How To Start Your Own Fashion Label

Creating your Fashion Label is an Involved Process

I like to think that one should invest their money wisely and the fashion business is no exception to the rule. Contrary to what many people believe, you don't need to attend a fashion design school to launch your own fashion label, although it certainly helps. Nevertheless, one should be warned that creating a fashion label can be a very involved process. After you have an amazing concept and some incredible designs put together, the creation of a fashion label requires you to start-up and run a small business. Which of course, requires a fair amount of effort, energy, drive and motivation.

Once you have your concept design, you then need to find the right specialists and manufacturers to make your garments and bring your fashion range from conception to life. You also need a watertight quality assurance process to ensure your garments are made to the specification that you wanted as the perfect sales products to your consumers. And last but not least, a sound business plan should reflect some solid planning such as how much it will cost, how much you have budgeted, what the price point of your garments will be, and how you plan to market and sell your fashion brand.

The Three Stages of Creating Your Fashion Label

Creating a fashion label can get complex very quickly with many pieces to the puzzle. It’s a long supply chain from design to production. However, when you first start you can break down the process into 3 main stages:

  1. The Pre-Production Steps
  2. The Full Production Run
  3. Marketing and Distribution

Stage One: The Pre-Production Steps

The pre-production steps include the concept design, design thinking and ideation elements of your fashion range. It includes fashion sketching and the creation of technical specification documents, pattern making, grading and creating a sample or a prototype. It also includes finding the perfect materials, trims and embellishments that you need to make your garments. These steps are critical to saving you a lot of money in a full production run, as it ensures that you’ll get things right the first time
before you go ahead and manufacture 50 garments with incorrectly sized arms!

Concept Design

·  This includes creating mood boards around your central design theme, and drawing fashion sketches which capture the way the garments move. This also is where you describe the identity and lifestyle of your ideal customer and explore your brand narrative.

Technical Specification Documents

·  Sometimes it’s hard for others to understand your vision and expectations of your fashion range when it’s still in ‘ideas mode’. After all, they can’t yet see what it’s
supposed to look like. Every detail you can think of from type of stitching, thread color, trims, lining, labels needs to be noted down in technical specification documents. These are essentially the blueprints of what you provide a manufacturer to define how the garments will be made.

Material Sourcing

· Finding the right materials can take some time, especially if you require
technical materials for activewear, swimwear or lingerie. You may require material properties like anti-microbacterial, thermal, moisture wicking, elasticity or materials that hold bold colour and prints. Some manufacturers assist you with the material sourcing process. Otherwise, if you require specialist materials with particular properties, you can reach out to textile companies who can send you small material swatches in various colour grades for you to help compare and choose.

Pattern Making and Grading

·  This part of the process involves specialist help. Pattern making is like the engineering part of the fashion business, where instructions are created for the manufacturer on the most efficient way to construct your garments on the assembly line.

·  Grading is the art of sizing your garments to ensure that they fit all your customers properly. There are no formal standards for sizing, so it’s important that you know whether you want your clothes to be a ‘petite fit’ or a ‘loose fit’ to ensure that you grade your garments to the right type of fit for your brand.

·  Many manufacturers combine pattern making and grading into the sample making process which is an efficient and simple solution for many fashion labels starting out. However, if your garments are particularly complex or specialised, you could seek out experienced and specialised pattern making and grading services and provide these to your manufacturer. 

Sample Making

·  This is the part where you create the first sample or prototype of your garments. This is the fun part, where you also get to see if you have overlooked any details, or if you would like to make any changes. It’s also useful for testing the fit on different sizes. And of course, it’s the final opportunity for you to examine any details that you don’t like and fix them then and there, before things get too costly in a full production run.

·  Make sure you also wash it, wring it, dry it, soak it and run through all the quality care checks that you have for your required care instructions. You want to see how the garment responds in terms of size, fit, colour retention and so on.

·  Nevertheless, sample making can be costly, normally being 2.5x the normal cost of a garment or between the ranges of $100 - $300 + depending on how complex the garment is, the cost of materials and whether or not pattern making and grading are included. You might want to make a few samples, one for quality check purposes, one to check the fit on live models and one for photography purposes. This depends entirely on your budget and plans.

Most of the time it’s simpler and more efficient to complete these pre-production steps with the manufacturer that will produce your full range. This means that everyone is on the same page throughout the entire process. However, if you need to use several manufacturers to make specialist garments, it is possible to have a successful production run if the technical specifications and quality assurance processes throughout the manufacturing of your products have a close eye kept on them.

Stage Two: Full Production Run

The production steps involve finding a manufacturer, a full production run and ensuring that things have been made the way that you wanted.

Finding a Manufacturer

·  Finding a manufacturer is a difficult part of the process. You have to find one that matches the minimum order quantity that you would like to produce, at the cost and budget requirements that you have. You also have to ensure that they will produce to the quality that you want for your fashion label. And don't forget, you have to find someone that you want to work with as you'll be having quite a close working relationship with them!

Production and the Quality Assurance Process

·  This is the part where a lot of things can go wrong. The majority of your garments may be manufactured correctly, but beware that you don’t want to accept too many duds in the production line. You also have to ensure that overall the quality of your garments produced are to the standard and specification that you need e.g. it’s the right size, the right type of stitching. This is the part where you want your technical specification documents to be watertight, so you can have the manufacturer make your garments again to the way that you had requested. Otherwise, you might have to fork out the cost to manufacture a second time. Quality assurance can be a full time job for some fashion labels, so make sure you choose a manufacturer which matches your needs balanced with the cost to produce.

Stage Three: Marketing and Distribution

Marketing and distribution is a key aspect of launching a fashion design line. You could have the most amazing designs but you have to be able to get the word out to the consumers that you want. Make sure you have a plan of how you will achieve this before you set out to manufacture, including whether you want to have an e-commerce store, bricks and mortar boutique or whether you wish to speak to some potential distributors beforehand.

Last but not least, don’t forget the shipping and insurance aspects. A lot of solutions services are offered for e-commerce businesses which need to send their parcels all over the world. Be aware of the import regulations of your own country if you intend on producing overseas and that you are able to clear them through customs. Using a customs broker is most often the most time efficient route - even if you do pay more money for the service I think it ultimately saves you time and effort. And of course, make sure you get out insurance to protect you from unforseen scenarios, and to make sure your goods are all shipped in pristine condition to your door.

Good luck!

Note: This blog post can also be found on Quora: How Do I Break Into The Fashion Industry and Start My Own Label.