We will cover topics from coming up with a product idea to how to organize the manufacturing. If you have a question, would like to add something, or learn more about some particular category (like swimwear or activewear), please drop us a line in the online chat in the lower right corner.
Your initial goal is to find product/market fit – a state when customers buy your items without being pushed. It’s hard to get everything right the first time, so to achieve it, you will usually iterate both on the product and marketing approach.
Start with a small lineup to reduce costs and focus your brand.
A significant initial run will cost a lot at a time when you don’t know the demand. It’s much better to take preorders in case you run out than to sit on unsold stock.
If you have many styles and sizes, it’s also easy to get in a situation where you have an extensive inventory on paper, but those are all slow-selling items. At the same time, the customers feel that everything they want is out-of-stock on the website.
Then comes the brand focus. It’s easier and much less risky to become known for creating one iconic item, build your brand around that, and then expand to other categories.
Cult Gaia story
Cult Gaia founder Jasmin Larian was studying fashion design and sketched out an entire ready-to-wear collection. But a friend suggested focusing on flower crowns she’d created alongside.
She launched a website to sell the headpieces. The branding hit a note, supported by a single concept.
Then, in 2013 she created the Ark bag. It didn’t take off, but she kept quietly promoting it by sending it to friends and family to wear.
But it wasn’t until 2016 and the rise of Instagram that it became big. People started to see how they can pull it off. Sales exploded.
Four years later, the brand expanded to cover all boho needs, from dresses and swimwear to accessories and shoes.
Create a product that you and your friends are missing from the market and would want to buy. You will know that someone needs it, where to find people that want it, and how to appeal to them.
Make something that you are excited about. It will be a long grind. Being passionate about your product will keep you motivated during the hard times. And selling will be much easier when people feel your genuine enthusiasm.
Having a cool story will help users on Instagram to remember you. It will give people wearing your clothes or accessories something to tell about at parties.
Think about conveying a feeling. With Vilebrequin, your imagination flies to the French Riviera. With Ugg boots – to surf breaks.
Social causes are great, but make sure it’s something you genuinely care about and not just a gimmick. Labeling your brand as eco-friendly isn’t enough today unless you go all in: do something great for the environment and document it entertainingly.
A classic example is Tom’s “one for one” campaign if you want to go that route. But that’s hard to pull off profitably – Tom’s ultimately finished the program.
Once you have an idea in mind, you’ll need to settle on the general retail price point, as it will affect everything from marketing to materials and manufacturing.
Going straight into the luxury segment is possible only with direct access to celebrities. Competing with the mass market is essentially impossible. So, it’s a good idea to go to either the “affordable luxury” or “quality basics” ranges.
Don’t compete on price. You’ll need to spend money on marketing - hard to do without margins. People buy things because of perceived value. If they truly want something, they will buy it.
If you plan to do wholesale, most retailers will want the recommended retail price to be at least 2.5 higher than wholesale.
Several basic steps apply to all manufacturing options, with varying levels of formality. We will first outline them and then discuss which ones you can outsource.
When you design the collection, having a mood board will be very helpful not to stray away and create a cohesive thing. It will also help with the storytelling and marketing ideas afterward.
Start with sketching the designs of the items you plan to create. First, think about the overall look. Then, draw the details. Keep in mind the general properties of the material you plan to use, like whether it’s stretchy or flowing.
You don’t need to be very good at graphics: you can start by printing a fashion sketch template and draw over it. If unsure, Google some examples, e.g., “design sketch swimwear.”
The fabric will affect both the design and the measurements, so searching for suitable materials usually starts alongside sketching.
There are three categories of suppliers:
Mills – sell made to order finished materials, usually in high volume
Converters – purchase unfinished fabrics and dye or print it
Jobbers – sell limited-stock leftovers from converters and mills to one-off designers, small manufacturers, and fabric stores.
There are many trade shows where it’s possible to see and touch hundreds of fabric samples in one day. But all suppliers now have an online presence, and for a small price, they will send fabric swatches to your house.
Ask for the minimum order quantity and if you can split it between different styles and colors. Note the lead times (how long will it take to receive the fabric) and consider customs and holidays if it comes from abroad. Think how likely it is that the materials will be available in the future – especially when it comes from leftovers.
A tech pack is a document that specifies all the details about your product — technical drawings of the overall design, materials, colors, measurements and tolerances, stitches to use, branding, etc.
It is crucial for outsourced production. Think of it as the specification to which the manufacturers produce the garments. Include all details that must be accounted for when creating your items.
Patterns are templates that are used to cut the fabric. If you create clothing with sizing options (e.g., small, medium, large), you will start with a base size pattern that will be graded – shrunk or enlarged to create a full-size range.
Many contract manufacturers can create patterns from a tech pack. In some cases, hiring a skilled patternmaker would be necessary.
It may make sense to create patterns on your own to include them into the tech pack to reduce the costs of creating samples at multiple makers.
Once you have everything outlined, it’s time to produce the first samples. Often you will need to have several revisions of the prototypes with slight changes in the design, fit, or materials.
When you are satisfied with the base size prototype, you will need to grade the patterns to the full-size range and ideally order a final set of samples to check the fit.
Make sure that you have all the details verified and ready in the tech pack and start production.
Independent of the price point, your customers should be delighted with your product and look forward to the next purchase.
After producing the items, check them for quality. Even if you do contract manufacturing with internal QA, examine the quality when receiving your batch.
There are three different options to make the items, ordered below from least to most outsourced.
First, you can manufacture yourself. It’s the most flexible option. The starting costs depend a lot on what tools you will need. It can be possible for some clothing types, but impossible for shoes. The price also will depend heavily on where you are located.
You can start without capital if you can sew yourself and have or can borrow the needed machines. Or it may be very expensive if you need to buy costly industrial tools, rent an office and hire many people.
In some cases, it is enough to buy one or two sewing machines and hire a local sewing contractor with experience in clothing construction. In-house production will have higher unit costs (the price of creating a single item). Still, the ability to iterate on samples quickly and not create large batches or maintain an extensive inventory may be worth it.
The most flexible option
Can avoid producing large batches and sew based on demand
Can have high fixed costs if a lot of equipment is needed
Need to manage the workforce
How to start:
Research what types of sewing machines and other equipment are needed, e.g., the types of sewing machines.
Find a contractor locally. Try googling “sewing contractor your city” or “seamstress your city,” or check local classified ads/job boards.
Talk to a few contractors. Discuss if they have relevant experience. Show your designs and discuss how long it will take to produce them. Ask what equipment they will need and if they have any equipment available.
CMT manufacturing partners are those that take your tech pack, optionally create patterns, and then cut the fabric, make the garments and add trims.
You will supply all materials – fabrics, trims, labels, tags, bags, and boxes.
CMT tends to be smaller operations.
Usually more flexible and accomodating to small orders, with lower minimum order quantities.
Because you source the materials, you have control over the supply chain.
You bear the risks for the mistakes in the steps that precede the actual cutting of fabrics — incorrect patterns, delays in materials procurement, etc.
How to start
Prepare a tech pack
Google “CMT manufacturing industry country”
Request a quote and discuss terms with several manufacturers
In Full Production Package (FPP) manufacturing the manufacturer provides all stages of garment building to the brand: Making the pattern, sourcing the fabric and trim, manufacturing the samples, and the final batch.
FPP is good if you don’t have experience. To start working with the manufacturer, you will need to create the initial sketches and mood boards, and the manufacturer should be able to help with the rest. They will be able to control every step and help avoid simple mistakes.
Help across most stages of the process
Potentially economies of scale, e.g., they may have better deals on sourcing fabric.
Higher minimal orders
Higher price per item if all goes well
More reliance on a single partner for the whole production
How to start
Prepare design sketches and a description of what you want
Google “Full production package manufacturing industry country”
Request a quote and discuss terms with several manufacturers
Always take note of the communication style, how promptly they reply, do they want your business. Request a quote before you pay for the sample.
The term for minimal orders is Minimal Order Quantity (MOQ). There may be a total MOQ for the order, and then separate MOQs per style, per color, per size.
MOQ for clothing items like swimwear and activewear starts from 50 but is more typically 100-300 per style and color option and 250-500+ for the order. Often smaller MOQs will mean fewer sizing options.
Ensure that the contract states the lead times to fulfill the order. We’ve seen companies receiving their summer collection towards the autumn.
Allow for at least 90 days from design to launch, usually 120. Factories often quote 60-90 days lead times, but it’s best to add a margin for delays, especially for seasonal products.
With dropshipping, private label, and similar approaches, you sell the same product as others, but with your label on it. It makes it impossible to differentiate from the competition and build a lasting brand.
Many established brands augment their offering with licensed deals (e.g. fashion companies selling sunglasses). But they have a brand name that attract buyers.
For a startup, the complicated part is nurturing an audience, and it’s both easier and more rewarding to do that with a truly unique product.
The cost for the traditional approach to design, manufacturing, and marketing usually starts at around 10,000$ and has no upper limits.
If you don’t have that budget, you will need to be resourceful and creative. Find a way to produce a sample batch, locally or remotely, and then run a campaign to get preorders for the bulk order.
Ana Gavia founded the swimwear brand Pinkcolada in 2017 while being a student in Melbourne. She sketched a bikini and then found a manufacturer in China that agreed to produce a sample. She photographed the bikini, put it on the site, and ran a Facebook ad campaign with a $5 budget.
A week later, she had her first sale, and she ran more ads, offering the swimsuit for preorder. Soon she had enough preorders to place a small batch order of 100 swimsuits.
She had a budget of around $200. Today Pinkcolada brings over $1m in yearly sales.
Next, we will discuss creating captivating catalog and campaign visuals for your products.3. Visuals →
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