Ask Alexandra: Opening a Clothing Company

Ask Alexandra is my advice column. Have a question you want to ask me? Fill out the form here.

I got sent this question last week and it made me want to weep.

Dear Alexandra,

I have always thought about opening up my clothing company and designs. After reading some information on your website, it seems probably a little complicated but I might be wrong. I would like know countries or how I could find manufacturers where I could buy fabrics from. I did not do fashion design and may be very clueless when I comes to understanding a good fabric. How would you advise me go about this?

fashion career, fashion business, fashion advice, ask alexandra, rehana begum

These images are from the final collection recent St. Martins fashion Rehana Begum.

Dear Antoinette,

I am glad that my blog has opened your eyes to the fact that opening a clothing business is a little complicated. In fact, it is EXTREMELY complicated, requiring skill, experience, resources, and a lot of hard work. What concerns me in your letter is that you are implying you have no experience in the fashion or design world, yet you want to start your brand. I’ll be honest, the odds are stacked against you. People can’t just “decide” to open a fashion business without any relevant experience, just like a person can’t become an accountant without every having learnt any accounting. I would love to understand why people think it is easy to open a fashion business? Is it because they love clothes? We can probably blame all the stupid celebrities who have started their own clothing lines, for this trend. They make it look easy, although they have design teams, money, and fame behind them (and still, none of them manage to make nice clothes.)

fashion career, fashion business, fashion advice, ask alexandra, rehana begum

There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. Some people do manage to start their own fashion company without any related fashion experience, but it is rare. Exceptions include famous people (or, daughters of) which normally have press and resources on their side. If you have unlimited funds, which means you can hire everyone to do the work, then you might be able to succeed. Another exception is someone who has experience in different, but related fields, ie. architecture, business management, sales, etc… All of those are jobs whose skills can be translated into fashion, but they will still need to learn the fashion ropes before building a successful business. Lastly, there are the very, very lucky people with no experience, who decide to start a company, and somehow make it. But (and this is a big BUT) they usually spend a lot of time (years) and money making mistakes because they have no idea what they are doing.

fashion career, fashion business, fashion advice, ask alexandra, rehana begum

Anyway, you want to start a clothing company? Here are the steps I would recommend you go through, in order to do this successfully.

  1. Get an education in fashion. You won’t know about design, textiles, construction, production, sales, marketing, or business without one of these. And, at most good schools, you’ll get a chance to network with a lot of great people.
  2. Get some work experience in fashion (an internship or a job.) Try working for a smaller company, you’ll be more likely to see what is going on in all of the departments. Steal their contacts (names of factories, names of buyers, names of media.) I know that sounds bad, but that is what people do.
  3. Now that you’ve got the education and the experience, and you still want to start your own company, you’ll need to do market research. Is your product/company a viable idea?
  4. If you’ve decided yes, then you need to secure production. This means a factory (or several factories) and material suppliers. You’ll also need to make a plan about how you plan to do your PR and sales. Those are very, very important.
  5. If you’ve done all of the above then you can start making samples and selling them. Good luck!

All the above should take a minimum of 3 years, but normally, I’d suggest 5. And don’t think for one second that starting a clothing company is going to be easy. It isn’t. It is very, very hard.

fashion career, fashion business, fashion advice, ask alexandra, rehana begum

Images, and more info about Rehana Begum, here.

  • Jennifer

    I used to run a fashion design house without having formal design education; however, I ran it alongside two women who had received this education and I had extensive business management experience myself. Had it not been for them, my business would never have gotten off of the ground. These women were employees, who profited from the relationship, but they were integral to its functioning. I couldn’t afford to hire them full-time, so my business and production schedules had to accommodate their lives; this worked for me, but it limits your growth potential.

    Something that I see now A LOT that really upsets me is women starting their own “children’s clothing” companies without any real skill or experience. The clothes are overpriced but poorly made, and it detracts from women who are skilled who have turned to this niche market.