Creating a clothing line has never been more attainable. Setting up an online shop takes minutes, and there are more tools than ever to help you get started. That being said, more people are trying to launch clothing lines than ever. With more competition in the marketplace, how do you rise above the noise and make sure your brand stands out?
Luckily, we interact with a lot of successful clothing lines and custom t-shirts daily, and have seen the different steps they’ve taken along the way. That said, here are our 6 best action items on how to start a successful clothing line.
1. Create your identity & choose a direction.
Having a name for your clothing line is vital, but many people disregard the next most important thing which is positioning your brand in a certain market. You need to know who you are designing for and focus on one direction. If your clothing line is all dinosaurs, it wouldn’t make sense to have 10 t-rex shirts and then sell one shirt with a kitten on it.
From time to time, we see very consistent clothing lines have one or two off-beat designs thrown in just because they happen to like a certain animal, bike, creature, etc. If you want people to become familiar with your brand, they need to recognize it. So, be consistent across the board, showcasing your talent tastefully, while remaining iconic to your chosen industry.
Our piece on Comfort Colors showcases how their identity and quality products drives them forward. Once you have that strong identity it'll be easier to network which is essential in growing!
If you want to switch it up a little but keep your identity, Johnny Cupcakes is a great example to follow. Although they are switching to a more animalistic style for their “Animal Kingdom” line, there is no question in regards to their identity. Their name or logo is present on each shirt continuing the brand’s recognition. Even though they went with a more playful approach, each shirt falls under an “animal” category, so there’s not a random design just thrown in there. My point: Keep it consistent.
(Photo credit: http://johnnycupcakes.com/)
Another great example of brand identity and consistency is Ugmonk. Their designs, though different, are all centered around the ideas of simplicity, minimalism, and sharp design. They do a great job of making designs that are different, but distinctly their own.
2. Know your audience.
The best way to market a clothing brand is to know who will buy your product. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve spoken to that have clothing lines and don’t know who they are selling too. If you don’t know which blank shirt to choose, the first question I like to ask is “who is your target market?” A market for a fishing clothing line t-shirt might prefer a different fitting or feeling shirt than a group of people who are into high fashion.
“A target market is a group of customers that the business has decided to aim its marketing efforts and ultimately its merchandise towards. A well-defined target market is the first element to a marketing strategy”
There are plenty of characteristics to consider: age range, male or female or both, what activities or hobbies they are into, what trends are they easily attracted too, how quickly do they adapt to new styles, are they willing to spend a lot or a little money, where they currently shop, etc.
These are all important questions to figure out while creating and growing your brand. Just because you start with one market in mind, doesn’t mean that’s what your clothing line will forever be chained too. This might change over time as your line develops and matures. So ask questions to figure out what type of shirt your audience might prefer. Know and invest in the right audience and they will always invest in you.
Research, research & more research! Don’t just sell your product; know your product. In order to know your product, you must first learn about your product. There are so many different options available on the t-shirt printing side, you don’t want to short change yourself by going with one style because you didn’t take the time or effort to look into other creative options that yield different results.
Take time to learn about the different screen sizes (standard, oversize, jumbo or all-over) available, the difference between water-based ink and plastisol ink, the different shirts available & the fabric composition of each, and specialty services like custom screen-printed tags, tag removal or even poly-bagging. Everything from the design to the print to how it’s delivered is going to matter to your client.
Be your brands biggest advocate by knowing what you are selling them. Just remember, they are going to be on Twitter, Facebook and walking around wearing it. The decisions you make will matter now and in the future. If you need a guiding light through the process being the shirts then check out our custom t-shirts buyer's guide!
(Photo credit: http://shop.ugmonk.com/)
4. Knowing your numbers.
Shirts can be expensive, but there are clever ways to keep costs down. This all goes back to research. Knowledge is power, so find out which t-shirts are most cost effective based off the initial money you want to invest in your clothing line. If you are on a budget, you might not want to go with the most expensive shirt there is, but there are plenty of great value options too.
This way you might even be able to afford add-ons like custom screen-printed tags, and it still might be cheaper than if you went with the a top-of-the-line t-shirt brand. You don’t have to start at the top. Work your way up! At the same time, you want to provide a quality product, so don’t just go with a heavy shirt that isn’t soft, just because it’s cheaper. People won’t wear it, which means the buck stops there. If no one is wearing it, who will recognize it?
You’ll also want to decide how much you want to sell your shirts for. A few things to keep in mind: How much did you pay for each one? Will you make a profit or just break even? How will you order more shirts if you are breaking even or making less that what you charged for them? Again, know your audience, understand their budget, research what other similar clothing lines are selling their shirts for and make a decision.
For more help setting your price, check out Pricing Pro-Tips: A Guide to Pricing Your T-Shirts for Retail
5. Create Options.
Figuring out how to start a successful clothing line does not mean selling just one shirt. It means selling multiple shirts, so create options for people and understand that not everyone will want to wear the same style, design, etc. This gives you an opportunity over time to see which shirts sell faster than others and which ones don’t sell at all.
We understand that rolling out a full line of t-shirts right off the bat can be hard, so if you’re on a budget, try starting with 2–4 different designs. This way you can look at what works or what doesn’t, then replace the underperforming t-shirts with something new. Experimenting is key to long-term success, so don’t be afraid to try things out.
6. Choose Where To Sell.
There are plenty of ways to go about selling your shirts. We have clients that sell online, in stores or both. Like we alluded to earlier, setting up an online shop is easier than ever, so there’s really no excuse not to have one. On top of that, consider showcasing at events too. Whether it be a local pop-up shop or a larger conference, events are a great way to actually get in front of people and let them see and feel your product.
For more tips on showcasing at events, check out: Best Practices for Selling T-Shirts at Events
Also, when selling online, make sure you take the time to visually display your t-shirts. People are buying the designs, not the name of the designs, so make sure they are visible as well as the cost and sizes. Remember, you want the focus to be on your brand and shirts. A common, but simple saying to keep in mind: Less is more. It’s okay to add features to make your website fun and interesting, but make sure it’s not at the expense of practicality.
To help figure out which online shop to use, check out: The 5 Best eCommerce Platform for Launching Your Online Store.
To recap, it’s more important than ever that you take steps to set up your clothing line for success. Our advice: create a strong identity, know your audience, do some research, know your numbers, create options, and be smart about where/how you’re selling. Following these steps will you towards launching a successful clothing line.