How to start a clothing brand in 2021
This guide explain how you can start your new clothing brand from scratch, how to expand, where to sell your garments and all the information you will need in your journey.
Before You Start / Expectations / Legal
The most important aspect you need to understand from the start is the time it takes before you can turn this hobby into a full time paying job.
We saw thousands of startups, and helped many of them with creating their first ever designs, and after seeing so many new clothing brands we can tell you the 3 biggest reasons why most of them failed: way too high expectations, lack of consistency and poor knowledge.
Due to one, or both of the above reasons, many new brands simply stop operating in the first year. With time and work everyone can expand and reach a high level of success, so be patient, consistent and don’t expect instant results.
Our best advice we can give you is to don’t expect very fast results, and don’t put high goals for yourself, this will only add stress and unnecessary frustration if you don’t reach your monthly goals. Learn as much as possible before you do any decisions.
How long will it take to start a clothing brand?
Usually any type of business takes around 3 years to be fully established, be known for the products they offer and have enough regular customers to be financially stable all year around. It is a time consuming task, you should know this before you fully commit.
However, there are many ways to start your clothing brand without investing a lot of money, this way you can see for yourself if this type of business is really for you, or you are only wasting your time and money.
The entire process is simply learning everything you don’t know about running a successful clothing brand. Consider your talent, what you can learn and do yourself, and if there are aspects which you cannot learn or do by yourself, then you can always outsource it to a company.
Legal aspect of your business:
Before you start ordering custom garments you have to consider how you will run your business. There are some legal aspects you should be aware of from the start.
You can only earn 1000£ a year from selling items online that are not being produced with intent of gaining profit. Those will be general items you find at home and sell on eBay for example. Since your business will produce stock, with the sole purpose of selling them online for a profit, you will have to declare all extra income and pay taxes.
Never just sell garments and hope that nobody notice the extra money in your account, the Government is keeping track of all your income, it was reported on GOV website that it can take even as long as 3 years for an individual to be questioned and charged taxes/penalties for not declared income.
Limited Company (Ltd)
A limited company is a separated entity from the owner, yourself. This means it will have its own bank account, taxes, income, name, tax return, record, location and every other information required to start a limited company.
We advice to hire an accountant to start your limited company, and to keep track of all your income and tax. Generally, you will pay a monthly fee for this service, prices can go from 70£ to 150£ a month, depending on who you hire and how much work you want them to do for you.
It can be very tricky and complicated at times, which is why is best to leave the paperwork to a professional, and drop all the stress and issues you would get by doing this yourself.
“Penalties for filing your tax returns wrong, or not paying the right amount, can be very high. Be aware of this if you wish to do the paperwork yourself”
Each limited company must have at lease 1 owner, or Director, which has to be self-employed. Once again, your accountant will deal with this on your behalf so you don’t have to worry about it, unless you wish to keep track of your own taxes.
In that case you can visit the GOV website to start your applications and to find all relevant information about Limited companies.
Pros & Cons
We will include only the main reasons why we advise you to make a Limited Company, since it would take too long to explain the entire process in this guide, besides, it’s much easier to meet with an accountant and have everything explained in person.
The main reason why we advise this option is safety, in the unfortunate case of bankruptcy, the company itself will be responsible for any outstanding debt. This means the creditors will not be able to chase you for the money owned to them since the company name was on all the paperwork.
This doesn’t mean you will walk away for free, a bankruptcy will have may negative effects on the director/owner and is something you should avoid at all costs.
For example, the bankruptcy will stay on your financial records forever, you will not be able to start a new limited company, and your credit score will be affected greatly.
To put it simply, everyone will know that you cannot be trusted with money.
- Director and company will be treated as 2 different entities
- Higher trust with other businesses and suppliers
- Often suppliers offer discounts for Companies
- Easy to manage finances and pay yourself salaries
- Lower taxes if managed properly, for this reason accountant recommended
- Can be easily sold in the future for possibly big profit
- Cost money to register a Limited company
- Accountant fees may apply, highly recommended
- A public record of the directors, business and records will be available online, including address
- Must have an UK address
Sole Trader / Self-employment
The main difference between a Limited company and being self-employed is that you are the business itself, if you become a sole trader.
This means, that you are responsible for all the same things that a Limited company has to worry about, minus some obvious things such as name registration. However, in case you fall behind on payments, the full responsibility of debt will fall on your shoulders.
Also, you still have to declare all your income and file a tax return every 12 months, so an accountant is still needed, unless you have a very good working knowledge of taxes.
Here are some of the most important pros and cons of being self-employed.
- Inexpensive, fast and easy way to start, simple online registration
- Since you are the business, it’s easier to keep track of expenses and income
- No personal details or record is kept online
- All profit is yours, less issues since you are in full control
- Business full responsibility is on your shoulders, this includes bankruptcy
- All debt is under your name, you can’t get away from it
- You still pay taxes on all income
- Most of the time still requires an accountant to deal with paperwork
- Less trust with suppliers and investors
- Cannot be sold as well as a Limited Company
- Many suppliers offer discounts to Limited Companies, not self-employment
Trademark Your Name:
Whether you are a Sole trader or a Limited Company, it is wise to Trademark your Brand name or Logo design, if you have a very unique one.
The cost for a trade mark is from 150£ to 200£ and you can easily do it yourself on the official website.
This is not something you have to do straight away, since the money can be better used for a lot of other things, instead consider this option after 1 year. Yes, someone could register your name and steal it from you, and this happens.
However, it is not hard to come up with a new name that is very similar to your original one. Simple move your accounts over to the new name, in case you don’t want to fight the person that stole your original idea.
We advise to make this investment only after 1 year because you simply don’t know yet how dedicated you are to this project. Instead of wasting money on a trademark, for something you might not even want anymore in 1 year, simply invest in other things and leave this choice for later.
There are few things to consider before you start making your first design, the best advice we can give you during this process is to always be original, let the brand reflect your ideas and style.
Never copy somebody else! Besides the obvious issue of copyright you will also face other problems such as lack of customers and low interest. Don’t try to be like the famous brands, if somebody is looking to buy a garment like Adidas, they will go directly to them, why would they buy a fake copy from you?
This is quite simple yet important, you should consider your style and try to reflect it in the brand name. Try to make it easy to remember, short and overall not complicated. Once you have the right name, do a google search and make sure it’s not already taken.
Another aspect you should try to include is how well it stands out, this will not be easy considering how many brands already exist, just do your best.
The same name can be used under different categories, meaning your name can be taken by a music band which is not a problem, however, if it’s taken by a garments company or clothing brand, you should not use it as it will be a big problem once you gain popularity.
The Look And Feel:
When making your designs always keep in mind the entire feel of your brand, do not jump from black skulls to pink unicorns, your customers will not appreciate it. Decide on one style and stick to it.
Doing so will also earn you more money simply because a returning customer will only buy garments with the original black skull design and will not be interested in your new pink unicorn products.
It is very important to create a logo that can be easily remembered, recognised and stand out from the competition. When you build trust with your customers, your Logo gains value and recognition, this way everyone will know that products with your Logo on will have the same quality as all the other clothes they bought from you before.
Think about the biggest clothing brands, just the presence of the classic 3 white lines on the trousers or the Adidas Logo will reassure you that you are about to purchase good quality products, often this alone is enough between deciding if you will buy that product or not.
You can read this guide we made on: How to create a t-shirt design, to get more information and tips to help you create the right logo.
Same as with the Logo and general feel of your brand, you should decide on few colours you always use for your brand, include them in your Logo design and most of your product features and website.
You can use many different shades of the same Brand colours and add several different one in each product, however the general feel and look should always stay the same. This does not mean all your clothes have to be made looking the same, all we are trying to say is to keep it somewhat consistent.
Be known for doing a few things well, and not everything but at a low standard.
It can take a long time to find the right product for your brand, start simple and build your way up to expensive fancy garments over time, a simple t-shirt will do. Ask your DTG Print Shop as they will be able to advise you and provide the right garments based on your needs. Never go for cheap quality, there are lots of medium to high quality garments that are perfect for all types of clothing brands.
You can check out this Guide we made: Best Garments For T-shirt Printing
There will be time for adding custom inside labels, sleeve designs and tags. To start all you need is a single design on a garment. All additional services or prints will cost you more money and are not needed on the beginning so, keep it simple.
Find The Right Print Shop:
There are several ways of decorating garments, however only Direct to garment (DTG) will give you a good start for your clothing brand. This is the only style of printing capable of producing small amounts of garments, even single once, at a low cost.
There are no setup cost or limit to amount of colours you can use, which makes DTG the ideal solution for new brands. You can Click Here to get in touch with us and have your first t-shirt printed.
The Right Tools:
We advise to use a free image manipulation software called GIMP. There are many programs and apps on the internet that help you create a design, however they will all require a payment in order for you to download a hi resolution version needed for printing.
Since it costs money to improve low quality images, is best to create everything with a totally free software. Gimp is very famous and YouTube is full of tutorials and guides on pretty much anything you wish to learn or make.
Remember to create your artwork without the background and to save it using the right file type. We wrote a handy guide on this subject if you want to know more. Remove background from any design.
The last step is contacting your print shop and ordering a sample. Like the name suggest, this is a single printed garment for you to check the overall quality of your finished product before placing a big order ready to be advertised and sold online.
This is also why Direct to garment is ideal for new brands, other printing techniques such as screen printing have high setup cost which could result in your sample costing more than 200£. When DTG will cost you around 25£ depending on the design and garment quality. Prices drop drastically when you order bigger amounts of t-shirts.
It might seem like this part is easy, however a lot of our customers get it wrong from the beginning. The idea that you want to make as much money as possible from the start is wrong, at least in the beginning, simply because you do not have an established Brand to sell yet.
Yes, the obvious idea is to charge more than the production of the garment costs you, this includes sampling, delivery, your time, software you had to buy, website costs and any other costs you might have. However the price should be a positive selling point until people get to know your quality.
Build trust with your customers first, then change your pricing structure, this way you will get sells because your customers know the quality and what they are paying for. This process is long however, very important, so be patient.
You can have low and high selling prices for different products, this way you keep attracting new customer and spreading your Brand name while still making a bigger profit from some sells.
Free Advertisement and Paid
Once you have your first sample it is time to advertise your product and brand. We will only mention some of the ways you can gain customers and focus more on the free versions of expanding your clothing brand and only mention some paid once. Most people cannot afford to invest thousands in expanding so we will focus on the cheapest options you can use.
This is quite obvious and the most important way to start. You will gain reputation in the form of followers, likes and shares.
With Billions of visitors each month, and free to join, you have to register your business with all the major Social Media platforms.
- Facebook – 2.3 Billions
- YouTube – 2 Billions
- Instagram – 1 Billions
- Pinterest – 459 Millions
- Twitter – 353 Millions
Once you have created an eye catching post, it really doesn’t take much effort to share it across all platforms, and would be a waste not to do so.
In 2021 the most important one is Facebook and Instagram. For all Social Media, being consistent with uploads is key. Make a schedule and try to release pictures showcasing your products ideally 2-3 times a week, however you can start with just 1 picture per week and work your way up.
Do not release 20 posts all at once and then disappear for 2 months, social media platforms will drop you lower in the search because of inactivity and your followers will forget about your brand after a few hours, be consistent.
Social Media users typically act in a fast and lazy type. They will find and check your page quickly, and forget about it just as fast. This is the reason you need to keep uploading, to keep showing up on their search and eventually be remembered.
You do not have to focus on showing the design only, try and attract people to your style and creativity, not just the product itself. Your goal is to gain followers, not sales.
There is no need to spam “BUY NOW“, nobody like to be pushed to purchase a product, you will only annoy your customer base. Simply remind them, in a nice way, that your products are for sale in a non invasive way, such as: “Why not get one yourself” or “Grab yours on our website”
Give them a reason to visit your social media page other than buying your garments. People only visit the shop pages when they need to buy something. This is not good enough for any clothing brand since you will not grow much this way.
Passion for cars? Include them in the background of your models, with some information about them too, not just your brand. Based in a big city? Help your customers discover new and cool places by taking pictures and sharing the location.
This is not necessary in the very beginning, however, it does make your brand stand out and look more professional, besides the obvious fact that is much easier to collect payments online instead of dealing with each customer individually.
All websites will cost money on a monthly basis, some let you create your own via a drag and drop platform (like the website you are currently on), others provide you with a ready template you just need to fill in with your information.
Both options are good, Drag and drop websites take some time to learn however they help you create just about anything you want. If you wish to take your time and learn more about this option then search for WordPress host. There are many providers, we suggest to go with Siteground. Those are the companies that will host your WordPress website for a small monthly fee.
The other option, which we recommend, is faster and easier. Sign up for a website provider, such as Wix which let you chose from thousands of already made templates ready to be simply filled in and used.
Paid ads are not something you should consider until you have enough knowledge about running your website and enough products for this option to be worth using. It also takes time to learn, so you should only consider this when the time is right.
Start your Google Ads account and add Keywords, set your budget and start advertising, Google makes it very simple and fast to “start wasting your money”. Is this accessibility that makes most people jump straight into it, and only later cry, because they got nothing for 200£ worth of Ads.
Just because you spend 200£, it doesn’t mean you will get a big return in profit or brand awareness, you could get nothing back if done wrong. We suggest doing research about running Ads before investing your money.
In case you chose to invest in Google Ads, then we have a few tips for you.
The most important aspect about running Ads is not finding people to click on them, Google is very good at finding customers and taking your money for each click. The hard part comes when you only want the right people to click on your Ads.
To help you sort the type of people that click on your Ads, google provides you with a very good tool called: Negative Keyword List. This is simply a list of phrases and single words you don’t want to show up for.
Take our example in the picture above. We are a t-shirt printing company. We advertised for Keywords such as: T-shirt printing and Custom T-shirts. In the highlighted box (smallest arrow) you can see a list with the exact words, people typed in Google to find our campaign.
One of the words was: tshirt printing. This is fine, however, we also showed up on the search for the words: Design app for Android.
We got charged money when this person clicked on our advertisement, which did not result in a purchase since this person was looking for an App, and not a print shop. Google is very smart, however, you have to teach the system what you are looking for, this takes a bit of time.
By hovering over the phrase, (Big arrow) we are given the option to add the words to the Keywords list or Negative Keywords List. In this case we added the word “App” to the negative list, since we don’t need to show up for this word.
Follow the next 4 tips to avoid major disappointments.
Start: Try to only spend 2-3£ daily, for the first week. This is because your campaign will need to be improved in the beginning, and there is no point wasting money for the wrong customers. Start slow and monitor your results daily and work on the next 3 steps.
Keywords: This list of words will tell Google how you want to be found, which words you want people to google in order for your Ads to show up. If you are selling garments with a printed tiger, and your design is colourful, then the best bet would be: Tiger T-shirts, Colourful T-shirt design, Colourful animal designs.
Negative Keywords: Next step is to let Google know which variations or words you don’t want to be found with. In the tiger example would be: Buy cheap t-shirts, make a t-shirt design, second hand clothing, free t-shirts, buy hoodies (in case you only sell t-shirts) and so on.
Keep monitoring the words used by people to find you, and let Google know which one are right, and which one you want to avoid. Keep doing this everyday, and don’t invest your money until you see only the right customers clicking on your Ads.
Words you would probably need to include are: Free, Cheap, Bargain, Adidas, Amazon, Low Cost and so on. Check this link for a list of 1500+ ideas.
Time and day: In your account you will also find options to choose which days of the week you want to focus on, and the exact time. This can take some time to guess when people shop the most, however, the general idea would be for your campaign to don’t run at night. You can also remove 9am (start of work) or Monday morning all together.
This really depends on the type of customers you have. Your google account will eventually have enough data to show you what time people click the most on your Ads, and when they buy the most. This way you can adjust accordingly.
Also, avoid 3rd party Google members, those are random websites that make money from allowing Google to post Ads on their websites. Nobody ever clicks on them, if they do, it will be by mistake.
How And Where To Expand
Once you have the basics worked out, it will be time to start expanding in new ways, here is a few ideas to keep your customers coming back for more and to keep expanding your clothing brand name.
When creating content, quality over quantity is very important. You don’t have to start with a professional photographer, however, it will eventually become a must have for your brand. Often a different techniques will give you an edge.
Consider looking for a professional photographer, even if you think you might not need it, and book a session to take pictures of all your products. Remember to release them on your social media accounts over time, not all at once.
Is best to release one good picture instead of 100 bad once. People will never share a mediocre picture with no imagination or work put into it. Internet is full of bad images. Take professional pictures for your clothing brand and stand out from the competition.
Releasing new designs is a good way of expanding your reach and keeping your existing customers interested in your clothing brand.
Not only you will give more options to your customers, this way you will also have more material to work with. Is essential to have new pictures and posts to release without being repetitive.
This is why you have to start your brand with Direct to garment (DTG), it is the only way you can keep creating and releasing new designs without a huge investment or risk.
If you create your own artwork, or have a way to make new images without having to pay for them, then adding new products will only cost you around 22£ each time. Sampling is not very expensive, if you make your own designs, which is why we advices you to spend some time and learn an image manipulating software.
The only other thing you need is great pictures to showcase on your social media. In a single professional photoshoot session you can take pictures of as many different designs as you want. This is an ideal way to keep costs down and release new products whenever you want.
Sales and Special Offers:
Many Clothing Brands will fail to expand because they want to make a profit, as much as possible, and today. What is the point of spending hours of your time, working on new designs, if you don’t get paid, right?
Wrong, totally wrong.
It is 100 times better to sell 5 garments and only make 5£ from each sale, instead of selling a single t-shirt for 25£ profit. The idea behind this is simple, more sales will spread your name a lot faster. The lower prices will also not go unnoticed.
More people will be wearing your garments and advertising it for you “free of charge”. Is better to have 5 people talking about how good and affordable your clothing brand is, instead of 1 person saying that he spend a lot of money for a single t-shirt.
Even if that single expensive t-shirt is very good, not everyone can afford it, or even want to spend a high price for a t-shirt.
This is why sales, releasing few affordable garments and offering great deals are very good ideas. Even if your profit will not be high, the amount of new followers and positive word of mouth your clothing brand will receive makes it totally worth it.
Customers that buy a piece of your clothing, for a great price, are more likely to come back. They are also more likely to point a friend in your direction.
Think about it, when was the last time you went back to a shop that offered great deals and decent prices for a good product? And when was the last time you went back to a shop because they offer expensive prices?
People are always looking for a good deal, give them one.
Understand Your Customers:
This part can be quite complicated, so we will try to make it as simple as possible. The end goal of all clothing brands is to gain brand awareness and sales. You can achieve this goal by creating products and selling them online, but how do you know that your customers will buy them?
Being creative and unique is one thing you can always keep in mind. The other aspect is your customers and what they like and dislike. Who are they and what do they buy online?
Here are some basic things you can track during your sales:
- Where they live
- Interests, like the type of music they listen to
- Income. Mostly students or working class?
- General attitude in life
Big companies will focus on 100 different aspects, but they have someone working full time just on this research. For you, it’s enough to focus on the basics.
Are you selling to mostly young customers? Then do some research and find out what young people wear, what type of colours they prefer or style.
Are a majority of your clients from London? Then test this out. Add the word LONDON in your design or create an entire artwork based on the city. This will give you a boost by connecting with them instantly since they are part of the same city.
Do you sell to students? What do they all have in common? Is very hard to find one thing to link all of your customers, actually it’s impossible. However, we can safely assume that most of the students have no money since they don’t work yet, incorporate this in your work.
I believe you get the idea, but how do you keep track of this?
Well, ask them. Keep your customers engaged by running pools on social media. How many of you are from LONDON? Let us know in the comment below. Engage with your followers on social media and keep track of the basic information you can gather.
Once you gain enough followers you can start looking at which product attracts more attention, sells more and why. This is how you can understand the direction you should take with your creativity.
Try asking your followers, which design they liked more and keep track of your sales. Understand what the top selling products have in common. If your London design is number one, it’s safe to assume that most of your followers have something to do with that city.
If your light pink colour is selling more, then is very safe to assume you mostly sell to women, probably of young age.
Expand Your products:
After a while you will reach the time to start adding new types of products such as: bottoms, hats, long sleeve garments and even bags. It is a good idea to create sets, selling Hoodies and bottoms together as a track suit set. Hats, t-shirts and shorts for a summer set.
There are many ideas you can add with time, you can even try to ask your followers, which new release they would like to see next in your shop. We are not only talking about adding hats or bags, but also different styles of decorating your garments such as:
- Reflective Ink
- Rhinestones Crystals
- Gold Ink
This way you keep your active followers interested and, at the same time, you gain new once.
If you have a design that is selling very well, you can try to remake it with embroidery on hats instead, giving your customers another option to choose from. Also adding your best selling design to entire sets can be a good idea.
Variations in the design itself is also a very good way to keep introducing new products in your shop. Mix the colours in your artwork, and try them on different colour garments, there are a lot of different combinations you can come up with.
Videos have a much higher engagement rate than images, they will give you more brand awareness and will add something new to your profiles.
YouTube is the obvious platform to start uploading your videos, however, all other social media platforms also give you the opportunity to upload them. Share your content in as many ways and places as possible, more the better.
We saw a start up brand, with 1200 followers on Instagram, gain over 600 followers in just 24 hours of releasing a single video. Considering this was a new clothing brand, the jump in followers was massive and worth the money they spend to create the video.
Host Local Events:
Consider your local area, there are always events running or opportunities to showcase your brand and gain more exposure. It all starts locally, for all businesses.
You want people to be talking about your Brand, what you are doing, and sharing this information with others. Word of mouth is the most powerful way to gain new customers and opportunities.
Besides the obvious sells, this is a very good way to find other people that are involved in similar projects, for possible collaborations. You never know who will be the next person to see your clothing brand, and what they can do for you.
Being local makes it a lot easier to approach someone, perhaps you have a friend in common, or you even know the person. Do not focus on becoming global when you have more opportunities to grow your clothing brand locally, you just don’t know about them yet.
Be Relevant To The Times:
Creating products for events happening around the world, such as Black lives matter movement or even Covid-19 pandemic is a good way of gaining new customers. Show your support in form of cheaper custom garments that show your dedication to the right cause.
This is not just a way to make more money. The most important thing you get out of selling a lot of low cost garments is brand awareness.
If someone owns a piece of clothing that you made, they are more likely to visit your social media pages or website often. The Second advantage is free advertisement by wearing your garments.
Collaboration And Free Samples:
Don’t think that you are the only person that is looking for ways to expand. After a while, people will try to reach out to you with ideas and propositions.
Collaborations are very good between similar brands and artists, and beneficial for both parties. However, you should target the right social media influencers.
What do we mean by this?
Consider this case: you have 1200 followers and you are asking an artist with 276.000 followers to collaborate and share each others work. Which person will gain more out of this collaboration?
Only contact people with similar quantity of followers, so you both gain equal exposure from the collaboration. The only time you should approach a social media influencer, with a lot more followers than your brand, is when you know the person or have a valid reason why they should help you.
Considering the huge difference in followers, is hard to call this a collaboration, but rather them helping you to gain exposure.
The second biggest aspect to keep in mind is the style and feel of the artist/brand you want to approach. Would they wear your garments if you didn’t ask them to? Does it fit the person and their social media page?
Only approach similar artists to your clothing brand for a much higher level of success.
We are a Direct to garment print shop located in London, if you have any questions, need advice, or wish to have your garments printed by us, you can use this Quick Contact Form Link.