How to Start a Clothing Line UK (2018 Edition)
Dreaming of starting a clothing line in the UK, but don’t know where to begin?
Well, allow me to break it to you gently: there’s a lot to getting your brand up and running.
But don’t get discouraged, because I also have good news. It’s totally doable.
You just need planning, the right tools, and the willingness to learn.
Below I’ll take you through the process of starting your fashion brand, from deciding your business model to clothing manufacturers, creating a killer brand identity to establishing sales channels.
Wether your starting a fashion label from scratch or already started, this in-depth guide can help you start your own clothing line in the uk.
Let’s get started!
Table of Contents: How to start a clothing line in the UK
What you need to succeed in the Business of Fashion....
I get it. You want to jump right to the fun part and start sketching designs. But before you start, pause and make sure you know what you’re going to need to succeed.
• Time. Be realistic: make sure you’re committed to your business and can dedicate a lot of time to it.
• Money. Maybe you have your own savings, or maybe you can bat your eyelashes sweetly at your folks and get them to help you out. Another option is to secure a bank loan, or line up some willing investors. Whatever it is, decide your funding sources early on.
• A Business Plan. This will help you organise your thoughts and work out your strategy for the business. What are your goals? Who are your competitors? What expenses will you have and how much do you need to sell to reach a break even point? Put these things in your plan.
• A workspace. You can run your business from home, find a co-working space or startup hub, or rent your own workshop so you have plenty of room to make and store your product.
• Talent and/or willingness to learn. Maybe you’re a born designer (maybe not — that’s also ok!) While it’s ideal to have talent and creative flair, above all you need a willingness to test and learn.
• Empathy. What does your customer truly want? Empathy not only builds relationships, it also helps you to understand your audience and their needs.
• Branding and marketing knowledge. Great designs are one thing, but how will people find them? You’ll need to know how to market your brand, or work with some experts who do.
• An Idea. What’s your unique selling point? Your big idea? Which leads us to…
Fashion business ideas
When we talk about having a business idea, it’s not that you need to come up with something totally out-there that’s never been done before… like denim mankinis, or see-through snow jackets. What it does mean is having a unique proposition; a clear idea of your businesses identity.
make it unique
Not sure how to develop your idea? Start by considering the following:
• Who is your audience? Are you catering to a particular niche?
• Does your clothing relate to a particular region, function or seasonality (e.g. sportswear, beachwear, etc)?
• What will your price point be? (e.g. affordable, luxury, accessible luxury?)
• What is your brand philosophy? (e.g. ethical production, handcrafting, etc)
You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. You just need to make your clothing brand unique, and in some way remarkable so it stands out from the crowd.
research and check demand
Before you develop your clothing line, it’s a good idea to check that a market exists for it.
Who wants to spend time and money on a product that nobody wants?
Free research tool, Google Trends, allows you to see current and historical search levels for specific keywords and products.
In the test below, I searched for ‘denim jackets’, you can see in the results that this keyword/product is trending right now. We can also see that South Africa and the UK are the two most popular countries for this term.
The tool will also show you related queries that are trending right now. This could help you choose colours and styles for your new collection.
Although Google Trends helps you understand the overall market trend, it’s wise to research the monthly search volume – how many people are looking for that product.
You can do this with the Keyword Planner tool inside Google’s Adwords.
You must sign up for an Adwords account to access the tool, but don’t worry, you need not run a campaign or spend any money.
Searching for denim jackets, I can see that the typical search volume is between 10k-100k — this wide range is due to seasonal variation and/or Google restricting the accuracy of the data.
Need additional clarity? You can double-check search volume by using the Uber Suggest tool.
Once you land on the site, add your keyword, choose your search region and hit the ‘Look Up’ button — you’ll then see search volume for your keyword.
Based on the data from Ubersuggest and Keyword Planner, we can see around 74,000 people a month are looking for our keyword.
‘Denim Jackets’ aren’t high-risk products, but undertaking this same research for your new products and brands, could save you money, sweat, and tears!
Trend forecasting for fashion brands
Why is fashion forecasting important?
Forecasting can help you choose what to make and how much stock to carry — efficiently planning and managing stock levels can help your brand return a profit.
Watch my interview with forecasting expert Samuel Bonsu of thatguysbons.
Money, Money, Money!
How are you going to fund your new fashion business? What costs should you plan for? How are you going to price your clothing?
This section’s all about those important money matters.
IMPORTANT! — We (Bright Arts and Andrew) are not financial advisers, please seek independent expert financial advice when making important money decisions.
What does it cost to start a clothing line?
Every business is different, so it’s hard to give an exact answer, but here’s a list of costs you should include in your budget:
- Website Design
- Website Hosting and Maintenance
- Clothing Design
- Clothing Production
- Office / Studio / Shop Space
- Staff / Team Members
- Utilities – phone, internet, electric, heating
- Computing – equipment, software/apps
- Storage, Postage and Packaging
- Launch and Seasonal costs
- Stock breakages and losses
- Accounts, tax and insurance
- Professional services
- Your time – to learn, to organise, to find suppliers etc
If you can do some of this work yourself, it’s possible to start with a fairly low budget…
How to start a clothing line with no money
If you’re starting a clothing line with a tiny budget, I’d look at Dropshipping (learn more about this model further down the page). With this business model, you won’t need to design, create, or hold stock- it’s an economical way to get started.
Here’s a basic Dropshipping setup…
ecommerce website - £22* per month
Adding stock to site and tracking orders - £23*
I’d use Oblero to find and manage stock on my site. It also lets you track shipments, so you can give customers realistic estimates on delivery — you don’t want to disappoint your customers.
*Prices researched in May 2018
stock photography / iphone - FREE
With Dropshipping, you typically use the manufacturer’s product photography on your product pages. But, if you want to differentiate your brand, I suggest using high-quality photography from Unsplash, or using your iPhone to take cool pictures of your friends wearing the clothing.
canva - FREE
To make your site look interesting, I would use the Canva graphics platform. It’s user friendly and the free version is excellent. You can also use this to make cool social media posts.
social media Marketing - FREE
I’d focus on using Pinterest and Instagram. You can use them for free, but, they will eat up your time. We’ve got in-depth training on Pinterest and Instagram later on in this article.
other essential costs
You’re also going to need other items like a laptop, broadband, an accountant, etc.
So, you could start your own clothing line for around £55 a month (plus other essential costs).
However, if you want to differentiate your brand and sell unique products, your budget will increase.
Time to get serious funding in place…
Clothing line investors and funding
If you need to raise cash for your new fashion business, there are several investment options you should consider.
We (Bright Arts and Andrew) are not financial advisers — please seek independent, expert, financial advice before deciding what to do.
the UK goverment
bank of friends and family
If you’re lucky enough to have friends and family with solid finances, maybe you could borrow money from them. However, please consider what will happen if the business doesn’t work out. Will they still expect their money back? What happens if you don’t repay the loan? Will it affect your relationship?
A safer solution could be getting family and friends to back your…
Kickstarter is a proven fundraising vehicle — it allows your nearest and dearest to back your new business without risk to their finances or your relationship.
Learn about how Kickstarter works here.
A lot of fashion brands have been successful with crowdfunding, here’s one such story….
Back in 2014, Avi Loren Fox needed finance to scale the production of her beautiful hooded-scarfs. So, she decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign — it was a big success; she raised over $39,827 for Wild Mantle.
Here’s their Kickstarter campaign video
Avi went on to give a talk at Ted X on the project
Fashion Investors and Fashion Angels
Places to look for angels and investors:
- Over at Angel.co, you’ll find a section dedicated to Fashion Angel Investors.
- Angel Investment Network has another list of Fashion Angels.
- Fashionfund.com is a fintech platform that helps fashion and lifestyle brands raise capital.
- Fashion Capital Partners provides Pre-seed, Seed, and Growth funding to Fashion and Luxury startups that have a tech focus.
BFC/VOgUE fashion fund
Once a year, the British Fashion Council and Vogue, run a competition which gives one or two fashion brands a cash prize of £200,000 and a year’s worth of mentoring. You can learn more about the designer fashion fund here.
start up loans
You could also apply for a government-backed loan through The Start Up Loans Company. The loans have a fixed interest rate of 6% p.a. and are repaid over a 1-5 year term.
If you can get one, a bank loan may be a good option — they normally require security (like your house) and proof of your ability to make the repayments.
I would advise you to think long and hard before using a credit card to fund your new business. The interest rates can be steep (around 15% to 20%) and the monthly repayments, expensive and painful!
YOur own savings
Yep, just saving up to start your own business can be a solid strategy. Besides, using your own money might sharpen your business and cost-cutting skills.
Which bring us to…
Pricing Your Clothing
How should you price your goods? It’s a complex subject around which whole books are written — Pricing for Profit by Peter Hill offers an excellent introduction to the subject.
start by looking at the competition
I suggest looking at and copying the pricing strategy of the competition.
What do they charge? Is their business doing well? (there’s little point copying bad pricing). Are particular items/ranges selling well? How are they positioned? Do they pile ’em high and sell ’em cheap?
Also, remember, that if you copy their pricing architecture, you must achieve comparable costs and levels of branding — if you will price like Gucci, you need to look and feel like Gucci!
typical cost of GOODS
To calculate product profitability, you first need to work out the costs of the goods you are selling. Here’s a list of typical costs you should include in your calculations.
- Cost of Design, Materials, and Production (include every last button)
- Inbound Shipping Costs (what it costs to get the stock to you)
- Tax & Duties
- Stock Storage costs
- Labour – other people’s time and your time (often overlooked, but so important!)
finalise pricing and profit
You can calculate your on-sale price by applying your Mark-Up percentage to your Cost of Goods (essential for any business). From there, it’s a short step to working out your profit per product.
- Cost of Goods £70
- Mark-up factor 100%
- On-sale price £140
- Profit per item sold £70
Forecast your annual profits
Remember that the profit from your products needs to cover your business overheads too — rent, electricity, wages, marketing budget, etc. You can calculate them as follows.
- Product A profit £70 X items sold 1000 = £70,000 product profit
- Product B profit £50 X items sold 200 = £10,000 product profit
- Yearly Overheads £30,000
- Business profits £50,000
master the spreadsheets and experiment
The examples I’ve given above are crude — I recommend building your own calculations using a spreadsheet tool such as Google’s Sheets, or Apple’s Numbers.
You can then experiment with different pricing formulas by adjusting individual factors (Mark-Up %, materials used) and see the immediate effect on your profits.
postage and packaging
Don’t forget to add a postage and packaging charge to your products. There’s a few different pricing strategies you can use with shipping.
- Charge a flat rate to all customers
- Calculate individual shipping charges based on the customers delivery address, size and weight of parcel.
- Free shipping as a marketing tactic (you must add the shipping costs to the item price).
- Cheap product and expensive shipping marketing tactic (lure people in with your cheap product and make a profit with the shipping).
Depending on the strategy you choose, you may also want to add a Mark-Up % to the pricing of your shipping.
Fashion design business models
clothing production options
When you think about being a fashion designer you might be picturing yourself in an atelier surrounded by measuring tapes and scissors and dramatic swathes of fabric. But in fact there are a lot of different options for how to create and supply the product.
Cut and sew branding
That vision of you doing your Valentino thing? This is it. Sketching, making patterns, sourcing fabrics, dealing with manufacturers… you are the designer and you do almost everything except for sew the final clothes.
• You have creative control of the designs.
• Completely custom product.
• Ability to make higher margins.
• Prestige and perceived value from customers.
• Large production runs. It can be difficult to find manufacturers who do small runs, hence investment costs are high.
• Time consuming, and requires a lot of time to launch (typically 3-12 months).
• The process is complex.
Private label clothing manufacturers
In this option, you buy pre-made clothing and then customise it. For example, you could buy blank sweat-shirts in bulk and then add screen printing and custom labels for your brand.
• Discounted prices because you buy in bulk.
• Easier than designing the pieces from scratch.
• Customisations are limited.
• Storage, inventory management, and shipping are all your responsibility.
• It can be hard to source low minimum orders.
Print on demand
Want to get started quickly and for minimal spend? Print on demand is one good option. How it works: your designs are printed by a supplier (normally using digital ink-jet print) onto pre-made garments then shipped direct to the customer.
• Because printing is digital it’s easy to print low quantities or one-offs.
• No or low set-up fees.
• Highly automated business model.
• Limited customisations.
• Generally no bulk discounts.
• Clothing cuts and fabrics are standard, so it’s harder to differentiate your brand.
• Lower profit margins.
Imagine you have an online store selling clothing. A customer orders from you, then you pass on the order to a supplier who packages and ships the items directly to the customer. That’s what drop shipping is.
Like print on demand, drop shipping is easy because you don’t have to carry any inventory yourself. The difference from print on demand is that drop shipping can be done with any kind of product — you don’t even need to custom print them (AliExpress, for example, uses a drop shipping model where you can choose from millions of pre-existing products).
• Very low cost to set up the business.
• Low-risk model. You never end up with excess stock because you only pay for stock you’ve already sold.
• Easy to create and simple to run.
• Can run the business from anywhere.
• Lower profit margins.
• Reliance on suppliers for things like quality of product and inventory management.
• Potentially slow international delivery as products are often shipped from China or the USA.
• Very low control over creative aspects and brand representation.
• Lack of uniqueness. You can end up stocking the same product as other sellers.
Creating your own original clothing from scratch
In this scenario you do the whole kit and caboodle. Much like cut and sew, you are the designer and pattern maker — but you’re also the manufacturer. This is more for small boutique designer brands.
• Full creative control.
• Control over ethical manufacturing practices.
• Satisfaction from the creative process.
• Highly valued by customers.
• Not suitable for large-scale production and difficult to scale.
• Requires a lot of time, both to get started and to continually run.
• A lot of work and higher initial outlay.
• Requires high-level skills.
How to become a fashion designer
If you want to pursue the option of creating your own designs from scratch, what’s the best way to do it? The most obvious is to pack up your books and head to college.
What qualifications do you need to become a fashion designer?
Many fashion designers cut their teeth by interning or working at fashion houses before starting their own brands. Employers for those jobs usually look for someone with a bachelor’s degree in fashion design.
This type of degree also gives you the skills you need to jump straight into starting your own label. It will cover areas like sketching, pattern-making, sewing, CAD software, and fashion history.
It’s not a requirement, but it can also be useful to combine fashion design studies with a course in business, marketing, or visual arts.
As for where to study: London’s Central Saint Martins is often considered the best fashion school in the world (here’s a full ranking of the top fashion design schools globally, compiled annually by Business of Fashion). These are extremely competitive, but there are plenty of other options too. In the UK other top schools include Kingston University, Royal College of Art, University of Westminster, Nottingham Trent University, and Edinburgh College of Art.
Can you make your own clothes without any formal training?
You know what’s more important than formal training? Drive, passion, the will to learn in any way possible! So there’s no reason you can’t design and make your own clothes even if you’ve never stepped foot inside a design school.
These days we’re fortunate to have a whole wealth of information and tutorials available at our fingertips. Some things you can do at home to help you in your path to becoming a self-trained designer:
• Practice, practice, practice. Start sewing at home using low-cost or recycled fabrics to gain confidence.
• Sketch or paint to develop your design skills.
• Read art books, fashion magazines and blogs to get inspired and develop your eye for colour, print, and aesthetics.
• Learn how to use design software like Illustrator, Photoshop, Sketch, CorelDRAW, etc.
• Take advantage of online resources like YouTube tutorials.
Got some designs ready? Next step: getting your clothing manufactured.
How to find clothing suppliers and manufacturers
The type of suppliers you need depends on which production model you’ve chosen. Below we’ll take a look at the best ways to find manufacturers and clothing suppliers that will suit your needs.
UK trade fairs
With so many suppliers in one place, trade fairs can be a great way to find what you need. A few worth checking out:
• The London Textile Fair which showcases hundreds of manufacturers.
• Make It British Live for sourcing UK-based manufacturers and suppliers.
• TextFusion for sourcing fabrics and manufacturers internationally.
Print on demand suppliers
Private label clothing manufacturers
What if you want to produce a custom design, branded to you? You’re looking for a private label clothing manufacturer. Here are a few to check out:
• A.M. Custom Clothing – a mover-and-shaker of the UK textiles industry that makes ethics and sustainability a standard operating requirement. One of the UK’s leading suppliers.
• F.Chand & Co – a company that specialises in hand-crafted premium outerwear production. With 40 years in the business, they manufacture everything in-house for high quality control.
• EstoxConnect – a UK company with their own production facilities based in India.
• Hawthorn International – perfect for smaller fashion brands, Hawthorn produces high-quality pieces with very low minimum order requirements.
• DSA Manufacturing – a clothing manufacturing company based in the UK but working with Chinese factories in order to offer affordable prices. Their website offers transparent information about order quantities, prices, and production processes.
Using a directory
A number of online directories exist where you can search for and filter manufacturers to find the ones that suit your needs. Here are some of the most popular:
• Sqetch – Sqetch allows you to search through over 1000 manufacturer profiles, then connect directly with the ones that meet your criteria. You can also use it to manage your supply chain communications in one central place.
• Salehoo – Salehoo offers what they call Market Research Labs; a tool that helps you generate ideas for products based on what’s in-demand right now. From there you can find and contact suppliers that offer those products.
• Let’s Make It Here – This is a free database of UK manufacturers aimed at encouraging local production and preserving domestic jobs and skills. You can filter by specific categories, by location, or by keyword search.
Agents who deal with manufacturers
An agent is a middle man who deals with suppliers and manufacturers for you. The benefit is that they already have the relationships in place and know who to contact for what you need. Factor in that they will take a percentage fee.
• Factory Finder – Factory Finder is a full-service agency that helps you find a manufacturer in Vietnam and get your garments made — from sampling through to production. It’s free to use the service but commissions are taken on successful orders.
Ensuring your end product is up to scratch
Getting custom designs manufactured gives you a lot of control over the end product. But you still need to be diligent every step of the way to make sure your designs turn out exactly as you want them to. If not, you could end up with a warehouse full of product that you won’t be able to sell, which is a loss of both time and money.
Let’s take a look at the steps you need to follow to ensure your end product truly brings your design concept to life:
Create patterns for your product
Assemble a tech pack
Ask for texture samples
Get a sample made as a test run
Quality test your sample
Place your order
Quality check your product
Store your stock
Below we’ll break down each of these steps into more detail.
Working with professional pattern makers
Clothing pieces are normally cut from a template, called a pattern. This pattern ensures that every piece has the exact same dimensions and fit. When the pattern is scaled up or down to create different clothing sizes, the process is called pattern grading.
Pattern-making is an art unto itself, and if your patterns are badly made your final clothes will be too. If you’re not skilled enough as a pattern maker, a good option is outsourcing to a freelancer. You can find plenty online at competitive rates on sites like Upwork or People Per Hour.
Assembling tech packs to send to manufacturers
For a manufacturer to make your design concept a reality, they need to know every detail of how it should look. For that, you need to assemble a tech pack.
A tech pack is basically a document that communicates what you want. The measurements, materials, stitching types, trims, labels, etc should all be marked out on a diagram of your design. The more specific you are, the less room there is for error.
Tech packs can be made with software like Adobe Illustrator and sent to manufacturers in PDF format.
How to approach manufacturers
A good place to start when searching for manufacturers is deciding where you want your clothing to be made. You should also have an idea of what minimum order quantity you’re willing to go for. From there, shortlist some manufacturers and approach them. Rather than asking for a quote straight away, you might begin by finding out:
• What kind of businesses do they typically work with?
• What are their minimum order quantities?
• What do they charge for samples?
• What are their payment terms?
• What are their turnaround times?
If they appear suitable to your needs, send them your specific design requirements and ask for a quote.
Remember this is a two-way relationship. You want to work with a manufacturer, but they must also want to work with you. Be professional in your communications. Make sure you’re familiar with the right terminology. Project confidence. And put yourself in their shoes to understand their business model and what drives them.
Ask for texture samples
Having samples created for custom designs can be an expensive process in itself, because the manufacturer needs to get everything set up just to create one garment with no guarantees of mass orders to come. So before you pay for garment samples, ask for samples of materials.
Fabric samples are generally supplied for free, though some manufacturers will ask you to pay the shipping costs.
How to carry out a test run
Once you have a manufacturer and you’re happy with the texture samples, it’s time do a test run. This means creating a fully-fledged sample garment out of your design. Generally you’ll need to pay for the creation of the sample plus shipping, so make sure you’ve been specific in your tech pack and are happy with your patterns. (It’s also fine to get samples from several factories at the same time in order to choose the best one).
Quality testing your garment samples
Once a sample arrives, test it thoroughly.
• Check the overall look and feel of the garment. Does the fabric work on the final product? Are the colours and prints as they’re meant to be?
• Wear it (or have someone wear it) to test the fit and how it holds up to movement. Stretch it at the seams to check their strength and quality.
• Wash/dry the garment per the care instructions (several times over is best) and see how well it survives.
• Check all embellishments, hardware, trims, etc.
Explain any corrections to the manufacturer. You can do this by sending back the garment with instructions directly taped onto it in the relevant places, or by taking photos and marking instructions using Photoshop… However you do it, just be very clear about what you want fixed and how.
Order the right quantity and selection of pieces
So your samples are looking awesome and you’re ready to go to full production. How many pieces do you order?
Minimum order quantity is obviously a key deciding factor. It’s better to start small and sell out your first collections rather than having your funds tied up in stock that won’t shift, so look for manufacturers who are willing to do smaller runs and stick to a low quantity of pieces.
Beyond that you’ll want to think about things like ordering in multiple sizes (think about your audience: which sizes are most likely to sell?) and different colourways. Customers love options, so offering colour choices can be a big benefit.
A good way to get a feel for what’s going to sell is to peruse industry trend forecasts. These will give you an awareness of the most popular colours, patterns and themes for the coming season.
Quality checking your final delivery
Quality control is important at the sample stage — but it should also happen in the final production, by both the manufacturer (they should carry out random checks during production) and by you. Any final pieces you find that have problems should be returned to the manufacturer as rejects. Check out this detailed guide to checking the quality of your garments.
Securely store your stock
Remember that unless you have a drop shipping or print on demand style of selling, you’re going to be managing the inventory and shipping yourself. Make sure you have somewhere to store your stock that’s safe from both theft and environmental damage.
And if the worst happens…
…make sure you’re covered
fashion insurance specialists
How to successfully create a clothing brand
Let’s step back for a second and consider a fundamental question. What exactly is a brand?
When you think about creating a brand, you might think of things like business name and logo. These are part of it, but there’s also more. Your brand encompasses every aspect of how you do business. It’s your aesthetic. Your company values. The tone you use to communicate with customers. It’s something intangible — a feeling, a mood they get when they shop with you.
It’s your brand, more than your actual product, that customers connect with at a deeper level. Great branding is what transforms a label from Primark to Prada.
And if you want your customers to stick around, you can’t just talk the talk, you also have to walk the walk — with branding authenticity matters.
Clothing brand name ideas
Coming up with a brand name is easy. Coming up with a good brand name? More of a challenge. Just make sure you consider all the right factors, like:
• Is it memorable and easy to pronounce?
• Is it unique? Consider things like your ability to secure a domain name and show up in search engines. If the brand name is too generic, you’ll have trouble being found online.
• Trademarks and registrations. Check that it’s legally ok and not already being used by someone else.
• Emotional impact. Think about the words in your brand name. Do they have any positive or negative associations? What does the name make people feel? Is it a good fit for your style and audience?
Define your purpose & values
There’s nothing stronger when it comes to building a following than connecting with your customers over shared values and purpose. That purpose could be as simple as creating impeccable wardrobe basics that stand the test of time. Or maybe it’s a brand philosophy around sustainable production and ethical labour practices.
Whatever your purpose and values, make sure you’re clear about them. These things are the why of your brand. And think about the best way to communicate them to your desired customer base.
Fashion and clothing logo ideas
You know those purpose and values you clearly laid out? They’ll also feed into your logo.
Your logo helps to communicate your brand story. Is it luxurious and exclusive? Bright and fun? Slick and minimal? Your logo style needs to be cohesive with the rest of your brand. You can create it yourself or work with an expert designer who’ll help you with both the graphic design side and with incorporating meaningful symbolism and style into both your icon and font.
Create a brand strategy
Your company philosophy, values, brand name, and visual identity all form part of your greater brand strategy. But why do you need one?
Because a brand strategy gives you a blueprint to follow. It lays out a plan of your long-term goals and what you need to do to reach them.
And crucially, it documents your brand story so you stay consistent to it. Because if you fail to tell a consistent story, your audience will get confused and will have trouble forming a connection with your band.
One option for nailing your branding strategy is to work with a branding expert – they know the right questions to ask to tease out your brand story and will build upon it with you to make it as strong and engaging as it can be.
Once your brand aspect is in the bag, it’s time to get selling. Let’s take a look at how to do that.
Selling clothes online in the UK
And the number one online retail category? You guessed it: fashion.
Clothing and footwear now account for almost a third of all online purchases in the UK. And since e-commerce growth shows no signs of slowing down (in fact, quite the opposite), the opportunities for brands are tremendous.
So how do you get your product online and tap into that lucrative e-commerce market?
Website e-commerce options
It’s a totally valid option to only sell your stuff online. Or, online can be one retail channel of many. Either way, you’ll need a great e-commerce website. Some options are:
• WordPress with WooCommerce. WordPress is one of the most widely-used content management systems on the web. By adding the WooCommerce plugin you can turn a WordPress site into a powerful online store. If you’re looking for a balance of affordability and flexibility — in other words, the ability to create a website that’s highly customised and professional but without too much initial outlay.
• E-commerce website done for you. If creating a WordPress site yourself is still a bit too tech-heavy, you can go for the option above but with the help of a professional. That way you still get the benefits of using WordPress and the WooCommerce plugin (like that they’re widely supported, and that any developer will be able to step in if you need future upgrades), but with all the design and development work professionally taken care of.
• Shopify. Shopify has a huge user base. It’s easy to use because you can choose from and customise existing templates and build your store with very little technical expertise (customisation of HTML and CSS is also possible.) Shopify is a hosted solution, so it’s great for if you’re starting out and don’t mind paying a monthly fee. However, it’s simple to get started approach could cause serious SEO problems for your site — if getting found on Google is important for your brand, it’s worth bearing in mind.
• Squarespace. Like Shopify, Squarespace lets you build websites with e-commerce integration without needing to do any coding or advanced techie stuff. Their templates are attractive and professional, but as well as monthly fees they charge a hefty transaction fee which does diminish the value of their plans. I’ve personally experienced bad SEO issues with Squarespace sites — duplicates H1 page titles being just one of those problems.
Creating Copy For Your Website
There’s how your website looks — and there’s what it says. Crafting compelling copy is an art, so think carefully about the language you use and the message you convey with your website text. Keep your brand story firmly in mind when writing every part of it, from the “About Us” page to the product descriptions.
You can write the website copy yourself, or hit up the likes of Upwork to find experienced freelancers to do it for you.
Sourcing photography and video for your e-commerce store
We live in a visual age. When it comes to both your website and social media accounts, beautiful visuals are key to winning over your customer.
The type of images you use also counts. Key example: you should include images of people. Why? Because our brains respond in a particular way when we see people versus objects. People trigger an emotional response. And it’s emotions that drive purchasing decisions.
Shooting impressive visuals yourself can be difficult, so if you don’t have the right equipment and skills, look for other resources. Be wary of copyright — you can’t reuse just any visual assets without permission.
Stock photography sites like Unsplash and Pexels have highly professional photos free to use without copyright issues. Downside is, they’re not unique and can’t be designed specifically to fit your brand.
If you can, consider the option of having photography and film specially created for your brand. That way you can really sell your brand story by having your unique vision brought to life in an emotive way.
Generating traffic to your E-commerce website
Once your E-commerce site is ready, the next step is to drive people to it.
SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMISATION(SEO)
SEO is the process of optimising a website so that a brand and/or products get featured in search results. Preferably, at the top of those results.
Why should you care?
- Search traffic from Google is free and ongoing.
- Millions of people search Google every day for products they want.
- There are lots of opportunities for your brand to rank in top ten Google search results with just a little work.
How do you get pages featured at the top of Google search results?
- Optimise your products and category pages for the keywords you wish to rank for.
- Good user experience. Fast loading, relevant, in-depth pages will rank higher on Google.
- Get backlinks (links from other sites) to your pages — Google sees them as recommendations and so ranks your page higher.
pay-per-click (PPC) and google adwords
PPC is a form of online advertising you can use to promote your products. It works on an auction basis, with those who bid the highest getting their adverts shown.
It’s easy to lose money with any form of advertising, so either work with a professional Google PPC agency or make sure you do your research.
With Google Adwords you only pay once someone clicks on your advert. However, other offerings from Facebook, Instagram etc, offer different payment options — pay careful attention when you set up your adverts.
Getting started with PPC? I have a couple of tips for you:
- Start with a low budget. You’ll need to experiment before you start seeing an ROI, so pace your spending.
- Use negative keywords. You don’t want people who are searching for cheap or free versions of your products wasting your budget — use negative keywords to stop that happening.
- Focus on buyer intent. Google AdWords is the preferred PPC solution of many brands. Why? Because Google searchers have an intent to find or buy the product they (the advertisers) are bidding on — the higher the intent, the more likely a sale. You can go one stage further than this and bid only on high intent keywords such as ‘buy silver earrings’.
If a brand isn’t on Instagram does it even exist? We’re only half joking here: Instagram really is that crucial to your marketing strategy. A reported 96% of US fashion brands are on Instagram. 80% of accounts follow one or more businesses.
And 30% of users have bought something they first spotted on Instagram.
Instagram marketing encompasses creating an account with your brand name, creating content that cohesively fits your brand message, using appropriate hashtags, interacting with other users, and collaborating with influencers.
An influencer is simply someone whose following looks up to them for guidance, inspiration and/or recommendations. You can break them down into two main groups — macro and micro influencers.
Macro influencers: They have hundreds of thousands to millions of follows. They’re sports stars. Actors. Supermodels. Kardashians.
The pros of working with macro influencers? You can get your brand in front of a massive audience. And the association you create can be very, very strong. On the downside, they’re hard to tap into and highly expensive. And if the brand alignment is wrong, it won’t convert to sales.
Micro influencers: They have a smaller following — 10,000 people for example — but their follower base is highly targeted and dedicated.
The benefit of micro influencers is that they’re generally considered more authentic. Their recommendations don’t come across like blatant advertising, so often convert well to sales. They’re also easier to access and cheaper to collaborate with.
The power of Pinterest is that it’s aspirational. It’s where consumers curate the life they dream of having. Imagine what happens when you make your brand a part of that dream?
Marketing on Pinterest means first and foremost creating imagery that’s going to appeal on the platform. The right image will continue to be pinned and re-pinned for months to come. And the right image communicates more than a product, it communicates a story and a lifestyle.
Because Pinterest works by grouping similar content together, it’s also a breeding ground for subcultures and tribes, which makes it a perfect place to engage with specific target audiences. You can find the transcript of the following Pinterest video here.
Getting people to your website is one thing. The next hurdle is conversion.
What’s a conversion?
It’s an action that people take on your site that moves your business forward. It could be a sale, an email sign-up, or a social share of your latest product.
The best way to improve your website and increase your sales is to understand where visitors are coming from and what they’re doing on your site.
Website analytics tools allow you to look at things like:
• The source of visits (e.g. if the person clicked through another website, found you in Google, on social media, etc)
• Keywords people used to find you
• Their geographic location
• How long they spent on your site
• Your bounce rate (the percentage of people who leave after only one page)
• Entry and exit pages
And so on. Once you correlate this with sales data, you begin to get a picture of what works for you and what doesn’t. And from there you can focus your marketing and conversion optimisation efforts in the right places.
Some recommended tools to check out: Segment, Google Analytics, Metrilo, and MixPanel.
Once you’re able to track what’s happening on your site. You can start to improve your weak point at fix the leaks in your funnel.
Here’s a few tried and tested ideas that will help you improve visitor retention and conversion rates.
• Move your website to a faster hosting service. People are impatient – if your site takes more than a second to load, they might not stick around.
• Use a Banner or Welcome Matt on your website to promote a discount only available when people join your newsletter.
• Add social proof across your site to increase trust.
the Importance of email remarketing
Converting visitors to customers can take time. And it can take perseverance on your behalf. For example: rather than see abandoned shopping carts as a pain point, you can see them as an opportunity.
Email remarketing is when you follow up an abandoned sale with an email to try and encourage the customer to return and complete the purchase. Remarketing is a highly useful and important tool, and should be reserved only for those who engaged with your brand to the point of nearly making a purchase (you don’t want to get spammy with every single visitor).
Used correctly, email remarketing can turn indecisive visitors into satisfied customers.
Starting a fashion boutique
Footfall in UK high street retailers has seen a fairly consistent decline over the past few years. Or to put it another way, online retail hasn’t just grown, it’s lured customers away from physical stores.
That’s not to say physical boutiques are necessarily a bad idea. For one, they can give your brand more presence, more visibility, and more prestige.
Many retailers are also finding success in rethinking the traditional bricks-and-mortar model. For example, creating unique shopping experiences that cross the boundaries between online and offline (the growth of services like “click & collect” and “buy online pick up in-store” (BOPIS) is a perfect illustration of this.)
Still, opening a boutique is a comparatively high-risk venture. Before you make the decision, consider the following:
• Budget. From shop rental to staffing costs, a fashion boutique requires a sizeable investment, both up front and ongoing.
• Location. Location can make or break your success. It should be in an area with existing foot traffic and that suits the audience and price point of your brand. Check out this guide to picking your retail location.
• Legality. Check the laws and regulations of your city and what licensing is required.
• Insurance. Ensure you have your property and merchandise insured against any damages, and liability insurance against any accidents or injuries on the premises.
• Presentation. How can you set up the space and manage your merchandising in a way that fits your brand story? Aim for cohesion between your physical and online presence.
How to get your clothing on the shelves of a major retailer
Getting your product stocked at a major department store or retailer is exciting — and a great way to make extra sales without having to open a physical boutique of your own.
To get your clothing into retailers you’ll need to convince a fashion buyer to stock your product. Here are four key tips on how to make it happen, supplied to us by a source at a top high street retailer:
1. Buyers look for things like unique selling proposition, innovation, and how well the product quality and style fits their store. It’s also a bonus if they can be the first to market on a new product.
2. Large retailers have in-depth knowledge of material and manufacturing costs, so they’ll be immediately wary if your prices are either too low or too high. Buying margins are generally 50-70% — so consider what the retailer would be able to sell for before pitching your prices. Also expect some negotiation.
3. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver. Know your critical path for delivery, and build in times for delays. Second chances are rarely given.
4. When it comes to contacting buyers, who you know is definitely a factor. A lot of buyers don’t like cold calling. That said, Retail Week can be really handy for finding out moves at the top and for researching retailer strategies. LinkedIn is also worth a try.
Ideas for your launching your Fashion Brand
Got your idea, your brand strategy, your sales channels, and your product? It’s time to launch your business with a bang! Now’s the time to start really getting on the radar of the fashion community.
How you plan your launch depends a lot on your sales model, audience, and brand story.
For example: if you’re opening a bricks-and-mortar boutique, you’ll want to do an in-store launch event to bring people into your store. Launch offers and discounts will help to drive foot traffic.
Let’s say you’re launching a print-on-demand t-shirt label with a streetwear edge. You might host a party or gig in your city and partner with a drink sponsor (there’s nothing like free beer to draw a crowd!), invite some Instagram micro influencers so the event coverage spreads, and hand out promo materials with a special discount code to drive guests to purchase online.
Other things to think about:
• Putting on a runway show. For a startup brand, it’s often more cost-effective to organise the event yourself. Invite influencers, media, and consumers. (We’ll talk more about fashion weeks below.)
• Tying in your launch with a relevant event. Let’s say you’re launching a line of hats — you might time the launch with spring racing season. Or launch your line of yoga clothing at a yoga festival, etc. Reach your niche by meeting them where they are.
• Incentives to participate. Launch discounts, special offers, giveaways: give people a reason to take notice of your launch and attend it.
• Tying in your launch with a charitable cause. This gives people another reason to participate, and creates a positive reputation for your brand.
• Partnering with bloggers. Launch your brand by partnering with fashion bloggers / influencers: you supply them with gifted stock and they create content to spread the word.
Landing press coverage
Getting press coverage can be a huge boon to your brand. Imagine having your launch covered by a prestigious magazine or website: this not only gets you in front of consumers, but also boosts your brand’s reputability. Even coverage on a publication’s social media can be highly (if not more) influential, depending on their reach.
How to approach them?
If you’re hosting a physical launch, like a runway show or in-store event, invite key media representatives from relevant publications to attend. You might also invite them to a private appointment to view your collection up close.
You’ll also want to write and distribute press releases. Once again, it’s important to target the right press. One strategic tip? Don’t just blanket send a generic press release. Give each key media a customised story angle, on a platter: the easier it is for them to create the story, the more likely they are to run it.
For example: you might pitch to one publication an angle about your innovative ethical production methods, because you know it’s a topic they like to focus on; and offer another publication an exclusive interview focused on the design side of your brand.
Finding unique and newsworthy angles will make the difference between your press release sinking to the bottom of the pile — or floating to the top.
Launching with the fashion seasons
Traditionally collections are launched 3-6 months before they actually go on sale to the public. On the fashion week calendar for example, spring/summer collections show on the runway in September, even though spring doesn’t start until March.
That said, we’re in the midst of a major transformation. Some brands — pioneered by Burberry — are starting to go for a seasonless model, where clothes are available immediately after a runway show. Fast fashion retailers have also popularised short and reactive design cycles which put new clothes on shelves every few weeks.
Whether you comply with traditional seasons or not depends a lot on your sales model. If you plan on getting your pieces stocked in major retailers, they’ll want months of lead time. If you’re selling online-only through your own website, long lead time isn’t necessary — and since digital consumers prefer instant gratification, making product available to buy sooner rather than later prevents them from losing interest.
Showing your collection at a Fashion Week
As a budding label, those dreams probably have to wait. Showing your collection at a major fashion week (especially the “big four” of London, Milan, New York, and Paris) is highly competitive — not to mention incredibly expensive. As such, you’ll want to be confident that your brand is very strong and that you’ll get a good return on investment. What’s more, many major fashion weeks only accept established designers (e.g. London Fashion Week criteria is that the label has been in business for over one year.)
The good news is, there are other ways to get involved.
These days there are so many fashion weeks in every city all over the world. You might have success at showing your collection at a smaller, consumer-targeted event (whereas the major fashion weeks are traditionally aimed at media and celebrities). These often go under the names of fashion festivals so try searching for one in your area.
You can also tie your launch event in with fashion week by running it at the same time, as an off-calendar event.
Designer showrooms are another relatively affordable option — for example, you can apply to show your collection at London Fashion Week in a showroom stall rather than a runway (go here for criteria and fees).
If you’ve made it this far, you’ve already gathered that there’s a lot to consider when starting a fashion label from scratch. But hopefully you have a better idea of where to start — and feel more confident that you can make your vision a reality.
The great thing is that there are so many options and ways to go about selling your product.
If being the next Giorgio Armani isn’t your thing, there’s always drop shipping or print on demand models of business.
Just remember that, whatever model you choose, it’s crucial to not only have great product but have a great brand as well. Be clear about what you’re selling and to who, but also the why behind your brand story. Your marketing efforts will flow on from there.
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