Starting a Clothing Brand - A Beginner's Guide (from a beginner)

If you've made it this far, you may have noticed that I've started my own clothing brand. Yes, it is very small. And yes, you should probably be listening to Virgil Abloh or Bobby Hundreds speak about their (very successful) experiences. But I thought it would be useful for some people out there to hear from someone who has only just got their foot in the door, and how to get to this point a LOT quicker! Here, I'll discuss the mechanical logistics and costs of a project like this, the designing process, and how to market the brand to the world and its pet.

Your New Hobby

But before that, I think the first question you have to ask yourself is whether you're truly going to enjoy the process, or perhaps ask how badly you really want to pursue your new project. This is because this is probably the ONE thing you need to eventually be successful with your endeavours - it doesn't matter how many guides, tutorials and tips & tricks pages you look at, you will face situations where things won't go exactly as planned. You're going to need to summon a bit of grit when your sales don't match expectations, when your designs aren't as genius or original as you thought they were, or perhaps when you're combing your website theme code for that DAMN MISSING BRACKET. Of course, it's not actually all crushing blows to the morale and missing brackets - the point is, this should be your hobby, not a chore. So even when disappointments arise, you are immediately thinking of a solution, thinking of how you can do better next time, and NOT thinking of whether to quit or not.

With the knowledge that you're going to enjoy the process, and that you're not stopping until your project is where you want it to be, it's guaranteed that your vision will be realised! The rest is just being smart about how you go about your journey.

Logistics and Budgeting

SO. You know that this is what you want to spend your precious time doing. The first thing that I would imagine you have in your head is the big idea. You have a vague vision of what you want to create, of the gap in the market where you see your vision filling. But before putting any serious time and effort into designing, it's a good idea to roughly plan out the logistics of how everything will work, so you have a plan when you make that killer design that people want to own! A rough idea of how much it'll all cost is also good, so you don't end up with unexpected costs later on down the road.

∞ Manufacturing

Arguably the most important thing to consider - every other point you can learn from here will be useless if you can't offer a quality product that you can afford to make. There are a few main methods to choose from when it comes to actually getting your garments made.

- Screen Printing

The 'classic' method of manufacturing a new product. Screen Printing is a method of printing onto fabric that is high quality, and relatively cheap - but when ordering screen printed goods, there is always a minimum order. This means that if you wanted to create a new t-shirt, you would normally have to buy at least 30 t-shirts upfront, resulting in you having to hold stock. Screen Printers normally offer printing options. You could easily have the sleeves of a long sleeve tee, jackets and bags screen printed.

If you have a good following and know that people are going to buy your product, then this method is well suited as the print is high quality, flexible, and cheaper. The risk is slightly higher, especially for new brands, as if for some reason no-one bought your "I ♥︎ TRUMP" tee, you now have hundreds of pounds worth of tshirt that no-one wants to buy.

You can find Screen Printers online, but it's usually a good show to support your local Screen Printing shop. Not only are you helping out in your own community, but you can actually go visit them - talk to them about exactly what you want, and maybe even film a segment to engage and build trust with your customers that your products are high quality.

- Dropshipping

The lowest risk method of getting your clothes made is by using a Dropshipping company to create your t-shirts. They work by offering to print one-off garments the instant an order comes in, and then shipping them straight to your customer, meaning that unlike Screen Printing, you don't have to hold any stock.

These companies usually use DTG (Direct To Garment) printing. A quick google will inform you that Screen Printing is superior, offering sharper colours, higher quality and durability. This is true for most DTG printers, but modern DTG printers offer prints that are very competitive, with crisp colours and good durability.

This is a great choice for a very new and small brand, because you hold no risk when creating a new product. This is because you won't have to buy 50-odd t-shirts, but instead just upload your designs for the drop shipping company to use.

- Cut and Sew

This method is where you use a manufacturer (often overseas) to create completely custom garments, where you can experiment with different fits and fabrics. I'm not going to pretend I know how to best go about this process, because I haven't considered using this method just yet. This is because there are large minimum orders, and so creating a new product

is very expensive. This method is best suited to brand that have successfully sold products using the previous two methods, built hype and a loyal following, and want to take their brands to the next level.

(I should add that creating your own one-off DIY pieces can be a great alternative for a start up, where you can have the freedom to create pretty much anything you want with no large upfront fee!)

- A Note on Distribution

If you don't opt for the Dropshipping method, then you'll have to distribute your clothes yourself! This means buying/designing packaging, physically holding piles of clothes in your room and mailing them to customers. The main things to take from this are that you'll be sacrificing much more time to accommodate this, but you'll have much more control over presenting your products, having opportunity to create cool custom packaging bags, and packing things like stickers and hand-written notes that really make your brand stand out.

Also, this will add to the much higher upfront cost that you incur when not using Dropshipping. As mentioned before, the risk of paying a high upfront cost is rewarded with higher profit margins and more creative control if you know your clothes are going to sell!

∞ Sales Channels

Now you know how your products are getting made, the next thing to consider is how you're going to sell them. It goes without saying that you want to utilise the internet, because of the massive reach that it commands and how easy and cheap it is to set up.

I would definitely argue that this is the best way to go about selling your clothes. It immediately sets a more professional tone, immediately building trust with your customer that you're running a legitimate operation. Also, a website is a blank canvas, a central hub, an opportunity for you to really put across what your brands about (More about how you can do this in the Marketing section!).

Unless you happen to be a computer scientist, building an online store using an e-commerce template will probably be the best way to get a sleek, professional website up and running. Companies like Shopify, Big Cartel and Squarespace are your best bets, and provided you have everything planned, you can create a slick website in no more than a day. Personally, I used Shopify, because of their professional website templates and extensive support services. These companies also offer integration with social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, which can extremely powerful tools to generate sales. If you do happen to be able to code, then by all means create your own website! A unique and tasteful website can be reason enough to get people to believe in your brand.

When using a website template, usually you'll have to pay a monthly fee of no more than £20, and some take a tiny commission from your sales (usually around 2%). Another cost can be buying your own custom domain, which varies depending on how common the name is. For example, www.badhandclothing.xyz would be about £10 a year, compared to www.badhand.com, which can cost upwards of £1000!

To avoid these costs, you can also sell on marketplaces such as Etsy and Ebay, which are super easy to set up and have large audiences on their platforms. However, especially when creating a clothing brand, I think it's impossible to discount the importance of communicating that brand to the world, and having a website where your vision is physically realised is so effective at getting people to buy into your vision. I think that these platforms are best used in conjuncture with your own online store.

Designing

Now you know that your project is actually viable no matter what your budget, you can start getting your vision down on paper! The designing is definitely the fun part for me, and I'm sure a love for creating, designing and letting your imagination loose is a major reason why you knew this could be your new hobby, and not a chore!

As fun as it is, there is definitely a smart way to approach the design process. I'll talk about some of the tips that I've learned from the year I've spent before this trying to create brands the dumb way.

∞ Software

To put your designs on clothes, you're going to have to digitise them into a vector format (png files, for example), so that they can be scaled up with no loss of quality. Also, to create mockups of products and advertising material, a photo editing software is essential. It's very easy to jump to the conclusion that you have no choice but to fork out hundreds of pounds a year for the Adobe package to get your hands on Illustarctor and Photoshop. There's no denying, they are very powerful and sophisticated tools that industry professionals use. But it's not the only option.

Open source software can do the job just as well, and they are FREE. I use Inkscape in place of Illustrator, and GIMP instead of Photoshop, and I couldn't recommend them highly enough. They are easy to use, and have extensive support and tutorials to utilise when you get stuck. You really don't have to shell out on fancy software and equipment to make high quality designs! For example, in my case, I will sketch my ideas out on paper, and then carefully draw out a 'final' version in ink. With my phone camera, I'll capture it, import the photo to Inkscape, and then it will automatically trace my sketch and turn it into vector form. After a little touch up, and adding colour, I have my vectorised design!

∞ Immersing yourself and Research

This step really gave me a solid base to work from when creating new designs. Before you set pen to paper, spend a good amount of time immersing yourself in the cultures that are relevant to your brand. Research art that interests you, brands that inspire you, and really get a good understanding of then context in which your brand will sit. If you can, get involved with the communities that your brand will represent, or perhaps appeal to. For me, this involved having a crash course on different art movements, like Surrealism, Renaissance and Contemporary art. I tried to immerse myself in the Streetwear culture, getting involved with relevant communities on Reddit, and listening to the stories of people who had successfully started streetwear brands (See the two videos linked at the beginning!).

This is important for two reasons. Firstly, you get inspired from other people's work, and you'll understand the 'rules' of the context that you're working within. I find this important as you get a clearer understanding of how to break them and find originality in your own work. Secondly, you'll know what's already been done by other people. This means you won't have that awful moment of discovering that after months of finalising your ideas, you discover someone else has already thought of it! Again, you'll be more equipped to create original and unique designs.

∞ "Design DNA" and Originality

This point was something that Virgil discussed in the lecture that I linked at the start, and it really resonated with me. Virgil Abloh is a renowned creative director, and as well as being the owner of Off White, has designed and worked in fields ranging from film, music and has even designed furniture for IKEA.

He talks of an exercise where he tries to describe his "Design DNA" - to find the unique characteristics to his work that are consistent across every field, the fundamental traits of his designs that are always present in whatever he makes. For example, in his case, he identifies a use of irony that is often communicated through "quotes", a "work in progress" mentality that avoids being trapped in perfectionism; both of which communicate a theme of humanity.

It takes a good amount of time to figure this out, but try to find your own DNA. Firstly, it makes it very clear to you what will be unique about your brand, what will make it recognisable in the vast swathes of competing brands. You will be less likely to find yourself trying to just imitate a current trend or popular style, rather than creating something that's true to yourself. Again, this is an exercise that helps start the formulation of authentic, original ideas, rather than being trapped trying to follow someone else's path.

∞ Getting Feedback (r/streetwearstartup)

Obviously, to improve your designs, you need to practise. And the smart way to practice is, like anything else you want to improve, to periodically reflect on what you've been doing, identify what worked and what didn't, and take action to try and fix what didn't. An integral part of this process is getting detailed, honest feedback from people, to help find what's going well and what's not.

Now, it's easy to go ask your friends and family what they think. It's easy, convenient, but unfortunately, not very helpful. I'm sure there are plenty of exceptions, but in my experiences, these people will want to support you and are worried they might hurt you. What would be perfect, was a large community of people, some of whom have already found massive success in the field, ready to give hard-hitting feedback 24 hours a day.

This is essentially what r/streetwearstartup is! A subreddit that's dedicated to supporting startups: I could pretty much guarantee that any questions you have after reading this have already been answered somewhere on there. The fact that there are actual successful independent streetwear brands actively giving out advice and sharing their knowledge still blows my mind today. For the inspiration, knowledge and honesty it offers, it would be outright stupid (and almost rude) not to get involved and reap the rewards!

Marketing

We now know how our clothes are getting made, how we're going to sell them and have made an original, daring and tasteful first collection. The only thing left is getting the world to see it.

∞ Social Media

These damn kids seem to be using the interweb these days, so I suppose we should get in on the action. There are so many guides to building followings online, but they all essentially bubble down to a few points.

  • Utilise as many as possible. Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr, Snapchat, Twitter, the list goes on.
  • Create good content. Don't pull the hard sell on your audience with every post, give them an actual reason to stay. Posting content to your site that people want to see is another way of garnering interest (maybe, like, I dont know... a blog?)
  • Use relevant hashtags to put your posts in front of the perfect people. You want hashtags with followings small enough so your post dent get lost in a vast sea of others, but big enough to actually get exposure.
  • Be active. Get involved with relevant communities, message other people, be interested in other projects; get stuck in.

Something I don't know an awful lot about, but have heard much about,  is advertising on these platforms - especially through Facebook and Instagram. I suggest googling this because done in the right way, this can bring loads of new traffic to your website.

∞ Influencers and Collaborations

Still heavily linked to taking advantage of social media, getting influential people that share your brands vision to represent you is an amazing way to connect with people that you want to reach out to. The combination of large exposure and public endorsement can really shape how people perceive your brand. Gymshark is a classic case of this being used to full effect, using instagrams array of health/fitness stars to accelerate their growth massively.

In recent times, it's been realised how valuable this method of advertising is, so bigger creators can charge an arm and a leg to promote you. As a small entity, I find that approaching smaller creators is perfect. They will often talk about your product if you just send them a free sample, and relationships can be fostered through genuine shared interests. This authenticity is something that you can't buy, and by building up these relationships, you can create your own community.

Also: be creative with your advertising! Be witty with your social media posts, stick flyers up as far as the  eye can see, maybe vandalise your local Town Hall with a 50ft version of your logo. Simply wearing your clothes works too, becasue your original and clean designs will get people to ask "where'd you get that!?" all the time - and then you can let 'em know.

There we have it. This was much longer than I thought it was going to be, but I just hope this means it has more chance of helping some people out, or maybe even inspiring someone to give a go. If you are thinking about it, but dithering because you're not sure about whether you'll be good enough or whether it'll be too hard or too...

We are all useless primates. All as useless as each other. So useless we all die. There is no reason why you can't achieve what other useless primates have done. And don't die wishing you'd given it a go.

✌︎ PEACE ✌︎

-!!-

 



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