The secret to starting a successful children’s clothing line

Today we have a guest entry from Caletha Crawford. For eight years, Caletha was the editor in chief of Earnshaw’s magazine, the leading business publication for the children’s apparel industry. In that role, she advised designers and retailers on industry trends, best practices, sales insights and fashion cycles. Her readership and contacts spanned independent start-up brands to multimillion dollar design houses. She’s attended countless trade shows and market events both here and internationally.

Today, in addition to consulting with brands to help them better understand the industry, communicate their positioning and grow their market share, she is a professor at Parsons The New School for Design. There, she teaches students of the tools needed to successfully launch their own clothing lines. Whether it’s in women’s wear, men’s apparel or kid’s clothes, the basic principles apply. She has many real-world examples based on what she’s witnessed in the kid’s industry—including both missteps and achievements. I’m sure you’ll agree that the breadth of her experience will be invaluable to us too.
Know Before You Go: Success in the children’s wear market means understanding the industry and your place in it. By Caletha Crawford.

When Kathleen suggested I write a post about the common mistakes that children’s wear designers make, I jumped at the chance. I think Fashion-Incubator is an invaluable resource, one that I refer people to often. I was also eager to participate because I genuinely hate to see entrepreneur designers make unnecessary mistakes that will surely cost them time and money and maybe their entire business sooner rather than later. It’s disheartening to turn up at a trade show, step into the booth of a first-time exhibitor and realize immediately that this poor soul—who has plunked down lots of good money to travel and exhibit there—is ill equipped to make their dream a reality. They’re always very nice, always very eager and always headed for heartbreak. I might see them at another show or two but often, that’s it for them. Why? Usually they’ve put the cart before the horse. Sadly, it happens all the time. Just ask a trade show organizer how much of his floor turns over in a two year period, and if he or she is being honest, the percentage will surprise you and hopefully serve as a cautionary tale.

First before you put pencil to drawing board or even consider making samples, you have got to do your research. Research, ugh. At the very mention of the word, I can just picture your eyes glazing over (That is those of you who didn’t immediately slam your laptops shut!). You don’t have to admit it; I’ve seen this reaction countless times. Research isn’t fun, sexy or creative. But it is essential. Quite randomly, I recently met someone who holds a patent for a juvenile product design. She enthusiastically told me about her product and then asked for my advice. What did I say? Well, buzzkill that I am, I suggested she do some market (wait for it…) research to determine what’s currently out there. To which she groaned. Out loud. To my face. Somehow I managed to hide my exasperation when what I really wanted to say was, “I’m sorry for trying to spare you boatloads of money and time only to find out there’s no market for your product or conversely that there is and it’s proven by the over saturation of the category.” Honestly, her unwillingness to even discuss doing the legwork saved me a lot of energy. Needless to say, I didn’t offer up my contact information. Even though I’m a consultant and therefore always open to new clients, I want to work with people who are serious.

I’m picking on this poor woman, but honestly she’s just the latest would-be business owner to want to just dive right in without checking first to see if there’s any water in the pool. Understanding the market is vital in order to design marketable products, packaging, marketing and advertising plans and sales goals. Got an idea for a collection? Great. Who’s your target market? How large is that consumer pool? How much do they make? Where do they shop now? What’s their price resistance? What other brands do they already buy? What makes yours different but still appealing? The questions go on and on. Do not let the first time you exhibit at a trade show be the first time you’ve ever been to one. Just walking the aisles of an event like that can impart so much knowledge about what’s happening in the industry. First and foremost, is this a good time to launch? While downturns do afford smaller companies greater advantages in some ways, if the aisles of the shows are deserted, that might be your clue that the segment isn’t thriving and therefore may not be able to support another collection.

Scoping out the other products on the market is extremely important. Honestly, if one more aspiring designer tells me they plan to launch a baby line that purposely omits pink and blue, I’ll scream. Yes, when you go to the big-box baby stores or even your local mom-and-pop shop, you’ll likely be assaulted by a deluge of those two hues. But it’s not for lack of imagination. Guess what? Those are the best sellers for that age group. While there are a handful of thriving brands that sidestep pink and blue for baby—at least in the sweetest shades—it’s pretty unrealistic to think your infant line will take off without them in one form or another. So the next time you think, I can’t find X or Y at retail, stop and ask yourself why that might be before you develop your whole business model around filling that void. It could be that you have in fact hit on a niche that offers tremendous opportunity, or it could be that you’re about to sink your savings into a category that many before you have tried and failed because it’s not viable.

How are you, a newbie, supposed to know the difference? Chances are, you won’t be able to, which is why you need to seek out advice from industry professionals (before you launch!). Oddly enough in my eight years in this industry, I can probably count on one hand the number of times that new design entrepreneurs set up meetings with me (or my senior staff) to glean some industry insight prior to taking the plunge. And sadly, even those few were unwilling to deviate from their initial vision based on our feedback because even though they hadn’t officially launched, they were already wedded to their concept. Veteran business editors, trade show coordinators, sales reps… we’ve seen it all. Why not tap into those resources? Remember how I told you that I could tell almost immediately upon entering a booth whether the wide-eyed novice was at the start of a successful trajectory or about to be chewed up and spit out by the machine? That’s because I know what I’m looking for in terms of the size and quality of a collection, the inspiration behind it, the person’s ability to articulate where they fit into the industry, the price points, their sourcing and production capabilities, the terms they’ve developed and whether they spent more time designing a trade show banner and coordinating T-shirt for themselves than they did in any market RESEARCH.

Speaking of the whole pink and blue thing, we had a very nice couple, who was wise enough to call us up out of the blue, seek our advice on their bamboo infant line. Unfortunately they had samples made already but they did seem eager to learn and interested in avoiding common pitfalls. They met with me and the head of sales and showed us their concept. Unfortunately, what they didn’t understand is that the eco market had evolved passed the point where simply having bamboo (not strictly an eco fabric, I know) or organic fabric was a selling point. By then, as is the case now, the line had to be just as fashionable as a mainstream collection and comparably priced. We tried to encourage them to add more flair to their collection, which included simple bodies with a small embroidered logo. Also, you guessed it, they were not intending to use either of the two biggest selling hues in their product category. Everything was the crunchy, oatmeal color that no one has purchased since the dawn of the eco movement. While they took some of our advice, (they did add pink and blue options) ultimately they were too invested in their original vision to evolve the line to where it needed to be. It’s too bad because they were very nice and seemed to have some business acumen.

Telling people what they don’t want to hear is a thankless task. I recently interviewed a rep who has been in the business for decades and who also owned retail stores at one point. She expressed the same bewilderment about why her clients don’t pick her brain more. She’s more than willing to help, even going so far as to give them her cell phone number in case they have questions. But the phone never rings. Other reps have similar stories. They lament the fact that they obviously can’t make their brands do anything. They can only make suggestions—suggestions that are based on years of experience vetting new lines and listening to retailers’ requests and complaints.

The question is, do you want to build a business or is this simply a vanity project? If your collection is just something to do on the side, that’s one thing. If you’re really interested in growth, however, you have to be open to change. Talk to veterans who have owned their companies for years (Please do, they’re another wealth of knowledge.) and they’ll tell you they constantly reevaluate the market and their offerings, poll their retailers and customers, and make the necessary tweaks (and sometimes major changes) to maintain their go-to brand status.

I just read a blog post by a designer who had found success selling on etsy and she said something that is very true: if your product isn’t selling, you have to revamp the collection sooner rather than later. Early in her career she had a line she loved and that retailers snapped up only to have it languish on the shelves. Eventually she realized it was time to rethink the concept. Though it was a tough decision to make because she personally loved the line, ultimately it made all the difference. Whether your problem is sell-in or sell-through, you can’t stubbornly cling to your original ideas (the ones you hatched with no research, remember!), unwilling to listen to advice or respond to the market.

Basically, (and this will make me hugely unpopular, that is if me harping on research hasn’t already done so) working through the elements of a business plan is invaluable. I know that people say business plans are passé and no one does them any more. Maybe, but what writing the plan will force you to do is think about the market and your place in it. Who are your competitors? Why have they been successful? What does that say about the market? What’s your competitive advantage? Is your pricing realistic? Can you source and produce and still hit that target price point? Who are your target retailers? How much of your type of product do they purchase? How often? When…? It’s an exhaustive, and exhausting, exercise but it will help you find the holes in your concept and hopefully set you off on a path to success and not the poor house. Ultimately, I hope this post has inspired you to retool your business model. I look forward to seeing your well-thought-out, dazzling designs at the next show.

—Caletha Crawford is a lauded authority in the children’s apparel, accessories and gift industries. You can learn more about her and see her work on her website or contact her directly via email. Thanks Caletha!

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  1. Veronica says:

    Thank you so much for this fantastic article! I absolutely hated working on my business plan, but it was the best thing I’ve done in preparing my first collection. I had millions of potential ideas floating around in my brain, but the business plan forced me to map them all out and streamline – really focus on what my brand is and will be about. I’m not in children’s wear, but this advice seems pretty invaluable to any market.

    • Rimps says:

      Hello I own a kids wear brand but I source and keep ready made garments I want to change My business into a kids wear boutique customised garments for kids and want to keep My own designs in My store. I Am very clear about My idea as I have no kids wear boutique in this area who specialise in kids wear.
      I Am not getting how do I sell My old collection and then start with a new one need guidance

  2. I LOVE this. First, I should admit that I am a vet of the men’s garment industry so you’re sort of talking my language. Even though it’s a different product/customer, it’s all the same principle. Now that I’ve started my own business- in another completely different market- the principles still hold true. Market research is absolutely crucial to the plan and accounts for a good deal of dedication on our part with every new item we conceive of from design and price to retailers and end-users. Research, research, research!

  3. Christine says:

    Thanks for this interesting post! As someone who thinks that research is fun, sexy, and creative…just try finding some arcane fact without getting creative with those search terms… I hope my question is not too painfully stupid for the more sophisticated readers… but here goes: How does one go about doing market research? Google gets pretty limited pretty fast. I’ve never had much luck finding information about volumes of sales, money spent on marketing, geographic variation in product sales and pricing, etc. I haven’t done this for clothing, but I have tried for food (not as a business person, I’m a science-type). I’m guessing that retail outlets keep a pretty tight rein on their sales and market data?

  4. Caletha says:

    Hi Christine,

    I do think that Google is limited when it comes to the specifics that you’re talking about. That’s where making contacts comes in. There are plenty of people in the industry who can provide info–especially if they have moved onto a new segment of the market. For instance, a sales rep who used to be a department store buyer or a design entrepreneur who used to design for an established national brand. There’s plenty they can tell you without giving away insider, confidential information. And of course, if the companies are public, they publish sales numbers, etc quarterly.

  5. The #1 research problem I see that *anyone* can solve is by shopping. And I don’t mean shopping where you normally do but in places where you don’t. That’s because your product is probably not a fit for the places where you shop because if they carried that sort of item it would be there already.

    Unfortunately, because most people don’t see “x” where they normally shop, they think it doesn’t exist. It does. You must assume it does so you have to go and find it. And if you don’t find it because it truly does not exist, that is not necessarily a good thing. It often means someone else already tried it and it flopped because there was no market for it.

    #2 easy research strategy is to go to a wholesale trade show and look around. If there were any cosmic entrepreneurial justice in the world, you would not be able to rent a booth at a tradeshow without having done that first.

  6. Deanna Bartee says:

    Thank you for the insight. I am a patternmaker with contract sewing experience wanting to launch my own line.

    I have recognized that marketing is my VERY WEAK point, so my plans were to make proto-types of my favorite designs out of fabric I already own that is similar to the fabric I would use in a collection. After completing the proto-types, I have planned to meet with a marketing reasearch firm (I’ve been in contact with two so far)and ask them to conduct research with my end users.

    Would they purchase this item? How much would they be willing to pay for it? What would they change if they could? etc.

    I had not thought that just attending a show (although I’ve already attended 3) and window shopping would get me the specific answers I want. Nor do I know any reps yet to bounce ideas off.

    Do you think this would be viable…or just a waste of my money?

  7. Vicki says:

    Thank you for writing this Caletha and Kathleen. Invaluable. I’m trying to keep on my toes with my first show coming up in 2 weeks (KIDshow, Las Vegas), and your post helped me to remember a few things. One of them being that not everyone is going to LOVE what I love. Business plan, yes.. painful, but necessary. Maybe I’ll see you at the show Caletha? Booth 223, Pixie Girl

    Thanks again for the great post.

  8. May says:

    I have the same question as Christine – I’m having quite a difficult time finding hard data on my demographic without investing in a $1200 market research survey that I’m not sure will have info on my (admittedly niche, oops?) market. Is this the sort of thing I should be investing in? I am sort of a research nerd, and am not afraid to get to the nitty gritty… but I find myself stuck in a loop where I can’t get a grasp on how big or small my potential market might be, which makes it difficult to estimate sales, which makes it difficult to estimate production costs, which leaves me with no real info to present to a potential investor. Any ideas on where to begin?

    • Margarida Alves says:

      Thank you, I know this post is old, but still applies.

      I always stumble upon these websites as well, but I figured I could get some of the info by reading articles (newspapers, economics magazines, reports) that actually cite and quote them. Still, it is a hard work.

      How did you manage to do the research? Since 6 years passed since you comented I am hoping there might have been some development you’d like to share with a rookie (fingers crossed). Margarida

  9. Jody says:

    Thank you for the wonderful post! I think I speak for a number of newbies when I say that how to approach market research, especially on a limited budget (i.e. you gotta do it yourself) can be onerous. But it’s doable with the solid advice that both Caletha and Kathleen have provided here. Caletha’s question resonates with me:

    “The question is, do you want to build a business or is this simply a vanity project?”

    For me, though, it’s usually less about vanity and more about indulging my creativity – designing something based on some inspiration I’ve found with marketability almost an afterthought. I’ve learned the hard way not to skip the research part anymore, though, b/c I can’t afford to waste my limited funds and perhaps more importantly, my time. This is a part time endeavor for me and as such, time has become one of my most valuable resources. So, now I force myself to research any new design before investing any time in making my first pattern and sample. As often as I find one idea that’s viable, something else I’ve designed…well not so much. Either way, I’m ALWAYS glad I took the time to do the research.

  10. Carla says:

    I hope I don’t sound like too much of a dinosaur but this research can also be done at your local public or university library. The librarians can show you exactly what to look for online (past Google, which is very limited) and how to find industry studies, reports, etc that libraries pay for to have on hand for patrons. Best is if you are near a university that has a business school, but any library/librarian can point you in the right direction!

  11. Caletha says:

    RE: paying for market research firms. I think this illustrates another thing about startups. It’s tough to know when to bite the bullet and spend the money. Whether it’s employees or consultants or research, there comes a sticking point at which point your company won’t grow if you don’t invest. Once you establish that the report has the information you’re looking for and is reliable, you have to decide if $1200 is worth the time it would have taken you to do the legwork yourself. There is a lot you can learn on your own, but its up to you. I would advise that even if you do spend on the research, don’t let that be your only source of info. Use your own eyes and ears to learn about the industry as well. I was just telling my students about a product that, if I were an investor, I wouldn’t have backed based on the concept—but the company is flourishing today. You can’t learn everything you need to know on paper.

  12. Kysha M says:

    Thank you Caletha, its wonderful to see/read you here on FI. I always looked forward to reading your editor’s note and articles in Earnshaws.

    I love what you’ve said here, I don’t think it can be shouted at us enough. What I’d like to add, is although I spent a year doing research – walking trade shows across the country, talking to people and creating my biz plan with the help of an entrepreneurs org – I neglected to adequately figure out the capital and cashflow REQUIRED for longevity in this industry. I was told that market research was a neccesity but I found that many manufacturers glossed over the fact that you need a super-tight budget and still an almost inexhaustible pot of money somewhere. Unfortunately, I know a few companies that have tanked and this was always one of the main problems.

    I also found that one of the best sources of market research were the customers themselves. I didn’t intend to do alot of end-customer retail but that gave me the true info that I needed. Who was buying, what did they want to pay, what colors do they actually like, etc. Sometimes its hard to figure out your customer when all you’ve got is a concept in your mind and an ego that says nothing else out there is like yours (lol). I realized that I needed to change a few things before committing to national trade show and the like. You don’t have to do a full launch to get your things in front of people.

    Anyway, thanks again for this awesome information. Kathleen, thank you as well, you’ve always got our best interests at heart.

  13. Judy says:

    Thanks for this post. I am in the process of starting a line of ice skating costumes. We are in the early stages. It is not enough just to make beautiful costumes. Now off to do research ugh!!! Just kidding. Thanks again

  14. Lesley says:

    Super post, Kathleen. I launched a few years ago and my very nature has been to ask ask ask, research, and I am a nerd about collecting information – which at times was wrong (from reps) and has taken me in circles. I now realize that even as they (industry professionals, your book) tried to tell me all the cautionary things I should do/avoid (and I really tried to follow all of them religiously) I simply didn’t fully UNDERSTAND it, except in the areas I had some experience in. I still ended up doing so many boneheaded things before having these small “brain flurries.” I wonder if others who have appeared to reject advice have also simply been boneheaded rather than egotistical? It doesn’t make it better but where are the granimals when you need them? ha ha! I guess what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

  15. Such perfect timing for this post! Be ready for a slew of phone calls! Playtime NY is coming up and I had plans for a larger line and decided to scale down – a lot. I’m eager to see how retailers receive the new items. I do have a question though. Is it appropriate to ask at the show advice from the retailers about color, style, size, etc. or is that just not done? I’m small enough to be able to make changes quite quickly and am flexible enough to tweak my ideas so they sell better.
    Thanks again!

  16. Amanda says:

    Thank you, thank you. Just returned from ENK in New York, where every show you see so many inspiring successful companies, so many scrappy growing companies (like ours!), and so many dreamers whose hopes are in the midst of being dashed.

    Market research is paramount, understanding that there’s nothing new under the sun (including your own great idea!) is the key that will open your eyes, and being frugal, nimble, and open to adapting your concept to fit a real market niche makes all the difference in the world. Caletha is a gold mine of information. Your reps are, too. Listen, listen, listen! Everyone, everyone, everyone who will tell you anything wants you to succeed!!

  17. Caletha says:

    Alessandra, I’d be willing to guess that you’ll get lots of opinions at the show. Retailers aren’t typically shy about throwing in their two cents. You don’t want to poll everyone who comes into the booth or come off as insecure but if people seem hesitant to order or lukewarm about particular styles, there’s nothing wrong with asking them what’s prompting that reaction. Maybe I’ll see you at the show.

  18. Brenda says:

    Thanks for such a timely and wonderful post, I’ve done research but I realize I have a long way to go before being able to answer ALL the questions.

  19. Maura says:

    Thinking of starting up…. I have all these wonderful ideas in my head but can’t get them down on paper. What is the best way to get going?

  20. Bruce says:

    Great article which hits the nail on the head in many ways. As the representative from the Children’s Credit Co-op, I am at every ENK show as well as some other shows around the country. It never fails where one of my existing clients sees me and tells me that I need to go and talk to the vendor at such and such booth #. They are new and has no idea about credit. So I will go over to the booth and the first question I ask them is, now that you have orders, what do you intend on doing with them in terms of credit clearing, credit applications, and getting paid etc. The typical answer is ” I don’t know, I never really thought about it. Yes it is wonderful to get a boatload of orders and to ship them. But sales no matter how big or small are useless if you don’t get paid. Non payment and slow payment can lead to a companies early demise when just a little planning and research could have stopped that. When a company owner tells me they dont have the money for any additional expenses, my answer is quite simple. If you view my service service as “an expense”, you shouldn’t subscribe to it. The truth is that a service like mine is an investment NOT an expense. The reason I can say this is that if a company uses a service like the Children’s Credit Co-op, all I have to do is keep them from producing product or shipping product to one bad guy and my service is paid for. After that, they will make money over and above what they would have paid me.

  21. Joey says:

    I’m a Kids Apparel buyer for Zulily, which is definitely a new exciting way to help launch children’s clothing lines, as we can test the market FOR you and give you detailed information about an event that we hold with you, not to mention unparalleled marketing to your key demographic in a key time frame without charging you. We’ve discovered many brands and helped them grow by strategically planning events and growth plans.

  22. I just wanted to say thank you so much Caletha for this article. I read this article at just the very right moment in my research process. I’ve been writing and rewriting my business plan for the past couple months now and I’ve been spending hours pun hours, days and nights doing research. It’s been frustrating because I feel like I’ve spent so much time and my business hasn’t started. My friends and family think I’ve been wasting my time to just go for it and launch my line already. For a moment I felt they were right, that I’ve just been letting time pass and I’m just standing still.

    But after reading this I know that I’m doing the right thing. I would love to share my concept, my inspiration, and what I found to be a competitive edge in the children’s market with you or your staff. I’m open to change and want to be successful, very successful so I’m willing to do what I have to do, even if that mean’s I have to change a few things or even start at the drawing board again. But I do know that I don’t want to go out there until I’m 100% sure that what I have got is the best that I can come up with for the market at this time.

    Thank you again for that extra boost of energy and inspiration!!!! It’s been getting dark in this tunnel but I know there is a light at the end!!!!

    Here’s to all of us and I wish the best of luck to everyone starting or launching their line!!!!


  23. Bernice says:

    Thank you for this overload of information. I am still in thinking mode, as for starting a childrens clothing line. I have my target age, gender, style, and price per piece. I never thought about a business plan or any of the research. I have been sewing since high school, and I now sew for my 3 girls. People see my work and they ask me why not try to start a clothing line. I sell to a lot of individuals, and I have a passion for working with fabric. But i have not a clue on where to start as far as research. Please any suggestions will be appreciated.

  24. Kathleen says:

    Hi Bernice. I recommend starting with the book, the entrepreneur’s guide to sewn product manufacturing -it’s on the upper right hand side of the page. From there, you can get hands on help by joining our forum (your first year is free).

  25. Devon says:

    I am at the beginning stages of my baby clothing line. I have a background in retail and done business development consulting for other people, why is so hard to work on your own??? Well I’m at square one and going to take head to everything that I’ve read so that I won’t end up with dollars down the drain for lack of research. Thank you Caletha.

  26. Tammy says:

    I was just doing some “research” on my “baby clothing line” idea and came upon reading your article…so glad I did!!! It was very insightful, truthful, and helpful :) I plan on doing much research online, in the marketplace, etc. before jumping in to it. Yes, it can be very exciting once the idea has come to mind (at 2am, I might add)…however….there is SO much involved in wanting to start a small business that I realize it must be taken in baby steps.
    Thanks again for sharing your knowledge :)

  27. Joselyn says:


    I read your article , which I found to be extremely valuable and motivating. I’ve been talking to my husband that we should go into children’s wear since he has some great ideas, however we are both entrepreneurs. He came up with a company logo about a year ago but that is as far as he got. I’m difinitely interested in pursing this dream and starting a successful business. Where should I start?

  28. Quincunx says:

    There’s quite a lot of ungated content to read through as well, particularly anything tagged CSPIA–yes, all of you who found this article via an external link, children’s clothing is going to REQUIRE more bureaucracy and bookkeeping than adult’s, on top of the ‘boring’ research everyone must do–but yes, you WILL eventually require the book and its checklists and its community as well.

    As far as your husband goes, Joselyn, get him to start doing the household duties now because you are henceforth going to be on the phone and the computer for the sake of business! If you have kids, enlist them as well to go to Daddy for their needs and not take “ask your mother even if she’s on the phone, hard at work” for an answer!

  29. Karen Falco says:

    I was searching the web for information about starting a children line, and there you were. I found your article very very helpful in terms of financial aspects and design planning. We creative people often time ignore the planing and calculating risks of business. Moreover, we tend to let ourselves be enchanted by the artistic and creative side in us. So, I thank you for being so wraw and honest about the way things really work in the fashion business ,
    Karen F.

  30. makaela says:

    Oh thank you, what fantastic advice on how to start up, I’m really at the beginning of my dream but with you information I now feel like I’m moving in the right direction; I’ll remember your name and we’ll thank you personal when I make it. Your information /blog was needed and we’ll be flowed.
    Thanking you Makaela 3

  31. Chante D. says:

    Ms. Crawford!

    You are amazing!!! Thank you for offering this very important advice to the Fashion-Incubator audience! I have taken each question you presented to heart, and will indeed continue doing my market research to ensure I am not putting the cart before the horse. I intend on taking one or more of your online courses in the near future in order to receive precise direction and feedback from you and your team. Thank you again!

  32. Anne says:


    You have just excited another entrepreuner who stumbled across your blog, whilst on a hunt to find some valuable market research! I am currently working on samples for my collection. But like a few others, it has been based on inspiration taken from clients that I have sewn for in the past, coupled with seeing a lack of choice on the high street and boutiques to supply a particular niche. However I realise the necessity for market research but, I also believe in my product. Could you help me balance the two scales please? For me success is key so I am open to any constructive criticism.


  33. Caletha says:

    Hi Anne,

    It is a balance. You want to do enough research so you know what you’re getting into and understand how you’ll need to differentiate your product but you don’t want to get stuck in research mode. You will want to move forward if you decide the idea is feasible. You can (and should) test the market a bit by showing agents and/or retailers your concept and getting their feedback. Press them for specific comments on your prices, concept, etc. This feedback is still just opinion but it’s educated opinion. Hope that helps.

  34. Amy says:

    Hi Caletha, thank you for the very upfront and frank article. Much like Bernice, I have an idea in my mind of something I would like to do, but don’t know where to start. My idea is in hosiery though (children – specifically boy’s tights). Do you recommend reading the entrepreneur’s guide to sewn product manufacturing or since it is hosiery should I look for a different book to start with. Thanks so much for your help.

  35. Caletha says:

    Hi Amy, Kathleen’s book is a great start. She tackles lots of challenges that you’d encounter in various markets. I’m not aware of a hosiery-specific book. Good luck!

  36. KATHLEEN says:

    Hello Caletha,

    I wonder if you know of any reliable manufacturers where I can buy 2013 children’s clothing collections for the acquisition of a future store located in the Quebec City region. I’m looking for affordable trends clothing . Here in Quebec we go through distributors who are already taking one coast so that our clothing is too expensive to the customer. I’m looking for contact to build my own business to sell collections ready to wear affordable given the costs related to the premises. I need to find a balance for the success of the company. I looked to buy clothes through manufacturers and representative in Quebec. But the workforce is too high then products are for a limited clientele.

    You inspire me with confidence, and I would like you to give me advice. I’m open to any comments.


  37. Melissa says:

    Hi Caletha

    I’ve been trying to work on questions to ask in an on-line survey as a first stab at market research for my idea, but am not sure about whether I should ask directly if people would be interested in my products, as that really lets people know exactly what my line is – does that not open me up to having others start up before I’m ready? I’m probably just being vain and naive and my idea is probably not unique, but what if someone does beat me to it?


  38. yoli says:


  39. Kathleen says:

    A couple of points.

    If I’d worried about people copying me, this blog wouldn’t exist for you to learn from.

    Ideas are a dime a pallet, the rigor is in EXECUTION. Ideas are easy. Doing it, not so much.

    If your concept is so simply executed that the expression of it would be your undoing, wouldn’t you prefer to know that BEFORE you’d invested money, time, your life and energy?

    People copy me everyday. Quite a few make a living from it. Thing is, I support my family with my content too. Would it have been better for me to not produce the content that I support my family with even tho others steal it? As much as it annoys me, I’d be cutting off my nose to spite my face. I still have advantages they don’t so I will always be ahead. And that is what you should do.

    The question is not if you’ll be copied, it is when. A one trick pony won’t last and copyists are always a step behind. So stay ahead and be fresh. The absolute worst thing you can do is start from a position of fear. Fwiw, I think this is a great business to be in.

  40. Caletha says:

    Hi Kathleen, I’m not sure I have an answer for you. If price is your issue, you might look into buying from a jobber, someone who sells goods off price.

    Melissa, in my opinion (and this depends on what the product is to some degree), there’s not a lot of value in asking people what they would buy. It’s easy to say you would buy something in a hypothetical situation because saying yes doesn’t cost you anything. On the other hand, those that say no will be doing so without the benefit of seeing the garments (I’m assuming), touching them or trying them on so unless they can give you constructive feedback on why not, not a lot of value there either. Another point is that (hopefully) your brand will be more than the individual pieces so that’s another reason why the survey may not be helpful. This dovetails with Kathleen F’s point: execution will be the deciding factor your your success. For instance, does the world need another bib. No. But the one you design could be amazing functionally, aesthetically or in how you market it, which would make all the difference.

    Yoli, best of luck!

  41. Oge says:

    hello Catheleen,

    Thank you for the above article. I am just at the point of stating up my win business as well but I fel completely lost on how to go about it. Would it be ok to contact you directly? I would appreciate any tips and suggestions I can get from you.

  42. hannah welstead says:

    Hi Caletha,

    Thank you for your article it has been so very helpful to me and my husband, doing a work plan was most needed and I enjoyed doing our research too! weird I no lol.we have started up our own baby boutique called (breaded acorn) and have previously been to the uk’s largest childrens clothing trade show (bubble London) we had an awesome time – very tiring but learnt so much and met some lovely people it went very well with over 30 buyers taking our details who were interested in our baby range we are still in the early stages with our business and we are very excited to going to the next bubble London! thank you again for your helpful advise!

  43. John says:

    Hello Caletha, thank you for the article I found it very interesting.
    I´m having some trouble with my launching, I was planning in hiring sales representatives to manage my line. Since I have to focus in every activity of the business I decided to hire an external sales manager. Is this a good decision?
    Do you have information where I can get contacts of this type? I would like to speak to many people, not just one because I believe this is a key person to trust in.
    Looking forward to your answer. Thank you for your advice! John.

  44. Caletha says:

    Hi John, please visit the Children’s Apparel Consulting Group website at It’s a new venture I launched with another industry veteran. There you will see that we have someone who specializes in sales as well as other areas of the business. To answer your question, there are pros and cons to hiring sales reps. The biggest pro is that they have the industry contacts already. It can be useful to handle your own sales in the beginning though so that you can get feedback directly and learn how buyers think.

    Hannah, it sounds like you’re off to a great start. Best of luck.

    Oge, you can contact me through my website at Thanks.

  45. John says:

    Caletha, thank you very much for your answer. I know Christine, a college is working with her, her services are too expensive for me right now, do you know if there´s a more affordable way to get reps?
    Thank you very much,

  46. John,
    You might want to join the forum. Lots of discussions there.

    If you want to start a sewn products business then you need to buy Kathleen’s book. It will be hugely helpful, I promise. Then you can join the forum and get help specifically on your enterprise.

  47. Matt says:

    Great article. Lots of good stuff to think about. From my experience, I can’t emphasise the importance of competitor analysis and clearly establishing how you intend to differentiate yourself from those competitors.

  48. Caletha says:

    Hi John, you can certainly approach reps on your own. Just analysis the collections they carry, get references, know what your goals are and know what you’re signing before you sign on with them.

    Matt, I completely agree.

  49. Marle Drotsky says:

    Hi Caletha,

    As with many of the replies, I discovered your article at exactly the right time.
    I have been in limbo with properly starting up my business for a few years now and your article shifted my mind towards the right direction, reminding me of all the things I actually learnt a couple of years ago!

    I am based in South Africa where would really love to get my children’s line off the ground. I’m very interested in reading your book, would you say that it would be applicable to the South African industry as well?

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge!

  50. lou says:

    Hi Marle

    Out of interest, how has your childrenswear label in South Africa coming along? Did the book pertain to the SA market?

  51. Marle Drotsky says:

    Hi Lou,

    I have not been able to find the book in SA. Will have to order via Amazon, so will see if it has a universal line-out that relates to SA. I’m sure it will, as Kathleen’s article does.
    The children’s line has had a good launch and good response, but we will have to see what the next few months hold. Are you situated in SA?

  52. Lou says:

    Hi marle,

    Fantastic!!!! Wonderful stuff. What’s the brand called? Do you have a website? I am currently based in UK.

    Where in SA are you based? Do you have a stall?

    How exciting :)

  53. Vanni says:

    thank you for this article… I have been researching for quite awhile now on how to get started in designing a clothing line for children. I have my inspiration and ideas and wanting to get started asap on looking for specific materials but good thing I ran into this article, stopping me from actually going out there and buy materials to start making samples of my ideas… I will research more and more until i become familiar about the industry and its wants and needs. I needed someone like yourself to lay out a list of what I needed to look for and plan out certain facts about my design and who I’m targeting.

    I don’t mind legwork, I rather look more into it and know what im up against then wasting time and money that i don’t have. I’ve been thinking about this clothing line for about 3yrs and actually researching about it recently.. I didn’t know what or where to start. I just kept researching about the trends in children’s clothes today. But just wanted to leave a thank you, and i will keep on researching and planning the same time and hopefully won’t make any MAJOR mistakes…

    thank you,

  54. Vanni,

    If you buy the book you can join the forum. The book will lay out many of the steps you need to go through and the forum will let you network with other DEs and share information.

  55. Holly says:

    What a fantastic post. I find the best way to market research is to check out your competition. See the products they sell, and see how you can sell a similar or better item. Pick a company that is thriving not a start up company. Check out their facebook pages and see what the customers are saying. Its time consuming but its free.

  56. Lina says:

    I have so many design idea’s in my head and a rough business plan. I have been researching for a while online about the market, manufactures and professional advice, and I must say, this is the best advice ever! Your honesty and constructive critism is great. Finally someone who doesn’t skip around the bush when it comes to business advice and a reality check. Thank u! This has really helped me and has given some guidance to avoid potential future hiccups :)

  57. begzod says:

    i really liked your opinions.but i was wondiring if you can help me.i want to set up a fabric in my country uzbekistan. but here i dont know good special people who can produce any kind of cloth with well quality .so if you know anyone like that. can you recomend me.or if i go to china can i find anyone.what do you think.please write me your phone also by email.

  58. Thanks for this awesome article. Unless and until I tried implementing this plan I didn’t understand where I was lagging behind. Now I know what can further be done with my plans. Thanks a ton!

  59. Josh says:

    How can you protect your clothing product idea when seeking the input from industry insiders? Should I just ask general questions to research the market and not reveal my idea? (rather than dealing with a NonDisclosure Agreement)
    Wouldn’t you at least suggest a prototype (if not a real “sample”) before diving into market research?

    • alison.cummins says:


      This chapter from The Book was written just for you: //

      Buy the Book and join the forum to learn how to execute successfully from people in the business.

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