How to Start a Fashion Business

by Heneka Watkis-Porter

There's no shortage of business ideas. What is missing most of the times is "how-to" get started. With the right guidance, it is possible to have a successful fashion business. After all, clothing is one of the basic physiological human needs according to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

You must be prepared to answer very honestly, these questions:
  • Do I really want to run a fashion business?
  • Do I have access to the necessary funding?
  • Do I have the skills that are required?
  • What is unique about what I'm doing?
  • Am I able to identify partners to help me?

If you are willing to put in the necessary work, here are some considerations to go from idea to market.

Idea Development & Research

1.    What is the concept behind the brand you are creating? If you don't already have a name, it's a good time to start brainstorming ideas.
2.    Who are you targeting?
3.    What is the messaging you want your brand to communicate?
4.    What is the research saying about the industry?
5.    What are the current fashion trends?

Market Testing

Once you've got clarity on the idea, it's time to test the market to see how it will respond to your new collection.

1.    Do a simple survey by asking persons in your target market to respond to things like price, quality, style, design, and brand image. A questionnaire developed in Survey Money for example could help.
2.    Who is your competition? What are they known for?
3.    Which top designer will you benchmark in your fashion business? - the idea is to look at someone in the industry who has already done it and to see what inspiration you may gather from them (not to copy what they are doing).
4.    What will be your unique selling proposition?
5.    How will you compete?
6.    What type of pricing strategy will you use to enter the market?
7.    What's the vision for your fashion business? Where do you see it 2, 5 or 10 years from now? Make sure to set SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound).
8.    Start putting a business plan/pitch deck to get partners involved and to stay focused on the vision. 

Funding Options
This is a vital part of developing your fashion business. Some possible sources include:

Personal funds

  • Loans from families and friends
  • Bank loan
  • Grants for small businesses
  • Investors

Be very cautious about taking out a loan from a bank at the early stage of your business. You want to ensure that your energy is focused on growing your business instead of worrying about the repayment of a loan which may attract high interests.

Grants are always a good option. Some donor agencies offer 100% grant funding while some require that you have some skin in the game and may go 70-30 for example where they will cover 70% of the cost while you cover 30%.

Creating Samples & Production

After carefully thinking through your idea and doing your market research, it's now time to create showroom samples to start seeking out prospective retailers. As you grow, you may decide to open your own boutique to offer your unique experience to your market.

1.    If your fashion collection is simple like t-shirts for example, you may source ready-made blanks from white-label sources and have them embellished with your custom designs.
You may also choose to identify a manufacturer to have them custom made according to your specifications as in the case of Patwa Apparel.
2.    If it is more elaborate, will you be the one designing or will you employ a fashion designer?
3.    Will you be the one manufacturing or will you outsource this to a production facility?

Once your samples are complete, you may opt to have the line produced on a larger scale by the facility that created your sample. If it isn't cost effective, there is always the option of manufacturing in Asia where production cost is usually relatively low compared to other places. The key to getting the best results from these sources which be very far away from you is to ensure that you take the time to research them properly. When you're satisfied, negotiate the terms to ensure it is a win-win for all.

Shipping & Distribution

You finally have your designs and you're anxious to get them to market. After all, what good is a product if it is not in the hand of a customer? A very important part of the process is the logistics of how this will happen.

Whether you will utilize drop shipping or ship directly to your customers, it is important to get familiar with the International Commercial Terms (Incoterms) to prevent any undue stress that can accompany the shipping process.

You've read this far which means that you are still interested in starting your fashion business. Consider these  questions as you prepare to get your product out to customers:

o    Are you targeting boutiques styled retail outlets?
o    How about department stores?
o    Will you sell direct to customers or direct to businesses?
o    Will it be offline or online or a combination of both?
o    Channels such as eBay, Etsy, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Craigslist and Shopify are great options to consider.

You will need to start actively market your product so that others can know about your business.


Network like a Rock Star

Trade Shows are a great way to connect with buyers. You can also host a fashion show to get your collection introduced to your market. Write a press release about this and share it with your local media houses, inviting your media contact.

Bloggers love to be in on the action; building a relationship with them from the get-go is a sure way to help to build your brand. As you grow, they will be more than thrilled to keep up with your progress.

About the Author: Heneka Watkis-Porter is a serial-entrepreneur, podcaster, author, speaker, and fashion designer. She wakes up every day with a grateful heart as she lives her purpose of “life transformation through inspiration”. She is the leading lady behind Patwa Culcha International, the company that owns the authentic Jamaica clothing brand, Patwa Apparel. Listen to her podcast at Email her at

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