How to Start a Clothing Business

store layout design example from a clothing retailer

If you’ve got a passion for clothes and a great business idea, you’re already on the right track to starting a clothing business. You could be opening a neighbourhood vintage shop or designing cutting-edge looks for runways and red carpets. Either way, it’s best to start small before thinking big.

In this guide, we’ll talk you through how to start a clothing business from the very first steps.

How to start a clothing line – things to consider before you start

In fashion design, a clothing ‘line’ normally refers to the full range of clothes sold by a specific brand, designer or outlet. This is different to a clothing collection, which may be a smaller selection of pieces created seasonally.

If you’re wondering how to start a clothing line or fashion business, there are no set rules. However, planning is essential to success.

Before you start, you’ll need to consider:

USPs – how will you stand out from the crowd in an ever-changing field? Fashion is notoriously competitive, so you’ll need a unique angle to survive.
Target market – who are you selling to? It’s essential to understand your market before you start thinking about how to start a fashion business. This can inform your designs, branding, marketing and more.
Business model – do you hope to trade as an online retailer, an affordable high-street stalwart, or a prestigious boutique? These choices will make a big difference to your overheads, products and marketing.
Sourcing – where will you get your fabrics and other raw materials? Planning this in advance will be essential to your efficiency.
Manufacturing – you may be working out of your front room for now, but how will you scale-up your operation? You’ll need to consider manufacturing partners, equipment, premises and staff. Remember to think sustainably.

Online vs in store

One of the great debates of fashion retail is the benefits of online vs in-store shopping.

Let’s look at the advantages of online retail:

Cost-efficiency – with an online business, you won’t need to worry about renting a bricks-and-mortar premises.
Market access – online retailing removes many of the barriers between you and a sale. Whether you’re running your own site or using platforms like eBay, Amazon, Depop or Vinted, you can reach people a long way from your base.
Customer intelligence – with online retailing you can understand your audience like never before. Use SEO research to hone your digital marketing and analyse your website for customer insights.

But in-store shopping has its plus points too:

Personal touches – sometimes, customer service makes all the difference. In fashion, personalised style advice can help clinch important sales and build lasting relationships.
Footfall – with a physical store and the right visual merchandising, you can attract customers your digital marketing might miss.
More reliable sales – one of the main advantages of physical stores is customers can explore the nuances of fit, colour and fabric before they buy – which makes them less likely to return items.

Many retailers choose a hybrid model, combining online and physical sales. Whichever you choose, it’s important to think carefully before you invest too much time or money into a channel.

Square for Retail.

Square for Retail offers a full POS system to help you run your retail business, no matter your size or style.

What skills and qualifications do you need?

To start a fashion business, you won’t necessarily need specific qualifications or experience, though these can both be useful.

Fashion design or fashion marketing degrees, for example, can help you understand important creative processes, and learn how the industry works. That said, many fashion entrepreneurs would favour real-world experience over qualifications.

But there are skills all fashion industry insiders would agree are essential:

Creativity – from creating beautiful designs to building an engaging brand, creativity is essential to get cut-through in fashion.
Vision – knowing what you want and how to get it is another must.
Calm under pressure – whether you’re selling comedy T-shirts or haute couture, you’ll need to keep up with whatever the worlds of fashion and business throw at you.
Organisation – can you handle the sales, logistics and day-to-day operations of a business? Staying organised is essential.
Passion – you’ll need to love fashion, trends and clothing. If you don’t, you may quickly become disillusioned.
Business acumen – whether you want to be the next big thing in fashion or simply provide great customer service, you’ll need to be business savvy to go the distance.

Regulations for clothing businesses

To trade legally in the UK, you’ll need to follow UK regulations – but this isn’t as overwhelming as it sounds.

Here are several regulations to research:

Licensing – you don’t need a licence to sell clothes, although you will for [market trading].
Sales of Goods Act – this stipulates that your products must arrive with the customer as described.
The Supply of Goods and Services Act – if you enter a supply contract with a customer, you’ll need to supply your products in good condition, at a fair price and in a reasonable timeframe.
Consumer Rights Act 2015 – these regulations protect consumers from unfair trading and false advertising. Learn more.
Health and safety – your workplace, retail environments and manufacturing centre will need to meet health and safety regulations. Find out more
General Product Safety Regulations 2005 – these ensure your products are safe for consumers. Learn more about product safety

Starting your clothing line

Starting a clothing business can be whatever you want it to be – a fun way to make extra cash or a full-time job. But how do you get started?

From getting set up for your first days of trade to covering your upfront costs, preparation is key to success. Taking risky leaps instead of small steps could wrongfoot you – whether you’re a fashion industry veteran or a newbie.

Let’s look at some first steps all fashion entrepreneurs should take.

Establishing goals

First things first – what do you want to achieve? You might be bulk importing sportswear or creating bespoke knits, but without clear goals, you’ll end up going around in circles.

Set long and short-term goals. These can create a roadmap for both the immediate future and years down the line.

Specific – clear, focused and easy to grasp. Think about key questions like what you’re achieving, why it’s important, who’s involved and which resources you’ll use.
Measurable – will you be able to track the progress and success of your goal?
Achievable – is your goal realistic? Back up your ideas with data and case studies of other similar businesses.
Relevant – should you pursue this goal? Does it match your broader business objectives?
Time-bound – finally, does your goal have a time limit? Without one, the finish line might always feel out of reach.

Conducting research

Next, it’s time to explore the competition. What can you learn? How can you set yourself apart? Where do you fit in your industry?

Identifying a niche in the fashion industry is essential to creating a USP. You can conduct research by physically visiting different stores, or check out their website, social media and eCommerce platforms.

You can conduct both primary and secondary research.

Primary research includes direct research on your target market through surveys, focus groups and observation.
Secondary research uses existing data you might find in reports, publications and records.

Market research can help you answer key questions like:

  • Who are your potential customers?
  • What are they likely to pay?
  • What trends do they follow?
  • What’s the size of your target market?
  • How fierce is the competition?
  • Is your industry growing or shrinking?

Learn more about conducting market research.

Creating a business plan

A business plan groups your ideas into a formal plan. Business plans are important to keep your work on track – but can also help to secure investments, funding and stakeholder buy-in.

Done well, a business plan should clearly explain your business, objectives and strategy. It should include:

Company summary – introducing your brand and giving key details.
Key people involved in your business – including core staff and stakeholders.
Products and services – outline your consumer offering.
Market breakdown – what’s happening in your industry?
Key goals – what do you want to achieve with your venture?
Financial forecasts – how do you plan to turn a profit? How will your business grow?
Potential pitfalls – and how you plan to avoid them. Format this as a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats).

Target your business plan to its audience. Go heavy on the details if you’re looking for a bank loan but produce a more digestible version to use at networking events.

Creating a marketing plan

Once you’ve nailed the overall objectives of your brand in the business plan, it’s time to dig deeper into the market. Fashion is a competitive market – so finding a niche is essential.

A marketing plan can be helpful. Not only does it provide an overview of where you stand in your industry, it also provides a gameplan for going forward – from budgeting to growth.

As a starting point, you should include:

SWOT analysis – just like you did for a business plan but focused on marketing opportunities.
Market research – summarise market trends, key competitors and how you plan to reach your audience.
Buyer personas – after looking into your market, create a general representation of your customer. This could include their age, gender, locations or job title.
Primary and secondary research – including the key findings of your primary and secondary research.
Marketing goals – these are your guiding strategic marketing objectives. Be specific and go SMART.

Learn more about how to create a marketing strategy.

Taking payments

With your business and marketing planned, it’s almost showtime. But before you throw open the doors, you need to secure a payment system you can trust.

Square covers all bases for payments and invoices. What’s more, you can also use it for staff rotas and appointments.

Here are some key features that make Square tailor-made for fashion.

Retail POS– for in-store purchases, you can customise the Square POS system to fit your specific needs. It can manage your sales, inventory and records all from one place – great for managing the front and back end of the business.
Invoices – send digital invoices and receive payments with ease. Perfect if you’re selling clothes to trade clients.
Virtual Terminal – if you’re trading online, our virtual terminal is your perfect partner. Charge cards, record payments and speed up your checkout process.
Appointments – whether you’re schmoozing new clients, attending fashion shows or meeting suppliers, Square can help. Our scheduling software puts people first and helps you run your fashion business smoothly.

Ready to make a splash with your clothing business? By following the steps above, you can get the ball rolling in style. Whether you’re opening an indie boutique or dream of high street domination, Square is here to help. Start selling online or in-person today.

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