Starting a Buzz
"I love your dress! Where did you get it?" There's no better feeling than the pride that comes from responding, "I designed it myself." When you look at the steady decline of boutique clothing shops--and their replacement by megamalls all selling exactly the same merchandise--it's no wonder shoppers get excited about apparel that's unique. In the likelihood that they're not designers or skilled seamstresses themselves, they represent a built-in market for someone who wants to launch her own clothing line. It all begins with the simple phrase, "If you're interested, I could make something similar for you." In any start-up business, word-of-mouth publicity is critical. In the case of marketing your own clothing designs, your customers are not only going to be the equivalent of walking billboards, but are also likely to want you to supply them with more one-of-a-kind items for their wardrobes. Depending on how much volume you can handle (and how much you want to budget for advertising), you may want to consider launching a design website, as well as having business cards and brochures. Likewise, if there is an existing clothing shop that would allow you to sell a few designs on consignment, this, too, would be a good way to start spreading the word.
Unless you have a lot of capital to work with, or already own or lease building space, you're probably going to be better off working from home at first. Suffice it to say, even the informality of crafting fashions at a sewing machine set up in a spare room of your house isn't going to absolve you of the formalities of getting a business license, establishing a business identity, and paying taxes on the income you derive from your labors. The website of the Small Business Administration is an excellent place to do your homework and determine what you need to do to become an official entity. For example, if you've come up with a clever name for your clothing enterprise, you'll need to register it first with the Secretary of State's office. You'll also need to open a business checking account, as well as establish a system whereby your prospective clients can pay for their clothes via credit card if they'd rather not pay cash or write you a check. Further, you'll want to make sure you have access to an accountant as well as a lawyer, to help you determine your deductible expenses and what to do in case of a dispute.
Supply and Demand
Before you put out your shingle as a clothing designer, you need to ask yourself: (1) how much time you can realistically spend on this enterprise; and (2) who will be excited enough about it for you to keep up a steady income stream. Crocheting scarves, for example, is going to take a lot less time than creating formal wear. If you live in a warm climate, though, warm scarves probably aren't going to be high on anyone's list of must-haves. When you're first starting out, you'll need to determine the exact demand for the wonderful product you have to sell, and how to reach the individuals who will be won over by it. Let's say you're a tall woman and have always made your own clothes because you could never find anything off the rack that fit well. Who else might be having that same problem? If your answer is "female basketball players," you've just established a target audience, and can advertise in venues that female basketball players are going to gravitate to. To return to the earlier example of scarves, perhaps your marketing will be entirely via mail order and will focus on customers who live in chilly temperatures. This is where having a website will be beneficial to you, because the keywords shoppers enter in their search engines will help them find you.
Maintaining Your Inventory
If you have a brick-and-mortar store, people are going to expect to come in and see racks and racks of fashions in different sizes that they can try on. Maintaining an actual shop, of course, means that you're also going to be paying rent and utilities, carrying a high amount of insurance, and probably also having to hire extra help if you ever want a day off. If, however, you operate a virtual store, you will cut down tremendously on your expenses and won't have to carry an inventory to speak of. All you have to do is display photographs or renderings of your designs and let your customers know that these items can be custom-reproduced in any size, color or fabric that suits them. As you come out with new designs, these can be added to your website, spotlighted on postcards mailed to your existing customers, or advertised in brochures you can leave at businesses like hair salons, nail salons, spas, bookstores, and coffeehouses.