Starting a Clothing Business
10 Things You Need to Know

We wanted to ask you if you were crazy about fashion before we made a pitch that starting a clothing business may be right for you. But then, again, numerous people are crazy about clothes, yet not all of them are putting up a clothing store. It’s because opening an apparel store—like starting a restaurant business—is a risky business. Starting a clothing business is  definitely not for those who are afraid of failure.

woman shoppingWe mentioned that both starting a clothing business and a restaurant business are full of risks, but the truth is, those who have tried these ventures attest that if you are a successful restaurateur, you can make more bucks within five years of setting up a restaurant than you can in 15 years in the clothing business.

Having said that, you can still strike gold in the apparel business if you have these four qualitiess: an acute business instinct, a genuine interest in the clothing industry, experience, and  substantial cash in the bank.

Don’t let the numerous clothing shops sprouting like mushrooms discourage you from starting a clothing business. There is always room for a unique apparel store. And when we say unique, that means, you have to find your own niche in the market. Focus on what you can offer that other established clothing lines like Gap, Old Navy, Tommy Hilfiger, and Polo do not.

Okay, you’ve done some assessment, and feel that you have all the qualities that a would-be clothing store owner should possess, and you are still raring to set up a clothing business despite the risks. That’s the spirit! Unfortunately, that’s only one-tenth of the battle. Now, it’s time to roll up your sleeves for some real hard work involved in starting a clothing business.

  • Know the business. Like in any venture, the initial apprehension in starting a clothing business lies in not knowing what you need to know.  The key questions you should ask yourself are: “How well do you know the clothing industry?” and “Do you have the necessary experience to wade into this territory?”

Having prior knowledge about the business you want to get yourself into can spell the difference between success and failure. Before you even open your store, enrol in a business start-up course or take some fashion merchandising classes, read up on starting a clothing business, or work in an apparel store to get the feel of what it’s like. You may also interview other business owners and learn from their experiences.

  • Know your target market. Decide early on who your target market is. Who are the people you want to see wearing your clothes? Would you like to specialize in women’s, men’s or children’s apparel, or all three? What are the current trends that dictate the needs of your target market?

  • Write your business plan. You should now get down to writing your business plan. This should include your overall ideas and company logo, specific financial details and projections, a description of your target market, your company policies (opening and closing hours, policy on returns, credit card acceptance, etc.), employee details, and advertising and marketing strategy. You may also include the challenges that you expect to meet in starting a clothing business, and the tactics you intend to do to hurdle them.

  • Determine your start-up costs. Starting a clothing business calls for an initial cost of $50,000 to $250,000. Your business plan should be you guide as to how much start-up money you will need. Make sure you approximate your yearly rent, cost of goods sold and operation costs vis a vis your projected revenue. To finance your business, you may opt for home equity loan as it will give you financial independence and best industry rates.

  • Choose a location. Start scouting for a location for your store. Some of the factors that you may use as guide in deciding on a location are the following:
  • It must be large enough to support your business.
  • Your target market is residing/working in this area.
  • It has a good parking facility.
  • The monthly rent is compatible with the projections you’ve laid down on your business plan.

  • Hire your employees. When it comes to hiring employees, you can hire as many as you would like to work in your store as long as you can pay them all, but the basic rule is one full-time and one part-time employee per 1,000 square-foot store. The employees must embody the image you want for you company. Needless to say, they must have solid customer service skills.

  • Choose your suppliers. Now, you have to choose your suppliers. You may solicit some inputs from store owners who sell similar products. You may also browse the internet for possible leads. One good website for this is the National Register of Apparel Manufacturers.

  • Devise a comprehensive marketing strategy. Decide on a comprehensive marketing strategy for your clothing business. You can try various platforms for this. You may advertise in newspapers, magazines, television and radio, or through your merchant association. You can also use billboards, give away coupons, and hold special sales and in-store promotions. When starting a clothing business, believe in the power of grassroot campaign; wear your own clothing line and give your business cards to your neighbours or the people you meet on a daily basis, leave them in stores and offices, etc.

Keep a customer database. Ask your customers if they would like to be on your mailing list after they’ve made a purchase. You may then notify them about new products and sales. You may also score additional revenue streams by placing special orders for customers, and/or shipping the merchandise directly to them. You can also tap eBay to sell off close-out items.

  • Mingle with like-minded individuals. There is nothing like being with people who are as passionate about clothes as you are to inspire you and update you on the latest trends, so make time for business expos and fashion shows.  You can also meet people who will be valuable in your business through these avenues, and get sound advice regarding financing and networking. Read fashion magazines and trade publications.

Trade associations can give you specific information about your target niche. You may check out the American Apparel and Footwear Association at for this purpose.
The following are other resources you can tap in starting a clothing business: 

Fashion Group Int'l

National Register of Apparel Manufacturers

Professional Apparel Association

Textile/Clothing Technology Corporation

Accessories, Business Journals Inc., 50 Day St., Norwalk, CT 06854, (203) 853-6015

The Apparel Strategist/The Apparel Strategist Statistical Review

California Apparel News/Water Wear/Best of the West


Women's Wear Daily

Here is a list of colleges offering courses in fashion merchandise: 

Kent State University, Kent, OH, (330) 672-2121

Paris Fashion Institute, Boston, MA, (617) 268-0026

Parsons School of Design, New York, NY, (212) 229-8942

Ryerson Polytechnic University, Toronto, CAN, (416) 979-5000

University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI, (401) 874-1000

Virginia Commonwealth University, VA (804) 828-0100

West Valley College, Saratoga, CA, (408) 867-2200

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