How To Start A Fashion Line… Realistically and ETHICALLY!

A few times a week I get calls and emails from people who want me to help them create a fashion garment or clothing line. Many of them admittedly know nothing about what it actually takes to make that happen…

dress

If you think you can call up a pattern maker or seamstress and have them create a garment you can turn around and sell for $25 with a profit in it for you, let me nicely advise  “you’re trippin!”

25 dress

Sorry to burst your bubble, but allow me to enlighten you…

  1. for retail prices like that, it would require a factory production order of about 1,000 + pieces
  2. a retail line of stores willing to place large orders of your designs or other successful mass market distribution plan already in place
  3. an INITIAL investment of about $25,000 to cover patterns, prototypes, factory samples, 100 yard rolls of fabric, notions, thread, labor, labels, cargo shipping to the USA, customs fees, import taxes, shipping get it from the port to a distribution center, then shipping to get it to the retailer
  4. AND your items will probably be made in unethical, human trafficking and/or child labor conditions for a $5 profit per garment. Let’s just hope you don’t have to put it on sale!!

Soooooo, unless you’ve got that kind of cash laying around, don’t quit your day job AND let’s hope “they” cut, sew and assemble everything correctly or it could be a total loss (I’ve seen it happen with a friends’ fashion line!!)

money-blackhole

In order for me to help you understand what it takes to realistically bring your concepts to creation, Here is a step by step outline of the process for taking a garment into factory production and the reasonable expenses involved.

First of all you’ve got to have a general idea of what you want to create, one garment at a time. Even if you start with one design, define the details with photos or rough sketches. I meet with a lot of clients who start with a collage of photos we combine their favorite elements of each into the one garment they want to create. ie this neckline, that sleeve, this front, that back, etc. (For the record, you can not simply knock off someone else’s garment with the exact same fabrics, notions and details or you could get sued. You have to change the original garment by design, fabric, notions and/or stitching details by at least 25%!!!)

collage

Now make a list of all the features you want your garment to have such as seam finishes, pockets, top stitching details, hem finishes, fabrics, zippers, buttons, notions, etc. Take photos of details you want from your own clothing or a stores clothing line for reference.

zip

Second thing you need to do is create a fashion illustration or “flat” taking all of the inspiration photos and combine them into a functional image of what you want your end product to look like. This step isn’t absolutely necessary, but it will help the pattern maker get all of the details right the first time. A good fashion illustrator will charge about $50-100 per hour to draw everything in detail.

Fashion_Illustration

Next, you will need to have a pattern made. This averages about $150 and up, per garment. Pattern making is an art that requires precise knowledge of fit, body curves and other techniques. Sometimes you can use a store bought home sewing pattern as a base and alter it to your specification. This can still take a few hours to do.

pattern making

“Grading” the pattern into different sizes, comes later and will be an additional expense. Grading by hand usually starts at $50 per each additional size depending upon the number of pattern pieces, but it can go much higher. I recommend, if you’re serious about launching a fashion line, you find a pattern maker who knows how to use Gerber, which is an autocad program for fashion. There are expenses involved in translating your paper patterns into the autocad system, (from $25 per design and up) but it will greatly reduce the turn around time and expense to grade ($15 per size vs $50+ by hand), alter and transmit your designs to the factory in the long run. Add these figures in your budget if your item is not one size fits all.

Graded pattern

Choosing fabrics for your prototype can be done a number of ways. Many times we create the prototype out of muslin, canvas, duck, spandex or other cheap fabric that behaves similar to the final fabric, mainly so the fit can be defined without cutting into more expensive final fabric. Prototypes usually start at $150 each or up to $50 an hour or more, to cut and sew. If someone charges less make sure they have the skills to do all of these things.

hire a pro

To give you an example of a real life situation and it’s numbers, I had a client with 14 items in her collection. Between pattern making and 3 phases of prototypes it costed about $7000.00 in labor. This did not include materials, which ranged from $25-180 PER YARD. Her fabrics were very delicate, high end and her garments had couture details.

couture-pattern-muslin

Sourcing of final fabrics and notions is an important part of creating a fashion line. There are many factors to consider. There are a series of fabric show around the country by DG Expo which are free to attend and invaluable to finding everything you need to create a successful clothing line.

  1. How many of each item do you intend on making at a time? 25/50/100 (this is called a run)
  2. How many yards will you need for each item? Sometimes as a designer it can be difficult to get a response from a wholesale factory or mill on fabrics and pricing, because they would rather deal directly with a design or production house because they see them as a more profitable client. I’ve had that happen to several clients.
  3. What kind of fabric do you want to use? Woven, Knit, Natural Fiber, Synthetic, Denim, Stretch, Etc…
  4. Will your garment simply be wash and wear or will it require hand washing or dry cleaning? This will be important to your decision. (Wash, wear and tear testing will need be done once you’ve gotten past the prototype phase and have a sample in the desired fabrics for production.)
  5. How will it play with the other fabrics involved? ie, will one shrink more than another, will it bleed, fade, need interfacing, lining, etc… (this again needs to be part of the research and development of your garments)
  6. Find out if you can get a few yards of sample Fabric to use for a sample garments.
  7. Fabric for production is usually ordered by the bolt or roll to ensure consistency in production and to get the best price. Find out what their minimums are. Some companies have a minimum roll price of so many yards. This can range from 25+ yards and up for example. Otherwise you will pay twice as much (usually retail) for anything less that their minimum quantity.

ROLLS OF FABRIC LINE THE WALL_0

What kind of trims will it need? Lace, Bias Tape, Piping, etc, those will need to be sourced and purchased in volume.

SOURCING

What kind of zippers, buttons, snaps, hooks do you want to use for closures? Will they need to be custom made with your logo on them? All this will need to be budgeted, sourced and purchased for production.

Labels

What kind of labels are required by law?
You could have your entire run rejected if it is not labeled properly. Many garments are required to be labeled with the fiber contents of the fabrics, where the item was made and any safety related information.
You should have one label with care instructions and one that has your logo, brand, size of the garment and can also contain its inventory item number, web address, etc. These can be one in the same, screen printed onto the fabric or made to order tags that have been printed, woven, embroidered and could be made of fabric or other synthetic materials.

Choosing a production facility.

  1. First thing you will want to do is research what type of garments each factory is set up to run.
    For example, some factories specialize in certain types of garments or fabrics. Find a few that might work.
  2. Have each factory make you a sample of how they would produce your item. This is called a factory sample. In order to do this, they will need a combination of the following items.
    1. A prototype or sample of the item you wish to reproduce
    2. Patterns for the size you want them to make
    3. A “tech pack” or spread sheet of information and illustrations regarding every precise measurements and construction details of your garment.
    4. Samples of all of the materials required to produce your garment or specifications on what materials you’d like them to use for their sample.

Here are some samples of what those documents look like. You will need to hire a professional to put these together in most cases.

tech tech2 tech3

It can take several weeks to turn around a factory sample and can cost a anywhere from $100-1000 to get everything together for the factory.

Another thing to consider is any language barrier. If you can’t communicate easily and frequently with this factory by email or they take days to respond to a simple request that should be taken into consideration as a red flag.

If you choose this factory you should also be prepared to fly to this county to visit the factory, meet with its staff and inspect it for yourself. If your planing on investing several thousand dollars, the expense is worth it.

Another thing to consider is to hire a liaison from that area to go to the factory unannounced to check on the quality and progress of your run. I had a friend who did all of the above and still lost several thousand dollars due to quality issues and unapproved fabric swapping that cost her about $10k in losses. She ordered a three piece outfit, which became unusable because they messed up one piece in production on the entire run.

Sound overwhelming? There is a lot involved in taking a fashion line into production. If you don’t want all these headaches it is best to hire someone to manage your project who has a background in overseas fashion production.

What’s the alternative? Get real! Unless you are Walmart, you need to return to earth and start on a smaller scale. Here are a few ideas that have worked for some of my clients. In order to make money, you need to have a realistic price point that includes a reasonable cost for materials and labor.

Here’s how to figure that out:

  1. How much can you reasonably get all the materials you will need to make your item? This will be your Materials Cost
  2. Getting your pattern and prototype made will run about $150 for the pattern and $150 for the prototype AND UP if your garment is complicated. This is part of your Research & Development Cost and a critical part of the process, if this is not done correctly it will be down hill from here.
  3. Once the first pattern and prototype (usually in a muslin or other cheap fabric that behaves similar to the fabrics you’d like to use in your final garment) have been made you should have an estimate on how long it will take to cut and sew your garment and an initial sample of what you’d like to make.
  4. Now is the time to review your design, fit it to your “fit model” and proceed in refining your design as many times as necessary, to meet with your final approval.
  5. Once you’ve got everything perfectly the way you want it, the next step is to create a designer sample in your final, more expensive fabrics. Whoever is sewing your samples, should be able to provide a retail quality skill level (no sewing mistakes) AND have the right equipment (which can be very expensive). This is important because your samples could eventually end up being photographed, used for marketing, fashion shows and even sold to clients directly.
  6. Take your sample garment, hire a model and a photographer (or just do it yourself!) and create some professional looking images of your garment. You can post these images to Facebook, Twitter, Etsy, Instagram, Pintrest and other social media sites and ask people if they would buy this item. You can even start taking orders with a realistic turn around time (4-6 weeks on Etsy). You can also set up trunk shows at local boutiques and shop it around to some retailer to see if they’d be interested in placing an order.
  7. After you have test marketed you item you can start to prepare to produce them as needed using a local seamstress or short run production house at a fair wage, which in the US, is going to run about $10+ for a skilled seamstress with good equipment.
  8. You can launch an entire collection this way by starting small.

Once you have some orders flowing in, have created a following and your local seamstress or short run production house becomes too busy to handle your orders, here is a great way to get factory quality and quantity at a fair and ethical price…

Fashion Hope

Fashion Hope is an international organization, founded by a friend of mine, Marc Palmer.
Marc can:

  1. Introduce you to funding sources and their audience, which could help you FUND your fashion line ethically with certified fair wage production, worldwide
  2. Assist you in creating a documentary of your fashion story and mission for reasonable fees contact info@fashionhope.org regarding the cost.
  3. Assist Designers with a strong media following and other outside funding to coordinate a trip to a country where they have rescued women from unethical, human trafficking situations and converted them into a fair wage working environments
  4. Through Fashion Hope, you will get to work hands on with their fashion production experts to ensure your project is in good hands and experience the people and community where your garments will be produced
  5. You can join the growing list of ethical designers and promote your line as being both fair wage and ethical in its production practices, which are huge selling points
  6. Be Introduced to the coordinators of annual fashion week events any where in the world, get discounts or FREE benefits once you have an established Brand
  7. Become part of the “IN CROWD” who can give a confidant answer about where and how your garments are being made

To learn more about Fashion Hope and become a part of the growing movement to produce Fashion ethically, you can find Marc Palmer’s Fashion Hope page at Fashion Hope on Facebook or email Marc@FashionHope.org

For more on the issues of human trafficking and to find out how many slaves you own, check out…http://mtvexit.org/ and http://slaveryfootprint.org/survey/

I am on a mission to create an Orlando Fashion District, if you would like to become part of this movement, please like my Facebook Page for all of the latest info and share your local favorites!!

Thanks for tuning in!

Follow me on Facebook at Psycho Seamstress for all the latest!

Check out some of my fashion client and film work at House of Vincenza

Gina Vincenza Van Epps is aka Psycho Seamstress

A List Wardrobe Seamstress, Designer and Costume Fabrication Specialist, Key Wardrobe

Gina@PsychoSeamstress.com

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2 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for this article. I needed this guidance to help starting up a clothing line on a very lean budget.

    Liked by 1 person

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