How to start a clothing brand?

Vietnam Garment Expert

I have three tips for fashion start ups!

This picture is of me with Chad (green) and his wife who have their own fashion brand that they run out of their garage. You can see their online shop at I met them at the Sourcing at Magic trade show and answered all their questions about producing t-shirts in Vietnam. My tip was to continue to produce locally until they could get their MOQs up to 2,000 pieces per style. Read more about MOQs in Vietnam. See Tip #2 below.

Thinking of Producing in Vietnam?

Below I share my best three tips for fashion start ups. I also recommend you read my book, Guide to Producing Garments in Vietnam. I address 16 questions you need to ask yourself and answer correctly before meeting a sewing factory in Vietnam or the USA.

Vietnam is a safe place to produce your designs but it does not always make business sense. And you should only explore how to start a clothing line in Vietnam when you've got an audience, tech packs and purchase orders. Read more below.

Tip #1

The key to, how to start your clothing line, is to create your audience before you design your collection. Without an audience then you have no one to sell to. If you are a naturally social person then create a community online before you try to sell your designs. If you are not a social person then partner up with someone who is naturally outgoing and put them in charge of building a community.

This picture is me with Deeanne and her family the first time we met at Magic. I helped her work with a factory in Vietnam and she successfully produced an order. You can see her products at KindredBravely. One thing I admire about their brand is that they are focused on a well defined community - nursing mothers. They had an audience before they decided on how to start a clothing line.

Tip #2

Produce locally before you produce in a place like China or Vietnam. Your price will be high and therefore your margins low but you won't have the headache of producing in a foreign country. Once you have a hot seller and you can get your quantity up to 2,000 pieces per style per color then you can consider producing overseas. Problem is that you will spend as much as 10,000 USD just traveling to a foreign country to meet the factory and follow production. It is too risky to produce in a foreign country without meeting the factory and policing them during production. Starting small and going overseas right away is not the best way to start a clothing line.

Here I am with Chad and his brothers who started a brand called FitTeam. Their volumes are small so they produce locally in order to lower their inventories and get replenishments faster.

Tip #3

If you are dead-set on producing say, in Vietnam, then there are two things I strongly recommend you prepare in advance. One is a tech pack. The reason for needing a tech pack is, any factory that quotes you a price without a tech pack is not professional and you will run into problems quickly. Tech packs are like a contract that clearly define all the details of your designs. The second thing I strongly recommend is to prepare a purchase order. The purpose of the purchase order is to show the factory the number of styles, the number of colors, the fabric types, size breakdown and quantities of each. They need the big picture to understand the total business you are brining to the table. How to start a clothing line begins with tech packs and purchase orders.

This picture is of Melissa with two merchandisers from Vietnam. I helped Melissa going from not knowing what a tech pack is to actually producing in Vietnam without ever traveling to Vietnam. The first thing I had her do was summarize her styles, colors per style and sizes per style on a purchase order. So it is possible to produce in Vietnam without tech packs and without traveling there. It is risky. In Melissa's case she got lucky because I helped her each step of the way. Contact her and ask her who is Chris Walker and see what she says. She can give you good advice on how to start a clothing line.

That's My Job

I work as an apparel production advisor in Ho Chi Minh City. I have experience producing men, women and children garments based on your tech packs. If have a general question then I will try my best to answer. If you need a referral then I will dig into my database of factories and see what I come up with to help you.
Ask me a question.

Don't risk being cheated by a factory in a foreign country!

I have written an article that explains why you should not start production overseas. Basically, Vietnam has high MOQs, high import duties and is very risky if you have never met the owner of the factory. Allow me to explain. Read my in-depth article.

What is your fashion start up strategy?

A few years ago I was asked to help with online sales with an existing fashion brand in Vietnam. The brand had been in existence for almost 10 years. Sales had been doubling each year since Vietnam was experiencing an intense growth cycle since joining the WTO. The market was saturated with brands and sales stopped growing. That is when I was asked to help. I asked the following questions. Who is your target customer? What is your brand identity and brand message? Does your target customer really care and or connect with your identity/message? They could not answer and did not think the questions were relevant. I turned down the offer to help and have watched them struggle until this day. I was curious and really wanted to help so I did some reading and came up with my own strategy for starting a fashion brand on a low budget harnessing the power of social media and digital marketing. Here is a summary of what I think is the best fashion start up strategy.

Leverage Your Passion

Start your own clothing line based on your passion. If you don't have a passion for something yet, then you are not ready.

Look inside yourself and ask the question: what do I love to do? What do I love to talk about? What is my passion? If you base your clothing line on your passion you have a much greater chance of success as opposed to basing your brand on what you think the market likes. In other words be the trend, don't try to predict the trend. This is step 1 to how to start your own clothing line.

Moreover, your fashion brand is more about your "passion" story than your actual designs. If a women walks into a room wearing a beautiful dress but she has a dull and repulsive personality, then the quality of the design is compromised. Your brand idea/identity/passion is more important than your designs.

Build a Community

Once you discover what your passion is then start a community on any social media platform like Pinterest, Google, Facebook or Instagram. Start writing about your passion. Invite others to join your community and discussions. If you can build your community to more than 5,000 members then you are ready to launch your clothing line.

In other words, build up your target customer base first and then design your clothing to sell to them. Build trust and foster a mutual interest with your target customers before you invest money in fashion design, manufacturing, e-commerce platforms, or marketing campaigns. This is my best advice for how to start a clothing line.

Learn the business side of fashion from Frances

More to the point: The obvious answer to how to start a clothing is:

Get a fashion design degree
Work for a clothing brand for 10 years
Write a business plan
Get funding
Go for it

I’d like to propose a different approach to how to start your own clothing line:

1. Base your brand on YOUR passion; not what you think the market wants.
2. Build a customer base first via Social Networking

Here is what I mean:

Sounds easy right? It's not but if you CAN do it then you are 99% there.
Test your design ideas; test your target customers buying habits in baby steps. Use a web service like Viral Style to put some basic garments together and launch a simple campaign for less than $5,000 dollars. If you sell well then you know you are on to something, if not, don’t quit your day job.

By building your online consumer base first you will be able to start small and have immediate success.

If you have initial success and you want to expand, then don’t re-invent the wheel. Read books about other people who have successfully started their own clothing lines. One of my favorites is UnLabel by Marc Ecko.

In conclusion, you don’t need a college degree, what you need is passion and an established audience. Build your customer base via social networking first, then design your fashion business in baby steps.

First, we've got to have a passion for something. For example, I have a passion for tennis. I started playing when I was 44 and found that it was mentally stimulating and physically challenging. It keeps me feeling young! Designing my own tennis clothing brand makes sense! I will wear the clothes myself and promote my collections to my friends - to start with anyway. How about you? What is your passion? How to start your own clothing line begins with having a passion for something.

Second, learn from someone who has done it already. Learn from their mistakes and successes.