How to start a fashion label

Fashion design can be a very fulfilling and profitable venture if you have the skillset – but turning your talent into a business doesn’t necessarily come naturally.

From one fashion designer to another, here are ten steps to beginning your own label.

1. Decide what your business model will be

Before you start planning anything, you’ll need to assess your skillset. If you’re a trained designer and skilled at sewing, the natural fit is to work from your own studio. This gives you full control of the entire process – you could make garments to order, or prepare a few pieces.

Many trained designers are less interested in the making side of things, preferring to draft patterns and then send them on to manufacturers. Most manufacturers require minimum order quantities of at least 50 pieces in one size and style, so at the very beginning you can work with a tailor to create small batches.

It’s possible that you love fashion, but don’t have the skills to create garments. In this case, consider starting a boutique instead – you can curate wholesale pieces to fit your vision.

2. Find your USP

What sets you apart from the crowd? For Everlane, it’s their transparent pricing model; for Shrimps, it’s playful faux fur. Whether you have a wicked sense of humour, a passion for prints or an encyclopaedic knowledge of fashion history, take your quirk and run with it.

3. Develop your aesthetic

Your brand should have a distinctive silhouette and flavour. To help narrow it down, create moodboards or Pinterest boards with clothes, art, personalities, music and words that resonate with you. Identifying adjacent brands will give you an idea of where to go next, but take care not to copy other designers or change your own style just so that it’s more sellable.

Your vibe will vary between seasons, but there should be an underpinning idea that stays with you and ties everything together.

4. Name your label

There’s no shame in naming your designer label after yourself – it’s an expression of your creativity. Even ‘difficult’ names like Prabal Gurung, Roksanda Ilinčić and Ann Demeulemeester are quickly picked up by the fashion set.

Another surefire naming strategy is to pick a word or concept that appeals to you – Preen and Totême are great examples of this.

5. Check regulations and licensing

Licensing costs are everywhere, and inconsistent. For example, care labels are licensed by the UK Fashion and Textile Association – the symbols are owned by Ginetex, a French company. The license starts at £500 a year for a company selling less than £250,000 a year and you’ll need one if you plan to sell abroad. If you’re only selling domestically, you don’t need the license because the symbols aren’t registered in the UK.

6. Source materials

For some designers, this is as easy as going to a wholesaler and buying bolts of fabric and trim. If you plan to incorporate your own prints you will need to find a printer, who will either work with your fabric or supply a range of fabrics.

Don’t forget to order fabric tags for a professional touch.

7. Make your product

Allow a couple of months before you launch – unless you plan to make each piece to order. Many manufacturers have a turnaround time of six to eight weeks, and you also need to account for shipping time. Most brands show two collections, one in February (for the following Autumn/Winter) and one in September (for the following Spring/Summer).

No matter what your business model, sample pieces should be a priority. That means one piece of each design, typically a UK size 8, which you can lend out to stylists and celebrities. Samples take a lot of abuse, so don’t expect to be able to sell them.

8. Take photos

As a rule of thumb, you should have a lookbook and product shots.

Your lookbook will show a model wearing every garment in the collection, styled your way. It’s typically one model standing face-on with a simple background, but plenty of brands are pushing the envelope and being more creative with their lookbook. If you go the simple route, you can use the same photos for your line sheet – this is essential for selling to stockists.

Product shots vary from brand to brand. The easiest is to take model shots at the same time as your lookbook, making sure to capture front, back and any detailing. The most successful brands will also take invisible mannequin shots, where the mannequin is photoshopped out; they’re expensive at £25 per photo but magazines like Vogue require them for features.

9. Set up to sell

Your first point of call is a simple website of your own – Wix, Squarespace and Shopify are popular. Depending on your product, an Etsy shop might also be a good fit.

Most of your income is likely to come from stockists. Wolf & Badger, Young British Designers and Tictail all stock tonnes of new labels and are easy to apply to. Once you have an online stockist and sales under your belt it’s much easier to approach bricks-and-mortar boutiques and huge retailers like Selfridges.

Don’t forget to keep track of all your finances – you’ll need to report any profits to HMRC. Most new designers choose to set up as a sole trader, which means that you are self-employed and file accounts once a year.

10. Promote your brand

Now that everything’s in place, show off your hard work! Update your social media regularly with fun looks at garments, details and your studio. Work with stylists, bloggers and celebrities by lending out sample pieces; this will give you a steady stream of photoshoots and candid photos as well as more exposure to potential customers.

Platforms like Not Just a Label are great for showcasing your work, and online magazines like The Glass Pineapple and The Upcoming are keen to support emerging talent.

If you have the budget for it, a runway show or presentation is the very best way to get out on the scene, so try applying to Fashion Scout or your local equivalent. Good luck – and have fun!

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