Starting a clothing company can’t be that hard, right? Start small, expand the collection over time, and get the word out. All of that is true, of course, but it sounds much easier than it actually is. If you’re looking to start a clothing brand—and this applies just as much to men’s clothes as it does to women’s—check out these lessons learned and save loads of time, money, and headaches.
1. Find a Niche
There are thousands of clothing brands out there, but probably only 20-30 that most people recognize. The problem is a lack of specialization; if you’re looking to create not just a single-season line of clothing but actually build a company, you’ll need an angle. For instance, a friend of mine Ben’s company, Silas Jackson (www.silasjackson.com), focuses on clothing for short men. You don’t need such a specific niche, but you do need something that sets you apart. How about sourcing a special zipper for your dresses, or a unique handmade button for your line of jeans, that people will associate with you and only you?
2. Start Narrow
When Ben started Silas Jackson, he’d roll out jeans, shirts, jackets, polos—the entire men’s wardrobe. It wasn’t until he sat down to think about how much that would actually cost that he realized he would quickly find himself in financial hot water. Take pants: let’s say, for your Fall season, you’d like 2 different fits of pants (slim fit and regular fit), and 2 colors in each fit (say, khaki and navy). That sounds doable, right? Wait—you haven’t done the actual math yet. 2 different fits and 2 different colors is already 4 pant-types. Now what about waist sizes? Ok, let’s say we have 28-30-32-34-36-38-40. That’s 7 waist sizes, and 7 x 4 pant-types is already 28 different possibilities to get a start. But what about inseams? You’d like to go with 29-30-31-32-33-34-35-36. That’s 8 different inseams…multiply that by the 7 waist sizes and 4 pant-types (color and fit combinations), and you already have 224 possible pairs of pants.
We’re not even done yet… 224 pairs of pants means you only have 1 of each combination. What if two people with a 32 waist and 30 inseam want a pair of your slim fit pants in navy? You’re out of luck, so you’d better go ahead and order a few pairs of each combination. 224 combinations x 5 of each pair is a whopping 1,120 pants. If you paid a manufacturer $20 to make each one, you’d be spending $22,400 on pants alone! Now, that’s just a long way of saying: STAY FOCUSED, AND START SMALL.
3. Don’t Forget Extra Costs
Let’s stay on the issue of expense for a minute. If, in your mind, you’re thinking profit = revenue – manufacturing cost, you’ve got a problem. That’s your gross cost, but what about your cost net of expenses? Customs duties, shipping costs, warehousing (if you use a 3rd party provider), advertising, web hosting…all of these need to be factored in when you decide what you’re going to focus on.
4. We all have biases, so get feedback
It’s easy to have confidence in our own opinions and stubbornly follow them. When developing shirts for short men, you may have a lot of assumptions about the problems shorter men face when they shop for clothes. You might not be able to learn best without getting tons and tons of feedback and analyzing it scientifically. Of course, feedback is only useful if you honestly incorporate it and recognize that you might be wrong. Leave your ego at the door; if this process steers you in a completely different direction, embrace that rather than be disappointed in yourself. It’s an iterative process.
5. Be smart about marketing
When you start looking into how to market your website, you’ll find that there are endless apps that you can download, or services that you can sign up for, that “guarantee” traffic to your site. First of all, never rely on anything that claims to “guarantee” traffic. Second, not all traffic is useful traffic; focus on traffic that is likely to convert. If you are to get 1000 visitors to your website and all are giants, you wouldn’t make a single sale. However, if you market to shorter men or perhaps their significant others and family members, the conversation rate is bound to be higher. Also, there is so much out there about how to optimize your website for SEO. Some of this is good, but a lot of this is, frankly, a bunch of nonsense that will waste your time at best, or ruin your search ranking at worst. Don’t overthink it: simply create content (and lots of it) that your potential customers would find genuinely interesting, and you will be just fine. SEO gimmicks will only hurt you.
I hope you’ve found these lessons helpful.