Designer’s advice on starting a clothing line

This is the 1,000th entry published on this site and as such, it seems fitting that it should be written by you. This is a guest entry written by two different people. The first is from a visitor who has become exasperated. She says she really loves the site but has become annoyed with DEs who’ve jumped into this without learning anything about it. She enjoys helping answer good questions but she’s demoralized by people who won’t listen or negate her advice. The second part is written by a pattern maker who’s told me to lose her number. She can’t take it anymore.
Here is my rant, if it is too harsh please feel free to edit. I don’t want you to use my name because frankly I know it is going to cause a lot of heat and I don’t want people emailing me or calling me at work. I will respond to each comment on the blog- it is better that way ’cause then everyone gets to see the information. And if you decide not to publish that is fine too. Got a lot off my chest just by writing it, so I am cool either way. Thanks!

Dear Kathleen,
I get it that it is the point of your book and website to teach designer-manufacturers how to manufacture properly but I am flabbergasted by how many people just assume they can become fashion designers and start a clothing line with little to no research into simple things like: target market, price points, where they will sell, who they hang with, and how much time and money it will take to create a viable company.

Just because someone wears clothing doesn’t mean they can start designing and manufacturing them. I mean, just because I drive a car doesn’t mean I am going to start a car manufacturing company. And if I did want to start a car manufacturing company I would first learn how a car is made, what makes it run, how a factory is set up, the different methods of producing a car, etc. I would also try to surround myself with a team of people who knew how to make a car- mechanics, engineers, marketing people, etc. It would never even occur to me to shell out thousands of dollars to buy some used car parts and new metal and try to make a car all by myself. So could someone please explain to me why someone would put a second mortgage on their home to start a company that they have no experience in?

I have heard story after story about how cutthroat the rag trade is, but in my experience, if a product fills a hole in the market, is well designed and marketed appropriately then the path to success is smooth. (Ever heard of Juicy, Tory Burch, or Tom Ford?) Ok, well, maybe not smooth, but at least much easier then trying to design and produce a product nobody likes or wants. So if you can’t get a sales rep or you are having problems getting your product into boutiques, it is probably one of three things: it’s cheesy, your price point is too high or your product is too similar to products out there. And if you are lucky enough for one of those sales reps or boutique owners to tell you what the problem with your product is, then please- listen to them and try to fix whatever they deem is the problem. They are probably much more experienced than you and if they are offering their time to give you advice, it might behoove you to listen and not argue with them about why they are wrong or how they ‘just don’t get it’.

What is my advice to those who are just starting out? Research, research, research. Read KF’s book. Read business books, marketing books, fashion magazines, managerial books, and any trade magazine you can get your hands on. Don’t ask a question until you have done everything you can to figure out the answer yourself. It is amazing what will happen when you just Google your question (which will often bring you right back here). Become an expert in your field, whether, it is handbags, women’s contemporary, or plus sized clothing. Know all the companies who compete with your line and spend at least one hour a week (I spend one hour a day) researching the new companies in your field. Don’t feel like you have the time? Then you need to learn how to delegate. Figure out what is sucking the most of your time and give it to someone else to do. Can’t afford it? Then get out of the business.

You have to have one of two things to be successful: time or money. So if you don’t have the time, you have to have the money. Don’t have the money? Then you have to find the time. Maybe you only produce one collection a year. Maybe you figure out the best seller and you just focus on that one product. As Tim Gunn says, “make it work”.

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One comment

  1. Sherrie says:

    Thank you for sharing “the real deal”!

    The Book and the Forum has opened my eyes wide open!

    I have dreamt of designing clothes for a living ever since I was a little girl.
    Little did I know that the glitz and the glamour of the design biz, as I preceived it, was a facade.

    Thanks for keep it real!

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