’s story and aesthetic come into play once again. When thinking about how you’re going to set up your photos and videos you need to come up with the best way to tell the story and show the aesthetic. The viewer, your potential customer, needs to watch your videos and look at your photos and feel like they are connected to you and the brand you have created.
Unless you’re wanting to model the clothing yourself, which is perfectly fine by the way, you’re going to need to find models who can wear your pieces and be the face of your brand. Who you use to model your clothing is an important decision because who they are and the way they look has to follow suit with the story and aesthetic of your brand. If your story consists of pain and struggle and the aesthetic you’re creating is dark and grungy, a bright and starry eyed instagram girl might not be the greatest person to wear your clothes and represent the brand.
People often think that finding models is going to be a difficult task, but really it couldn’t be any easier than it is today to find them. Instagram and social media as a whole has created a repressed desire in almost everyone to want to be seen and recognized online. If you, the owner of a cool new clothing company, were to approach someone you know in real life or through the internet about modeling for the brand I can almost guarantee they’re going to say yes. Being approached by someone and asked to model is the biggest boost to their ego in the world because it’s pretty much saying, “Hi, I think you’re extremely good looking, can you wear my clothing and get photographed while doing so so everyone who sees it knows people think you’re good looking?” In a vanity fueled world where likes and comments mean a whole lot, getting asked to model for a brand is something countless people dream about.
I’ve been in situations where the fact that I own a clothing company is slightly mentioned and I get,“If you ever need someone to model your clothes” said to me immediately. If there is someone that you want to model your clothing don’t hesitate to ask them. If you feel it would better your cause offer up free clothing and/or payment for them taking part. On top of everything else, being the person who finds models and coordinates shoots with them elevates you in the eyes of others. To them you become “the connector” and your presence will be sought out because you might be able to bring connections and opportunity to their lives. As a clothing brand owner, this aura is a great one to have because your influence will be forever growing as that “connector” people prop you up in their minds to be.
Photo and Video Shoots
When you’ve found and gotten in contact with the models you want to use its time to start arranging photo and video shoots. The way you arrange these, the places you go, and the content you ultimately end up creating is fully up to you. With your story and aesthetic at the forefront of your efforts you have to be as creative as possible in the content you shoot. You are going to want to build an extensive library of different pictures and videos that can be edited and posted across the entirety of your website and social media channels to show and promote your clothing pieces.
I have arranged shoots with 8 models and a photographer outside, one model and myself shooting inside a bedroom, video shoots in the middle of a road at night, girls taking bathroom selfies in a group, the list goes on and on. There are literally endless ways you can go about shooting your photos and creating content. There is no right or wrong way to create because the story of your brand and its aesthetic is also your creation. You know or can figure out how you want to show your clothing to the world because it’s you and your brand you’re showing off. If you have fun with it and create something with the weird, out of the box ideas you have then you’re going to create content that sticks which people will love to consume and share.
For inspiration on how to organize your shoots and ideas on how you can set up the scene in which your models are photographed or recorded look to brands that you personally love and purchase from. For myself and Dead in L.A. I look at brands like Drop Dead, Pleasures, FTP, Palm Angeles, 1340 Collective and many others to draw creative energy from. Look at and watch what your favorite brands are doing and use their blueprint to create your content. You can’t copy what they’re doing because their story and aesthetic are not yours, but you can see how they tell their story and show their aesthetic through content creation and use it as a framework to create yours.
Putting It All Together
At this point in time you should have everything you need in order to launch your first pieces on your website and social media. The months of work and preparation will soon pay off when you make those first few sales. There are still a few things you need to do that can really help boost your chances of a successful first launch and set you on the path for a growing thriving clothing brand.
Have you ever gone to a company’s website and it just instantly turns you off? Either its too much going on where everything is cluttered and hard to navigate or its too bare and it looks like an amateur put it together. You’re going to want to set your website up somewhere right in the middle of those so that it is pleasing to the eye and optimized to create the most conversions when customers visit. There are many articles on the best layout for a website where they talk about how a human’s eyes navigate when they land on a page, the first thing they click, even down to the colors and fonts. A good article on the subject can be found here, but be sure to dig deeper than that and really get an understanding of things, just like you’ve done so much already on the many other aspects of starting your own clothing line.
Email Collection and Marketing
An important aspect of your website is going to be your email collection system and how you run your email marketing. Email is still the top converting form of marketing there is, even above social media and other marketing tactics. Getting someone to join your email list makes them a customer of yours for life or until they unsubscribe from the list. The way I look at an email list is that you actually own it and nothing will ever happen to it unless you delete it or lose it. The list is yours and you have full control unlike social media where the following you have and reach you get is owned by a company. Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, etc could one day delete all the app and all of the data on it or change an algorithm that crushes your business. With social media you can lose your following without it even being your fault. An email list is in your hands and you have full control over it.
You are going to want to find a service for your website that runs pop up opt in pages that ask visitors to your website to enter their email in exchange for some form of offer. Think of when you visit websites and are offered a newsletter or some kind of free offer in exchange for your email. What offers have encouraged you to enter your email? You want to find this out and think of clever ways that will compel your website visitors to also enter their email so you can collect it and email market to them. For Dead in L.A. we like to do a weekly care package giveaway full of our latest pieces that is done fully through email. In order to be entered into the raffle you have to be on the email list and it becomes a win win for our customers. This is a really good converting tactic and one that can be easily replicated by you and your clothing brand.
There is a lot that goes into the psychology of email marketing and how to sell to your email subscribers after you’ve collected their email information. A great podcast on the topic is MFCEO Project 296 and some fantastic videos that will teach you from start to finish how to be great at email marketing are made by Miles Beckler.
One thing to keep in mind with email is that you don’t want to just sell sell sell to your customers with every email you send them. Most of the time you want to be emailing them content you have created that adds value to their lives and helps them in some way or some kind of story driven content about you and your brand. With email marketing you want to build a relationship with your customers over a long period of time so when you do finally email about your new collection of clothes or whatever you are selling they actually make a purchase. Although we run clothing brands people still want to buy from people. If you grow a relationship with your customers and have your story out there for people to connect to, ultimately the effect this will have on your sales is profound. Check out those links I posted above and dive into learning about email marketing, it is an essential aspect of growing your company and obtaining success.
SEO and Blogging
Another marketing strategy that goes hand in hand with your content creation and email list building is search engine optimization (SEO). Basically what this is is how high you rank for something on Google when someone types something into the search bar. For example, when someone types in “best clothing brands of 2019” you would want your brand’s website to show up on the top results of the first page of Google. This would result in hundreds, if not thousands of visitors to your website a month off of one single search term keyword phrase. The goal is to rank for hundreds, even thousands of these search terms so a ridiculous amount of people click into your website when searching on Google. This tactic coupled with email marketing is how you grow a million dollar business. You rank high for a ton of search terms resulting in thousands of new visitors to your website a week and these visitors are each shown an opt in pop up to join your email list. You then grow the relationship with now thousands of users at once when you send your mass emails out, which ultimately leads to many many sales when you do finally send them product related emails.
The way you build your ranking up higher for search terms on Google is by having content on your website that is extremely focused on the keywords you’re trying to rank for. This is most often done in the form of blogs and articles, as well as videos on YouTube. This is an even more complex topic than email marketing is, so I will leave it to the expert Miles Beckler to teach you the ways of SEO. Miles has 500+ videos on digital marketing, hundreds of which I have viewed multiple times myself, as well as an absurd amount of blogs and podcasts on his website. Dive into his lessons and you’re going to come out knowing exactly what you need to do in order to be successful in the marketing tactics he teaches about. The best part about Miles is that his content is 100% free and the most informative stuff you’re going to find on the internet. It is important for yourself and your brand to learn these things, so although it may seem like a huge task to learn, it is extremely vital to your success.
There is so much more to be said about marketing that I am not going to cover in this article, but as I write more articles I will continue to link to them in this section and grow the library of resources for the readers of my content. There is a ridiculous amount of information out there on every form of marketing you could possible get involved in. The books I’ve read alone have taught me a great deal, not to mention the videos, podcasts, and articles that are available. And even on top of all of that there are now thousands of other clothing brands on Instagram that you can look to and learn from in terms of how they run their marketing. If you search for the content you will find it and you will learn what you need to in order to be successful.
Some great books I highly recommend include;
Finally the day has come. After countless hours of work on all the tedious tasks required for starting your own clothing line, you have made it to the day when all your effort comes together. You have your website up and running full of the dope pieces you have created and the stunning pictures and video you captured. Your email opt in pop up is ready and you have compiled a good amount of SEO optimized blogs and articles. In your phone there are countless pictures and videos ready to be posted, with plans to capture more already in the works. You have your product inventoried, packaging and shipping methods ready. Put out the announcement, run the ads, pay the influencers, write the articles, and provide amazing customer service to everyone who visits your site and engages with your content. Make absolutely sure that each order is presented absolutely perfect and then swiftly packaged and shipped. This is where you make a name for yourself as the new brand making waves in the marketplace.
With an amazing product, incredible story behind your brand, the best customer service, and efficient marketing you will have a clothing company that explodes into something huge. You might not instantly get to a life of riches and notoriety off this first drop, it’s going to take months and years of consistent hard work and doing these same tasks you did to build the brand over and over. But that’s okay, in the process of doing these things for the years to come you will gain the skills and the following you need to have a successful clothing brand. Stay on the path, keep grinding day in and day out. Learn something new every day that can help you to better your business in some form and then implement that newly found knowledge to better your success. Work hard, work consistently, and never stop. Starting your own clothing line is the best decision you could have made, keep at it and grow your creation into a world renowned brand.