10 proven tips on starting a successful fashion brand

By Apparelmark

March 5, 2024

Services idea for startups and new clothing brands
When it comes to building fashion brands from scratch the team at Apparelmark are champions of the sport. Since 2015 we been working with fashion entrepreneurs all over the world in helping shaping their creative dreams into successful apparel businesses. Our team has paid particular attention to our highest performing accounts and are excited to share some actionable, direct and effective tips for anyone who is interested in the business of fashion.

Step 1

Start with the WHY, not the WHAT

Reflect on all the possible ways you can spend your hard earned savings/investment dollars and ask your self “WHY” commit to fashion venture over any other business opportunity.

As someone who is starting a fashion brand whether you are an experienced entrepreneur or just diving into the space of running your own business one thing remains true: you need to have your elevator pitch on the subject of WHY are you starting a fashion brand. You should be able to walk into a room anywhere with anyone in the world and in 5 sentences or less explain to them clearly and definitively WHY you started your brand and WHY you feel it has a chance to succeed.

Step 2

Check with your friends and your close network first if you are on to something

Validate your idea by speaking with others and gather feedback from a variety of sources.

Having an opinion of our closest network stands as a way to validate our dreams or to make us re-imagine our approach as you embark on a very serious journey of becoming a fashionprenuer. Have a chance to practice your pitch to your internal circle and see the types of feedback you gather, the types of concerns they may have, the types of questions they raise and see if your idea needs to pivot to address their interests. If you have enough people telling you that you are ‘on to something” then it is time to talk to an expert on what happens next.

“Having an idea is not enough, ideas are a dime a dozen but execution is everything in this business.“

– Cara Sumpton (Apparelmark, Founder)

Step 3

Consult with a credible expert in the fashion space on how to bring your collection to life

Having an experienced mentor is an invaluable asset in your journey through the fashion world.

Before committing any further time, money or energy to your idea book an appointment with a fashion expert of your choice to understand your options and the process behind building a successful fashion brand. Our team at Apparelmark offers a free consult for specifically this reason and are happy to accommodate your preferred appointment time.
Some of the most commonly addressed topics during this phase include:
  • Have you landed on a brand name?
  • Have you looked into securing digital assets such as URL, IG name, Corporate Name?
  • Have you considered your branding elements (logo, colors, etc)
  • Are you aligned on the type of garments you want to make?
  • Do you a plan for raising capital or securing an appropriate budget for the brand?
  • Are you clear on the number of styles you want to make?
  • Have you considered the # of units you may need?
  • Have you thought through your sales and distribution strategy?

The more prepared you are with your business plan the smoother the path to success as your assembled team can get to executing the steps right away with clear direction and clarity.

How to build a successful fashion brand tip 1

Step 4

Get very clear on the process behind building a fashion garment and key steps involved

Time is money, by having a core understanding of the apparel garment life cycle can be crucial to the success of your business venture.

The more aware you are of what it takes to take an idea, a dream or a possibility of a conceptualized garment through digital design, material sourcing, techpack building, vendor enrollment, prototyping and production management the easier you can make a call on which stages you need most help in.

At Apparelmark we offer services that directly compliment any fashion start-up process with the following deliverables:
  • Hand Draw & Digital sketches of every style in the collection
  • Comprehensive material and trim sourcing round
  • Complete Technical Package creation (CADs, BOMs, Grade Chart, Pre-Fit)
  • Vendor selection and placement
  • Prototyping and sampling creation
  • Pre-Production review and P.O. negotiations
  • Labels, care tags + post-production planning

Once you are clear on the steps now it is time to decide on who you plan to handle each of the steps above.

“Having a mentor in the fashion space is imperative to a smoother ride in the industry. “

– Andrew Drigola (Apparelmark, Director)

Step 5

Contract out roles that you feel would move the needle the most, do the rest your self

Try to draw from your own skill set to determine what areas of the business you can make the biggest impact in and which ones you need to hire for.

Your biggest asset as a budding entrepreneur is and always will be your time, anything and everything you can do to save time during your brand establishment stage is critical for a number of reasons. First it helps you assess what areas you can maximize in for the lowest opportunity cost, second it helps move your idea to market at a steady pace allowing you to stay ahead of potential competitors, third it allows for the type of attention to quality and credibility that comes with hiring the right people for each task to move the needle forward.

Over the years we heard many client stories of how they started out their brand trying to do everything on their own: they bought HTML books from Costco to learn web site development, they watched Youtube videos on design, they attended trade shows for fabric, they practiced technical sketches on their computer, they attempted to sew their own prototypes and took chances with unverified vendors. They felt it was their duty to attempt to learn every process along the way by doing everything on their own and not realizing the opportunity costs associated with each and every step – ultimately causing them to realize this was the least efficient way to build a thriving company.

How to build a successful fashion brand tip 2
The key here is to recognize your own strengths and even more so zero in on the areas you would need expert consulting and work in to produce the type of quality work you can stand behind as a functioning brand. In the world of fashion, contracting out for freelance design, development, production management and material sourcing are key areas of focus for many startup brands.

Step 6

Focus on the goal of creating a beautiful, market viable prototype for each style

Work with a professional agency to design, develop, and prototype your collection to an optimum state.

By working with a contract fashion design agency like Apparelmark you help reduce risk in all areas of the project when it comes down to industry leading design, material sourcing, techpack construction and vendor placement. Each step in the apparel product cycle is heavily dependant on the previous component being executed correctly as each step in the process are linked in a flowing chain of development. The goal of any successful fashion brand is to physically develop and produce a collection as close to the ideal vision as possible to ensure that end consumers are getting an accurate representation of the feel and the vibe of your brand.

This means that specific attention needs to be placed on the entirety of the process, from the design elements, to the materials sourced, to the techpack construction, to the type of vendor selected all the way through multiple rounds of prototyping until you are confident that the product is ready to be placed on market. (Tip, takes about 6 months to get here).

“The key is to prototype your product with the same vendor who will be doing your bulk production, you want to enroll them as early in the process as possible. “

– Clarissa Gallaccio (Apparelmark, Designer)

Step 7

Understand what drives the numbers behind the brand from dollar amounts to inventory counts

Brands that strategically allocate funds to proper channels will always be ahead of the competition.

By the time you are several months into your collection you will come to realize that building any business requires capital, how you go about A) securing that capital and B) how you allocate those funds will be a huge determining factor in your success. As with any investment there are always risks involved, you can minimize those risks by working with a credible freelance design agency but you should always have a keen understanding of the numbers in the fashion space. Here is a rough break down of the things to know:

  • Know your origin unit price ($/unit) at factory source
  • Look into the duty rate % and/or duty $ cost per unit for each garment for export purposes
  • Look into freight costs associated with various shipment sizes from different countries
  • Understand the MOQ (minimum commitment quantities) for your collection and how they are derived
  • Understand the difference between fabric minimums and production minimums
  • Look into packaging costs and shipping costs to your end customer
  • Have a clear budget set aside for website development and optimization
  • Have a clear budget for your initiate photoshoot and product placement
  • Have a clear goal for your launch strategy and how you plan to maximize your impact
  • Marketing, PR, Digital Ad Spend and SEO are all completely different costs and having a core understanding of each segment is of significant value
  • Have an excel sheet with optimistic, pessimistic and expected sales figures to review budgets
Costing and Strategy Experts

Step 8

Review your sales channels and have a clear idea of your distribution options

Try to use research and surveys to appropriate the right channels for your audience.

Now that you have a beautiful product created through a credible freelance design agency your next priority will be on creating a scalable sales funnel. Running a brand requires strategic direction from you as the owner and there are several ways that you can go about selling your product. Let’s look at some of the options available to you:

Whole-sale (20-30% margins from your landed costs)
  • Research independent boutiques in your specific market segment and book a meeting with the owners to show case your products and pitch them on a buying plan
  • Attend industry trade shows and carry your product with you hitting up individual booths (or should funds permit have your own booth in appropriate shows to get wholesale orders
  • Contact online selling sites like https://carbon38.com to try to get picked up by them
  • Approach larger retailers in your market and see if they are willing to collaborate with you or pick up your collection
  • Approach businesses that operate outside fashion but directly supporting your target market to see if they are willing to carry your products as apparel
Direct to Consumer (40-60%+ margins)
  • Build out a functional, easy to navigate and well designed website (Shopify, or other platform)
  • Ensure the site has appropriate plug ins (save to cart, abandoned cart, easy shipping etc)
  • Ensure your site has been populated with the right content, pictures and prices
  • Ensure that your site has been vetted by a SEO specialist or plug in like https://yoast.com/
  • Dedicate funds towards Google Ads using keywords strategy
  • Dedicate funds towards Facebook/Instagram ads (need content write up + imagery)
  • Dedicate funds towards influencer campaign (independent, micro or strategic)
  • Dedicate funds towards PR as needed (this is different than marketing)

“Most of our leading brand owners do not take money out of the business until well into their 3rd year, you want to be putting everything you have back into the brand to keep it growing. “

– Andrew Drigola (Apparelmark, Director)

Step 9

Be ready to pivot on the fly, carefully review customer feedback & performing sales channels

Keep highly convertible sales channels and focus on customer experience.

This stage is all about connecting with your customers and carefully reviewing your incoming sales data. Once customers start buying they will be vocal about things they like, don’t like, colors they want, don’t want etc, the key is to be decisive on your customer needs and action off a plan of execution.

Get help starting your fashion brand

Taking data from your customers and applying them to your sales funnels will become a crucial way to tighten your marketing budgets and the overall cost per/customer acquisition. To do this effectively we advise to look into hiring a reputable media buyer who has direct experience in the field of your choice (i.e. fashion). This individual will be responsible for working together with you to create, manage, review and optimize digital sales campaigns to convert the highest number of customers to your site. Having a basic understanding of how online sales channels work, what different lingo means for online advertisement, what the expected dollar spends are and how to optimize your sales channels is highly encouraged for any brand owner serious about growing their online business.

Step 10

Reflect on the business success and decide if you want to double down or close down

First 6 months will be a great indicator if your product is a hit with the market.

As you start selling it will become apparent within a few months of how well the market is receiving your idea. Reflecting on the feedback you will have a clear insight into what is working and what is not – is it the product that needs tweeking, is your marketing channels that need tweeking, is it that you need to dedicate more time to your brand, is it the fact that your pricing is too high or too low etc.

Review the snap-shot of the business and decide if it achieved even the most “pessimistic” sales output you decided back in Step 7, as long as there is encouraging growth in the sales process you should consider doubling down on the opportunity to keep it going. Alternatively, if you aren’t seeing the type of success that you hoped you should always consider cutting your losses and starting fresh, for many brands the experience of getting started, going through the stages and testing the waters is well worth the journey even if it doesn’t succeed on the first try.

Now that you have done your preliminary research, the next step is to engage with a plan of action and to talk to someone who can answer any further questions you may have.

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