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How to Start a Clothing Line

Lana Cooper


Lana Cooper


October 4, 2023

Jan 16, 2024

How to Start a Clothing Line

Even the biggest clothing brands and designers started small. And while household names like Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren had to set up brick-and-mortar stores to get their designs out to the masses, today, the internet and a vast array of online marketing tools makes it possible to start a clothing brand without a physical store. 

That’s not to say that starting a clothing business – like any worthwhile dream or goal – isn’t without its challenges. Understanding the various moving pieces of how to start a clothing business are essential to your success. We’ll cover the basics you’ll need to launch, including sourcing and selling materials, legal and financial considerations, as well as marketing and distribution. 

Setting Up a Clothing Business

Star Print Tee - Code Five 3929

The first step toward setting up a successful clothing brand is to define the vision for your brand. Who are you and who is your customer?

Identifying your target audience and where you fit into the vast landscape of clothing shops can help you better define your brand identity and set you apart. 

For instance, do you focus on trendy apparel, or timeless classics? If you lean towards trendy, think about who your clothing designs will appeal to. Do you want to target potential customers on TikTok with new designs? Keep in mind that trends change and you’ll want to keep up with new trends. Your designs will need to reflect that and change over time. On the flipside, If you’re more interested in offering your customers classic looks that never go out of style, think about how your audience may differ from those who are constantly in pursuit of hot new trends. 

Your branding – including your logo, colors, and messaging – can also signal to your audience what your brand stands for and helps you attract customers. 

  • Color: Bright colors that jump out at your customers can let them know you’re up on the latest trends. More muted earth tones or classic blues or reds can let your audience know you're less trendy and more timeless. 
  • Logo: Your logo can be a carefully-crafted graphic that encompasses who you are, or as simple as just your brand name. If your logo will be your name, think about what font you’ll use, as the font style you choose can convey a lot about your brand. Swirling, cursive script might indicate a more feminine style of clothing, while a bold, sans-serif font can feel more active and athletic. Similarly, a graffiti-style font can give a more exciting streetwise feel. 
  • Messaging: You know the brands when you hear the tagline: “Just do it.” “Snap! Crackle! Pop!” “Because I’m worth it.” What is a phrase you’d want your audience to associate with your brand? Even if your business doesn’t have a tagline, think about who your audience is and what language resonates with them. Even if your designs may speak for themselves, you’ll still need to cobble together some words to spread the message about your brand and reel in customers.

Legal and Financial Foundations 

While branding your clothing business can be the fun part, creating a clothing line in today’s landscape also requires less-fun legal and financial aspects. Even small, DIY businesses are responsible for reporting revenue on taxes. 

If you’re starting small and selling your products through an online storefront or via a third-party site like Etsy, you may want to meet with a small business attorney or your local tax preparer to better understand what tax filings or business licensing you may be responsible for right now, as well as what you may need down the line as you business grows. This can help you stay compliant with state, federal, and local business laws, as well as in good standing with taxes and financial reporting. 

If you’re thinking about growing your clothing business and taking it from a hobby to a full-fledged enterprise, you may also want to seek out funding and loans to help you expand. Small business loans and financial backing (either in the form of investors or crowdfunding) can help you pay for such things as the cost of goods and materials, pay employees, and more. These are relatively complex areas that a small business attorney can advise you on. 

Sourcing and Manufacturing

When starting a clothing business, you’ll want to consider options such as buying wholesale for sourcing and manufacturing. Finding a supplier you trust with reasonable prices and a wide selection of apparel can go a long way towards quality control and building a loyal customer base. 

When sourcing and purchasing, you’ll also want to consider buying in bulk vs. just-in-time ordering. Buying in bulk may help you secure a better rate. However, it can also leave you with unused inventory if you purchase more than demand merits. However, just-in-time ordering may lead to longer shipping and production times, making your customers wait longer for their purchases. 

Trusted blank apparel vendors like offer quality goods at wholesale prices to help you maximize your bottom line and enhance profitability of your clothing venture. Clothing Shop Online does not require a business license to purchase blank apparel and doesn’t have order minimums. This can be helpful to individuals starting their own clothing line in that it gives you an option to purchase affordable apparel either in-bulk or “just-in-time” to meet demand.

Another benefit of working with a blank apparel supplier is that you’re not locked into a single brand. Rather, you can explore various options and fabric types to serve as a blank canvas for your original designs. You may notice certain types of fabrics and fabric blends work better with printing techniques you use, or that your customers prefer the feel or cut of a certain brand of t-shirt. This can allow you to scale up or down accordingly. 

Designing Your First Clothing Line

Your designs will be the backbone of your clothing line and essential to your success. You may already have a slew of original designs. Or you may be open to collaborations with other designers. 

But it’s not enough to just create awesome graphics and devise catchy sayings that appear on t-shirts. The design process also involves understanding how printing techniques work with different fabrics. Creating prototypes and product mockups can help you see your designs fully-realized, taking them from your sketchpad to real life. This will help you see how different printing techniques – such as screen printing or sublimated printing – look on different t-shirts materials. 

For instance, sublimated printing and screen printing with PVC-based inks may work well on polyester apparel, but may not be suitable for 100% cotton garments. Similarly, water-based inks or tie-dye techniques may look great on an all-cotton tee, but will disappear after a single washing on a polyester-based garment. 

How to Sell Your Clothing Line

Once you have a quality product you’re proud to put your (brand) name on, now it’s time to start selling. Today, through the magic of the internet, you can start a small clothing business from home. Whether you choose to eventually branch out into a brick-and-mortar shop or operate solely online is up to you!

Marketing and Branding Strategies

Consider how you want to market your clothing line and reach your target customer. As mentioned previously, knowing what your brand stands for, as well as who your audience is, can help you create a more strategic marketing plan. 

  • Choose between a website or third-party site. As mentioned earlier, you may want to think about the legal, financial, and logistical elements related to having your own website or working with a third-party site. In addition to making sure your legal and financial responsibilities are covered, you’ll want to consider such aspects of maintaining your own website and the cost of hosting. If you’d prefer to work with a third-party site, consider the trade-offs, as to how much profit you’ll make depending on how much of a cut this third-party will take. 
  • Leverage social media. Consider what platforms your target audience gravitates toward, as well as which ones offer you the best medium to present your brand. Since design is a visual medium, photo- and video-based platforms like Instagram and TikTok may give you a great place to showcase your wares. Look at who your direct competitors are and see what hashtags or messaging they’re using to help get in front of new customers and expand their following. This can be an inspirational springboard to help you create your own unique messaging to position your brand. 
  • Forge partnerships and collaborate. When you dip a toe in the water of social media, you’re bound to encounter influencers who may want to collaborate with you. Or, maybe you’ll be fortunate enough to connect with a designer you already admire who may be willing to collaborate. This can help evangelize your brand and expose you to a wider audience, helping you develop a loyal customer base of your own. These collaborations, while beneficial, may also come with legal contracts and obligations. Having a small business attorney who is versed in these areas can help you better understand the partnership itself, as well as the division of labor and profits. 
  • Offline marketing efforts. While there’s a lot you can do to grow your clothing business online, don’t overlook offline marketing opportunities. Start local and look for nearby fashion shows, trunk shows, or other events that showcase regional merchants and small businesses. 

Sales Channels and Distribution

You’ll also want to consider how you’ll get your product in the hands of eager customers. That’s where sales channels and distribution comes in. 

Your first step is to determine all costs involved to help you set pricing for your products. Calculate all costs – such as materials, labor, any overhead, or marketplace fees – associated with making, selling, and shipping your product. 

From there, look at what your competitors are charging. Do you want to charge less than your competitors if you’re just entering the market? Or will your pricing be comparable? There’s no right or wrong answer, just one that works for you. In time, you may decide to charge more, especially if the cost of goods and materials goes up and you need to remain profitable. 

You’ll also want to explore distribution options, such as choosing between a physical store, established retailer, or continuing to operate as your own online entity. 

If you choose to partner with a physical store, you may be able to forge a bond with your local community by partnering with a local merchant willing to sell your products. This can expose you to a new audience and even lead to impulse buys. However, working with a physical distributor may result in less profit for you, as they may demand a higher cut of your profit to offset their own overhead costs (such as rent and employee salaries.)

There are also similar pros and cons with partnering with established retailers. They can offer you greater exposure to a larger customer base, as they’ve already developed a reputation for credibility. In turn, that establishes credibility for your clothing brand. Established retailers also have distribution networks in place, which can remove some of the burden of coordinating logistics from your plate – allowing you to focus on the creative and/or marketing aspects of your clothing line. However, they may take a larger cut of your profits and may also demand a higher volume of product to meet consumer demand. 

Operating your business as an online-only store can give you more flexibility over your brand messaging and greater profitability. However, it also comes with considerably more responsibility and logistical demands. For instance, you’ll be responsible for shipping your clothing and products. 

In terms of shipping considerations, you’ll want to accurately calculate shipping costs. Overcharging for shipping might deter potential customers, but undercharging could eat into your profits. You’ll want to offer a range of shipping options to cater to your customers, including standard, expedited, and international shipping. If you plan to sell to customers around the world, be sure to understand the complexities of international shipping, including customs procedures, duties, and regulations.

You’ll also want to consider the cost of packing materials so your products arrive in excellent condition, as this can impact customer satisfaction. Consider padded mailers in brand colors or with colorful stickers, packaging (bubble wrap or colorful biodegradable materials), and more to enhance the experience for your customers once your tees and apparel arrive at their doorstep.

You’ll also want to establish clear policies for returns and refunds, taking into account the potential costs associated with returns. 

Growing Your Clothing Brand

Laying the groundwork for launching your clothing brand can help you grow and sustain your business over time. While it’s important to relish these early stages, it can be helpful to think ahead about what will be needed if you choose to expand your business over time. 

Customer Engagement and Retention

Engaging with your customers can help drive brand loyalty. Don’t just reach out to your audience to alert them to new products and offerings. Building customer engagement is more than just letting them know when you want them to buy something. Consider finding ways to nurture customer relationships and build community around your brand. Loyalty programs, coupon codes, special discounts and offers can foster your base. 

Additionally, engaging with customers and followers on social media can help you better understand what they love (or don’t) about your brand. Using social media gives you an opportunity to see what is resonating with your audience, or what you may want to tweak about your current business model to ensure repeat, happy customers. Look to polls or social media posts to get customer input on new products they’d like to see in the future. You can also consider running contests with an awesome prize package to help generate even more engagement.

Scaling and Expanding

What happens when you’re ready to take your at-home DIY business to the next level? There are various and legal aspects involved in scaling up your business, especially when it comes to expanding your team and hiring employees. 

Even if you don’t have the overhead of renting a physical space, you may need a more sophisticated online storefront and someone with the technical skills required to keep things running smoothly and securely. This may involve having the proper SSL certificates and encryption to keep sensitive customer data (such as credit card information and home addresses) protected from leaks and hackers.

You may also need to hire someone to oversee shipping logistics and customer service. These hires can ensure orders go out in a timely fashion or can answer customer inquiries, if needed. 

As your clothing business grows, you may also require more sophisticated marketing efforts. You might not be able to do it all and post frequently on social media. Or you may want to hire someone with a background in marketing to help you identify new audience segments to grow your customer base beyond brand loyalists. 

And with new audiences, come new product offerings. In the beginning, you may only offer adult apparel. In time, you may want to expand to include product lines for children, babies, or even pets! Have team members who understand how to reach these audiences – as well as ensuring your business is in a financial position to branch out – can help you grow over time. 

Branded Apparel for All Small Businesses

12" Pom-Pom Knit - Sportsman SP15

Apparel with eye-catching logos and branding can be a great marketing tool for any small business – not just those in the clothing design industry. If you own a small business, one of the best ways to grow your business is through word of mouth – or pique interest by wearing a t-shirt or apparel that features your logo or slogan. 

Small business owners can offer apparel with their logo to employees, friends, and even customers to help spread the word and raise awareness for your brand. 

When selecting apparel to emblazon with your logo, think about the type of shirts you plan to purchase. If you select high-quality, soft t-shirts, chances are people will want to wear them more often – giving you a greater return on your investment. The materials involved will dictate the type of printing process you choose to deliver a vibrant logo that lasts. Learn more about choosing the best t-shirt material for your needs.

Frequently Asked Questions about Starting a Clothing Business

How much initial investment is typically needed to start a clothing line?

The initial monetary investment to start a clothing line varies dramatically. Smaller DIY operations that are run from home may only require as little cash as $100 to $500 to get started. This can involve the cost of a quality printer, the cost of t-shirt blanks, and shipping materials. If you are designing the clothing and graphics yourself, that’s one less expense to worry about! However, if you are paying a designer, their costs can vary depending on their rates and how many graphics you may want them to generate. You may also need to set aside costs for business licensing. 

If you decide to grow your clothing line, taking it from an at-home business to a fully-functional online operation, costs can range from $500 to $10,000.

What are the biggest challenges in the clothing business?

The biggest challenges a clothing business entrepreneur faces are subjective, based on individual strengths and weaknesses. For some who are primarily designers and creatives, the financial aspects of running a profitable clothing business can be difficult to manage. For others, it may be difficult to find their niche and entry point into the market, successfully distinguishing themselves from competitors in order to make a splash. Understanding your strengths and weaknesses can help you become more successful. It can also prompt you to seek out mentorship or education in those areas to help you become a more well-rounded entrepreneur. 

How can I ensure ethical sourcing and manufacturing?

In an increasingly more connected world, people want to know that the products they are buying are not harming others or creating a negative impact on natural resources. It’s important to do your homework and look into the different brands you plan to carry, as well as work with a reputable distributor that upholds values such as ethical sourcing and manufacturing. 

Can I start a clothing business from home?

Yes! You can certainly start a clothing business from home. The internet has made it possible for individuals to start a hobby-based DIY clothing business at home and sell their wares to people across the country – and even the world. You can easily order supplies online and have them shipped to your home, or share original designs with a third-party digital printing company to manufacture the product and ship on your behalf. Additionally, you can also promote your business on social media, helping to spread the word and grow your customer base. 

How many pieces do you need to start a clothing line?

Smaller DIY businesses can capture the interest of fans with only a handful of well-executed, eye-catching designs, creating exclusivity and devoting more focus to creating something unique. However, a clothing line can have as many as 10-12 pieces. Think about what your line will include: Do you want to center a collection around a given theme for a season? Or do you want to create pieces that work with each other to create a mix-and-match look? Understanding your brand identity, your desired customer base, and your own unique vision and design sensibilities can help you create a collection to launch your clothing line. 

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