How to Create A Fashion Line in 10 Steps!

how to create a fashion line

So you want to know how to create a fashion line, but don’t know where to start? Well here I am to the rescue! You probably forgot, but my corporate experience was in product development, and now I’m a fashion strategist.

One of the things I work with clients on is how to develop a fashion line! I specifically wanted to offer this as a service because I know there are brands who don’t want to go the wholesale route. They want to develop specific fashion products that are unique to their brand, but don’t know how to begin. Well, I’ve compiled a complete 10 step process on how to develop a fashion line from start to finish, that will easily give you the foundation to get started!

1. Trend Research

This is the first step to any product line, not even just in the fashion industry. To ensure you’re not wasting money, you need to see what’s trending for the upcoming season/year and how that can be incorporated into your brand. A great way to find out this information is to subscribe to trend reporting agencies. The two that I’m the most familiar with are Fashion Snoops & WGSN, as well as Pantone for color forecasting but you can check out this article on all of the top trend reporting agencies for this year.

You can also get on Youtube and go through the major fashion houses runway shows at NYFW, Paris Fashion Week etc, and make a list of the major trends you see. This is essentially part of what the agencies do, so your choice on how you want to go about it.

2. Color & Fabric Research

This is probably one of my favorite steps of the product development process. I love discovering new fabrics and blends, how they feel on the skin, and also how different fabrics look with different dyes. This is also the chance for you to develop a custom color palette for your brand’s fashion line for the season or drop. At my old job, we would create our own palette’s for the in house lines, and then be provided with color palettes from customers like FILA & Urban Outfitters. A few ways to go about this:

  • You can have the manufacturer you are working with send you fabric books & swatches. Most factories have these on hand and contain HUNDREDS of different fabric swatches
  • Do a SWOT Analysis to identify some key competitors and go shopping at their stores. Pay attention to the care & content label on the inside of the garments if they’re comparable to what you want. You can take a picture of the label so you can have the specific blend, or buy the garment, cut a swatch, and send a piece to your manufacturer so they can send a dupe of their version (I personally recommend you do both)
  • This is also the opportunity to research trims and embellishments (like buttons, zippers, patches, etc)

Some things to keep in mind when selecting fabrics & color for your product line:

  • If you’re wanting expensive fabrics (like cashmere), try doing blends or dupe fabrics. Especially with COVID and our ongoing battle with China, material prices are steadily rising. If your end customer will not buy cashmere normally but wants a soft fabric on their body, try something like a cashmere like acrylic. It’s soft like cashmere but gives you the cheap price of acrylic
  • Have the factory do dye tests based on the color palette you selected and the different fabrics you nominated. Different fabrics soak up color in various ways. Some come out VERY saturated, and some come out looking like “wtf”. Spend this time to do trial and error so you aren’t wasting money on samples because the color is not how you want it.
  • Begin to learn to measure color so you can make sure everything is on point. Taking a simple color test will tell you if you can see the hues in color (I’m blind as shit but apparently can see color perfectly, go figure). Once you learn how different hues make colors look, you’ll be able to communicate with your factory exactly how to change the color to ensure it’s perfect.

3. Line Planning

If you’re a numbers person – this is one of the two steps where you will thrive. Line planning, especially as a start up/fashion brand is important. This plan maps out how many pieces you will end up with for your line, and working backwards to know how many pieces you will be designing & sampling. For example: If you have an 8 piece clothing line with 1 colorway each – that means you’ll probably be designing 3 times that amount (24 designs) to end up with half the amount (16) in sampling. This is going to vary based on how big or small your end line will be, and how many variations of those pieces you will have. I always encourage small startups to be very concise with sampling, and increase once you have a proven track record with your customers (personal example: my line is only going to consist of 2-3 products to start). You also want to take into account how many samples you need in each round (my old company typically requested 3 sample pieces). For TOPs you also want to account for samples you use for ecommerce pictures or any other promotional reasons you would need extra samples for.

During your line planning, this is also where you work backwards to establish a timeline of when your line will be completed. Product development for a fashion line can take anywhere from 3 months to over 9 months. This is where you need to reach out to the factory to ask how long will sampling take and how long will production take from receipt of order based on the amount of samples and products you plan on having. Once you have that information, you can create your schedule. For example: If I want to have my products ready to sell Sept 1st, and it takes 2 months for production and 2 weeks for sampling, I know the first tech pack has to be sent by the first of May if I want to account for 2 rounds of sampling, 1 round of PPs (pre production), and 1 round of TOPs – and then always cushion (by 1 week or 2), so I probably want to start in April. You also need to take into account Chinese holidays, especially Chinese New Year because factories shut down and your product is sitting, sometimes for weeks.

4. Initial Conception

This is the complete game plan for your product line. You’re combining everything from steps 1-3 to essentially show what your line will look like. It will have trends you plan to design into, colorways & fabric for each design, and how many samples you plan on sending to the manufacturer. This is a great outline that the internal team will work off of.

For a startup brand or anyone producing their line by themselves, this is also the perfect time to decide what other personnel you need to outsource. For example: I am not a designer, so for me – I would need to outsource a CAD designer and a tech designer who would be in charge of designing my products (most CAD designers can do their own tech packs, so look for someone that does). You can find CAD designers & tech designers on Fiverr. I also recommend Conjetta Designs & Evolution (St. Louis based) for design services and Sew Heidi if you want to learn how to do it on your own!

5. First Designs

The fun part! These are your initial designs and where all of your ideas come to life! You may need to tweak your designs a few times and what I do suggest is sending your initial designs to the manufacturer so they can give input on what needs to be changed from a production standpoint, it saves a lot of time and a lot of headache. This is also where once the first designs are finalized, tech packs are created. Tech packs are the blueprint for your designs that include everything from front/back/side sketches, measurements, Pantone color numbers, fabrication specification, and anything else the factory needs to know in order to sample your piece. My advice – the more information, the better BUT be cautious of the language barrier. If you are manufacturing overseas, try and make the instructions as clear and understandable as possible for the factory manager to be able to translate to their workers. If you need help on how to do a tech pack or a template, click here!

Once the tech pack is completed and reviewed, it is sent to the factory. Once the factory confirms, it’s in their hands! They may come back and ask questions or present areas of concern that may need to be tweaked, but if everything looks good you’ll be receiving your samples in no time! I also suggest creating “merch pages”, a layout of all of your designs for the line with sku numbers and other identifiable information that your team can have. We used these for our sales team and also when tracking our samples so we didn’t have to go into the system to look at everything.

Merch page example. For legal reasons, all proprietary information has been blocked out

6. Sample Review

Samples are in from the factory and now it’s time to see how they measure up to your design! This is the best part in my opinion because it’s the first time you’re seeing your creation come to life. Now – this may be the step where you get scared and nervous because sometimes, shit happens and the samples are not good. Don’t freak out. This is why you have sample review. It could be that the designs don’t make sense per the capabilities of the factory and their machines, it also could be that they simply messed up and on the next round they will correct their mistakes. It could be that internally there was something missed and a design review is needed, but whatever the case is – breathe and work as a team to figure out how to make your revisions.

7. Design Revisions/Resampling

Once you determine if there are any designs that need revisions or resampling, you’ll update the original design, revise the tech pack, and send back to the factory and they’ll resample until you are ready for pre production.

8. Pricing

Pricing is – a bitch. It was already a bit confusing before Mr. Cheeto head decided to taunt China and they said “see this wtf we not gone do” and imposed an increase on our duty and tariff rates – so I’ll try to break this down the best I can.

Based on your sampling fees and other costs associated with manufacturing (duty, tariff, small lot/under MOQ fees), you typically want to price your products at a 30% margin. So, if the cost of your sample is $15 with all of those fees included, you would want to sell it to your customer at around $21.50. The formula itself is:

\text{Gross Margin} = \frac{\text{Revenue} - \text{COGS}}{\text{Revenue}}

It’s pretty simple, but if you aren’t good at math, there are so many gross margin calculators, just Google and they’ll pop up.

Depending on the product, the quality, and honestly how “high value” your brand is, you can tweak this margin however you see fit. I’ve seen margins as high as 80% because they had a very unique brand and proven track record of their sales. I always suggest if you can, to cushion your margin so if something comes up, you have money to take care of it (like refunds, chargebacks, or anything business wise). So if you would normally do a 30% margin, try between 32%-35%.

9. Pre Production Approvals

PPs, or pre approval productions, are the step before finalizing your production. These samples should mimic the final production without all of the bells and whistles and will give you an idea of what your product line will look like.

10. TOPs/Production

TOPs are top of production samples, and the end of the road before you sign off on the order and the factory ships it out to you for selling! TOPs are very important because these samples represent how they will look on your sales floor, or how they will when you send them to your customers. They also will have the bells and whistles I spoke of before, like care & content labels, hangtags, and any branding you have instructed to be on your production. YOU NEED TO INSPECT THE SHIIIIIIIIIT OUT OF YOUR TOPS! I cuss to emphasize the seriousness of this. If you don’t inspect your TOPs and you find something wrong after, it’s going to be hell trying to correct your production and you will waste a shit ton of money. Don’t be lazy when it comes to this step. Get multiple eyes on this step so you are 100000000% happy with your final product.

Simple right? Joking but not really. This may seem like alot but in reality, it really isn’t. I was thrown into my old position and learned every step by myself. So if I can learn it and develop lines for major brands, you can surely do it for yourself!

If you need additional help, your fashion bestie is here! Contact me to set up a product development strategy consultation!

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