I’ve had a lot of free consults this week where my role is essentially to be the bearer of bad news, so I wanted to write a little blog post on this to possibly save us both time. The majority of the entrepreneurs I meet with do not have knowledge of how the fashion industry works or where clothes come from, which is totally fine; I don't expect that and I’m happy to help educate. This post is just to provide a general idea of what I find myself saying very often at initial consultations. I rewrote this at least five times trying to phrase things in a kind yet professional manner. Brace yourself.
First, know that your journey into the apparel or accessory world will not be a quick, easy, or cheap. It is typically quite the opposite. For the sake of a rough time estimate, from concept to finished product in your hands, we are looking at a six to twelve month process. Timing depends on things like the level of innovation, the complexity of the make, the number of styles, the quantity you want produced, how booked up the factory is, and more. If you want to develop your own fabric, add a few months more time to that estimate. You know how you see a lot of clothes with “Handmade with Love” Or “Proudly Made by Hand” labels in them? Everything is made by hand. Even the stuff at H&M or Forever21. I’ve watched thousands of tank tops going through a factory assembly line and each process whether it’s the pattern, cutting, dyeing, or sewing, typically has at least one human being involved. Even tubular things like socks or seamless need to be handled by people somewhere along the line.
As far as finances go, you need money to make money (or a lot of room on the credit card or an investor). Even if you want to start with a hundred locally made pieces, you need the money for the design, materials, sewers, etc – maybe $8-10K. If you want to go bigger and launch twelve new sportswear styles at 1000pcs per style across three to four colorways, plan on $50K-100K or more to get going. I’ve known one person who launched a new line with four styles / 100pcs a style across two colors and it still cost $50K because of the high quality materials used, complicated patterns developed, and marketing. There are an immense amount of variables that go into the cost of a developing a new garment. What kind of fabric is it cut from? How long does it take to sew together? Are you producing under the factory minimum order quantity (MOQ) at an up-charge to start out? I could easily put another twenty or more questions here!
Fashion and apparel are a difficult arena to get into unless you hire experts to handle the areas you are not familiar with. I worked at a licensing company in NYC for about five years. Industry professionals like myself and my coworkers would create entire lines for other brands and sometimes celebrities. After many months of all of our sampling and costing, they come in for a meeting to review the lines we’ve made, and sign a contract so that their name appears on the finished product. That’s how celebrities suddenly become fashion designers.
The most common question I get is something along the lines of, "This will be quick and inexpensive, right?". The short answer is “Probably not”. This is a highly challenging roller-coaster of a journey and industry, but as I write all this coming from sixteen years of fashion experience, anything can be done with time, money, and patience. And a good consultant.
I came across a great post about how very, very hard this is to do - http://searchingforstyle.com/2012/05/ask-alexandra-opening-a-clothing-company/
Great article, Alexandra!