Say hello to the loaded question of the century!
I get a lot of questions about starting a clothing line – but this one seems to come up most often. It’s a hard question – and a touchy subject, i mean who likes to talk about money? not me. I find it super awkward.
Anyway, i decided to write this post after I read something a few months ago that stated a person would need around $20,000 to start a small clothing line. This really irritated me – because it’s so discouraging to people who want to start something and take a leap. Here’s the thing, it depends how you want to start your clothing line, and what kind of line you are starting, how big you want to start, and what your background is.
Lets say you know nothing about sewing, or design, or pattern making, and you have absolutely nothing in the way of equipment etc – then yeah, you will probably need a giant lump of cash to start a line. Why? Because you’ll have to hire people to do everything for you. You will need a pattern maker and you will need a sewing contractor of some kind. And that’s just for starters.
But lets say you already sew. You know how to pattern make. You have some experience making things. You have equipment. Then you can probably do this on very little. I promise. Because i did.
So shall we chat about real numbers?
I started my clothing line with $500. That’s it. I launched my line at a time in our lives when Chris and i had very little money. We had just finished paying the epic hospital bills from Bunny’s birth, and were saving heavily for the next lot of huge birth related hospital bills (i was 7 months pregnant with Buddy)… right as Chris’ company was feeling the economic financial pressures, and so they stopped paying raises. We prayed, took a leap of faith – and i took almost all of our savings… our very small savings to launch my line. It was scary, but Chris believed in me.
So how did i spend it? I spent it on three things.
- A display form. It cost me $79 on Ebay
- Some lighting equipment. Also from Ebay, i think it was around $100.
- Materials to make collection samples.
You see, I had everything else already. I had all the equipment i needed, I had the skills I needed as I’d been spending the last few years working really hard at refining them, and i had the time to sew. I got to work and created my collection. Since i was tight and had specific ideas of what i wanted, i hand dyed most of my fabric. I tried to be efficient – and used the same base patterns for a number of designs – and made sure to use the fabrics for more than one design. In the end i had my samples ready for the lookbook – and had enough fabric left to make a few pieces of stock. But honestly not a lot. Then I mailed the samples to my dear friend Jessica, who was helping me with the lookbook. (She was just so wonderful – honestly, good friends are worth so much, and to this day i will never forget how much she helped me get the word out in those early days)
Chris set up my website for me using a wordpress blog and paypal buttons- and we were ready to go. Gulp.
So how did i get past the issue of no stock? Everything was made to order. I made sure my customers knew it would take a few weeks for a garment to be made and arrive – and once an order came in I used that money to buy supplies. Was it hard and stressful? Yes. For sure. But it worked.
I repaid the money i had borrowed from our savings in the first week of my launch. And then i was able to save, and put the profits away as the seed money for my next collection.
My customers were so wonderful. So understanding and supportive – and most of them continued to purchase from my future collections as well – which is probably the most gratifying feeling.
Yes i made mistakes. We all do when we do something new – but i made it work. Would I have liked more capital to start? Of course!! It would have made the world of difference!!! it was only after a year of sewing like a dog, that i had reached a point where i could afford to pay outside contractors to do the sewing for me. But here’s the lesson: It was possible. And it still is possible to start a clothing line on a shoe string. You just need to be careful, and think it through, and make sure you are happy to do all the work yourself for a while.
So here are my tips if you don’t think you can afford to start a line but desperately want to:
- Save. Even if its a really really small amount. Because though you can get by on a little, you will still need some seed money. If you just have an inkling of a dream, a whisper of hope – start saving now. Just a little, so that when (or if) you’re ready, you’ll have something to help you start.
- Learn to sew. You can save yourself a lot of money if you can manufacture in house. The end.
- Learn to pattern draft. As above – you will save yourself a lot by being able to pattern draft. I learnt from books, you can too :)
- Spend wisely. Be very careful how you spend your seed money. Plan it out. You could probably start with less money than i did if you are careful. In retrospect i feel buying lighting equipment was a waste. The display form was important to me – but you could probably get by without that too. You could simply lay things flat on a white surface, or hang them on a wall with a pretty coat hanger.
- Ask a friend to model for you. One of the things i’ve learnt through all of this, is how supportive good friends are. I’ve been incredibly blessed that friends have modeled all of my lookbooks so far – and it has helped me immensely. I couldn’t be more grateful to these wonderful girls.
- Take good photos. I cannot emphasize this enough. Bad photos will kill your brand, and make your product look like crap even if in fact it is the best thingymajig ever made. You don’t need fancy equipment to take good photos. I took my first product photos on a display form, with a point and shoot. Nothing fancy. Chris and i just planned it really well so that we used the best light of the day, plus some lighting equipment – and took all the furniture out of the room with the plainest walls to use as a backdrop.
- Start small. There’s no need to go overboard. A collection doesn’t need to be big. You could make 3 things. Done. I wish i had made a smaller first collection, that’s one of the mistakes i made :) It will make your workload more manageable, and allow you to be more efficient.
- Make to order. If you are unsure of how well received your designs will be, don’t go all out on investing in lots of stock. Try the “made to order” approach. It will help you if funds are tight. Remember who you are – you are a small company, you don’t need to act like a big one.
- Price appropriately. Another touchy subject. But you need to think carefully about pricing. Too high and no-one will buy anything, so you’re shooting yourself in the foot. But too low is even worse – too low and you’ll probably lose money, even though you think you’re making money. Too low is also bad because then you can’t afford to wholesale. I regretted pricing too low in my first collection in an attempt to be affordable, but it didn’t help my business.
So what if your dreams are bigger than your budget? Don’t let me money stand in your way. Hard work is worth so much more.