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Guest Blog with Elizabeth Stiles

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One of the best parts about starting my own business has been meeting lots of lovely new people. I met Elizabeth Stiles nearly a year ago and we instantly bonded over our shared experience of working for big clothing brands - although she has always focused on the product development and manufacturing side, while I've been on the numbers side.

With a decade of experience in the fashion industry working for Next, Miss Selfridge & New Look, Elizabeth knows the buying and supply process inside out.

She is a fashion retail consultant who will develop your skills & educate you so that the buying and manufacturing process is as seamless and effective as can be.

She believes independent brands are the future, so she will apply her knowledge to your brand & you can develop your product range armed with the knowledge to succeed.

Five Clear Step For How To Start Your Own Fashion Brand - by Elizabeth Stiles

Do you have an idea for a fashion line but not sure where to start?

Maybe you’ve spent hours/years wondering how to start a clothing brand?

This blog post is broken down into 5 easy steps for getting started with the ideas & how to start your own fashion business!

Even if you have recently launched a fashion start up - this blog post will still offer some really valuable information!

So let’s get started!

1. The Fashion Brand Name

Naming your company can be a harder task than naming your child!

However don’t let this stop you from getting started! Ideally you want to keep your name forever but look at Opal Fruits / Starburst … it is possible to change it later down the line if the direction of your brand changes

There are a couple of different ways to think about brand names :

Next / New Look / Topshop - self explanatory to suggest newest trends in the fashion industry

H+M / M + S - fashion brand owner’s names

Mango / Warehouse / Quiz - random

Task :

Write down all the words associated with your clothing brand & see if any of them repeat themselves

Think about the well known brand names that spring to mind for you (fashion or otherwise)

Why do they stand out to you?

Why are they memorable?

What names don’t you like?

Why?

Pull together a shortlist of names that you like

Ask around with your friends and family (ideally people who are your target customer) and see if there is an obvious favourite but trust your gut on this one as you will be saying this name over and over again once you get started.

It has to be a name that you feel proud to talk about!

2. Know Your Customer

Number 1 rule - who are you talking to?

Without customers, you don’t have a fashion business!

As a creative person, it’s good to have a visual representation of ‘her’ in sight at all times

This will root all your difficult decision making because your clothing brand needs to solve ‘her’ problem when shopping!

task :
Here are some questions to ask yourself when getting to know your customer!


Male / Female / both?

Age?

What do they do for a living?

Do they have children?

What do they do in their spare time?

Where do they hang out online? Instagram? Facebook? Twitter?

What do they spend their disposable income on?

What problems do they have?

How does your product resolve that problem?

What fashion brands does your customer shop with?

What is important to them?

What could stop them from buying your product?

When my customer buys my product, I want them to feel:

Who are your competitors?

(Note : these don’t have to be other clothing brands, who else is fighting for her attention and money? Example: Nandos is a competitor of Missguided)

What are their goals? Personal or professional?

What magazines do they read?

What podcasts do they listen to?

What boxsets are they watching?

Finally, name some real life people who fit into this customer profile!

You have to remember that your customer is a 360 person who doesn’t just think about your product all the time! You need to show her that you understand her struggles which will get her to like you.

If you can also talk about your own struggles & how you overcame them with regards to the brand, she will see you as a brand that is in alignment with her values - this will get her to know you

Talk about the value in your product; for example it might be handmade in UK or made in an ethical factory - this will get her to trust you

Know, Like & Trust are the 3 key points for someone to commit & buy from you!

3. Do A Survey

Now you know who your customer is and where she is hanging out, it is time to do a survey!

You also have an idea of what her ‘problem’ is and how you can solve it with your product

What else do you want to know?

For example:

What is important to her when making a purchase?

How much would you for an evening dress? Give them multiple choice

Where else are you buying this product at the moment?

Think of all the questions that have arisen when starting your brand and choose the ones you don’t know the answer to! It is much better to ask your customer and get a fair answer rather than assume wrongly!

I’d put it on Facebook as people are usually on there looking to fill time!
People also love to be asked for their opinion!

I like to use typeform because you can tailor the colours to your brand image & there’s no maximum number of questions you can ask like Survey Monkey.

Give them an incentive to fill it in like 20% off your first collection & get them involved from the beginning

You’re building a customer base who will be ready to buy once you launch!

4. Design

This is the fun part!

Start to pull together alllllll the design inspiration into one place from pinterest, catwalks, shops etc. onto a google drive or a scrapbook!

However what we don’t want is for you to take all those ideas into your final collection or your brand will feel really messy! To keep it cohesive, try out this exercise below!

task :

Write out in 1 sentence what you’re trying to do so here’s an example:

I make ___________ for ___________ because ____________________

I make fun & colourful clothes for women who want to express themselves because I want them to feel confident in wearing something unique

Make a physical mood board of design ideas & keep it to ONE board!

You could do it on Pinterest but then there’s no editing involved & you can’t see it all in one go as you have to keep scrolling.

By doing 1 board only, it forces you to sift out all the ideas that are just ‘okay’ & you end up with only the best ideas making it onto the board!

Now think of how many options you want; I think 8-10 options is good because it’s not too daunting and looks cohesive when you land on your website. If you’re thinking of launching with 1-2 pieces then it can look a little empty & you’ve not bought into the range with any conviction.

If that 8-10 number seems scary you could start with 4 options eg. top/skirt/trouser/dress but do each one in a colourway like a print & a plain so you’ve automatically doubled your range by offering it in different colours / patterns!

This is really important! If you’re not a designer yourself & you’re planning to get the products made in a factory, PLEASE hire a professional designer! It is a complicated skill that takes years to learn so please don’t under estimate the time involved.

I recently went on a podcast and the host compared to IKEA flat pack furniture; what would you rather have when building it yourself?

  1. A photo

  2. A clear line drawing with a step by step process including notes, annotations, photos and reference points

You wouldn’t feel patronised if they gave you too much information, you would be grateful right?!

A factory won’t be able to translate a photo / your idea / your design into a technical design pack for you, this is your responsibility as it is your idea! If you give them all the information you have to make it as clear as possible, that’s when it is the factory’s responsibility to get it right.

If you’re using a factory overseas, it is also likely that they might not speak English so a drawing with arrows, numbers and measurements is understandable regardless of what language they speak.

One of the biggest mistakes people make is assuming that the factory know what you’re talking about but don’t assume anything! You have to translate the idea technically onto paper with measurements and if that feels scary then hire someone to do it for you from linkedin / people per hour / creative pool.

Lastly, some countries might feel embarrassed to say they don’t understand so would just try and make it how they think it should be done. Before they start working on the product, ask them 2-3 times if they have any questions or they’re unsure of anything!

5. Sourcing A Manufacturer

I know it can be a bit scary handing over something that is your ‘baby’ to someone you don’t know. So I always recommend my clients to go to the trade shows! I know it’s not ideal if you’re not near London or you’ve just missed one because they are only every few months.

However meeting someone face to face really is so valuable! Ideally you only want to do this process once so try and get it right first time & build a long lasting relationship with your suppliers.

It’s all very well going on google to look for someone but it is so overwhelming and you don’t get a gauge of their personality or whether they will take you seriously.

One of the trade shows I recommend is Fashion SVP

They have manufacturers from around the world and they build a mini showroom in booths so you can go round and meet the factory owners & discuss your product with them to see if you’re a suitable match!

Make It British is a similar event but on a smaller scale because all the manufacturers are in the UK

Take your design / technical spec pack with you as it will be the first thing they ask you!

Gauge a reaction of whether you like them / trust them & ask a few questions like :

  • who else do you work with?

  • what are your MOQ (minimum order quantity)

  • what’s your capacity like at the moment?

  • how do you monitor quality


If you really can’t get to one of these then I’d recommend going to some online directories

If you’re looking to make in the UK then head to either of these sites

If you’re looking to manufacture abroad then head over to:

This is probably the longest and most difficult part of building a fashion brand but be patient and persevere! :)

Let’s say you have found someone to make the product for you and you’re going to the factory to have an initial meeting; take your design spec with you to get a costing

It might be that they sample it first or cost it first, it doesn’t really matter

However, PLEASE don’t give them a target cost price before they have told you how much it costs. They will try and pressure you into doing this but think about it - it doesn’t matter how much you’re intending to sell it for because it’s none of their business to begin with!

The cost is the cost.

The reason they want to know is because your target price might be higher than the actual cost. For example if it costs £4 but your target is £5, they will tell you it costs £5 and you have lost £1 straight away!

The cost equation is below to work out your margin & you want to aiming for at least 60% to be in a healthy place for wholesaling at a later date. This is the one & only place to make money for your business so it also needs to cover your wider costs such as your website for example.

COST PRICE / SELL PRICE x 100 - 100 = MARGIN

This margin number will be a ‘minus’ number but don’t worry about the minus sign - just look at the number!

For example

4 / 14 x 100 - 100 = -71.42

This means your margin is 71.42%

If you’re not hitting the 60% mark or you’re struggling with the equation, please get in touch and we can work through it together!

Once you have agreed a cost, you need to send an order confirmation sheet with all the details in - there is a link to an example here!

It should have so much detail that it borders on patronising but that’s better than assuming they know… and they don’t.

You want to be able to bulletproof your order so the production runs smoothly!

The order confirmation sheet should also have an agreed lead time / delivery date on there.

Let’s say the factory have given you a 6 week lead time and asked you to come back 6 weeks from the point of confirmation.

You want to be asking when the fabric is arriving, when the fabric is being dyed, when is the fabric being cut, when do you start sewing? You’ll then call them on those dates and double check that they’re on schedule! You don’t want to get to week 6 and realise they haven’t even started because then you’ll be behind on your schedule!

Keep an eye on the production as closely as possible and keep in regular contact with the factory to ensure they’re on track to deliver your product on the agreed date!

I hope you have found this useful & good luck with launching the brand!

If you’d like to discuss your ideas further, I am a fashion brand consultant working with independent brands just like you! I can help you get started with your clothing line, find a manufacturer for small quantities or increasing your profitability!

Work With Elizabeth

Just send me an email and we can arrange a free 30 minute discovery call & my services are listed here if you’d like to find out more about how we can work together going forward!

Watch Elizabeth and Catherine talk about managing your suppliers

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